Hughes for America
the scourge of Christian Fundamentalism
Kansas University religious studies professor Paul Mirecki - a critic of Christian fundamentalism who had until recently intended to teach intelligent design as mythology - was beaten yesterday morning by two men who had been following him in a pickup truck. Mirecki said that his attackers "made references" to his recent notoriety. "I didn't know them," he said, "but I'm sure they knew me."
We've arrived at a scary destination in America. Fundamentalist Christians, holding an overwhelming majority, are in control of the federal government. Their myriad representatives dominate the airwaves. Their churches engulf entire communities. Couple that with a remarkably insane persecution complex and you've got a smoldering tinderbox of raw religious fervor, a powder keg poised to explode.
There's a good article by Michael L. Westmoreland-White which sets up an analaysis of three kinds of religion.
Westmoreland-White decides that labels such as "fundamentalist" and liberal are not that useful, so he constructs typologies based upon authority structure of the many groups.
The three types are:
Little social structure, sometimes communal. Examples would be Dorothy Day's commune in up state New York. Early American Quakers, or Catholic monastics of the middle ages. But this type also tends to be very individualistic.
Top down hierarchical. This is not necessarily dependent upon a Bishop or an elaborate high church structure,. Low church structures can also be authoritarian. Authority rules by fear.
Power flows form the people up to the leader who is empowered by consent to be governed.
The article is called "reclaiming the Prophetic type of Religion" so clearly that's the structure he prefurs.
By nature, this form of religion is exclusionary. Orthodoxy ("right teaching") is defined very narrowly. Differences of opinion are tolerated, if at all, on only a very narrow range of topics and only within a small degree. Thus, adherents in an authoritarian religion will have impassioned debates over distinctions that outsiders have a hard time telling apart.
No matter how much the official doctrine of this form of religion speaks of "grace," "mercy," "forgiveness," or "eternal security," the underlying ethos is one of fear: fear of heresy, fear of breaking the rules, fear of science, fear of social change, fear of other religions, fear of forms of its own religion which are NOT authoritarian, fear of secularism, fear--ultimately--of God. (A person I know who holds to this form of religion has created clothing with the slogan, "I Fear God" and cannot figure out why they won't sell!)
It is clear to me that the U.S. Religious Right, composed of Protestant Fundamentalists and the far-right fringe of U.S. Catholics, is a form of authoritarian religion. That is why its political allies are profoundly anti-democratic and engage in the politics of fear and secrecy. A democratic republic with separation of powers, checks and balances, real participation by the people is too messy. So, more and more power is invested in the Executive, laws are changed to allow more secret decisions, the legislature is turned into a rubber stamp for the Executive, and steps are taken to undermine an independent judiciary. The forms of voting are still allowed, although all kinds of tricks are used to disenfranchise groups likely to vote for another agenda. But real power is invested in plutocratic oligarchy.
Another excellent article, one that says that fundametnalism is a distortion of ture rleigion, by Lloyd Geering, Presbyterian mniister. Gerring takes on fundamentalism of Islam, Christianity and Judaism.
So fundamentalism may be described as a modern religious disease, for it distorts genuine religious faith in the same way as cancer distorts and misdirects the natural capacity of body cells to grow. Instead of bringing spiritual freedom and the realisation of a spiritual goal, as all sound religion should, fundamentalism imprisons people into such a rigid system of belief that they find it difficult to free themselves. Fundamentalism takes possession of human minds and blinds them to the realities which most others accept as self-evident. Fundamentalism fosters a closed mind, restricts the sight to tunnel vision, hinders mental and spiritual growth, and prevents people from becoming the mature, balanced, self-critical persons they have the potential to become.
My sentiments and style of religion tend to be 1 and 3. So there is a deep philosophical rift that cuts across the board. I'm not sure it is even the same religion. There may be no way to go but to split. I'm sure that will happen eventually.
The problem is many think they are defending one type when they really defend another. The authoriatian types have some prophets but that doesn't make the prophetic. The liberals have an authoritarian structure but that doesn't make them authoritarian.
The prophetic type of religion has always been the enemy of the concentration of power. Scholars have long played out the dialectical relationship between the prophetic and the priest in old testament Hebrew society. The prophetic type seeks to apply the anointing of the Spirit for the moment to a human situation, while the authoritarian seeks to subjugate the whole social scene to its own reading of the ideal. The authoritarian is the example of what St. Agustine speaks about when he says that that temporal power can never be the City of God. The authoritarian forgets this fact,a and mistakes his own sincere belief for the idea of the Spirit itself, thus considers conformity to his reading to be conformity to the ideal and to the Spirit. But the prophetic types understands that there must always be a radical break between temporal and sacred, and thta impossition of the sacred for the moment can never change the end and destiny of the city of man.