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Intolerable Secularists

8/27/2007 - 6:30 AM PST

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Interview With Author of "The New Fundamentalists"


ROME, AUG. 27, 2007 (Zenit) - Aggressive relativism is the newest form of fundamentalism, according to author Deacon Daniel Brandenburg, and Catholics are called to stand up and do something about it.

In this interview, Deacon Brandenburg, who will be ordained a priest of the Legionaries of Christ this December, comments on his book "The New Fundamentalists: Beyond Tolerance," recently published by Circle Press.

Q: In a nutshell, what is the new fundamentalism that you address in your book?

Deacon Brandenburg: When we hear fundamentalism, what normally comes to mind is religious narrow-mindedness, perhaps with an irrational or even fanatical bent, like that displayed by some Muslim followers after Benedict XVI's Regensburg address.

The "new" fundamentalism that I describe in my book often displays the same intolerance, irrationality and extremism. The key difference, however, is that the new fundamentalists profess to be secular followers of no religion. Yet closer examination shows that the relativistic dogma underlying their worldview excites more religious fervor than do many tenets of the great world religions.

John Paul II's experience with Nazism and Communism -- two completely secular ideological systems -- led him to write in "Centesimus annus": "When people think they possess the secret of a perfect social organization which makes evil impossible, they also think that they can use any means, including violence and deceit, in order to bring that organization into being. Politics then becomes a 'secular religion' which operates under the illusion of creating paradise in this world."

I would say that what Nazism and Communism were in the past, relativism is today in our times. The methods are different -- softer and more subtle, working from the inside out -- but the effects on people and social structures and relationships do bear some comparison.

Secular religion did not die with those defunct systems. During an address last June 11, Benedict XVI touched upon the difficulties of passing on the faith "in a society, in a culture, which all too often makes relativism its creed. [I]n such a society the light of truth is missing; indeed, it is considered dangerous and 'authoritarian' to speak of truth."

We face a new fundamentalism -- a new secular religion -- that assumes there is implicit arrogance in any statement of truth, especially if it implies a value judgment about morality or the merits of one religion or worldview in comparison to others. The relativism of our time admits no rivals and is aggressively intolerant.

In the end, when truth is taken away or ignored, might makes right. That applies for any brand of secular religion.

Q: Your book opens with a case study of a college student named Jeff who is virtually blackballed on campus for standing up for his faith, even though he did so in a reasonable and respectful way. What is the urgency of combating secular fundamentalism on college campuses?

Deacon Brandenburg: Jeff's case is one of countless true stories, all of which call us to an essential point: It's not enough to understand the nature and dangers of this new fundamentalism. We also have to equip ourselves and others to oppose it, using the tools of logical argumentation and reasonable dialogue.

This is of the highest urgency, since relativism has a corrosive effect on almost every area of human life, from religion to morality to the organization of social and political life. The battle is not limited to college campuses, but extends to all levels of education, the media, politics and social life.

Q: What specific solutions do you propose as an antidote to the influence of relativism?

Deacon Brandenburg: Since this new fundamentalism is both a human and a religious malady, the medicine I prescribe at the end of my book has a human and a religious ingredient.

On the human level, I urge mutual respect, dialogue and honesty. This last point of honesty is vitally important, since it entails a constant attitude of openness to truth.

Sometimes it is uncomfortable to be continually challenged by truth. It might seem easier to dig our heels into what we already know and just settle into a familiar landscape of facts and opinions that we feel we have mastered.

But truth is not something we can possess and put in our pocket. It is something that masters us, possesses us, and constantly challenges us to grow. To avoid that challenge would be to run away from growing into our full stature as human beings ... and as children of God, who is truth.

On the religious level, I believe the remedy is authentic religion: a faith rooted in the personal encounter with a God who transcends and loves us, leading to deep attitudes that build on the ...

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