Perhaps it is because I have always regarded having many children (more than 4) as a modern form of female servitude, a peculiar form of modern torture. After four kids, how can you truly pay attention to each child? How can you be attentive to their needs? Of course, this comes from the naive assumption that one has kids to love and nurture them. That is not the only reason couples add to their broods. Some of them believe that a woman’s Christian duty is to birth as many children as possible in order to create more good Christian soldiers. A woman’s duty is to obey her father when she is young and her husband when she is married. Sound truly medieval? It is. It’s also the essence of the Quiverfull movement, which informs the beliefs of the Duggar family, Christian fundamentalists turned reality TV stars.
On the other side of the globe, ISIS is made up of young men from all over the Western world who have been moved by the terrorist group’s call to establish a Muslim caliphate throughout the Levant. Their rise and spread throughout the region, as well as their appeal to Westerners, has baffled people with much more expertise in modern terrorism than I can claim. CNN published a piece stating that ISIS has had success in this area through sophisticated recruitment efforts, with trailers like those that come out of Hollywood to convince young Westerners of their cause. A young ISIS recruit from England was quoted as saying, “I’m from the south of England. I grew up in a middle-class family…Life was easy back home. I had a life. I had a car. But the thing is, you cannot practice Islam back home. We see all around us evil. We see pedophiles. We see homosexuality. We see crime. We see rape.”
The aforementioned Duggars may not seem as sinister as the murderous armies of ISIS. But their worldview comes from the same place as ISIS: a deep fear of modernity, of a world where women are truly equal to men and minorities, such as gay people, also have equal rights. The Quiverfull movement, of which the Duggars are just an example, preaches very traditional roles for men and women in the home. Those who don’t adhere to such roles are heathens in the eyes of Christian fundamentalists. They prefer to homeschool their children instead of expose them to the views of the modern world. It is estimated that 58% of people in the Southern U.S. are Christian fundamentalists. While not all of them have 19 children whom they educate at home, many believe in a fallen world that is filled with sin and evil at every turn; only good Christian warriors will be saved in the end through the power of their faith.
Perhaps it seems extreme that I would compare the fundamentalism of the Duggars to the fundamentalistm behind ISIS. Yes, there are degrees of difference. ISIS is brutally murderous, there is no denying that. But their aims are political. So too is the Christian right’s. They see the onward march of modernity as a grave threat to their way of life rather than the natural arc of human progress. Rather than engage with the modern world, they adhere to a strict, literal, some would say erroneous interpretation of their religious texts. As women gain greater autonomy to live their lives, and minorities make strides in the U.S., the fundamentalist believers both in the U.S. and around the world will have to either fight the modern world, or live with it. I hope that they choose the latter, rather than the Middle Ages.