Often fundamentally wrong, the fundamentalists

There was mention in the news the other day of the government’s ramping up of its focus and commitment of resources on homegrown terror. Episodes like the infamous “shoe bomber,” the failed bombing caper earlier this year intended to cause mayhem in Times Square and other close calls have apparently been enough of a red flag for the authorities to have the terror watch on the home front subjected to comparable vigilance akin to what’s been invested in the search for bin Laden and his ilk.

When you come right down to it, though, terror, whether practiced by men in caves in a world far away or by others right here in our midst, is really a product of unbending devotion to a fundamentalist orientation. A belief system whose followers see rigid adherence as the only true test of belonging is, depending on the stakes involved, a potential calamity waiting to happen.

And of course the ravages of fundamentalist practices need not solely be terror and violence related. Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman wrote recently in his New York Times column about “free market fundamentalists” who he said, “have been wrong about everything (relative to how the economy should be righted) and yet they now dominate the political scene more than ever.” He further mentioned some misgivings about the way forward, including among them that Republican Congressman Ron Paul, an avowed libertarian, who has said, “I don’t think we need regulators,” will be the new chair of “a key committee overseeing the Fed.”

But it is across the religious spectrum that fundamentalist ways abound. It was the fundamentalist beliefs of jihadists, we are told, that brought us to the abhorrent 9/11 carnage. It is obviously the obstinacy of fundamentalists on both sides that has caused Middle East peace to be the elusive quantity it has remained all these years. Iran has fast become a pariah to much of the international community because of what’s perceived to be the reckless behavior of the fundamentalist clique in control there.

We don’t normally link the “fundamentalist” label to the Roman Catholic faith but there’s no disputing that the stubborn resistance of some leaders and practitioners to any modifications in centuries-old church dogma essentially embodies a fundamentalist ethos. There’s been some buzz about the possible makings of a breach between Catholic bishops in the U.S. and the Catholic Health Association, the affiliation of 1200 Catholic hospitals and health organizations led by Sister Carol Keehan, after the association came out in support of President Obama’s health care reform legislation, refusing to go along with the bishops’ opposition to it.

The association was again at variance with the bishops over an issue that only broke into the news months after its occurrence. The terminated pregnancy last year of a woman at a Catholic hospital in Arizona who, doctors determined, would have died if her pregnancy had been allowed to continue, saw the woman, her family, her doctors and the hospital’s ethics consult team all in agreement about terminating the pregnancy because of the patient having been stricken with pulmonary hypertension. Transferring the woman to another hospital was apparently not an option because she was too sick to be moved. Reportedly, the consensus was that because the goal was saving the woman’s life and not performing an abortion, per se, this constituted proper observance of the church’s ethical guidelines.

Signing off on the procedure, the hospital’s administrator would find herself at odds with the Bishop of Phoenix, Thomas Olmstead, who declared the administrator to have been “automatically excommunicated” for approving of what went down. Sister Keehan, when she weighed in on the case, again ran afoul of the church establishment with her statement that the hospital’s decision in permitting the procedure was “correct.”

Pray tell, even if a formal “fundamentalist” tag is absent here, pertaining to Olmstead and the bishops, how else is such deeply embedded intractability to be characterized? A woman’s life was imperiled, for crying out loud! Truly it boggles the mind, this idea that, in effect, passing a sentence of death on someone is rationalized by faithful allegiance to a principle of pregnancy termination as mortal sin for which, apparently, there is no propitiation.

It was the abortion issue, as well, that was seized upon by the Catholic Conference of Bishops in the group’s opposition to the Obama health care reform package – not sufficiently emphatic, they claimed, in denying federal funding of abortions. Quite evident, the traits of fundamentalist behavior there. To their credit, Sister Keehan and the Catholic Health Association looked beyond the narrow confines of whether the reform measure included enough of a safeguard against federally funded abortions and chose instead to view the issue through a much wider lens. Keehan’s comment that the reform legislation represented one of the rare instances when the poor emerged winners, was at once incisive and revealing of how out of step were those, ostensibly on her side, who remained wedded to doctrinaire precepts that, at least in some instances, seem to warrant revisiting.

Closed minds, there’s the enemy. Bull-headed insistence that any variation from the norm that was is inherently evil may well be the agent of our destruction. It only becomes more alarming when we find so-called religious types prominently positioned as builders of those walls of resistance. How frequently wrong the fundamentalists continue to be.

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