Tag Archives: fundamentalism

Good Religion, Bad Religion

There’s a yiddish word that describes today’s post: chutzpah. 

Chutzpah is gall of the “how dare she” variety. It’s sometimes illustrated by an anecdote about a person who kills his mother and father and then throws himself on the mercy of the court because he’s an orphan.

Today’s post is about Christianity, and the reason I acknowledge my own chutzpah is because I am neither a Christian nor a believer. I come from a tradition that emphasizes behavior over belief–works over piety–and has co-existed pretty comfortably with science and secularism. (Minorities tend to flourish in more open, secular societies.)

What prompted this post was an article I came across in–of all places–Marketwatch, asking  why approximately half of Catholics and a majority of Evangelicals continue to support Donald Trump. The basic answer to that question, according to the article, is continued resentment of the First Amendment’s separation of Church and State.

To this day, there are many people who would like to put religion back into the center of public and political life. This is presumably what U.S. Attorney General William Barr, a deeply conservative Catholic, meant when he denounced “secularists” for launching an “assault on religion and traditional values.”

Of course, a preference for putting “religion” back in the public sphere raises a question that becomes more and more relevant as the country diversifies: whose religion? 

The article also referenced the relationship between a certain kind of Christianity and racism. It noted that Protestants had been supportive of Separation of Church and State so long as they remained culturally and racially dominant.

This changed after the Civil Rights movements in the 1960s, which alarmed many white Christians, especially in the southern states. Today, evangelicals, like Catholic conservatives, are among President Donald Trump’s most ardent supporters. They, too, believe that family and faith are under siege from liberals and secularists…

The attempt by contemporary Catholic conservatives and Protestant evangelicals to infuse politics with their religious beliefs obviously runs counter to the ideas of the French Revolution, which sought to uphold freedom from religion, but also of the American Revolution, which instituted freedom of religion. Both groups are targeting the carefully erected barriers between church and state.

This is dangerous, not only because it fosters intolerance, but also because it challenges, in the spirit of de Maistre, the idea that political argument should be based on human reason.

Once political conflicts become clashes of faith, compromise becomes impossible. A believer cannot bargain over a sacred principle.

You can’t argue with God. (Or your version of God.)

The article reminded me of Robert Jones book The End of White Christian America, which probed the anxieties–and rage– of white Christian men, as the racial, religious, and cultural landscape continues to change in ways that erode their previously privileged position.

When I was researching my 2007 book God and Country, I came across the very useful categorization of the nation’s founders into “Planting Fathers” and “Founding Fathers.” The Puritans were Planters. They came to the New World for “religious liberty,” which they defined as freedom to worship the right God in the right church and establish a government that would require their neighbors to do likewise. One hundred and fifty years later, the Founders who drafted the Constitution and Bill of Rights defined liberty very differently–as the right to follow one’s own beliefs, free of government interference.

What had intervened was the Enlightenment.

Our legal framework may be based on Enlightenment understandings of liberty and the role of government,  but America is still home to lots of Puritans who reject that understanding– along with the Enlightenment’s emphasis on science, evidence and empiricism.

The continuing culture war between our contemporary Puritans, secularists, and adherents of  non-fundamentalist religions raises some important–and too often neglected–questions: what good is religion? do modern societies still need it? what separates “good” religions from harmful ones? what’s the difference between a religion and a cult?

My youngest son has suggested a useful distinction between good and bad theologies: If a religion makes you struggle with the hard questions–what does it mean to be honorable, to act humanely, to treat others as we would want to be treated, etc.–it’s probably good.

If, instead of helping you confront the questions, it provides you with the answers, it’s bad.

To which I will add: if your religion leads you to support a leader whose behavior is contrary to everything you profess to believe because he promises to erase the line between Church and State and restore White Christian male privilege, you are a flawed person embracing a deeply flawed theology.

 

 

A Different Kind Of ‘Great Awakening’?

Religion News recently headlined the closing of every one of Lifeway Christian Resources brick and mortar stores.There are 170 of them. They will go entirely online.

The digital shift comes amid declining customer traffic and sales, according to LifeWay.

And it follows the closure of other major Christian retailers, such as the United Methodist Church’s Cokesbury stores, which closed in 2012, and Family Christian Stores, which closed its stores in 2017. At the time, Family Christian was considered the world’s largest retailer of Christian-themed merchandise.

LifeWay had acquired another chain, Berean Christian Stores, in 2013.

LifeWay adhered to a fundamentalist Christian approach, and dropped several popular authors’ books  over ideological differences. It banned author Jen Hatmaker’s books after she expressed support for LGBTQ Christians, and it threatened pastor author Eugene Peterson when it appeared that he was going to officiate a same-sex marriage. It also dropped Rachel Held Evans’ book “A Year of Biblical Womanhood” in 2012 after a similar dispute over the book’s content.

