Sunday, December 10, 2017

On Fundamentalism

I spent about twenty years as a fundamentalist evangelical Christian.  As a fundamentalist evangelical Christian I was conditioned to view other religions as tragically wrong--demonic even.  I was also conditioned to view other forms of Christianity as flawed at best and false at worst.  Only our religion, interpreted in our particular way, was right and true.

It occurs to me that, here in America, this fundamentalism has jumped (like a virus jumps from one species to another) from religion to politics.  81% of white evangelical Christians voted for Donald Trump and continue to support him.  In Alabama, Roy Moore still enjoys the support of a majority of white evangelicals.  This current "jump" of fundamentalism from religion into politics happened because of decades of cultural conditioning going back to the days of the Moral Majority and then onward through the influence of Pat Robertson, Focus on the Family, Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Mike Huckabee, Franklin Graham, etc.  

Throughout human history religion and politics have tended to be mixed in unholy and repressive concoctions--the pairing of the priesthood and the king, each validating the other.  The jump of fundamentalism here in the U.S. from religion to politics is nothing new, it's more like an inoculation (the separation of church and state) that is ineffective for a certain percentage of the population.  

And so, just as religious fundamentalists only read their approved texts which will reinforce their beliefs, political fundamentalists only consume their approved information sources which will reinforce their views.  All else is "fake news"--the equivalent of heresy, false teaching.

There is a strong element of authoritarianism and control in the fundamentalist church.  The lever used to apply that control is fear.  Fundamentalism, whether religious or political, is fear-based.  Terrible things will happen if you don't obey this teaching/support this candidate.

Fundamentalism offers the security of surety.  It also massages the ego.  One can rest snug and smug in the certainty of one's rectitude.

In the Christian fundamentalist world there is a strong current of anti-intellectualism.  Exposing oneself to various sources of information and interpretation is considered a danger.  One is told to stay within the guardrails of "sound teaching" or risk turning their faith into a shipwreck.  A pastor of a large fundamentalist church I used to attend often referred to seminary as "cemetery" and pastors who had graduate-level theological degrees were rare and suspicious.  This fear of intellectual curiosity seems to be a hallmark of all forms of religious fundamentalism, be it Christian, Islamic, etc.

Likewise, conservative political fundamentalist will rail against "elites"--college professors, journalists, intellectuals--and will happily participate in the dismantling of America's public-school and higher-education systems.

Lastly, I witnessed during my years as a fundamentalist evangelical Christian that we were often rubes for con artists.  Televangelists, faith-healers, self-proclaimed prophets, alternative medicines and dubious nutritional products (often sold via multi-level marketing pyramids), shadowy investment schemes, conspiracy theories, etc.  The flock was regularly fooled and fleeced, yet faithfully came back for more.

So too in the political realm.  Cynical pundits and politicians will stir up the base with rhetoric about "faith" and "values" and "religious protection" knowing that they'll get an impassioned response (including donations) and a minimum of questions about their own lack of conformity to this faith and these values.  Talking the talk is more important than walking the walk if you can talk the talk with a straight face and sufficient panache.

When I look back on my years as a fundamentalist Christian, one of the most glaring deficiencies I see is a lack of personal responsibility to discern.  Discernment was handed over to the authority.  Questioning authority (even though that authority was often self-proclaimed, uneducated, unqualified and lacking in integrity) was anathema and would result in swift censure or even ostracisation.  To call out errors and abuses on the part of leadership was to risk being labeled as rebellious or deceived or demonic.  The dissenter, we were told, was in danger of invoking God's wrath not just on themselves but on the community, and therefore must not be tolerated.  To be cast from the community of the righteous into the loneliness of the outer darkness was a thing to be feared.  

As it turns out, this outer darkness beyond the walls of the fundamentalist ghetto isn't dark at all.  There's plenty of light and good company here and a veritable universe of ideas to explore and consider, if one is willing to admit to not already having all the answers. 



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