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Do unto others as you would have them do unto you

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I recently read an editorial in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that expressed my views of the problem with religious fundamentalism far better than I could.  I am forever amazed at the ability of religious fundamentalists to twist universal principles of goodness into acts of inhumanity against others whose beliefs differ from theirs. 
 
Read Jamie Turner's editorial and see if you agree with him and me that we are facing a growing threat to a peaceful world because of this religious fundamentalism.  The bold type in the article represents my editing to make significant sentences stand out.

FUNDAMENTALISM: Be indignant at righteousness
Jamie Turner - For the Journal-Constitution
Monday, June 28, 2004

A recent Atlanta Journal-Constitution article profiled a gentleman named Cory Burnell from Tyler, Texas, a 28-year-old math teacher and businessman who plans to move to South Carolina with 12,000 other Christians. ("Christian 'exodus' to S.C. planned," News, June 21).

Burnell sees South Carolina as a haven for Christian fundamentalists and the starting point for the establishment of a Christian state.

"Though he has never been there," the article stated, "he plans to reshape the South Carolina General Assembly to make the state a Christian domain. And if the federal government does not stop imposing what he considers its liberal will, he wants South Carolina to secede."

Burnell's plans, while far-fetched and, perhaps, a bit naive, reflect a problem that's not isolated to South Carolina. In fact, they reflect a problem that has greater implications than anything we could have imagined in the 20th century: the rise of religious fundamentalism.

As a student of religion, I'm fascinated by humanity's connection with God. No matter what your belief --- Christian, Jewish, Muslim, even agnostic --- it's hard to deny the positive effect people of faith have on the world. Religions, and those associated with them, are the source of countless charities and support groups. They also provide one of the few organized sources whose primary quest is to reduce suffering in the world.

So if that's the case, what's wrong with a guy who wants to go off and start a community with "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you" as its tag line? After all, aren't the basic Christian beliefs things that we can all agree on? These people mean no harm. They're just trying to create an environment of love, compassion and righteousness? Right?

Well, righteousness is where the problem starts. The core ideals of most of the world's great religions are very similar --- forgiveness, compassion and love. And, whether you agree or not, all of the world's great religions are based on the same key principles. But as wonderful as those principles are, when you start introducing the human element, they begin their drift away from universal truths towards righteousness, judgment and negativity.

In the earliest stages of fundamentalism, you'll find people who believe that all humanity is wonderful. But as they delve deeper and deeper into their fundamentalist beliefs, they start believing that all humanity is wonderful --- as long as they speak, look and think just like them. This is where the hypocrisy begins: "I love all of God's children, as long as they're just like me."

From there, you take another step to the right, which is the belief that your path to heaven is the only path --- that people who believe as you do hold a first-class ticket to life ever after and that people who don't believe as you do hold a ticket to . . . Well, wherever that ticket is going, it ain't heaven.

That's the problem. What starts as a beautiful thing ends up as fundamentalism. This prejudgment of others sometimes leads to dehumanization. It's why an Irish Catholic can kill an Irish Protestant and feel as though God would sanction it. And, most importantly, it's why al-Qaida can start a global war and do so in the name of God.

It's a very real and very dangerous threat that has the potential to cause problems far worse than the Cold War or World War II.

Let Burnell have his 15 minutes of fame. On his journey to get South Carolina to secede as a Christian state, he may do some good things, such as start a charity or provide peace for some lost souls. But understand that Burnell's deep fundamentalism represents the tip of the iceberg. There is a global religious war brewing, and the spark for that war is religious fundamentalism.

Jamie Turner is the founder and CEO of The Turner Partnership, an Atlanta-based marketing strategy firm.