Brookins Head Shot*A little while ago I wrote that the freedom of religion is the most important civil liberty protected by the 1st Amendment. Below is the dark side of that freedom..

The freedom of speech (which I argued is second to religion) is important because it helps to defuse the powder keg that is the freedom of religion. Religion has the potential to be more destructive than anything else because of fundamentalism. Free speech undermines fundamentalism.

Religious fundamentalism is the belief that a specific perspective is the only valid way of seeing things. Religious fundamentalism (specifically fundamental Christianity and Islam) dictates that everyone else conform to that one perspective and that resources should be enjoyed by those who conform to that one perspective. In addition anyone who doesn’t conform doesn’t deserve the same rights, privileges, and/or access to resources.

In this way religious fundamentalism justifies selfishness and leads to violent confrontations.

We are all familiar with the current version of Islamic fundamentalism and the episodes of violence it spawns – the attack at the offices of Charlie Hebdo as the latest example.

But looking a bit further back in history shows that Christian fundamentalism was the basis for the colonial expansion of Western European countries. All of those countries sent people out to sail and claim land for God and king because God wanted their king and country to possess more.

Even the United States with its freedom of religion was born with a similar impetus. The decision to declare independence from Great Britain was a result of the belief that Americans should not be made to share resources with the British folks who had recently protected them in a war. The Founding Fathers were liberal in some key areas but they retained the belief that God wanted them to prosper. And they used that belief to justify expansion across an already inhabited continent.

A popular assumption is that religion has caused the most violence throughout history. I’m not sure if that statement is true, but if it is true we can only point to religious fundamentalism as the reason. Half hearted believers (to put a negative connotation out there) or liberal thinking believers (the more positive way of viewing people) generally try to come to a middle ground rather than insisting and ignoring their opposition.

I don’t mean to speak negatively about religion in general. But religious fundamentalism deserves some bad ink.

Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War.  His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @historictrev.