My Zen teacher Norman said, “The tolerant are intolerant of the intolerant, right?”
We recognize that extremism, whether it is religious or political, is dangerous. Brad, my husband, who grew up in Christian evangelicalism, and, in fact, at one time was an evangelical preacher, said, “There is nothing more dangerous than a true believer.” Pre 9/11 we might have been a little confused about what this means. Now we know exactly what it means.
Brad has told me that fundamentalist religions believe that all knowledge can be held in your hand in the form of the Bible. The anti-intellectual, faith based systems are vocal and active and scary in American politics. Sarah Palin supporters would re-write history – the ride of Paul Revere – to fit the beliefs of their saint.
As a science teacher, it is particularly distressing to me that religious fundamentalists would push an anti-science curriculum that teaches that evolution is false. I think that faith is faith, and science is science, and as such, should be taught in separate classrooms.
So I was surprised and happy to witness my reaction to listening to a ten year old girl, who was sitting next to me on the plane from Albuquerque. Her father is a pastor in a Calvary church. She was bright and articulate and enthusiastic about her very conservative beliefs. A sparkling stream of words of orthodoxy flowed from her little mouth, as she explained that only those who had Jesus as their personal savior would be saved and go to heaven.
“Maybe you will be a pastor like your Dad some day,” I said.
“Oh no, women can’t be pastors.”
She was starting to overreach my comfort zone. I asked her why, and she immediately pulled her little Bible from her backpack and showed me Timothy 2:9, where it does very clearly say that women should be submissive to men and cannot teach.
But this is the thing I would like to share: For the first time I listened to fundamentalist ideas without judgment. I loved her enthusiasm. I appreciated her devotion. I did not feel as if I had to “set her straight.” I did not wince when she emphatically said that God made monkeys and people at the same time, and that people never came from monkeys.
What a wonderful thing if I could listen to adults, to anyone with an “extremist” view, without becoming agitated and judgmental. To take a step back and just listen.
Maybe this would be a giant step toward peace if all of us could do this!