Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Everyone's Extreme But Me and Thee

I'm out of town until tomorrow (I hope), and Internet access is harder to get than I expected.  But I just remembered this excerpt from James Barr's book Fundamentalism that I've quoted before, and which fits in with what I wrote the other day about liberals and Fox News:
As with some other comparable social movements, there is always a position more extreme than the one you are talking with at any particular moment. A person whom an average mainstream Christian will regard as a rabid fundamentalist will often be found to consider himself rather moderate; beyond him there lie, it appears, whole tracts of belief that are much more intransigent and uncompromising. The fundamentalist polemicist thus puzzles people by assuming a pose of moderation. He affects to suppose, at least at times, that his is in fact a central position within Christianity. On the one side you have the severe distortions of Roman Catholicism, on the other you have the utter perversions of liberalism, and in the middle you have the sound, central and moderate position of his own conservative evangelicalism. There may indeed be persons who push the conservative evangelical position to unnecessary extremes, it is admitted, but the average sound conservative (i.e., the one you are talking to at the moment) occupies middle ground. It is thus not uncommon to find a person who holds absolutely all the tenets of fundamentalist belief, … but who nevertheless uses the term ‘fundamentalist’ not for himself but for some shadowy group of people who hold a yet more extreme position.
Easy enough, eh?  Let me add a complicating thought.  Sure, that crazy Fox News fan over there, or that wacked-out fundamentalist, might think he's a sensible moderate, but he's really extreme.  So far so good.  But are you, O real sensible moderate, as middle-of-the-road as you like to think?

My own answer to my question is that I'm not concerned with being either extreme or moderate.  If what I think is right sets me at odds with most right-thinking people, so what?  It's not exactly news, is it, that most right-thinking people have been wrong in the past?  Well, maybe it is, to some people.  After the dust has settled, right-thinking people like to rewrite history so that they were on the right side after all, and the crazy extremists who took the right position before turn out to have been right for the wrong reasons, like those who opposed Bush's invasion of Iraq on the grounds that it was based on falsehoods and constituted aggression.  To right-thinking people, we only thought that because we were motivated by a visceral knee-jerk hatred of Bush and of the Republican Party, plus a general dislike for military violence.  (As if any of those were bad reasons.)  The right reason, according to right-thinking people, is that the war wasn't well-planned or organized, it turned out to take longer than expected, but our hearts were in the right place.  And the same people are ready to be right-thinking again, as often as it takes.  As I've said before, it's easy to be moderate if you get to pick the extremes in advance.

On the other hand, I don't mind if I agree with most people either.  After all, if most people have the good sense or good taste to agree with me, it might mean there's hope for the human race after all.