But then there is the regrettable distinction that one is not permitted to poison the fundamentalists. Perhaps, though, a loophole may be found....
The point is not to debate them; it is to prevent them from manipulating the levers of temporal power to impose their own religious agenda through the public institutions of what is supposed to be a secular democracy. And, however pigeon-like the fundamentalists may be intellectually, they have demonstrated considerable political aptitude when it comes to getting states and municipalities, and sometimes the federal government, to enact statutes and regulations which suit their agenda. Witness, for example, the spread of state laws restricting abortion access and permitting pharmacists to decline to fill birth control prescriptions, the Bush administration's ban on stem cell research with new stem cell lines, school boards which have attempted to get creation "science" into textbooks, and, most recently, the Arizona bill which would grant a defense to lawlessness based on religious scruple (contrary to media spin, the defense is not limited to those who would refuse the custom of gays which, I believe, is legal in most jurisdictions).
I am entirely with IO on this. These people are not harmless. They will not retire to their caves if we ignore them. And, I see no evidence to make me believe that moderate Christians, progressive Christians, and intellectual Christians are able or willing to keep the fruitcake Christians, the terrorist Christians and the learning disabled Christians (or similar types of other faiths) in line through gentle persuasion.
I will overlook the knock on masturbation.
Their political clout is a product of the Party at large which patronizes them because they continue to serve as an easily mobilized and manipulated bloc of voters. Ignore them, and you strike at the heart of their power: Their ability to get noticed. I'm not saying their harmless, I'm saying their power persists because the Democrats and the Republicans are content with the status quo. Both sides perpetuate 'shouting match' politics because it allows them to preserve their hold on their respective constituencies (more traditional or more progressively minded folks) without actually having to engage the other or fix anything. By shouting back and engaging with them, we perepetuate their perceived power, when they are truly only a vocal minority.
I'm not suggesting that they'll "retire to their caves", I'm suggesting the truly long term solution: We facilitate their death by "natural" causes. Cut the dead weight, focus on saving the generation of children they might possibly indoctrinate with their misguided ideals by providing them an outlet for faith and community that doesn't involve burning crosses and persecuting gays. It's not about moderate Christians keeping the more radical in-line, it's about them providing an alternative for people who want to keep the faith, but aren't comfortable with the sort of prejudice and ignorance perpetuated by the fundies (fundamentalists). Statistically speaking, Right-Wing Conservative Christians are the perfect example of a vocal minority, and in addition, they are old
. Old enough that they have to rely on something other than raising their own kids in order to perpetuate their believes and in a very big way that's what motivates them to focus so heavily on school curriculum and school prayer (and to my way of thinking, abortion and gay marriage too). Their problem is that as much as they might try to indoctrinate the next generation, brainwash their own kids and their relatives kids, it's not %100. I know a few studies that suggest it's not even %50 effective, as kids seem invariably, across demographics to want to rebel, in whatever small way against their parents.
That doesn't mean that half the kids raised by fundies will grow up to be atheists, but if they see the "Old Guard" as embittered, overly-vocal, prejudiced fools (because that's how we treat them), they'll seek an outlet which is familiar to them, but different from their parents way of church. That's where Moderate Christians come in. Or even better, that's where Christian intellectuals and apologists come in. Imagine if all these folks actually studied theologists like CS Lewis and Thomas Aquinas; the kind of Christians who better the whole world not in-spite of their faith, but because of it.
My point is that you're not going to win over anyone's kids by calling their parents idiots. The truly machiavellian solution to the problem of religious conservatism, is to change the terms of the debate so that they favor us, and not them, so that victory is ultimately assured without the fundies ever realizing it. The best way to do that, is to treat like firecrackers instead of hand-grenades; noisy, but only really harmful if you're trying to juggle them as they go off.