In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Religious Fundamentalism and Political Extremism*
  • Alan L. Berger

religious fundamentalism, Modernity, A. J. Heschel, political extremism, Hans Küng, A. James Rudin

Responding to the current and very worrying political and religious crises, we seek guidance from the wisdom of our interreligious Jewish-Christian traditions and dialogue. A number of questions emerge: Can these sources provide any wisdom? Is there a kernel of insight that might shed light on our disturbing times? Can we hope to help create a sociopolitical atmosphere that seeks peace and that critiques a political and religious agenda obsessed with extremism? In an age of the politics of rage and conspiracy theorists, where truth is being challenged by so-called "alternative facts," where can one seek political and religious sanity? Adding fuel to the fires of paranoia is the fact that wages are frozen, while capital is exploding. This brings to mind the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s observation that in America there is "socialism for the wealthy and capitalism for the poor."

In the past three decades, religion has been criticized as the cause of wars and hatred and hailed as an unparalleled source of meaning. Jonathan Swift's caustic observation—"We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another"1—summarizes the former position and seems as pertinent today as it was during his lifetime (1667–1745). There has been a plethora of books since the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States that conceptually have employed Swift's position as their point of departure. One thinks of authors such as Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennet, Sam Harris, Stephen Hawking, and Christopher Hitchens, each of whom in some form or other wishes to demonstrate the flaws in or the irrelevancy of religious faith.2 Collectively, their works are [End Page 608] the intellectual grandchildren of Sigmund Freud's skewed understanding of religion as an illusion. Religion in both the modern and the post-modern world is derided as having lost credibility.

Yet, one of the abiding truths that emerged from the carnage of 9/11 and the rapidly changing demographics in America and elsewhere is that Modernity's assumptions about society are under radical assault. Compounding this situation is the fear of massive immigration that is roiling Europe, which, in turn, has spawned the politics of rage and the paranoid style of governance that appeals to emotions and abhors reason. Religion has also undergone a great transformation. It frequently appears in the guise of fundamentalism, a belief that absolutizes what a given set of believers assert is the truth and that pits "true believers" against the Other, that is, one defined as either a nonbeliever or a secularist.

It is significant here to note the 2014 Pew Research Center study, "America's Changing Religious Landscape." This study reports a drop in the number of religiously affiliated Christian adults. Certain critical thinkers do advocate the positive role religion can play both in society and in the lives of individuals. Prominent works include Mary Boys, Redeeming Our Sacred Story (2013); Philip Cunningham, Seeking Shalom (2015); and the works of Lord Rabbi Jonathan Saks, The Dignity of Difference (2002), To Heal a Fractured World (2005), The Home We Build Together (2007), and Not in God's Name (2015)—that come immediately to mind. The Pew report states that only members of non-Christian faiths and the unaffiliated are increasing. Consequently, we need to expand conceptually the rubric "Christian-Jewish dialogue" when considering responses to the current religious and political crises.

Fundamentalism views the world through a Manichaean lens: good (us) and bad (them). A worldview such as this has no use for dialogue or respecting the views of those whom it deems Other. Historically, both political extremism and religious fundamentalism appear to be growing in size and impact. Moreover, they are never on the side of rational discussion but appear as the twin pillars of an aggressive and ignorant assault on pluralism. [End Page 609]

The sociologist Peter Berger attested that "Modernity tends to undermine the taken-for-granted certainties by which people lived through most of history."3 "This is an uncomfortable state of affairs...