Blue Byline

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Every religion’s common ground: extremists

Post by Brian O'Neill on Aug. 13, 2011 at 1:52 pm with 18 Comments »
August 14, 2011 10:24 am

While reading the Trib on 8/11 I noticed an interesting and unintended juxtaposition of stories. The first concerned the depraved legal story that is Warren Jeffs’, the so-called leader of the Fundamentalist Church of the Latter Day Saints (FLDS). The second was Kathleen Parker’s column, which included a brief reflection on Mitt Romney’s life as a member of the Church of the Latter Day Saints.

The only connection between the two articles was the subjects’ relationship to the Mormon church, with Jeffs clinging to a distortion of its past and Romney exemplifying its present. But what struck me was the fundamental tag attached to Jeffs’ cultish version. Religious fundamentalists, a term now synonymous with extremists, can be found in virtually every religion incuding Mormonism. These extremists have formed many splinter groups, many of whom have taken their message abroad through violence.

But in this post 9/11 world we are all well aware of that fact. However, in our chase for the boogeyman, a male subject of dark complexion, Arabic origin and Islamic persuasion, we often overlook violent examples whose appearance is strikingly similar to the one staring back from the average American mirror.

Christians have their fundamentalists, which include Koran-burning Floridians, funeral-crashing gay bashers and a homicidal wacko from Oslo who justifies his homicidal rampage with Christian rhetoric. Jewish fundamentalists, who also have a penchant for violent extremism, seem intent on keeping the Middle East powder keg lit by an ongoing effort to build homesteads on contested land. Not to be left out, there are the ubiquitous Islamic fundamentalists who spew anti-Semitic (and anti-American) hate from mosques and political podiums, while inciting their youth to acts of suicidal atrocities.

After reading and digesting the two stories above, and painfully applying them on a larger framework, one thing becomes apparent: Each religious house has some cleaning to do. Realistically, that does not seem likely. Instead, as human nature daily makes plain, our go-to game plan is to raise the status of our particular brand by trashing the competition.

During last century’s wars the public found it much easier to fight an evil caricature of the Japanese or Germans, and today as moviegoers we find it much more palatable to cheer when the hero destroys a cyborg or a giant bug than a 6 foot tall white male. As we dehumanize our enemies we refuse to consider their true nature, just as we turn a blind eye to the absolute losers in our own camp.

Why bother denouncing so-called Christian bombers who blow up abortion clinics when it’s so much more satisfying to scream about the “Mosque at Ground Zero?”

Why bother denouncing the self-destructive tendencies of misguided jihadists when news stations scramble everytime a leader claims the holocaust never occurred?

Why bother denouncing your own peoples’ efforts to circumvent the peace process when it’s easier to bulldoze the homes of impoverished Palestinians?

Or, and this is for Warren Jeffs’, why bother denouncing your crimes as a pedophile when it’s much easier to invent a religion that worships your right to molest young girls?

Rather than entertain such pointless questions, nations that base their society upon these religions–nations like Israel, Iran and the United States–should instead seek out the commonalities in their holiest of books, the Torah, the Koran and the Bible.

By acknowledging what we share in common we might more easily recognize the true face of another religion as separate from the distortion that violent fundamentalists have created.


Leave a comment Comments → 18
  1. Brian: I think this was a good article, but as you said every religion has its extremists, I was hoping you’d be able to provide an example of extremists in the Buddhist religion. Perhaps extreme vegetarianism, or extolling the virtues of peace too often qualify?

  2. Brian O'Neill says:

    If you’re looking for buddhist extremists, see for yourself:

  3. Brian: Thanks for the link it was interesting. However I believe it is a hoax, just like the one in India, here is a link for you if your interested debunking a similar claim in India I’m rather sure ( not positive the article regarding Sri Lanka is just as valid.

  4. I am greatful for our sepration of church and state. When religion and nationalism combine, it can be a very destructive force. Thanks for the article and your thoughts on this subject.

    @ipsut: The Buddhist Nationalism in Sri Lanka was widely reported at the time, so I don’t think it was a hoax.

