Maggie Gallagher
I don't know whether to laugh or to cry. Is the headline in The New York Times letters section an example of dangerously Orwellian doublespeak or an amusing form of self-parody: "Religious Intolerance Among Americans"? Beneath the headline, Americans are judging religions they disagree with. For readers of The New York Times, that means Christian fundamentalists.

Where else can the contemporary reader get that satisfying smash-thine-enemies jolt while simultaneously enjoying the serene pleasure of knowing oneself among the good (read: peaceful, tolerant) folk? Haloes up, please!

Robert Reich, a former Cabinet secretary, implies in this month's issue of the American Prospect that Christian fundamentalists are even more dangerous than people who blow up skyscrapers. And he defines fundamentalism awfully broadly: "Terrorism is a tactic, not a belief. The true battle will be between modern civilization and anti-modernist; between those who believe in the primacy of the individual and those who believe that human beings owe their allegiance and identity to a higher authority ... between those who believe in science, reason and logic, and those who believe that truth is revealed through Scripture and religious dogma. Terrorism will disrupt and destroy lives. But terrorism itself is not the greatest danger we face."

The greatest danger we face may be from illiberals like Reich who seek ways to de-legitimize and disenfranchise (rather than engage) ideas with which they disagree. For Reich, public arguments can be divided into two categories: "public morality," which consists of all the moral views he finds attractive and important, and "private morality," which consists of all the moral views he'd like to drive out of political life. "For religious zealots, there is no distinction between the two realms."

The fusion of all the people one dislikes into one great massive threat to our democratic way of life may be satisfying to the passions, but a man who wrote a book called "Reason" should know better. Whatever their defects, Christian fundamentalists have lived peacefully among us in America for several hundred years. To equate these religious beliefs, however repugnant or illogical you may find them, with terrorism is morally despicable and intellectually absurd. And, frankly, dangerous. Because the people who increasingly espouse this religious intolerance are, unlike Christian fundamentalists themselves, powerfully enfranchised elites.


Maggie Gallagher

Maggie Gallagher is a nationally syndicated columnist, a leading voice in the new marriage movement and co-author of The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially.