Thursday, February 17, 2005
One of the questions today – and I'm asked this a lot – is if fundamentalists are a much larger group of people in America than in any other developed country. By most standards, you define a fundamentalist as someone, whether Christian or Jewish or Muslim, who believes the literal interpretation of what their sacred scripture is – that the world was created in seven days, or that you get to have sex with a whole lot of virgins if you die for Allah, for instance. The fundamentalist is someone who believes in the absolute sacredness and unalterability of his text. Probably that minority in America is between about one-fifth and one-third, which leaves two-thirds of people who aren't fundamentalists.
So why do fundamentalists have such influence? Well, one answer for that is that, by very virtue of the intensity of their religious beliefs, they care more about their issues than a lot of more secular people, and they do more to see that their influence is felt.
Most people who are freethinkers or secularists or liberal religious thinkers don't spend their whole day thinking about God and how every decision in government accords with their religion. But fundamentalists do. That makes them much better organized, much better disciplined and goal-oriented in both a specific and a general way than more secular people tend to be. And I think that has to change.
I think the reluctance of Democrats to come out and defend the separation of church and state strongly is lamentable. I don't agree with those people who say the Democrats have to make themselves more like Republicans, and talk about God more. No, that doesn't do any good. I think, by the way, one of the reasons George Bush appealed to people, whether they agree with him or not, is that he is perfectly honest about what he is in terms of his religious and political beliefs. The Democrats, by contrast – many of them tend to soft-pedal what they really think about things like the separation of church and state. And it doesn't work to pretend to be something you're not.