05/30/2010 04:12 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Strict Ideology Wilts Under the Weight of Reality

Kentucky's Republican nominee for the open U.S. Senate seat, Rand Paul, in his best Ayn Rand objectivist viewpoint, concluded private businesses should have had the right to discriminate against anyone they choose.

Title two of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, with which Paul specifically takes issue, states: "Outlawed discrimination in hotels, motels, restaurants, theaters, and all other public accommodations engaged in interstate commerce; exempted private clubs without defining the term 'private.'"

Paul's remarks, consider this coming in 2010, bear stark similarity to Southern segregationists who opposed the civil rights legislation. Do such beliefs make Paul a racist or at least guilty of latent racism? No.

But Paul's statement does reveal the disconnect that exists whenever an individual is strictly beholden to an ideology, there will inevitably come a point where that philosophy is unable to confront reality.

Paul is not the only one guilty of committing this infraction; it is commonplace in America's public discourse, in particular in politics and religion. It is a pseudo fundamentalism designed more to garner support for one's belief than it is to be a practical life application.

Where has the certainty gone that was displayed at the 2008 Republican Convention as different speakers took to the podium to lead the chants of "Drill, baby, drill?" Since the BP PLC oil spill -- which is gushing thousands of barrels of oil daily into the Gulf of Mexico, making its way up the Atlantic coast and has now been officially labeled the worst spill in America's history -- there is just not the same market for "Drill, baby, drill" bumper stickers.

Paul's strict libertarian principles are reminiscent to those of the 1964 Republican presidential nominee, Barry Goldwater. While I doubt America was prepared emotionally to have had three presidents in a year, Goldwater's opposition to the 1964 Civil Rights Act did not help his candidacy.

Goldwater's commitment to his ideological principles did not allow him to appreciate the most heroic display of patriotism of the 20th century, tainting him with the perception that he cared more about the victimizer's rights to dehumanize than the victim's rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Fundamentalist thinking is also popular among those who advocate for "strict constructionists" to serve on our courts. They claim to oppose judges who "legislate from the bench."

This assumes the Constitution is frozen in time. Whatever the words meant when the Constitution was ratified in the 18th century is what it must mean today. Strict constructionism is a nice, neat, and convenient thought but hardly realistic in a world that is constantly evolving.

When one sifts through the rhetoric, what we find is those who abhor so-called legislating from the bench are only opposed to rulings that go against their ideological philosophy.

I haven't heard many conservatives rail against the Supreme Court's recent Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that held corporate funding of independent political broadcasts in candidate elections cannot be limited under the First Amendment, blurring the constitutional line between corporation and the individual.

It is the feign boast of religious fundamentalism that has caused more harm than good in the world. Fundamentalist thinking void of context is how a strand of Christian doctrine found itself in support of the Crusades, African American chattel slavery, the Holocaust, Jim Crow segregation, and Apartheid.

Though so-called conservatives have proven better at turning a profit using this approach, fundamentalism is not exclusive of any political ideology.

The most vitriolic e-mails that I've received have originated from those dissenting who believe the truth exists solely within their ideology.

Lacking any intellectual curiosity, Paul clumsily proved in his exchange with MS-NBC's Rachel Maddow the more beholden one is to his or her ideology without examining the context severely risks looking ridiculous. To justify its argument, fundamentalism demands that one ignore certain realities.

In Paul's case, he had to ignore there was something passed called the 14th Amendment after the country went to war against itself that not only guaranteed due process and equal protection for anyone who was a born in this country or a naturalized citizen, but also diminished the authority of the 10th Amendment -- a favorite of those who like to cite the states' rights argument.

In our public discourse, fundamentalism represents a fool's gold that unrealistically offers conformity in a world that is unpredictable and contradictory.

Though it leads with the self-confidence of its absolutist beliefs, it tends to quickly wilt under the heat of reality.

Byron Williams is an Oakland pastor and syndicated columnist. He is the author of Strip Mall Patriotism: Moral Reflections of the Iraq War. E-mail him at or visit his Web site