The Taliban destroyed 1,700-year-old statues of Buddha. They did so, supposedly, because the images violated religious beliefs that did not even exist when the images were made. Their behavior was considered barbaric by most of the world.

Several domestic groups have insisted that statutes representing heroes and events in our own history, or as one headline put it, “monuments of our dark past,” be removed or destroyed. What do the American Taliban have in common with their namesakes?

Religious fanaticism.

The major difference between the two groups is their concept of God.

The American Taliban has made the nexus between ideology and self their god. This explains several phenomena: the demand for ideological conformity, the demonization of opponents, and the casting of the past as evil.

If you are your own god, then those who disagree with you are not only wrong, they are evil. If you and your ideology are god, any historical figure or idea that does not agree with your current thought is also evil.

There can be no tolerance of evil, even if that evil took place before your ideology even existed.

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The acolytes of this modern religion cannot put themselves into the past with any degree of empathy. They can’t see that people who conform to an all-encompassing correctness would have been swept up in correct thought at any moment of history.

If the acceptance of slavery was universal, then these people would be advocates of slavery. The national and local leaders who removed slavery stood apart from common thought and should be seen as exemplary, even if they do not meet current ideological purity.

America should be celebrated because it allowed women the right to vote, not condemned because there was a period when it did not. To emphasize that “dark” period and condemn our history as evil demonstrates a mindless adherence to modern thought. It is the epitome of arrogance to assume we would have had current beliefs and feelings no matter when we lived and with whom we associated.

In a world where slavery was ubiquitous, the United States stood apart condemning it. In a world where women were treated almost as property, we were one of the first nations to stand against it. Most of the people who assume our past was evil and therefore our present time is illegitimate would have opposed the very changes that made our current freedoms possible.

Robert E. Lee, for example, was a brilliant general, an educated, highly moral and principled man. To condemn him because his views do not conform to modern ideological purity is not only wrong, it is symptomatic of the undereducated, self-righteous and ideologically driven egos of the advocates of a god-like ideology that cannot tolerate the least amount of opposition.

These advocates are not only lacking in empathy, they will forever be blown about by any change in current ideology, lacking in the stability of those having a god external to themselves.

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Dennis Clayson is a marketing professor at the University of Northern Iowa. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not reflect those of the University of Northern Iowa.


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