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End times

Last week I had a little fun with the chiliasts,* the usual mixture of instruction (vocabulary, history, theology) and ribbing.

Then a commenter opined that “I hope to be left behind in a country where the political situation will be vastly improved thanks to the departure of all those nutty Christian fundamentalists,” and other commenter said “Long ago, when I was a kid and fire was still a new fangled idea, our Mama's told us not to make mock of other peple's religious beliefs. Be real careful, y'all. There are things more important than clever. Respect is not entirely out of style.”

I grew up among evangelical Protestants, many of them fundamentalists and good people in the main. And I have no reason to think that most American evangelicals and fundamentalists are other than basically good people trying to live out their beliefs in a secular society that presents much that disturbs them. (I do wish they would leave off toying with the biology textbooks, though.) So I’m sympathetic to the issue of insulting other people’s religious beliefs.**

Still another reader, writing privately, wondered why we can’t refer to “ ‘nutty Islamic fundamentalists” and “nutty Christian fundamentalists” on a blog? How about “nutty colonic irrigators” and “nutty carrot-juice proselytizers”? Is there any doubt that some adherents of various beliefs are nuttier (less rational, more disruptive) than others?”

I have some sympathy there, too. The Rev. Fred Phelps and his congregation have seen their right to proclaim their obnoxious views protected by the courts. I agree with the First Amendment principle, and I abhor the Phelpsian gay-baiting as much as anyone. And no one appears to be shy about denouncing these repellant views and behaviors. So we can apparently deplore some religious views.

The obverse side of the First amendment is that once you exercise your right to proclaim your views publicly, others enjoy the same right to counter those views. I was, I concede, dancing on the edge that separates condemning idiotic views from labeling people as idiots. That’s where the challenge lies.


*Chiliasm, from the Greek chilioi, “a thousand,” is the belief in the, usually imminent, coming of the millennium.

**Someone writing as “Cranmer” (nice touch) said, “I thought Mr McIntyre was an Episcopalian. It seems disingenuous for someone who believes in the trinity, and possibly even the real presence, to mock another's laughable delusion.” But Anglicans have always been fair game. Barchester Towers. Monty Python’s "dead bishop" sketch. The weather report in Anglican chant.



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