The Danger of Religious Fundamentalism
By Harry Binswanger (Wall Street Journal, December 3, 2004)
Prof. Gelernter tries to reassure those worried about religious fundamentalism. Calm down, he says in effect, Christian fundamentalism is not dangerous, because the Pilgrims invited some Indians to dinner. This argument is not very convincing. A more philosophical analysis shows that any creed that substitutes faith for reason is incompatible with religious toleration. Reason is the only basis on which men can live peacefully with those who disagree, knowing that reality is the common court of final appeal.
Only reason makes possible an objective theory of the good, one which holds that the private immorality of others is not per se one's concern. On the religious theory of the good, there is no such thing as private immorality: anyone's "sin" stands as an affront to God and simply cannot be allowed.
On such a basis, how can one tolerate the "evil" done by those who worship the wrong God, or perform "blasphemous" rituals--or no rituals? The social danger of fundamentalism, whether Christian or Islamic, is what follows when dogmatic faith in sacred texts replaces reason.
Reprinted with permission of The Wall Street Journal © 2004 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.