A few months ago, columnist Kathleen Parker suggested that the Western world and the Muslim world are “centuries apart,” and that if we were not careful, “certain elements of the Muslim world would like to drag us back into the Dark Ages.” While that may be true, there are an unsettling number of religious extremists within our own borders who would like to do the same. I’ve seen the face of that and I’m worried.
I would like to think that our culture is more enlightened than the view that some men in the Muslim world have — that women have one place in society: to be obedient to their husbands, have children, stay home, never work outside the home, and to remain uneducated.
For those who think that attitude is not prevalent and growing in our American society, let me clue you in.
One 17-year-old girl I know very well is being forced to go to Bob Jones University by her parents. She wants to go to college, but she was not given a choice about where she could go. Her family dictated that she could either live at home and commute to a local college or go to a “church” college, like Bob Jones or Liberty University. She is going because she wants a college education and she knows that her dad would really rather that she just get married, have lots of babies, and learn how to be “obedient” to her future husband (there is not even a boyfriend in the picture, by the way — she’s not allowed to date until she figures out who she wants to marry).
The extreme evangelicals in our country would like us to ignore these little enclaves of well-scrubbed co-eds who must adhere to “modest” dress codes. While they are being “educated,” they are also being indoctrinated with intolerance for those who are unlike them, and that’s why we need to be vigilant — the face of intolerance is growing in our country on this religious front every day. One believer, as he was trying to convince me of the error of my ways in my own belief system, told me he did not have to be tolerant of the religious and racial diversity in my family (I am Protestant, my husband is Jewish and our daughter was adopted from China) and said he prayed for us because he feared we would never get into heaven.
I don’t worry about that. But I do worry that this trend is growing and soon it will have insinuated itself more into our manistream. One New Yorker article last year profiled Liberty University as a college that is grooming these extreme evangelicals for jobs in the RNC, Congressional offices and elected posts around the country. Slowly, but surely, they are looking for a way to spread their skewed view of the world throughout leadership positions in the U.S. Is this approach so different from what extremists of other religions want — to find a way to spread their message in a quiet, under-the-radar sort of way? And look where they are today and what their societies look like. Can a sea change in our society really be that far out of the realm of possiblity when young adults entering college are being groomed by the extreme religious right?