Monday, September 20, 2004

Walking the Straight and Narrow

Twenty years ago, I tried to reinvent myself—into a fundamentalist Christian. The whole "born-again, baptized-in-a-swimming-pool" experience. I know now that what I was looking for was community. Unfortunately, I never really found it among those people…in large part because I could not align myself with their politics. I am just NOT a political conservative. Never have been, never will be. It used to bother me, a niggling burr in the back of my mind, that they preached about gaining political power and "winning the country for Jesus." But I was convinced that what they preached was so judgmental, narrow-minded, and just basically unconstitutional, that their movement would never be able to gather much steam outside their own little circle.

Our pastor actually stood in the pulpit one Sunday shortly before election Day 1984 and admonished us to go to the polls and "vote for the Ronald Reagan of our choice." I hated Ronald Reagan...for reasons I won’t go into here. But, to the Fundamentalists, he was only a few rungs down the ladder from Jesus Christ Himself. He made bold promises to the Christian Right during both his campaigns. "Churchy" people were convinced that Reagan was "God’s man in the White House." But Reagan never really acted on those promises once he secured the office. I’m sure he knew that, in those times, fulfilling a right-wing Christian agenda would have been a huge political liability. It’s rather convoluted that the only thing to LIKE about the Reagan presidency was that he lied to a portion of the electorate to get their votes, and then didn’t so much as throw them a bone once he was in office. "Christian Right" politics remained on the fringes of the conservative movement, until lately. In the last few years, they’ve gained a tremendous amount of momentum. I’ve been puzzling over the reasons behind this. What has changed in our world that we are suddenly willing to hand the ultra-moral minority huge chunks of our freedom? I think the September 11th attacks have had everything to do with our society’s shift to the right.

The United States was set upon by a truly frightening enemy. An enemy completely outside our frame of reference, with no geographic borders, no traditional military structure, no moral imperative against killing innocent non-combatants, and, indeed, no particular reverence for any human life, including their own. Oh, yes, terrorist warfare has existed for centuries, but it was never waged against US, so we have studiously ignored it. Now we are wounded, frightened, and largely impotent against this threat. What do we do? Who do we turn to for help? Let’s think…some very ancient, mystical force…oh yeah! God! We are a large scale case of the man who’s driving down the highway and sees a semi coming straight at him…and though he hasn’t darkened the door of a church in thirty years, he shoots skyward a desperate bargain with the Almighty. "If I get out of this alive, I’ll (fill in the blank…)

The folks who don’t go to church, cheat on their taxes, spice up their dreary marriages with a little "on the side" action, idolize rich spoiled media stars, provide the vast audience for "entertainment" that flaunts violence and gratuitous sex… They’re looking at the ashes of the twin towers and thinking maybe they had better hedge their bets against the "Sodom and Gomorrah" aspect of the situation. Will they haul their butts to a church on Sunday, or fork some of their cash into a collection plate? Will they honor their marriage vows? Will they make the tough changes to their own lives? Of course not. How much easier is it to throw the weight of their gelatinous mass behind movements to limit someone else’s rights, or stand in judgment of someone else’s behavior, than it would be to actually give up their own pet sins? If you can make points with God without making any personal sacrifices, why would you not? And so, we are witnessing the uncanny strength of political movements that have their roots in the Christian Right, because the "hypocritical majority" believes that backing THAT horse might save us from suffering future firestorms from heaven.

What will they do when THEIR pet vice becomes the "sin-du-jour" to be outlawed by government proclamation, at the behest of the Christian Right?

16 comments:

  1. I'll have to come back and read this again when I have time to think.  I don't believe that people who don't go to church cheat on their taxes, or spice up their dreary marriages with on the side action.

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  2. I vote for you for president.

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  3. The Fundamentalist bent of this administration alarms me (and the "delightful" Rick Santorum is one of *my* representatives). I, too, flirted with fundamentalism about 20 years ago and found I couldn't take the myopic, narrowmindedness of it all. Thank God/dess I went to a big city college and was exposed to a diversity of religious and cultural thought.

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  4. I think that Christian right has been around for a long time. The only real difference now is that their guy is in the White House and, true to the absolutism of fundamentalist Christianity, sees no problem in blending his faith with our politics.  And I think that fundamentalist Christianity (from a religious standpoint) and conservative Christianity (from a political standpoint) both appeal to people who do not see life in a nuanced way.  For whatever reason, some people prefer absolutes and others are always able to see shades of gray.  The problem is that, while the people who see shades of gray are willing to tolerate the absolutists and view them with some amusement (as just one more set of shades of gray), the absolutists have no tolerance for positions and beliefs no their own -- which gives them far more clout in a one-liner politcal and media world.

