Confronting Fundamentalism Together | Catherine Wallace | TEDxUofIChicago


Translator: Leonardo Silva
Reviewer: Claudia Sander I was born in this town, which may explain
how I got into all of this. In Chicago, we have a name
for the abuse of power. We call it clout. We sometimes think we invented it. In this town, we know the smell
of dirty politics, and so I recognized that
Christian fundamentalism is clout. It’s clout wrapping itself in the illusion
and the disguise of religious legitimacy. And it stinks to high heaven. If there’s a system anywhere
that we need to rethink, it’s the political clout
of Christian fundamentalism. Little disclosure here: I’m a Christian myself. In fact, I am a Jesuit-educated
Irish Catholic. So, I’m at stake here, personally, in a really intimate way. My religion has been hijacked. My religion has been weaponized
and used to attack innocent people. The religious, the radical Right, aided by a lot of, you know,
well-disguised corporate money, has flat out redefined
the public image of Christianity. The religious Right claims to represent
the moral high ground in American culture. But look, will you look
at what they advocate: Racism, sexism, hate, mongering, xenophobia. And look at what they deny: They deny the reality of evolution, they deny the reality of climate change, they deny the reality
of gay marriages and families and, above all, they are
radically authoritarian. They have “absolute truth,” and so they will not listen to evidence
or arguments about why or how from anybody else. That’s dangerous. It’s dangerous, it’s nonsense,
and it is not Christianity. The attacks of 9/11 showed me,
showed all of us, good heavens, just how dangerous it is
when a religion is hijacked for narrow political purposes. I realized then that I had to stop
rolling my eyes and saying, “Oh, that’s not Christianity. Oh, just ignore them. That’s nonsense.
That’s not Christianity.” I had to stop doing that. I had to do something,
I had to say something. If I were Christian, I had to confront
Christian fundamentalism, I had a moral obligation. I spent the next ten years
trying to find a way to do that. It was this bizarre detour. But, eventually, I did find
what I was looking for. It’s called Christian Humanism. Some people have said to me, “Christian Humanism?
That’s a contradiction in terms.” It’s not. It’s a really old
intellectual movement in the West. It begins in the high Middle Ages. Later, some people take
to calling themselves secular humanists because the values of Christian Humanism
are broadly shared by other religions and by secular thinkers too,
and I’ll get back to that. The point is, this is a set of values,
a language for conceptualizing values, around which we can unite to confront fundamentalism
together and effectively. Humanists in any tradition,
religious and secular alike, share two moral commitments. The first is to human rights. For Christians, and Muslims, and Jews,
human rights is based on the belief that the image of God dwells
in all people everywhere. For Buddhists, we all share Buddha nature. For Hindus, we’re one with the cosmos, and so we should not cause suffering
to any sentient creature, human or not. For secularists, secular humanists, the foundation of human rights
are various philosophical analyses, like the one offered
by Immanuel Kant in the 1700s. Kant argued that it’s simply
logically self-evident that we should behave in ways that we could wish everyone
universally would behave. He called that the categorical imperative. You can also call it the golden rule. It works, it works pretty well,
no matter what you call it. Take your pick. How many different ways can you explain the need to be a decent human being, the obligation to be a decent human being? The second major value that we all share,
that all humanists share, is to be morally committed
to seeking truth and wisdom, which I would define as good judgment
in difficult situations. The very first Christian humanists argued
that God calls us to ask questions, just as God calls us
to love our neighbors. Human curiosity and human
creativity, they argued, are as direct an echo
of the image of God in us as the obligation to love. These obligations are not to be denied. Humanists in other traditions
of course have other ways of explaining the deep-seeded human yearning
for truth and wisdom, for curiosity and creativity. So, once again, pick an explanation that works for you. Here’s the bottom line, though: There’s not a moral tradition on Earth
that would defend the sleazy deceptiveness of the radical religious Right. Critical thinking
and the honest use of language are not simply intellectual standards. That’s a moral issue,
it’s globally recognized as a moral issue. We are to seek truth and wisdom, not just wealth, and power,
and dishonest political advantage. And so, when the hard Right
ridicules science and expertise, when they manufacture
irrational facts and illusionary data to support their claims, don’t kid yourself
about where that’s headed. It’s the abuse of power. It’s the abuse of power because, if you repeat
a lie often enough – about voter identity fraud,
about bathroom safety – if you repeat a lie often enough,
some people will believe you. Contempt for the truth
is politically dangerous. In a democracy, we argue
from data, not from dogma. We seek to persuade one another honestly
and on the basis of the facts. That’s the great threat posed
by authoritarian fundamentalism, whether Christian, or secular, or any of the other
fundamentalisms around us today. Fundamentalists will not collaborate. Government, democratic government,
grinds to a halt. Humanism has a really long
history in the West, and I think it helps to know that history
and I’d like to tell you that story, because, if we know our own past,
if we know our story, we can, I don’t know, more reasonably
rustle up the moral courage that it takes to do something about the mess
that we seem to be headed toward today. The very first people called humanists
were public intellectuals in Italy in the early 1300s. At that point, the very first use
of the word “humanism” in the West, all that it meant was
“educated in the humanities.” “Humanist” is to the humanities
as “scientist” is to the sciences. That’s really all that word meant
when it first shows up in the West. It becomes something
much more than that, however, because of what the humanists achieved. The first great humanists learned Greek from Arab scholars who fled to Italy
from the rise of the Ottoman Empire. One of many really important
intellectual collaborations between Christian scholars
and Arab scholars. Then, the humanists went from monastery
to monastery to monastery, all over Italy and then up into Europe, looking for manuscripts written in Greek, and they found a treasure trove
of previously unreadable manuscripts that the good monks had preserved
since the fall of Rome or thereabouts, copying as necessary, preserving these manuscripts
century after century after century. They knew it was important,