    With that said, a lot of the extreme sentiment was on the “Nationalism” side, with attacks on foreign Christian missionaries and their churches. Buddhist monks were particularly angered by Western materialism and the changes that tourism brought to community life.

    Several of the Sri Lankan states passed anti-Christian laws based on this Buddhist and Nationalist extremism.

    Here is a link to a journal article of 2004 earlier in the conflicts that lasted until 2008-2009 that talks about Asian Buddhist extremism in general, also.

  5. “…Or, and this is for Warren Jeffs’, why bother denouncing your crimes as a pedophile when it’s much easier to invent a religion that worships your right to molest young girls?

    Rather than entertain such pointless questions, nations that base their society upon these religions–nations like Israel, Iran and the United States–should instead seek out the commonalities in their holiest of books, the Torah, the Koran and the Bible.”


    Ending the article that way seems to color it as some compilation of religious thoughts aimed towards “cleaning …[e]ach religious house” by way of selective observance on what portions followers are to adhere to!

    When thinking of the “commonalities” found in “the Torah, the Koran and the Bible” – a task assigned readers immediately following mention of Warren Jeffs – the first to jump out is polygamy, which should quickly lead to the next being the common factor cited for age of marriage; the most common translations are ‘puberty’ or ‘flow’.

    If the focus here is religion, then the judgment upon Warren Jeffs should be on any or all Laws of God he violated. That leaves out polygamy and age (should all of his wives have reached ‘flow’). His ‘group sessions’ certainly open the door there.

    If we focus only on man’s law, though it apparently resembles a re-write to override God’s, there is no question that the laws were violated by that man (which were acts left wanting if we’re to toss it in with a response addressing “violent fundamentalists”).

    It certainly was a great effort to grab the headline search for the recent ‘hot hits’ topic to tell us how all would be great if only the Muslims, Jews and Christians could get together and sing Kumbaya!

    It’s a wonderful idea, but, as is noted in your article, the various followings which center on any of the “holiest of books” mentioned can’t even agree well on which of the “commonalities” to follow in their own “book”.

  6. nonstopjoe says:

    If people would keep religious beliefs to themselves, the world would be much better off.

  7. tuddo: Again thanks for the post. I truly believed no one would be able to provide an example of extremism within Buddhism. I stand corrected. OTOH, that the only example is of Sri Lanka, and the links provided and articles I’ve since researched were from several years ago. I still believe it is not accurate to say that extremism in Buddhism is on common ground with other religions.Though it is much older than most religions, Buddhism over the years has with few, and rare exception, been anything , but extreme.

  8. Brian O'Neill says:

    KBP- I guess I was thinking of a few basic common denominators, like “do unto others as you would have done to you,” and “love your neighbor as yourself.” If I’m not mistaken, those cross a few religious boundaries, and would provide some direction in terms of violent extremism as well as having sex with little kids (whether you call them wives or not). This column was not meant to be a clever grab for headlines, just a rumination after reading the paper.

  9. Brian O'Neill says:

    My anecdotal evidence would agree with your assumptions on the peaceful nature of Buddhists, ipsut. Still, you have to hand it to extremists in general–at least they’re consistent.

  10. Brian:Yes but I’ll hand it to human nature as yes we are consistent , there is one in every crowd as they say.

  11. I apologize for mentioning the “grab for headline” in a conclusive manner – not worded well on my part.

    In the search for “basic common denominators”, we’re still referencing “their holiest of books”. If you were to research how they “provide some direction in terms of …having sex with little kids”, as you phrased it, we’re back to God’s laws. The age is not the limit there, as I previously mentioned.

    In this situation, you’re limited to only Man’s laws should that be the conduct in question. As it pertains to Warren Jeffs, he’ll have plenty of time locked up to think about which laws of both Man and God he has violated, the latter of which I’m not sure he admits at this time.

