Ring of Dogma

Algerian writer Kamel Daoud gained world-wide fame as the author of a novel—The Meursault Investigation—that acts as a sequel to Albert Camus’ novel The Stranger, but one told from an Arab viewpoint. In the October 14, 2019 issue of The Nation magazine, Robyn Cresswell reviewed a collection of Daoud essays, in part providing this summary:

Islamism, for Daoud, is an especially joyless version of Platonism, morbidly suspicious

of the body and its pleasures, intolerant of dissent, and disdainful of the world’s actual,

teeming diversity. The Islamist is “unsettled by difference,” Daoud writes. “He dreams

of a world that is uniform, unanimous.” Islamism is “an affliction of Islam,” a death-

haunted cult spread by Saudi-funded media, cable-tv theologians, and a lack of

ideological alternatives. “Islamism is a kind of Fascism, he concludes, “a kind of

muffled totalitarianism [that] can’t be moderated.”

Daoud was, of course, criticizing a modern form of extreme expression within his own religion. As I followed this paragraph, however, my thoughts reflected on how well the same generalizations could be applied to modern Christian extremism. Fundamentalist Christians in the United States can also be said to be “joyless” in that they misunderstand and reject a great deal of humor in their serious devotion to their doctrines. Their dogmatic rejection of sex outside of marriage, of non-standard sexual practices, and of sex enablers such as birth control and abortion, indicates that they are also “suspicious of the body and its pleasures.” They are threatened by people from other cultures, those who speak other languages, those whose physical appearance is not similar to theirs, and especially those who believe in other religious systems. It is accurate, if a bit generous, to say they are “unsettled by difference.” The fundamentalist Christian movement is varied, but a common theme supports imposition of a “uniform, unanimous” culture sustained by Christian prayer in schools and in public events, by public services and accommodations that reinforce church dogma, and by laws based on biblical passages and fundamentalist interpretations. Under Dominion Theology, the logical extension of their efforts, the United States would become a “Christian Nation” governed by biblical law as defined and reconstructed by religious leaders.

In regions where modern Christian fundamental politics are popular, the leadership tends to support posting the phrase “In God We Trust” everywhere and placing crosses and monuments displaying the ten commandments (generally the Protestant King James version) on public property. They pass laws imposing severe limits on abortion and other behaviors and allowing both public and private service providers to discriminate against LGBTQ and non-Christian individuals if the providers profess “personal religious beliefs” that require such avoidance. In such areas it is also common to hear politicians rail against “sharia law,” but it is not difficult to see that with government in the hands of fundamentalist Christians about the only difference between biblical law and sharia law would be the choice of source documents. The similarity between Islamist and fundamentalist Christian attitudes carries over into the behaviors as well as the doctrines of the adherents.

The other similarity between Christian and Islamist extremes is the tendency toward authoritarian rule. Much has been written in recent years about excessive laws and punishments under Islamist rule by Afghanistan’s Taliban, Syria’s ISIS, and Saudi Arabia’s monarchy. The punitive actions of these regimes might be compared to Spain during the Inquisition, but much more recent examples of despotic pro-Christian regimes include Spain under Francisco Franco, Chile under Augusto Pinochet, and current governments such as the Phillipines under Rodrigo Duterte and Uganda under Yoweri Museveni and his primary opposition, the Lord’s Resistance Army under Joseph Kony. In the Unite States, the full implementation of the philosophy of Christian Dominionism would require nothing less than the end of democratic decision-making and the reversal of decades of legislative and judicial progress toward the protection of minority groups. Nor is religious authoritarianism limited to Christian and Muslim extremists; Israel has become an increasingly authoritarian apartheid state, with much of government policy driven by the most dogmatic zionist theocrats.

The religious tendency outlined above may be simply one form of a broader pattern, one that also appears in the political realm. The most extreme political factions range from fascists, nationalists, and racists on the right to anarchists and stalinists on the left. All of them tend to authoritarian solutions enforced by violent domination. At the farthest extension both the right and the left, as with the religious extremes, create populations that are intolerant of differences and dedicated to the imposition of uniformity. The two sides are still philosophically opposed to each other, but are united in that and in their methodology.

The whole of human philosophy might be visualized as one of those large ceremonial rings used to commemorate graduations and other significant events. The top side, the one that is normally visible to the public, is large and decorated with common cultural symbols and decorations. That, one hopes, represents the vast majority of the population. To either side of that mass the ring thins out, becoming smaller and losing most of the decorative veneer. On the back end of the ring, where it (and with any luck, the population it represents) reaches its smallest mass, the two opposites rejoin in functional similarity, representative of a small population united in rejection and subjugation of any individuals who do not conform to the preferred philosophy. Capitalism and Communism alike become Fascism. Christianity and Islam and Judaism and Atheism all take the form of single-dogma repressive regimes.

There are lower-level threats arising from such religious and political extremism. The most common of these come in the form of everyday individual discriminatory actions against “the other,” actions by the people who believe in a philosophy that may not be in total control, but who make decisions affecting services and necessary materials. There are pharmacists who refuse to sell many birth-control medications, doctors and nurses who will not treat LGBTQ patients, county clerks who withhold licenses for mixed-race marriages, audience members who refuse to allow lecturers to speak, individuals who use violence against. Those are the minor offenses. There are also more serious individual offenses; islamists who perform suicide bombings in crowded locations, Christians who bomb women’s clinics, the two Muslims who killed 14 people in a San Bernadino County Department of Public Health meeting in California, the Christian who killed 51 people at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. There are too many of these incidents to remember or list.

But the ultimate danger of extremism comes at the point when such a group takes full control of a government or a region. The representatives who met to write the United States Constitution in the late eighteenth century were very familiar with the misuse of governmental power by one faction, by monarchical power or by official state religions. Their efforts to avoid consolidation of power included the formation of an elaborate system of separation of powers and a first amendment that promotes both freedom of speech and freedom of religion. In this way they intended not only to limit the executive excesses of government, but to avoid, as much as possible, the control of all of the vast governmental powers by a single extreme faction. We should do whatever we can to maintain those protections.

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