With protests against COVID-19 restrictions popping up around the country, I’m wondering if we’re not seeing a display of a new kind of fundamentalism.
Christian fundamentalists, a sliver of believers, have been around a long time. They derive their name from adhering to five fundamentals of the faith. Their resulting version of Christianity comes across as exclusionary, individualistic, anti-science, and authoritarian.
Perhaps a similar mindset, but different expression, of fundamentalism is being displayed on the national stage.
We’ve all seen pictures of protests demanding an end to the pandemic lockdown. One protest, on the steps of the state capitol in Lansing, Michigan, featured many protesters displaying pistols and assault rifles, some holding “Don’t Tread on Me” flags, and one having a “Live Free or Die” hand-painted placard.
I really feel their angst; we all do. The pain inflicted in so many ways because of the restrictions is beyond description. Great rejoicing there shall be when we can safely return to some semblance of normalcy.
However, a logical question arises: Why, in the face of a wildly infectious pandemic killing thousands and infecting millions, would these fellow Americans express outrage that they were asked to stay at home so as not to spread the disease?
The only answer I can think of is that perhaps, like their Christian counterparts, this small group of Americans holds five interconnected, fundamental beliefs.
ONE. Individual freedom is an inalienable right that trumps all other rights. Our nation was founded on the bedrock of personal liberty.
TWO. Take away one of my freedoms, you’ll take away all of them. It’s a slippery slope. If you take away my gun today, you’ll take away my vote tomorrow.
THREE. Truth is black and white. No need to contemplate grays, nor necessarily accept what “experts” say.
FOUR. There’s a (liberal) conspiracy against the truth. There’s a lot of “fake” stuff, including news and science.
FIVE. If you don’t agree with fundamentals 1-4, you lack patriotism.
This fundamentalism goes well beyond the old conservative/liberal debate. America was built on those two different sides hashing things out and, hopefully, coming up with policies that help us all move ahead. It was built on free speech that had an underlying assumption of respecting the person with whom you’re disagreeing.
But the nationalist fundamentalists see compromise as a four letter word. This limits an opportunity for real discussion.
Perhaps what might be helpful instead is to review those five fundamentals. What should we say in response?
ONE. The common good of all tempers some individual freedoms. We fought a civil war and had a civil rights movement because of this truth.
TWO. Our rights are upheld by a Constitution that is the foundation of our country. The all or nothing mindset comes from fear, not reason.
THREE. Truth expands into many colors when you broaden horizons. Encountering new people, facts, and ideas does this.
FOUR. There is no secret room where “they” are plotting their next move. It’s the grist of social media, though, to imagine it, regardless of political perspective.
FIVE. Americans come in assorted shapes and sizes, backgrounds and beliefs, cultures and religions. Attend a naturalization ceremony for new Americans and you’ll get goosebumps.
It’s a shame that even in the pandemic, when we come together in so many ways, the divisiveness rooted in fundamentalism emerges on state capitol steps.
Luckily, though, the crisis also helps us see an emerging cohesiveness and a willingness to sacrifice for others. This is where Christians can help lead the way.