Zealous beliefs spread social cancer

The acceptance of homosexuality is the last step in the decline of Gentile civilization.” –Pat Robertson of the Christian Broadcasting Network
“If radical environmentalists were to invent a disease to bring human populations back to sanity, it would probably be something like AIDS. It (AIDS) has the potential to end industrialism, which is the main force behind the environmental crises.” — Earth First! Newsletter
At first glance, you might suppose that the creators of these quotes are as ideologically far apart as the North and South poles. And politically, by our definitions, they are. If there is a single person who supports both Pat Robertson’s Christian Right agenda and Earth First’s oftentimes militant agenda, then he or she is most likely a bit schizo and most certainly an anomaly. Nonetheless, these two particular sides, as politically bi-polar as they may seem, are actually about as different as Coke and Pepsi.
During the past couple weeks, two unfortunate incidents called the doings and values of both sides to mind. First, there was the gruesome death of Matt Shepard. The killers themselves weren’t, to my knowledge, religious fundamentalists. They seemed more like half-witted rednecks on some sort of bizarre mission to earn themselves a couple concrete, urine-stained apartments for the rest of their lives. But Shepard’s death did attract the undivided attention of some unbelievable creeps. For instance, in response to the killing, a group of fundamentalist protesters gathered in Casper, Wyo., toting picket signs reading “AIDS Cures Fags,” among other things. And a Kansas city minister with a Web site entitled “godhatesfags.com” planned to organize a dance on Shepard’s grave at the funeral. Yikes.
Last week, several buildings were burned to a crisp at Two Elks Lodge ski resort in Vail, Colorado, resulting in one of the costliest of the more than 1,500 eco-terrorist acts to date. An extreme environmentalist faction, entitled the Earth Liberation Front, supposedly a subsidiary of Earth First!, promptly and proudly claimed responsibility. Its mission was carried out in response to Vail’s plans to expand its resort by about 900 acres, despite claims that such expansion would infringe upon the territory of the North American lynx, a threatened animal. Though nobody was hurt in this incident, I’m sure the ELF recognized the obvious potentials for such catastrophes. And the potentials for bloodshed haven’t deterred their past actions either.
On March 11, 1997, the ELF claimed responsibility for the massive bombing of a Utah Fur Breeder’s Co-op, which incurred over $1 million in damage. Heavy, dangerous explosives like fire bombs and pipe bombs were used to destroy several offices and feed trucks.
Not two weeks later, the Animal Liberation Front, a close associate of ELF, embarked on a deadly mission in Ogden, Utah. Group members were arrested for dousing a fur trapping supply store with gasoline in order to torch the store to cinders, despite the fact that a night watchman was noticeably on duty in the store at the time. The night watchman himself confronted the group members, forcing them to back off, and the local sheriff later deemed the incident an attempted murder.
What’s more, the rhetoric of highly established organizations such as Earth First! irons out any ambiguities that biased fact-finding may have garnered in regards to their intentions. “Phasing out the human race,” said one Earth First! member, “will solve every problem on Earth, social and environmental.” “Sure,” you might think, “one member.” There are overzealous loonies in any given group. Perhaps, but this one happened to be Dave Foreman, the founder of Earth First!, who now sits on the Board of Directors for the Sierra Club. Yikes.
In the minds of certain members within particular groups like Earth First!, the ELF and others, the safety of people like the night watchman in Utah is subservient to their belief that nature should be preserved at all costs. This is no different than how extreme religious groups like the one from Kansas think the death of Shepard to be a reasonable cost for the furthering of their belief that homosexuality is devil’s play. Such groups shouldn’t be solely thought of as part of the “extreme left,” or the “extreme right,” but rather as a separate category unto themselves: merely “extremist.” Though members of one group may tend to vote republican and members of the other democrat, the two groups are much more similar than they are different because they share the same basic assumption: There is an objective higher ideal, and ours is so right it’s worth killing for. In short, both sides violently support improvable beliefs. Such beliefs can be considered “religious.”
We all have religious beliefs, I’m pretty sure. Not necessarily “religious” in the sense of worshipping, but rather beliefs we possess despite our inability to prove them. “Golf is more fun than studying” is one such belief that some may hold. “Red is the greatest color in the world” is another. Who’s to say these statements are objectively wrong or right?
The same is true for the touchy ones as well: “Homosexuality goes against the word of God,” or “Natural landscapes should be preserved because they are sacred.” Neither statement can be disproven or proven, so we should be civil when trying to make decisions that are based on such assumptions. True, conflicts of interest are a daily reality, and where there are conflicts, there are often winners and losers. Unfortunately, certain believers sometimes lose out to other believers. For instance, the believers that feel “nature is sacred” lose out to other believers who think “skiing is fun.” Such was the case in Vail, where the U.S. Forest Service gave the Two Elks Lodge ski resort permission to expand, despite the ELF’s protests. That doesn’t mean the ELF believers should stop believing, or that they should stop pushing their cause. But there’s a very distinct line that should be drawn.
There’s one religious belief I think and hope the bulk of us can agree on: “Do unto others as they should do unto you.” In other words, the potential for the untimely loss of human life through violence should be avoided at all costs. This being the case, the push should stop where the bloodshed-potential begins. People who disagree with this religious belief, whether they are supporters of Earth First! or Pat Robertson, should not be thought of as ideological opposites. This just makes matters more confusing, causing us to side with one faction more than the other, thereby diluting the intensity of the social pressure that society could instill upon the entire lot of them. Therefore, such extremists should be thought of as members of one collective, cancerous lump: dangerous zealots, and nothing more.
Rob Kuznia’s column appears every Tuesday. Send comments to [email protected]