In other words, its approach to Christianity had a lot in common with Mike Pence’s.

Fortunately, it’s an approach–and a religiosity– that is rapidly diminishing.

A number of recent polls have documented a significant reduction in the number of Americans who are religiously affiliated; so-called “nones” are now 35% of the population. Among younger Americans, the percentage is greater.

For Millennials and even GenXers, the most common religion is no religion at all. The Nones claim 44% of the 18–29 age group, and nearly that (43%) among those who are 30–44.

This is more than twice their market share among Americans older than 65, just 21% of whom say they are atheist, agnostic, or nothing in particular. However, even that 21% is a five-point rise from where the over-65 group was in 2015, when just 16% identified themselves this way.

Other findings: Barely a third of Americans believe it’s important for married couples to share the same religious affiliation (36%), but majorities do believe that couples should share the same social values (76%) or feelings about children (81%). And it will come as no surprise to learn that Republicans are much more religious than Democrats.

In school, most of us learned about the Great Awakenings of early U.S. history. (Great Awakenings were a series of religious revivals in the then-British colonies and the early days of the country during the 17th and 18th Centuries.) These were episodes of religious fervor that swept through the country before eventually abating. A number of religion scholars have also dubbed the late 20th Century rise of Christian fundamentalism from which we seem finally to  be emerging as a latter-day “Great Awakening.”

America has been fertile ground for these periods of excessive and ostentatious piety, and a number of sociologists have attributed the outlier religiosity of the U.S–we are far more religious than other Western democratic countries– to the personal insecurities that characterize societies with an inadequate social safety net. (Scholars have documented a significant correlation between personal insecurity and religiosity.)

Since our social safety net hasn’t improved, I don’t know how they might explain the current declines in religious affiliation. I personally attribute it to  the excesses of judgmentalism and appalling lack of humanity displayed by the Christian Taliban. The religious right makes religion look pretty repellent.

Whatever the cause, if I were choosing nomenclature, I’d save the label “Great Awakening.” for the current rise of the “nones.”

 

“Mother” Has Many Meanings…

More from the theocrats…

By this time, most politically-aware Americans have read about Karen Pence’s new job.

“Mother” is once again teaching at the Washington, D.C. school where she worked when Mike Pence was in Congress. The Huffington Post describes that school, noting that everyone isn’t welcome there.

In a “parent agreement” posted online, the school says it will refuse admission to students who participate in or condone homosexual activity, HuffPost learned through an investigation into discriminatory admissions policies. The 2018 employment application also makes candidates sign a pledge not to engage in homosexual activity or violate the “unique roles of male and female.” …

The application says that the school believes “marriage unites one man and one woman” and that “a wife is commanded to submit to her husband as the church submits to Christ.” The application asks potential employees to explain their view of the “creation/evolution debate.”

Not only did Mrs. Pence (aka “mother”) previously teach at the school for 12 years, the Pence’s daughter Charlotte attended, according to the school’s website.

JoeDee Winterhof, who is a senior Vice President for policy at the Human Rights Campaign,  had an excellent response.

“Why not teach at a school that welcomes everyone, instead of choosing one that won’t serve LGBTQ kids, kids of LGBTQ parents? The Pences never seem to miss an opportunity to show their public service only extends to some.”

Mrs. Pence is certainly entitled to believe that gay people are sinners, that women should submit to men and that there is actually a “debate” about evolution. (Although–forgive the snarky aside–according to people who worked in the statehouse when Mike Pence was governor, she doesn’t seem to obey that “submission” directive. Quite the contrary.) The fact that a Congressman’s wife chose to work at a school with this philosophy might raise eyebrows, but there are a lot of Congressmen and a lot of wives, and so far as I know, their choice of employment is rarely seen as sending a political message.

The spouses of Presidents and Vice-Presidents, however, are judged by a different standard; at least they were  before this disastrous and embarrassing administration.

When the wife of a Vice President–even an accidental and smarmy Vice President–chooses to work for an institution that labels a significant  proportion of Americans sinful and unworthy, that’s not only a statement of her values, it’s a deliberate message of exclusion that is directly at odds with important American principles.

That message is underlined by its hypocrisy.

If “mother” and Pastor Pence really disapproved of all the forms of sexual immorality described by the school, they wouldn’t even enter the same room with Donald Trump. Since they agreed to be part of the Trump Administration, it’s pretty obvious that they are willing to be selective about the sorts of “immoral” sexual behavior they condemn.

Pussy-grabbing and other assaults on unwilling women, serial infidelity, and consorting with prostitutes–those things are evidently minor transgressions. What must be condemned are relations between people of the same sex who love each other–and who may even be married to each other.

This is bigotry (barely) masquerading as piety, and it’s nauseating.

These people are vile.

