Parting thoughts on America and the Religious Right
Like millions of people I started blogging out of frustration following the November 2004 elections and the inexplicable folly of re-electing what is surly one of the most criminally inclined administrations in American history. While I started out hoping to impart insights into the religious right, Bush’s base, I found myself becoming increasingly frustrated by a movement that seems bent on duping its followers into rejecting objective reality in favor of an Amway like sales pitch. Evangelicals are promised prosperity and the good life if they will only buy one more box of soap and bring in just one more distributor. In this case the boxes of soap were tax cuts, wars without end and the destruction of our environment. While plumbing the depths of American Evangelicalism I found a movement with the moral depth and clarity of a mud puddle.
Indeed, modern American evangelicalism promises its followers eternal life in exchange for accepting white midwestern culture and supporting whatever bizarre policies the Republican Party has adopted. Those who do not accept the Evangelical formula voluntarily are deemed morally inferior and are therefore fair game for having the culture shoved down their throats. This stands in stark contrast to other religious movement such as the Quakers, Mennonites and Amish who have adopted a strict religious ethic but have no concept of using the force of law (or the US military) to impose it on others. In the end, the key distinction is between those movements that promote a utopian society and those that lead to tyranny, oppression and ultimately their own destruction.
Much of the modern Christian theology was defined by the early Church’s response to heresy. One heresy that seems appropriate to consider when trying to understand the folly of the Religious Right in general and American Evangelicalism in particular is Docetism. Docetism (from the Greek word dokesis, which means to seem) was the belief that Christ was wholly God, and his humanity and suffering only seemed tobe real. In short, Docetism granted Christ his divinity but denied him his humanity. This contrasts with mainstream Christian orthodoxy which states that Christ is both fully divine and fully human.
The heresy of the American Evagelicanism (if it can be called heresy) is not that they deny Christ’s humanity, it is that they are in denial about their own. In short, the key weaknesses of Evangelicals are pride and arrogance. Evangelicals are the first to proclaim the sinful nature of huminity and our propensity to commit all manner of evil. Indeed, so debotched is human nature that Evangelicals see it as only natural to impose no end of government control over personal freedom lest our society be overrun by the innate human desire to commit evil. Strangely, it is only other people’s sin that seems to enrage Evangelicals as Evangelicals are largely blind to the sins they commit on their own.
More disturbingly, for many if not most American Evangelicals the issue is not really falling for every con artist who professes a faith in God so much as giving in to their all too human desire to feel safely ensconsed in their own whitewashed culture. Indeed, I believe history will show that American Evangelicalism defining attribute as a movement was not that it promoted religion so much as that it coveted political power as a means to impose its cultural norms upon a nation and the world. The underlying assumption with the Religious Right is that the only cultural norm that can exist are their own.
In my experience with Evangelicals I have found them to be just as prone to marrital infidelity, larceny, sexual exploitation and all other maner of indescretion as the general public. Indeed, my anecdotal observations appear to be supported by solid research from organizations such as Barna. That Evangelicals are just as prone to human frailty and weakness as the general population is excusable, what is not excusable is their insistence on applying a moral standard to the rest of society that they theselves fail to adhere to.
There is a sense within the Evangelical movement that once someone is “saved” they are not only free from the sins of the past but are largely incapable of committing sins in the future and therefore hold a position of moral superiority over the rest of human society. It is a kind of cultural racism that has given many members of the Religious Right the sure and certain belief that only they are qualified to hold high office and rule over others. This is not a movement that values diversity, at least intellectual diversity.
Intellectually, the institution of Evangelicalism teaches, no indoctrinates it followers in the sure and certain knowledge that solid objective information is the enemy. Biological evolution is a scientific fact backed by libraries filled with first class research? Wrong, its all a plot by Satan and anyone who accept such notions is clearly working for the devil in his efforts to overturn the authority of the Bible! You say that one of our pastors has been engaged in (choose one) theft, sexual exploitation or some other nefarious activity and that you have solid evidience and eye witness testimony to support the charge? Wrong, our pastor loves Jesus therefore it’s the accusors who are evil. In short, it is a system where one’s innate belief in moral superiority trumps objective reality. Anyone challenging this paradigm is engaged in persecussion and is therefor a valid target.
The Shakesperian tragidy of American Evangelicism is that while its followers sincerely want to bring about a better world on behalf of God, their efforts to gain political power and to enforce social control has turned Evangelicalism into little more than a fanatical and corrupt secular political movement. That a major political party would sieze control of Evangelical leadership (and vice versa) was not only natural, it was inevitble. In this case no matter how bizzare or corrupt President Bush’s behavior he need only remind people that he is an Evangelical and the base magically falls into line without question. Indeed, like the victims of any skilled con artist, evangelicals not only excuse the behavior of the Bush administration, Evangelicals have become its chief defenders.
The basic contradiction of modern Evangelicalism is that it is a religious movement which claims to have aligned itself more closely with God than any other Christian movement in history and yet it has placed its entire identity (and great deal of its material holdings) in the hands of a secular political movement. A secular political movement that worships not God but the free market, a system that values the rich over the poor, the strong over the weak and the priveliged over the impoverished. In short, through its alignment with the Republican party Evangelicals have placed their faith not in God but in a system that turns the kingdom of God as described by Jesus squarly on its head. Evangelicals have, ironically, become the incarnation of all they claim to oppose.