Fundamentalism Does Not Exist:
LIBERAL CHRISTIANITY AS AN ALTERNATIVE TO THE EVANGELICAL RIGHT
By Matthew 5
"A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love to one another."
"Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him and saying, Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. That is the first and great commandment. The second is like unto it,Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."
For all intents and purposes Fundamentalism is a figment of the far right's imagination. The Evangelical Right routinely uses the Bible as a weapon against its opponents when it seeks to score political points, but if the truth is to be known the fact of the matter is that no one can be a fundamentalist. Oh I'll admit that the Evangelical Right and the Millenialists, and other right wing factions like to use the Bible and they routinely display an attitude that seems to say "we're so much better than everyone else because we believe in a literal interpretation of the Entire Bible (especially the bigoted, hateful, repressive, and violent portions therein). But what the far right fails to realize is that the very argument they use to promote their supposed superiority, is in fact an argument against Fundamentalism in general. The key word is the word interpretation, although I would argue simultaneously that it is also a matter of emphasis. In a book as long and and self-contradictory as The Bible, one must by necessity pick and choose those parts that one finds inspirational. Thus liberals and conservatives, while both revere (or at least claim to revere) The Bible find themselves believing and promoting very different interpretations of the holy text. But that doesn't necessarily mean that one interpretation is equal to the other. I have looked at the Evangelical Right and to be perfectly frank, I don't like what I have seen.
If you ask me a Christian should be drawing his or her inspiration from the Gospel of Christ, with less emphasis placed on the Old Testament, the writings of Paul, and the Book of Revelations. In too many ways the Evangelical Right has begun to resemble a secular fascist movement with the name of Jesus and a plethora of nationalism connected to to make their repressive agenda more palatable to an unsuspecting public. My blogging partners (PraetorOne, Donatra, BibleBelted, and SweetPea) have written about this topic before, but I shall attempt to recap some of their main points. The death penalty; Anti-Semitism; the delegation of women to second class citizenship, that the position of mere breeders; the virulent hatred of gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transsexuals; rampant nationalism intertwined with right wing religion; the triumph of pageantry and symbolism over reason and common sense: those are all traits that the Evangelical Right shares with fascist forms of government. In other words, Right Wing Evangelical Movements, including the one here in the United States in 2008, have more in common with Mussolini's Fascist movement of the 1920s and thirties than they do with either truly compassionate (read liberal) Christianity and what the Founding Fathers intended in the United States Constitution. Their primary objective is to replace both, liberal Christianity and the Constitution with their violent, rapacious interpretation of the holy text
Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the Evangelical Right is the apparent belief that they can be saved, find salvation, and do no wrong. Their idea of repentance goes something like this: they are saved; they can sin, turn the Bible wrong side out and do whatever they deem necessary to promote their agenda (lie, cheat, steal, it doesn't make any difference); and then save their sorry carcasses by getting saved again. Another belief held by certain Right Wing Evangelicals is that acts, good deeds count for nothing, that faith alone matters. That's all fine and dandy, but shall we be honest here? On the one hand Right Wing Evangelicals use The Bible when they want to condemn others and institute social policy. To that end they are quick out to trot out every thou and thou shalt not from Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy; but they themselves seem to have no problem with breaking those same commandments, those same thous and thou shalt nots, when they are trying to acquire temporal power. And if we have learned anything during the last seven year's it's that these people addict quickly to power. Worse yet, these people not only ignore their beloved Old Testament when they seek power. They also ignore the more compassionate and loving teachings of Jesus Christ, the beloved Savior who they so dubiously claim to love, follow, and adore.
Which brings me to another point. To listen to these people you have to wonder--REALLY WONDER--if these people revere Jesus Christ at all. They certainly don't seem to care what he had to say about a proper way to live here on earth, do they? As a matter of fact these people are so obsessed with power and preparing themselves for the afterlife, that they are perfectly willing to ignore what Christ had to say about anything--unless of course it involves one of the few, isolated phrases from the four gospels which support their fascist world view--only then do they give Jesus a second thought.
