Monday, July 21, 2008

Bad boys, bad boys

If you've ever watched COPS -- and who hasn't? -- surely you've noticed that the vast majority of those "bad boys" (and bad girls) have something in common: they're either drunk or stoned.

That, as any law-enforcement professional will tell you, is called a clue. Or, as ESPN's
Chris Berman is fond of saying, "Once is an accident, twice is a trend, three times is a problem."

The ability to recognize a correlation is essential -- it keeps us out of trouble and helps us avoid being duped. The question is, are we truly aware enough to make those connections? More to the point, are we honest enough to see correlations for what they are?

Let's find out.

Radical Islamists call for the destruction of America. Televangelist Rod Parsley and his ilk call for the destruction of Islam. Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church link every tragedy in the world to homosexuality, which they believe should be a capital crime. Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad envisions a day when the nation of Israel has been wiped from the world map.

This morning I saw a CNN interview with Brent Rinehart, an Oklahoma county commissioner who's been indicted on felony campaign-finance charges. In a bid to keep his seat on the commission, Mr. Rinehart has published an amateurish "comic book" that paints his challengers as gay-loving, anti-Christian liberals.

These are manifest examples of institutional hatred and irrational fear -- but when we peel away the facades of nationalism, politics and the "crisis of culture" canard, the correlation is undeniable:
religious fundamentalism.

Not everyone who drinks alcohol winds up in handcuffs, of course, any more than all Christians are homophobes or every Muslim is a terrorist -- but it's time to tell the truth about the loom that weaves the common thread of hate in our society.

The more fundamental a religious belief system becomes, the more likely it is to draw extreme contrasts between those who believe and those who don't. Extremism leads to isolation, isolationism fosters ignorance, and ignorance breeds hate.

To be clear, I make no effective distinction between radical Islam and fundamentalist Christianity -- both are dangerous extremes that inflame more hate and inflict more damage than the "Godless secularism" they condemn.

While I begrudge no one their personal faith, I know a reliable correlation when I see it. Religious fundamentalism, regardless of the form it takes, decimates individual liberties, assaults the foundations of our society and threatens the country I love.

And that, unpopular is it may be, is something about which I refuse to equivocate.