but, after a point, nobody could read it. Until these guys showed up
and they could read Greek, and, soon enough,
they could read classical Latin. So, what happens next? They translate this stuff
and they publish it, taking advantage
of that cutting-edge technology, the printing press. They reclaimed
the entire classical heritage from Greek and Roman antiquity. That’s what we mean by the Renaissance. And that’s not all. They also began a recognizably
modern literary study of the Bible in all of its individual languages, studying each of those individual works
in their own historical context – who wrote it and for whom
was that person writing – and so forth. So, they discovered, for instance, that the gospels are not
eyewitness accounts. They discovered, for instance, that the major “church fathers”
of classical antiquity explicitly warned that the creation stories in Genesis are not to be taken as literal accounts
of historical events. And so on, and so on. And that set off
the Protestant Reformation. And then? And then, they found
and translated and studied the major texts of classical rhetoric. The European culture rediscovered what classical rhetoric
had worked out in the ancient world, which was how to conduct rigorous,
honest, evidence-based arguments on matters of controversy. Observation and evidence, including direct empirical observation
of the natural world, was a major theme in Christian Humanism
and all through the Renaissance. That’s part of why
they have such brilliant art. And then, they did something else. They worked out a new synthesis
of important strands in the European culture. They had discovered the immense
complexity of that culture. And so, they laid out a robust
and deeply theological foundation for what would become the modern, rational,
scientific, democratic West. They changed the face of western culture. They couldn’t have changed
the face of western culture without that robust theological foundation because Christianity had been
the state religion of the West since the year 1390. It had to have a Christian foundation. They worked it out. So, all of this is happening, you know,
the Renaissance and the Reformation, and the Enlightenment which was
their working out the classical rhetoric – 1400 to 1700, thereabouts. In the later 1700s, there are three major
proclamations of human rights. The first is the American Revolution. We hold these truths self-evident
that all people are created equal. The second was the French Revolution: Liberty, equality, and fraternity. The third was the Abolitionist Movement, arguing that it was a violation
of the Christian obligation to the image of God in all people that white people
had enslaved people of color. But then, there is,
growing across the 1800s, a major authoritarian backlash. There are major pro-democracy
movements across Europe. They’re brutally put down.
Tens of thousands of people die. That’s in 1848. America has to fight
a civil war over slavery because abolitionism, which was successful
in England and in other places, fails when it gets to America. So, a civil war, 1861 to 1865. And then, in the 1870s and 1880s, Christian fundamentalism emerges right alongside other major
authoritarian absolutist ideologies, ideologies that come
to political prominence in Russia, and in Germany, and in Italy. Christian fundamentalism
emerges to oppose everything that Christian Humanism had achieved, specifically including democracy,
freedom of conscience, freedom of religion,
and biblical scholarship. Darwin wasn’t issue. Darwin was small potatoes
in comparison to biblical scholarship. These doctrines are reactionary
Victorian inventions. They are not ancient
teachings and beliefs. They’re both theological nonsense. Christian fundamentalism
is a totalitarian ideology, and I don’t say that lately. As Lord Acton warned at the time, power corrupts, and absolute power
corrupts absolutely. Christian fundamentalism
is a dangerous corruption of Christianity. So, fast-forward to the 1930s,
the Great Depression. Radical, wealthy business
executives on the hard Right reach out to authoritarian
Christian fundamentalists. Together, they denounce the New Deal,
Roosevelt’s New Deal, as “godless communism.” In the 50s and 60s, it happens again. Radical business people
and fundamentalists fan the racism of the former slave states. The Civil Rights Act of 1964
is the archetypal referent for intrusive government regulations
advancing unbiblical principles. Then, they attacked
equal rights for women. Then, they attacked gay people. Now, they’re demonizing Mexicans
and Muslims and the transgender. Who’s next? Do you smell something? I smell religion being used for ruthless
political and economic advantage. I smell clout, pure and simple, and it has all been documented
in extraordinary detail. Reactionary billionaires
continue doing this kind of thing. In June of 1965, Martin Luther King gave a commencement
address at Oberlin College. Its title was “Remaining Awake
Through a Great Revolution.” King warned that we must
stand together as brothers, or we will die separately as fools. Let’s not die separately as fools. We need to reclaim the fact
that we share these commitments, that so many of us,
on so many different bases, are committed to human rights
and human decency, to curiosity and inquiry,
and free critical thinking. We have different motives for doing this,
we have different explanations. All of that’s fine. That diversity is strength. It fosters our flexibility
and our creative problem-solving. It feeds the moral imagination of the great and fragile
American experiment in multicultural,
multireligious democracy. And so, when you smell clout
and dirty politics wrapping itself in piety, speak up, insist that human decency
and clear thinking are moral values shared
by decent people globally, in every religion
and in every secular tradition. Don’t shy away from phrases
like “moral obligation.” Democracy, above all else,
is a moral tradition. It depends upon our mutual respect and honest intellectual collaboration
for the common good. Let us continue bending what Martin Luther King called
“the long arch of history.” It does bend toward justice, but only if decent people
stand side by side, pulling it that way. Thank you. (Applause)

4 thoughts on “Confronting Fundamentalism Together | Catherine Wallace | TEDxUofIChicago”

  1. It is a real sorrow that the dementia set in in her like this–she may have had something to actually contribute to society…such as truth. We must pray for her soul, friends, cause THAT is exactly what Jesus would do–not plant a field of corn first.

  2. It is interesting that YouTube refuses more than twenty videos by Prager University to be broadcast but allows this video.

  3. Someone take the uneducated granny to the doctor for some new meds. This is the most retarded attack on a strawman I have seen in a while. These are the disconnected ramblings of a broken mind.

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