In a bleary-eyed opinion article in the Sunday Boston Globe (11/8/09), Harvard divinity professor Harvey Cox denounces religious "fundamentalism." In doing so, he places mass-murdering Muslims from the Middle East on the same playing field as conservative Christians from the United States. From Cox's article:
As the 20th century ended and a new one began, fundamentalism has taken on more formidable shapes, both politically and religiously. Though most of its adherents work through spiritual and educational channels, the small minority that turn to violence have caught the media’s attention. If some seem ready to die for faith, others are ready to kill for it, gunning down abortion doctors in church, hijacking planes, and exploding bombs at weddings. For plenty of thoughtful people, fundamentalism has come to represent the most dangerous threat to open societies since the fall of communism.
Cox's passage reveals a number of egregious errors. Gunning down abortion doctors is not a practice of fundamentalist Christianity. A deliberate murder of an abortion doctor is a direct violation of Christian teaching. (Fifth commandment, anyone?)
Second, Cox 's caricature of Christians "[gunning] down abortion doctors in church" is an incredible smear. Although any murder of an abortion doctor is unacceptable, exactly one abortion doctor has been "gunned down in church" (Dr. George Tiller, 2009). And since Roe v. Wade passed over thirty-six years ago in 1973, a grand total of eight abortion doctors and workers have been murdered in the United States and Canada. (Tiller's murder was the first of an American abortion doctor in the 21st century.)
By comparison, while reportedly shouting "Allahu Akbar," Nidal Malik Hasan brutally annihilated far more individuals in a matter of seconds at Fort Hood this week. Do the math, Harvey. Then there's September 11th, the 2004 Madrid bombings, the 2005 London bombings, almost-daily homicide bombings … You get the picture. Cox's comparison is awfully warped.
Surprise! A Harvard professor doesn't recognize his own muddled thinking.
There's a lot more to critique about Cox's piece, but he is correct in one notable passage. In opining about modern "spirituality," Cox writes:
The plethora of emerging new spiritualities has its own problems, of course. They are often intellectually incoherent or melt into a self-centered narcissism. They can become vacuous and faddish. (Madonna and other Hollywood celebrities are now “into Kabala,” the ancient Jewish mystical tradition.) They can become highly individualistic, lacking any vision of social justice. Esoteric and snobbish at times, they often fail to reach the poor and dispossessed people for whom Jesus, the Buddha, and the Jewish prophets had such concern.
Exactly. But isn't Cox criticizing the exact same thing that Christian fundamentalists rail against? Hmmm.