[Atlantic] Jonathan Merritt: Are Conservative Christians ”˜Religious Extremists'?

New data show that most Americans consider the beliefs and practices of traditionalist Christians to be ”˜extreme’””but is that warranted?
Conservative Christians share striking similarities with Taliban terrorists. Or at least, that’s the argument laid out by Kimberly Blaker in her 2003 book, The Fundamentals of Extremism: The Christian Right in America. Conflating leaders like James Dobson of Focus on the Family with Islamic fundamentalists, Blaker argued that America’s traditionalist Christians also seek to indoctrinate youth with oppressive views of women, minorities, and LGBT persons through mind-control tactics and intimidation.

When Blaker’s book was released, America had an outspoken conservative Christian president with an approval rating of more than 60 percent, the post-9/11 church attendance spike had not yet receded, and religious-right leaders still seemed to hold sway in American public square. It was easy to dismiss her argument as outside the mainstream debate.

But 13 years later, according to a new study by Barna Research, Americans believe that many Christians’ beliefs and practices are so far outside of the norm that they deserve one of modern society’s ugliest epithets: “extremist.”..
In an age of religious terrorism, “extremist” is too damaging a word to be tossed around with such little discretion. When society slaps the E-word on something, it marks it for marginalization. And if the data is right, tens of millions of religious Americans may be at risk of being ostracized, sidelined, or banished from social acceptability because of their beliefs. These are the very communities best positioned to attack genuine religious extremism. But labeling them ”˜extremist’ simply encourages alienation and radicalization.

One of the great ironies of this politically correct age is how those who most champion tolerance are often in such great need of the virtue themselves. Society calls “extremist” those believers they consider to be rigid, narrow-minded, and unaccepting of others.

Carelessly painting such wide swaths with a caustic descriptor is its own form of intolerance. It’s refusing to accept those who are less accepting. It’s coercing someone to convert to your way of thinking to keep them from converting others to their own. It’s marginalizing one group to keep them from shaming some other marginalized group. It contributes to the very problem it’s trying to solve.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, Religion & Culture