During the church season of Easter, some modern minds naturally turn to a quixotic crusade: How to rid religions of all that is supernatural and embarrassing to moderns. The headline says it all in an essay that The Observer published on Easter Sunday: "Heed not the fanatics." Its author, Will Hutton, sings all the notes beloved of the "More inclusive than thou" tribe:
• Some people's religion is so primitive that it affirms a world of supernatural presence.
• These people are not simply deluded but obsessed with "imposing" their beliefs on others.
• Their extremism must be resisted with such weapons as name-calling and misrepresentation.
"Protestant evangelism [sic] in the United States and Islamic fundamentalism are the two fastest-growing religions on the planet," Hutton writes, and "even Hindu and Buddhist fundamentalism are on the increase." What unites these disparate belief systems -- two monotheistic religions, a polytheistic religion, and a religion that requires no gods? -- is not a question Hutton answer with clarity, other than that he finds fundamentalism of any stripe offensive.
Hutton expends his energy applying adjectives -- religious fundamentalism is "one of the most pernicious and hateful phenomena in human association, ranking with political fundamentalism of Right and Left in its destructive and poisonous influence" -- instead of providing evidence for his superlative-laden insults.
For all his condemnation of fundamentalists as promoting "the values and myths of the pre-scientific, pre-Enlightenment, pre-democratic, barbaric and primitive Middle East," Hutton indulges in logic-defying non-sequiturs.
Try to follow the reasoning in this sentence:
We are invited to enter the value and belief system of early Christianity with its unmistakable conclusion: Jews bayed for the death of the son of God, for which Jewry suffered millennial discrimination that ended in the Holocaust, and whose consequences are playing themselves out in the revival of Jewish fundamentalism and its calamitous impact on the Middle East.
What, precisely, is the straight line that runs from "the belief system of early Christianity" to the Holocaust? Is Hutton seriously proposing that the early church fathers would have endorsed pogroms or the Holocaust? What texts would he cite to justify such claims?
Here is the forward-looking sense of religion that would satisfy Hutton:
What is needed is a rediscovery of politics and a belief that purpose is best attempted in a secular guise underpinned by universal values, and that religion is a moral code to live by, rather than a purpose in its own right that gives believers the right to deny rationality and humanity.
If Hutton wishes to reduce any of the world's major religions to a wan credo acceptable to any member of an Ethical Society, fine. But if Hutton wishes to become an oracle of "inclusion and love, not exclusion and irrationality," he might ask how inclusive or loving it is to write with such unrelenting contempt -- even for fundamentalists.