Extremely What?

When I heard about Sam Harris’s book, End of Faith, I was excited to read it. Then I started it and felt like he made ridiculous assumptions, but had a good point or two. The last couple of days I’ve read a few pages and found some more good points or issues. So, I think it must be a pretty good book that will be tough for me to get through.

Anyway, here’s the most recent comment that really struck me. Sam Harris points out that Muslim extremists are extreme in their faith. That is, the problem is they really believe what Islam teaches.

I don’t know anything about Islam or Muslim extremists. But the comment generated this question for me: Are Fundamentalist Christians more extreme in their faith than Progressive Christians?

Obviously, I think the answer is no. But, I wonder what others think. AND, I wonder what Progressive Christians can do to counteract the perception among, Fundamentalists, atheists, and dare I say even Progressive Christians, that the answer to this question is yes.

2 replies on “Extremely What?”

I think you phrased the question in such a way as to make the only possible answer that progressive (I would say “liberal”) and fundamentalist Christians have equal “levels” of faith.

You believe very strongly in your progressive Christian beliefs. A fundamentalist Christian has the same strength of belief. One of the beliefs you hold is that you are commanded by God to be good to your fellow man. You can be said to be zealous in the pursuit of that commandmant. A fundamentalist (or literalist) can be just as convinced (and hence zealous) that you should use violence to stop doctors from performing abortions. He is no more “extreme” in his commitment to his belief, but the actions it may lead him to take are much more extreme from the perspective of US culture at large. That is the point Harris makes.

I can’t resist a small quibble about Harris’s point. From page 29 of the 2005 paperback edition:

“It is important to specify the dimension in which Muslim ‘estremists’ are actually extreme. The are extreme in their faith.” (Emphasis in original)

So, I worded the question basically as a quote. Also, at least so far, he seems to be explicitly arguing that while we say that extremists are extreme because of the version of Islam they practice, in fact, they practice the same version as everyone else, they are just more devoted to it.

That’s a quibble. The more significant response is that I hope you are right in finding it obvious that fundamentalist and liberal Christians can both have the same strength of faith. However, I don’t think it is a point that is universally accepted. I’ve personally had fellow Christians explain to me that accepting gays & lesbians is the result of me being less committed to Christianity. (Actually, I had one gay guy tell me the same thing!)

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