Today, there is no denying that there is a movement in our country, and the world, which rejects a well-rounded secular education, and values only a limited, fundamentalist approach to understanding. We see this in spiritual fundamentalism such as in the ultra-Orthodox of Judaism, in Christian Evangelicals, and within Muslim extremists. History, science, psychology, the knowledge of other cultures are all rejected to embrace, instead, interpretation and, I would argue, misinterpretation of the bible. And we see it in secular fundamentalism, where the bible is traded in for “pseudoscience” on message boards. Whether the fundamentalism is religious or secular, we should all agree that fundamentalism risks returning us toward the Dark Ages.
For example, we have seen a rise in interest in Biblical Literacy in America’s schools, with states like Florida, Indiana, Missouri, North Dakota, Alabama, Iowa, Virginia, West Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky all introducing and passing legislation to allow the teaching of Bible classes in public schools. As Rachel Laser, president and CEO of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, recently stated “State legislators should not be fooled that these bills are anything more than part of a scheme to impose Christian beliefs on public schoolchildren.” And Laser is right. We have seen what happens when Christianity or any other religion is forced into the public sphere. Misunderstood and incorrectly taught Gospels swarming with anti-Jewish sentiment invade the minds of our youth, non-Christians are discriminated against, and Christian holidays are imposed upon others. We have also seen, since the 2016 election, Christian conservative groups flooding our state legislatures with bills that promote specific agendas. Called “Project Blitz,” fundamentalist groups “provided state politicians with a set of off-the-shelf pro-Christian ‘model bills’” in a 148 page playbook available online. These bills include adding school prayer, denying LGBTQA people rights and recognition instituting conversion therapy as well as adoption refusal for non-Christian babies, or for homosexual couples, and as creating proclamations of religious freedom, Christian heritage, bible in history, and holidays like Christmas.
Those who fuel this fundamentalism have forgotten what happened when Fundamental Christianity took over the State and instituted laws. They forgot about the Council of Elvira, which stated that Christians could not marry Jews, or eat with Jews; they have forgotten about the Visigothic Code which forced Jews to accept Jesus as their savior and to reject Jewish teachings embracing only Christian law; they have forgotten the laws of Pope Innocent which instituted laws forcing Jews to wear different clothing, to be unable to hold public office; they have forgotten about laws from Pope Gregory IX to burn the Talmud; they have forgotten Las siete partidas, the Seven-Part Code in Spain which stated that Jews should live quietly without disturbing the Christians around them, and refrain from preaching, staying inside their houses on Good Friday. These views and these laws, the institution of fundamentalist Christianity mixed with the State, inevitably led to the Crusades in 1096, the Inquisition in 1492, the Chmielnicki massacres in 1648, the Pale of Settlement and the Russian pogroms of the 1800s, and of course the Ghettoization and expulsion and murder of Jews throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. The infusion of religion–any religion–into politics, rarely makes politics better.
We have also seen a sharp rise in our country of anti-abortion legislation specifically and maliciously to target Roe V. Wade. Pushing religious liberty legislation, fundamentalists have attempted to create “heartbeat” and similar bills in Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Georgia and Ohio. If not for the ACLU, these bills, which deny health care to women and ignore the biology of when life begins, reflect a limited understanding of biology. Moreover, they fail to account for the social contexts the surround abortion, including the horrible consequences of back-alley abortions, pregnancies that put the mother’s life at risk, as well as the more gray areas of rape and incest.
This is to say nothing of the secular but fundamentalist anti-vaxer movement, in which activists have specifically targeted isolated and undereducated communities to help push the regression of modern medicine, opposing vaccines for measles, mumps, and rubella, thanks to a debunked study linking vaccines to autism. The former British doctor, Andrew Wakefield, as the U.S. National Library of Medicine reports, “drew severe criticism for his flawed and unethical research methods, which he used to draw his data and conclusions,” and thus caused severe damage in the forms of fundamentalist agendas “skewing science, shifting hypotheses, censoring opposition, attacking critics, claiming to be ‘pro-safe vaccines’, and not ‘anti-vaccine’, claiming that vaccines are toxic or unnatural, and more.”
Finally, it has been over thirty years since the U.S. Supreme Court decision Edwards v. Aguillard which “ruled it unconstitutional to require creationism to be taught in public schools” yet we have seen a great deal of fight from anti-evolutionist fundamentalists using the tools of “academic freedom” and “science education” bills, which passed in Louisiana and Tennessee. In fact, right here in Indiana, our State Senator Dennis Kruse wrote a bill that would “allow creationism, or “creation science” to be taught in public schools. It would also require every public school classroom to display a poster or sign with the national motto, “In God We Trust,” as well as the U.S. and Indiana state flags.” This is the same State Senator that “co-authored a bill to require recitation of the Lord’s Prayer in public schools…and tried making it illegal for kids to learn sex ed in school without their parents’ permission.” Fundamentalists like Kruse are forgetting that understanding evolution is “critical for understanding biology,” “central to the advancement of medicine,” an “excellent way for students to learn about the process of scientific inquiry,” and holds principles which” underlie improvements in crops, livestock, and farming methods”
I think the great P.T. Barnum would agree with me that suckers are being reborn every minute. It is why we have to fight, as modern Jews, against these views in our religion and elsewhere. We need to remember that for Jewish people throughout history, education and intellectualism were praised. As a people, we strived to better ourselves, to gain insight into the world, and to work hard to use that knowledge for good so that we could make this world a better place. And Jews were not alone in this endeavor. We can thank our Muslim brethren, for example, for preserving Greek and Roman manuscripts. During the middle ages, for example, when Christianity sought to throw the world into darkness, it was Islam in the Middle East that saved the manuscripts of Aristotle and Plato. Indeed, people of all cultures and backgrounds worked hard to pursue scientific discovery, helping us to uncover the mysteries of nature, space, and humanity.
And because of non-fundamentalist intellectual pursuits, we know that despite what Genesis says, the world was not created 6,000 years ago, but rather it has been floating in space for 4.5 Billion years. And this we know thanks to the evidence found in radiometric age dating and meteorite materials. We also know that Adam did not name the animals, nor did Cain and Abel ride dinosaurs to work. Thanks to the research on genetic mutations and natural selection, we know that evolution occurred and continues to occur. We know these things because of the dedicated men and women who spend years in schooling, training, and in research, going to the ends of the earth to discover incredible knowledge that can be passed down to the students of the world.
A sucker is reborn every minute, but they don’t have to be. Let’s fight the dangers of fundamentalism, religious or otherwise, and remember that intellectual pursuit is holy work.