So what are they missing? I would argue that they are missing the big picture. Beyond that they aren't missing a blessed thing. (Forgive my sarcasm).
As I suggested above the Evangelical Right does NOT comprehend the fact that the Gospels of Jesus Christ compel us to behave in certain ways which which are undoubtedly alien to the Right Wing Evangelical thought process; including but not limited to a desire to work for peace. When Jesus says "Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy," (and) "Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God," (and) "Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God," (Matthew 5:7-9) I tend to take those teachings rather seriously. The far right is most adept at quoting those parts of the Bible which can be used to justify war, vengeance, and sadism, but they seem abysmally ignorant of those parts of the Bible in which Jesus spoke about love and forgiveness. Indeed, he reached a rhetorical peak in The Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6:17-49). For it is here that Christ reminds us that the we aren't only supposed to love our enemies, we are supposed to do good to those that hate us. Here we are told to "Give to every man that asketh of thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods..." We are reminded to be merciful, told not to condemn, and again reminded to cast the motes from our own eyes before we pluck them from our brother's. In Mark 12:28-31 Jesus teaches us about love, saying: "And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reason together, and perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him, Which is the first commandment of all. And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is Hear, O Israel, The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like namely this,Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.
If Jesus spoke about love and forgiveness he certainly proved his metal. In Luke 22:49-51, when someone cuts off the ear of the servant of the high priest (one of the individuals who was sent to arrest him) Jesus goes so far as to heal the servant. Later, in Luke 23:34 he offers that famous quote: "Father forgive them; for they know not what they do." This as he is being crucified. That should give you a basic idea as to the kind of God that I worship: gentle, patient, loving, and forgiving. Have I opted to under emphasize those parts of The Bible in which Christ is presented as somewhat prudish or perhaps even judgemental? Perhaps. But there's a difference between Liberal interpretations and Right Wing interpretations. Those of us on the left are able to comprehend the big picture. We emphasize the majority of the text, not just the dirty and violent parts which justify war and bigotry. I don't claim to have a perfect interpretation of the Bible. That would be human arrogance, but I DO believe that an inspired, interpretation of the text produces better people; people who aren't afraid to get their hands dirty as they attempt to solve some of society's major problems. That's a huge difference from the faith only crowd which refuses to believe that acts, good deeds make a difference at all. Indeed, they not only seem to believe that acts and good deeds get in the way of their faith only navel contemplation; some of those on the Evangelical right have taken the attitude that God is going to destroy the world anyhow, so why bother fixing social problems, helping people, or cleaning the environment?
Remember, the far right is using Old Testament hate, vengeance, and savagery to promote its agenda. They toss in a little Jesus and some of Saint Paul's more visceral remarks about homosexuals and women to give their message a faint glimmer of Christianity; and God knows that some of them are obsessed over the Book of Revelations and thrill at the idea of guessing who might qualify as the Antichrist. But they are also ignoring the vast majority of the most important books in the Christian canon--the four Gospels. By the same token they have stripped the Old Testament and the New Testament of its many references to loving your neighbor and helping the poor. Which brings me to another issue.
Virtually every religion has something kind to say about the poor and hungry and offers commandments or guidelines on the compassionate treatment thereof. Not only do certain factions on the far right have no sympathy for the poor, they even go so far as to blame the poor for their own plight. They are absolutely and utterly unforgiving of the weak, poor, and helpless simply because they are weak, poor and helpless. That is not the kind of forgiving nor compassionate message about which Jesus spoke. Indeed, they seem to have forgotten that on one occasion Jesus asked a certain ruler to give up his possessions, give them to the poor, and serve God. I don't think that too many of the Social Darwinists on the right would be willing to do that. Not even to serve the very God who they claim to love, worship, and adore.
