As the likes of Mr. Huckabee and Mr. (Fred) Thompson have now chosen to infuse their own brand of Christian fundamentalism into their Presidential campaigns (with the former sharing his firm intent to change the Constitution to better match “God’s Law” as he alone interprets it), I thought it might be enlightening to pass along some of my own personal experiences and thoughts on such fundamentalist beliefs and my dealings with those who extol them.
Quite frankly, I’ve come to believe that IF sin exists, then Christian fundamentalism is as sinful as sloth and chock full of greed and gluttony.
It’s a lifestyle that promotes surrender to the temptation to simplify the complexities of life by letting someone else do your thinking for you. The typical fundamentalist will extol this state of mind as “surrendering to God” or to “let go and let God” or some other, equally inane foolishness.
Frankly, all such mind-numbing blather reeks of intellectual laziness.
As society seems more and more apt to lose its moral compass and crime and decadence seem unrelenting, the fundamentalist maintains that they have a sure thing in their relationship with Jesus. Everything may be out of control in this world, but they speak assuredly of their salvation and their escape from reality because they’ve “accepted Jesus” and are therefore “guaranteed” their “eternity with God.”
Sadly, you’d never know these folks had found such everlasting peace because, as a whole, I’ve found they are among the most strident crusaders in judging and condemning other people on the face of the planet. That is, they seem to be absolutely lacking in any semblance of serenity that one would expect to see from a group of people who truly believe they are already well on their way to Paradise in the afterlife.
In fact, from my own personal dealings with such folk (my moderate Protestant Christian faith did a hard right turn into the fundamentalist Church of Christ a few years back…just to see what it was like. Boy was THAT ever a mistake!) I’ve found their fervor is often easily mistaken for anger.
Any undergraduate psychology major will tell you that when people begin working overly hard at convincing someone else that they’re right, it’s usually because they’re still trying to convince themselves of their own “facts”. And, true to form, (and if you let them) the fundamentalist Christian will preach to you ad nauseum of how they are absolutely certain about the “true meaning” of Scripture and the word of God that inspires their lives.
In reality, precious few have even BEGUN to fully understand the historical context of the Bible “truths” they purport to unquestionably believe, let alone the multitude of contradictions their Bible contains. Rather, these people seem blissfully content to hear and then swallow without question the often-baseless dogma their (often equally ignorant) fundamentalist overlords (spelled: “the Church elders and ministers”) consistently feed them.
Paul’s contradictory New Testament writings are a classic example. In many cases, fundamentalists first decide what Paul “should have said” and then interpret his words to fit their preconceived ideas of what they think it means (or, rather, what the Church elders and ministers tell them that it means).
As a group, they are also suspicious of Catholicism because of its pageantry and “non-biblical traditions.” This is absolutely laughable because it was Catholic monks who first translated and hand-wrote the modern-day Bible and passed it along…with their own prejudices and political opinions included, I might add. This all happened LONG before the invention of the printing press.
In fact, fundamentalist Christianity was initiated as a REACTION to 19th century Protestant liberalism that was seen as a threat to the “basic truths of faith.” In essence, it was a “protest” aimed at the “protestants” (Protestants) of that day. The fundamentalists of that time felt a need to “firm things up” and get their flocks “back in line” by establishing non-negotiable fundamentals of the Christian faith based on a strictly literal reading and interpretation of the Bible.
Unfortunately, in today’s arena, we hear some of that same “non-negotiable” dogma being spouted by millions of (often distressingly ignorant) fundamentalists along with scores of charlatans (and candidates for public office) standing by to take their money and promote the cause.
And one needs to look no further than most televangelists and their “get saved…or healed…quick” shenanigans to find ample proof of this fact.
The Oral Roberts, Pat Robertsons, Ted Haggards and Benny Hinns of the world live like royalty in multi-million dollar mansions spawned by their preaching. And flying just under the IRS’s “non-profit” radar are a slew of other so-called “ministers” that have become multi-millionaires by collecting “tithes” from the faithful (in exchange for such “snake oil” offerings as “miracle wafers” that one eats in order to get rich quick) and furthering the idea that the Bible is to be read as word-for-word literal. All of them promote the letter of the law over the spirit of the law.
But yet, every single so called fundamentalist Christian I have ever known and who claims that the Bible is literal truth is also hypocritically selective about which Bible passages are literal and which are not. A rule of thumb seems to be that if the Bible quote condemns someone else’s sins, then it’s a literal rule. However, if it condemns something they, themselves are doing, then there’s always some wiggle room.
For example, in that same Church of Christ I once attended, organ and choir music were strictly “verboten” as there is (according to the church elders) no reference to either pursuit in the Bible. However, when it came time for Communion, we all got grape juice instead of real wine because, “We (gasp!) can’t promote the consumption of alcohol, now can we?”
Try asking a divorced bible-thumping Christian about Jesus’ literal condemnation of divorce. Or, ask a wealthy, literal bible-believing Christian about the bible’s condemnation of capitalism and the accrual of interest on a loan. The Bible’s blessing of making your fellow man your property through slavery seems to have suffered under closer scrutiny as well.
In fact, a belief in a literal interpretation of the Bible is, itself, a violation of the history and tradition of scripture. That’s because, scripture was NEVER written to stand on its own apart from the larger community of sages and storytellers that produced it. What’s more, only the wealthy and prominent even OWNED a Bible before the invention of the printing press in 1455 and it still took centuries before the bible of today became a best seller.
Of course the fundamentalists will tell you that it was God who invented the printing press so as to get the Bible into every fleabag hotel room on the planet.