  12. A diary started in 1833 tells the story of a 16 year old boy who wanted to join a wagon train from Ohio to the Oregon Territory. Being married was a requirement. Somehow the Christian leaders were convinced that a single male posed a danger to their women. The solution was to marry him to the 12 year old daughter of the minister. The couple were married for 70 years. Sometimes circumstances are such that what may have been acceptable in the past is not acceptable today.

    Yes, I think Jeffs should hung by his thumbs or some other body part.

  13. I found this article excessively biased, narrow minded and bigoted. The impression Brian seems to leave when writing this article is that extremism is bad and religion is the root cause. I hate to burst your bubble, but extremism is found in everything. Surely environmental extremists have been a problem, but not based on religion (unless you consider environmentalism a religion). What about Animal Liberation Front (ALF)? PETA? Sea Shepherds? Unibomber? Even Timothy McVeigh (the let’s poster child for right wing extremism) wasn’t religious – he claimed science was his religion.

    Extremism is all though human’s history. It can take any form, and be spawned from any activity. Please stop lumping religion as the source of the world’s troubles. Is it a problem? Yes, but it’s not alone.

  14. “…Sometimes circumstances are such that what may have been acceptable in the past is not acceptable today.”


    Which starts with re-writing the Scriptures if you are to then follow them …unless of course you can find justification for selectively following them.

    The point being; if we are one of the “nations that base their society upon these religions”, we’ve defeated that goal by enacting laws counter to those Scriptures.

    I suppose we still fit the “sorta” category then, with some more equal than others. That seems to leave more problems to solve at home before we can all sit down and search for “commonalities” in the books followed throughout the world. Problems we’ll never see solved!

  15. Brian O'Neill says:

    Gandalf- Biased, narrow-minded and bigoted? Really?

    If I follow your logic, those terms apply to this piece because it was limited to the discussion of religious extremists rather than extremists whose violence is done in the name of, say, the environment. Here’s a follow-up question: would it be biased, narrow-minded and bigoted to write about the corrupt nature of international cycling because of steroid abuse by the athletes? By your logic, yes. Why? Because the piece would not include steroid use in professional football, baseball, horse-racing and ping-pong, so it must somehow be prejudiced against cycling.

    Or could it be that I’m simply editing this column so it’s not the size of the telephone book?

    I am very aware of extremists who commit violence for non-religious purposes. I receive regular briefings on the topic and work with people whose specialties encompass the entire spectrum of criminally extreme behavior. I would refer you to past blogs if you’re interested in that. In the meantime, feel free to make reasonable comments regarding the current topic, religious extremism, and save your inappropriate sense of shock.

  16. I started and finished the article uncertain what Romney was included for – when compared to a story on Waren Jeffs – unless merely to show, after reading further, that not all members of religions are fundamentalists nor extremists.

    In the second paragraph the FLDS were implied to be “extremists”, one size fits all.

    The last three paragraphs include an ending to examples on what fundamentalists or extremists may do and then completes the article with a good idea that will never happen.

    So, the most substantial message conveyed in that post to this reader was you had read about Jeffs conviction and that we should, at the minimum, infer that FLDS members are all extremists.

    As for “steroid abuse”, you lost me there. If that somehow relates to my mention of how Scriptures are halfheartedly followed, I included that because I believe one is talking out both sides of their mouth if they use religion in a selective manner, while at the same time harshly judging others for following the fundamentals of it.

  17. Brian O'Neill says:

    kbp- You have utterly lost me.

    The intro to the column included Jeffs and Romney as members of the fundamental and mainstream portions of the Mormon religion, and I used them to serve as examples for my main theme. If you want to infer anything else involving Mormons based on that, you’re on your own. As for steroid abuse, that was a response to a comment made to a reader named Gandalf (which is why I titled it “Gandalf”). If you really want to follow the train of logic in these comments you need to start at the bottom and read each one in a chronological fashion.

    You might be thinking too hard on this one.

    Either way, thanks for reading.

  18. smokey984 says:

    I wouldn’t say every religions common ground is extremists…Every religions common ground is mutual respect and understanding across the board. The extremists represent a small portion of religions.

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