Please note that it is not my intention to deliver a sermon here on Sirens. Rather, I am attempting to present a very brief cross samplings of the kinds of scripture that inspire liberal Christians. Judging from the repugnant behaviour we have seen on the right--the war mongering; the transference of wealth and power from the neediest in society to a wealthy elite; the demonization of gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transsexuals, Hispanics, Blacks (I've about had it with the myth of the Black Welfare Queen), non fundamentalists, non believers, non-Christians, non-believers, ad infinitum--I can only conclude that some people may be reading their Bibles but that they don't know how to interpret them. Instead of accepting a gentler, more compassionate take on Christianity, the Right Wing Evangelicals appear to have given in to the darker sides of their natures. In this regard their version of Christianity can only be regarded as a failure.
So what do I, as a liberal Christian believe in? First I believe in Jesus and then in an inspired interpretation of the Holy Text. Whether one likes it or not the Bible often speaks in metaphors and parables. Just because scientific research indicates that something is contrary to what the Bible says it doesn't mean that we have to throw the science out with the bathwater. Take the idea of evolution. The Bible never really says how long the first days were. Might they have been thousands of years long? Millions of years long? BILLIONS of year long? Who's to say? But I am not uncomfortable with the idea of evolution at all. Indeed, the people who are the most opposed to evolution appear to be proof of the very theory they want to undermine by virtue of their Neanderthal natures. As a liberal Christian I believe in Church/State separation. Just because I have chosen a set of religious beliefs by which I want t live does not mean that I have the right to use the force of local, county, state, or the federal government to help me impose those beliefs on others. If I want to share my religion with others there's an old fashioned way to do it. I can grab up some Church literature and a Bible, and I can go from door to door discussing my faith with others. But that's hard work and there are times when I wonder if the far right display to obtain government help in spreading Right Wing Religion is little more than a modern day manifestation of laziness.
I also want to get involved with social problems and environmental issues. I genuinely believe when Jesus told us to help the poor and less fortunate that he wasn't doing so because it was a slow news day and he wanted to stir the proverbial pot. When Jesus kept company with what the far right might call the dredges of society, he (Jesus) was setting an example for the rest of us, telling us that there's work to be done and that if we want to serve God we may also do so by helping those who society has trampled on. Interesting how the far right ignores that message and embraces the exact opposite--the persecution of the poor. That aside, I have chosen to serve by working with young addicts and alcoholics. For the record I am 22-years old and I am a recovering alcohol/heroin addict. I was also diagnosed with the HIV virus in 2004. And while I have been clean for just a little more than four years, I am dedicated to educating kids about the dangers of drug addiction and the use of shared needles, which was how I contracted HIV. Don't worry. I'm taking the drug cocktails and the experts tell me that for the time being I appear to be doing quite nicely. I probably won't develop full blown AIDS for years to come. And until I do I intend to serve my God and his human creations in the best way(s) that I can.
In closing I want to add the following comments. It seems to me that one of the hugest differences between Right Wing Evangelicals and Liberal Christians is that the authoritarian Right Wing Evangelical followers almost invariably need a leader--a politician, a political party, a local pastor, etc--to give them direction. They need a prepackaged theology (some might say dogma) which requires mere obedience and a minimum of critical thinking. In sharp contrast, Liberal Christianity, by its very nature, demands that you demonstrate a certain amount of independent thought. I suppose it might be argued that Liberal Christians believe that God gave us brains and that we have a duty to use them. But that's hard work. That means that you not only have to depend on your faith it also means that you have to look at individual situations, weigh the alternatives, and make decisions based on the variables involved. That's a huge difference from the kind of blind obedience that we saw in Hitler's Germany, Mussolini's Italy, and W's America. And for all I know that may be why America's mainstream, Protestant Churches have been losing members to the Evangelical Right. Times are difficult, chaotic, and confusing. The overworked, underpaid, and stressed out American people are looking for simple answers to complicated, intertwined problems when in fact there are no simple answers nor simple solutions. I suspect that in many ways it is easier to let others handle the thinking and to go with the Evangelical flow than it is to sit down and think seriously about what's going on in the world today. Liberal Christianity on the other hand, requires just that. It requires critical thinking and a willingness to look at all solutions. And as I suggested, that requires a lot of hard work in an era when an increasing number of people are no longer up to the task.