In reality, a community of believers existed LONG before the printed texts existed. And those who want to claim a strict “religion of the Bible” should try doing a bit of homework and face the fact that the Bible itself contains absolutely NO listing…anywhere…of its inspired books. Rather, it was an unnamed group of HUMANS (not God) that long ago decided what books by which authors were (or were not) “inspired” enough to be included in the Bible. That fact, alone, should make the so-called “inspired” basis of the revelations contained therein subject to suspicion.
Fundamentalists of all the world’s religions also hold to the frightening notion that there is some exaggerated contrast between this world and the Kingdom of God. They live a very unbalanced, less than wholesome existence of warped spirituality when they talk of “fleeing this world.” “I’m in this world but I’m not of this world” is one of their more arrogant proclamations. This, too, is troubling on many levels.
Obviously such beliefs can lead to a lack of concern about important “here and now” issues. And with a crackpot like George W. Bush as one of the most powerful proponents of this nonsense (and in charge of the most destructive weapons on the planet), it makes you wonder if he is intentionally trying to bring about the Rapture — a notion about the end of the world that springs from the Christian fundamentalists’ interpretation of events in the Book of Revelation.
On the other hand, if insider reports are to be believed, Bush and his advisers have long been faking their strict adherence to the born-again agenda because they steadfastly believe that’s where the votes are.
“Tempting Faith,” (written by Republican Christian Bush supporter David Kuo) says some of the nation’s most prominent evangelical leaders were known in the office of presidential political strategist Karl Rove as “the nuts.” “National Christian leaders received hugs and smiles in person but were then dismissed behind their backs and described as “ridiculous, out of control, and/or just plain goofy.”
Now, we probably need to give Bush the benefit of the doubt, as he may, in fact, be a true believer. However, clearly, it was Karl Rove who shrewdly knew how to exploit Bush’s faith for political gain. This is evident because we now know so much more about Bush’s relationship with Jesus through well-publicized sound bites and calculated interviews.
Unfortunately, most fundamentalists would never believe such exploitation was happening because it’s intrinsic to their belief system that a good Christian must “bear witness.” In their eyes, Bush’s public pontificating is simply seen as following the evangelical rules of the game. And in all fairness, Messrs. Kerry, Clinton and Carter (and now Mr. Huckabee and Mr. Thompson) have all tried to get in on the Christian action as well…with often erratic and embarrassing results. On the other hand, Mr. Kerry, and Mr. Clinton never went so far as to call themselves “fundamentalists”.
But back to the “not of this world” topic…it’s a slap in the face to Christ himself when someone denies the importance of this world and the life that we are intended to live here. The incarnation of Jesus is all about living in the “here and now” and doing your best to make a positive difference while you are in this world.
On the other hand, Christian fundamentalists are so selfishly involved in their own relationship with God that they effectively exclude (and often condemn) people of different stripes from life’s equation. That is, of course, except for people who think and act exactly like they do. This includes automatic condemnations of people and institutions that believe in such things as same-sex marriage, or what (and with whom) consenting adults do the in the privacy of their own bedrooms.
Such unwillingness to accept others as they are might also stem from the Christian fundamentalist’s obsessive need to “convert” everyone to their own narrow beliefs while continually spouting ever more meaningless passages of so-called “inspired” scripture. In fact, I fully anticipate a slew of such fervent, scripture-laden replies to my post here will again be spouted from that same group of fundamentalist souls who will most assuredly consider my words to be absolute blasphemy.
Another interesting group of Christian fundamentalists who have repeatedly tried to get me “back in the fold” and once again believing in a literal Bible have been women.
When this happens, I’ve since learned to get a firm commitment from them that EVERY WORD of the Bible is to be taken literally. Then, I direct them to read Corinthians (which now has little bearing on my life but supposedly does on theirs): “Let women keep silent. It is not permitted for them to speak, but to be in subjection, just as the law says. If they wish to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home.” A fact that many fundamentalist Christian women STILL cannot accept is that the Bible SPECIFICALLY FORBIDS women to teach men about religion (see my discussion of “selective hypocrisy” outlined above).
Another troubling notion in all of this is the Christian fundamentalist’s firm belief that God’s will has something to do with the “American Way.”
Now, clearly, some of the founding fathers WERE Christians. But, if fundamentalist born-again Christians took the time to actually read the writings of Benjamin Franklin, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, they would be sorely disappointed to find that these men had little patience for strict Biblical adherence. They were firm in their stance that “accepting Jesus” was NOT the means for salvation. This may also be why they (thankfully!) included a strict separation between Church and State in our Constitution.
Franklin, to his credit, consistently attacked religious dogma, arguing that morality was more dependent upon compassionate actions rather than on strict obedience to literal religious orthodoxy. In other words, he believed that acting Christ-like is more important than simply “accepting Christ”.
Jefferson was a Deist. He believed in one God, in divine providence, in the divine moral law, and in rewards and punishments after death. He also believed that Jesus was a great moral teacher. However, Jefferson scorned the ideas of Bible-believing fundamentalist Christians. He firmly rejected the doctrines that Jesus was the promised Messiah and the incarnate Son of God.
George Washington was an early supporter of religious pluralism. When hiring workmen for Mount Vernon, he wrote to his agent, “If they be good workmen, they may be from Asia, Africa, or Europe; they may be Mohammedans, Jews, or Christians of any sect, or they may be Atheists.” Historians still argue about his commitment to Deism over Christianity.
But, all agree he was certainly NOT a fundamentalist!