Fwd: Questions for Martin E. Marty, a Scholar of Religion

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    Questions for Martin E. Marty, a Scholar of Religion


    Were the attacks on New York and Washington about fundamentalism?

    Yes. Words like ''extremism'' or ''fanaticism'' miss what followers are
    extreme or fanatic about. ''Fundamentalism,'' however, connotes a
    fundamental religious vision behind the movement. It would be hard to
    sustain this kind of calculative act if they weren't fired by a religious
    vision. Try to picture day after day going to flight school to learn how
    to smash yourself into a skyscraper, knowing you're going to die. You
    have to have the promise of paradise for that. You have to have the
    promise that God is on your side. But I cannot say it emphatically
    enough: this is not Islam. This takes Islamic texts -- it takes elements
    in its tradition -- and skews them.

    So fundamentalism isn't about the fundamentals of anything?

    The biggest mistake the casual observer makes about fundamentalisms is
    that people think this is the ''old-time religion.'' In fact, no
    religious forces are more effective at using the technical instruments of
    modernity. They will preach sermons against science and technology, but
    they will seize these instruments, which is why we see them as very
    modern movements.

    Then why are observers so quick to assume that a fundamentalist movement
    is indeed espousing the fundamentals of its faith?

    The average person doesn't understand that Catholicism and most of
    Protestantism and Judaism are developing faiths -- development is built
    into the first generation. Islam has a loyalty to every word of the
    Koran, but its history has unfolded in different ways in different social
    climates. The fundamentalist, however, says there was a moment in history
    when a particular book, leader and original social community was perfect,
    which in my opinion never existed. In the period of the early Christians,
    Paul and Peter are fighting like mad in Acts already. But fundamentalists
    teach that there was that perfect moment, and in their selective
    retrieval they go back to that perfect moment. They say, ''We don't
    change at all,'' and people say, ''Yeah, while all the other people are
    compromising with modernity, these people really reach deep.'' But the
    hymnity, the songs, the scriptural base -- it's all a very particular
    interpretation, and the fundamentalist convinces us that it's always been

    What are the family similarities, as you've called them, of the
    fundamentalist faiths?

    First, every fundamentalism that we could find grew on soil that was
    conservative, traditional, classical or orthodox. Then, something comes
    along which is perceived by the people in such cultures as a total threat
    to the group, to the world's future. They don't pick at little things.
    Third, and this is a key feature, they then say, ''You must react.'' It
    isn't about being conservative. The Amish are the most conservative
    Protestants around, and they don't fight for the Lord. They just want you
    to not butt in on them. But fundamentalists say you must react. You must
    be the army of the Lord; you're failing God if you don't. Fourth, you
    select those features from the past that you think will most effectively
    fight off the threat and convince others of the threat.

    Do the recent attacks give you pause in comparing Christian, Jewish,
    Islamic and other fundamentalisms?

    I couldn't be more emphatic than to say these fundamentalisms are very,
    very different from one another. Then why study the form? Because we
    wouldn't have noticed that they are not ''the old-time religion'' had we
    not compared them. We wouldn't have noticed that they all use the
    instruments of modernity so effectively. We wouldn't have noticed that
    they are all extremely patriarchal. But some of my best friends are
    Protestant fundamentalists. We are not saying that just because this form
    of Islamic fundamentalism shoots at people, that other fundamentalist
    people are waiting to do so also.

    But with so many differences in the expressions of fundamentalisms, what
    good are comparisons?

    You can find out, among other things, what are the terms by which you can
    help prevent people from finding the totalist position attractive, from
    the frustration that leads into terrorism. The more ugly we are to them
    the more easy it is for them to find recruits. I think that 20 to 30
    years ago nonfundamentalists in America did make a great mistake by
    typing them, by hillbillying and backwoodsing and holy-rollering them. It
    was a terrible indignity; it was unfair to who they were. And if our
    study can show that people of similar dispositions on many levels can
    differ greatly in strategy tactics and goals, that's a lot better.

    Paul Scott

    Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company

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