 

The Piety Police

Those of us who live in Indiana are well aware of Mike Pence’s hostility to the rights of LGBTQ citizens, but the national press is still learning about “Pastor” Pence’s fundamentalist religious views on women and gays. Just a few days ago, a Newslo reporter dug up old Pence speeches and satirized his homophobia. [Sorry the original version of this post didn’t clarify what was real and what was satirical. Mea Culpa]

Digging up Mike Pence’s past political work has become a sport in the brief time since he was named Donald Trump’s running mate. The most recent finding is that Pence penned strong anti-LGBT letters in the 1990s during his time as head of the Indiana Policy Review. In 1993, he attacked gay leadership in the military, claiming: “Homosexuals are not as a group able bodied. They are known to carry extremely high rates of disease brought on because of the nature of their sexual practices and the promiscuity, which is a hallmark of their lifestyle.”

Given his long history of calling to violence against members of the LGBT population, it’s no surprise that Pence can’t go long without going back to his hateful ways. In a recent interview with Fox News, following the results of the presidential election in which his running mate Donald Trump triumphed over Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, Pence issued a call to homosexuals throughout the United States to “voluntarily quit any jobs they might have with God-fearing employers” for the purposes of “avoiding laws that reject gay people from working in such jobs.”

The “God fearing” Republican party of Mike Pence is a far cry from the party of Barry Goldwater, who famously said of gays in the military “You don’t have to be straight; you just have to shoot straight.” In fact, today’s GOP is a far cry from the party of Ronald Reagan, whose “legacy” is piously invoked and routinely misrepresented.

Today’s GOP is a radical cult–much more like a religion than a conventional political party. And that religion’s basic doctrine is becoming clearer every day: it’s the prosperity gospel on steroids. Prosperity gospel, as you probably know, is the belief that financial and physical well-being are evidence of the will of God. If you are poor and sick, well, that’s God’s will, and government has no business interfering.

You only have to look at the GOP’s so-called “health care” bill to see this doctrinal belief in action.   Why eviscerate Medicaid? Well,if God wanted us to keep grandma alive in a nursing home, He would have seen to it that she could afford it.

In fact, there’s a lot that the Republican God doesn’t want. He (their God is definitely a He) also doesn’t want us bothering to combat climate change. Just ask Senator Inhofe, who insists that only God can change the climate, and says the idea that manmade pollution could affect the seasons is “arrogance.”

The theology of today’s GOP may forbid interfering with God’s will by providing government-subsidized health care or a hand up to the poor, but when it comes to issues of gender, the Prosperity Gospel defaults to garden-variety Christian fundamentalism, a la Pence, which teaches that God wants government to ensure that women aren’t allowed to control their own reproduction. God also wants government to prevent Planned Parenthood from providing poor women with breast exams and/or pap smears. (Why an omnipotent God can’t manage this on His own is one of the mysteries of Christian doctrine…)

Bottom line: Today’s GOP is a thoroughly unholy amalgam of prosperity gospel (whose adherents overlooked Donald Trump’s unfitness for office because, hey–he’s rich! God must love him)–and anti-woman, anti-gay Christian fundamentalism. Its members are antagonistic to science, dismissive of evidence, uninterested in policy and the nitty-gritty of governing, and unmoved by the real-world, human consequences of their actions.

They’re only interested in doing the will of the God they’ve created in their own image.

 

If We Just Kill Off My Age Cohort, Things Will Improve….

For the past several weeks, this blog has mostly been sharing depressing observations. Since it’s Sunday (a day for uplift, or at the very least some time off), I thought I’d post a more hopeful story before returning to what threatens to become the “regular programming”at least until November 8th.

In a post memorably titled “Our Lady of Perpetual Misogyny,” Juanita Jean related a story of fundamentalist sexism and its unexpectedly heartwarming conclusion.

Two girls at Foothills Academy, a high school in Scottsdale, Arizona, made the boys’ soccer team. When the school was scheduled to play Our Lady of Sorrows (how appropriate!), a Phoenix parochial school, they were informed that Our Lady’s all-boy soccer team would not even come on the field if the girls were to play. They would rather forfeit. (God says girls have cooties…)

Presumably, they’d get those cooties–or be barred from heaven–if they so much as kicked a soccer ball in a game where females participated. The Foothills coach left it up to the team to decide whether to play without the girls, or to forfeit.

Each player on his team voted. Every player voted to accept the forfeit. Especially noted are the players who are being looked at for college soccer scholarships and whose stats will be affected by each game not played. “I don’t give a damn about my stats, the girls are my team mates.”

The league will be updating their rosters with schools willing to play girls.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: once my age cohort is gone, things will improve. As stories like this confirm, the younger generation gives reason for optimism.

The undergraduate and graduate students I teach are by orders of magnitude more inclusive, less bigoted and more focused upon building community than the cranky old men and women of my generation.

If we can manage not to destroy the world–or elect Donald Trump (pretty much the same thing)– before we hand it over to them, things will definitely improve.