The similarities among the radical wings of religious fundamentalism are striking and frightening.
In Iran, for example, the mullahs issue fatwas, the exhortations to assassinate people they don't like. The most notorious of these in recent times was the fatwa issued in 1989 by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini against the Indian-born author Salman Rushdie. The ayatollah was incensed because Mr. Rushdie's novel Satanic Verses seemed to insult Islam.
We have our own religious nuts here in America. They issue their own fatwas. The latest example of this came last week from one of the nuttiest of them all, the so-called Rev. Pat Robertson, who urged the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
When his fatwa caused an uproar among more sensible evangelicals, Mr. Robertson first said he was misquoted - which he wasn't - and then apologized as if he didn't mean what he said. So he's not just a nut, he's a liar.
Possibly, he is a dangerous liar. Arthur Hirsch, reporting in The Sun last week, found many who say that Mr. Robertson's influence has waned. But if a single psychotic listening to Mr. Robertson's 700 Club broadcast took it into his head that the preacher was expressing God's will and decided to follow instructions, the outcome could be dangerous.
Mr. Robertson's outburst of malevolence was not exceptional for him or for some of his equally excessive brethren, such as the Rev. Jerry Falwell.
Mr. Hirsch's article was accompanied by some of the more outrageous things Mr. Robertson has said in the past.
Here's one of my favorites:
"The feminist agenda ... is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians."
Wow! How come God never told me that?
Another of my favorites is from Mr. Falwell, speaking on Mr. Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network immediately after 9/11.
"I really believe that the pagans and the abortionists and the feminists and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way - all of them who have tried to secularize America - I point the finger in their face and say, 'You helped this happen."'
To which Mr. Robertson said, "I totally concur."
Later, they both apologized.
If it were just the religious fundamentalist radicals, off in their own world, sharing insulting absurdities with each other, that would be one thing. But like the mullahs in Iran, the Robertsons and the Falwells of our world would like to transform America from a democracy into a theocracy.
The mullahs succeeded in Iran. Imagine what America would be like if the Christian mullahs had their way. What would they do with all the pagans, the feminists, the witchcrafters, the communists (of whom there are so few left in America, they'd probably appreciate the attention)?
The holocaust would go on forever, with Mr. Robertson and Mr. Falwell dancing around the pyres happier than Mather and Torquemada put together. And what wars would they launch against pagan nations? Especially the ones where people believe in Mohammed, the "terrorist," as Mr. Falwell once called the founder of Islam. (He apologized for that, too.)
Unfortunately, the Christian radicals are not off in their own world. They have become a serious political force in the very democracy they would like to replace with a theocracy. They were particularly influential in the last two elections. That helps to explain why President Bush - who has his own divine illusions and disabled apology system - did not react unhappily to Mr. Robertson's latest outrage.
Here's my question, though: If a prominent minister here can call for the murder of people who represent a different political and cultural view, why should anyone be surprised if a foreign mullah does the same?
Both are corrupters of the divinity they claim to represent.
G. Jefferson Price III was a foreign correspondent and an editor at The Sun.
© 2005 Baltimore Sun