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  5. Brilliantly put.  And you raise a HUGELY important question.  If the fundamentalist right have their way, with restrictions placed on anyone and everyone who is not like "them" - at what point do they decide they need a few more rules?  Take away a few MORE rights that the literal interpretation of the bible says are sins.  Do we make women slaves again?  Do guys get to go back to having multiple wives?  Will adultery be punishable by death?  (that one I doubt the politicians would go for) I'm actually quite frightened at this point because if we get Bush another 4 years, that means a potential 32 years if you think about Supreme Court assignments.  So long, separation of Church and State.

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  6. Simply excellent, though I would argue that they are the ultra-moral majority. Most in the extreme fundy-right wing political branch are only concerned about other's morality.  It's so much easier to condemn people who have sins that don't problem them.  Never mind things like covetousness, rage, envy, sloth, gluttony. Getting to know God is endless, but rewarding work, and there's a whole lot of people who want a definied group to do that work and say do this and God will take care of us.  I refuse to think of God as a vending machine into which I can put the right combination of prayers and behaviors and receive the award I choose.  I know this is tangential, but there it is.

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  7. My brother in law Jon said something very profound a couple of years ago. Somehow we'd gotten on the subject of the Garden of Eden, when my faith center attending brother by marriage said "who says it had to be on Earth?" I believe that if the Republicans could come up with the guts to call the bluff of the Pat Robertsons and the Jerry Falwells they'd find that most of the rest are not single issue voters.

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  8. I probably wouldn't have said it as forcefully as you did here because I never experienced it personally. But I agree quite a bit. I've stop friendships because I was told if I voted for Clinton years ago, I was voting for the anti-Christ and burning in hell by a few of my FORMER fundamentalist friends. God help us all! They found Jesus. I never knew He was lost. And, they don't resemble Him one bit.



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  9. I like that bumper sticker. I try not to get too alarmist about the rise of the Christian Right. Throughout history there has been several waves of revitalism. Many of the so called "fundamentalist" sects came about during the last large wave of the Reformation Movement. It seems to be the natural flow of things. Something (such as a catastrophe) spurs people into religious action, then something scandalous like a Jim Baker incident occurs and people become disillusioned again. I guess what I'm trying to say is don't fret too much, this too shall pass.
    :-) ---Robbie

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  10. I'm a church going person but fortunately my church is non-political.  If it were, I think it would be slightly to the right. We do have some born-agains, but most of the people are what I consider "normal" (in other words, like me!  heh heh) in that we want our children to have a basic foundation and religious education, but that we don't want to go totally overboard with it and that we do believe in the separation of church and state.

    Don't underestimate how much of this Christian right movement  is driven by abortion politics.  There are a lot of single-issue voters out there, and for the Christian right, this is often THE issue. And it's a very hard issue to argue.  I'm a Democrat and pro-choice, and even I have to admit that it's difficult sometimes to be on the side that I'm on, because I do not like abortion at all.  (But that's different than wanting to put women and doctors in jail and to give the government access to women's gynecology records for legal purposes).  It's hard to argue that something can be "wrong" and yet also "legal". And it's hard to disagree with the position that "abortion is the taking of human life."  What I'm trying to say is that I understand where these people are coming from, even though I disagree with them.

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  11. Wisdom.  Its a beautiful thing!

    Where is it written that to be Christian one must be republican?  I didn't have to give up God to be Democratic.  I just had to be intelligent enough to use the brain God gave me.

    Yes Virginia there are liberal Christians.

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  12. Here's where I get to understand your passion.....and hope that you don't think all Christians are this way.  I am not.  I actually think that politics and religion don't mix well.  Like water and oil.

    Forgive me?

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  13. I cannot stand it when a church tries to tell me how I should vote. I tried a church once too that I thought would be right for me and as soon as they started talking about protesting whatever it was they wanted to protest, it was something to do with other people's rights, I ran the other way!

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  14. Today a Republican (student at my school) told me that even though he knows Bush’s faults he would still vote for him, because he does not know Kerry’s faults or stance.  This even after I told him many.  Finally, I had to end the misery by saying, “you just want to vote for him, ----period!”  I really wanted to say, “You just want to vote for him because he gives you the feeling of fraternity among white males.”

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  15. CLAP CLAP CLAP!!!

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  16. I was raised in an environment where the fundamentalist Christian thinking was considered standard, and it was just assumed that folks like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell were men of God.  I never knew there was another way to believe... you either thought that was God or you declined to believe in God at all.  I was so glad when I found out differently!

    And as for the political side, I've always hated the way some try to act as if God supports their political views.  Honestly, it's such a low thing to do--claim that God would vote for you if He were here.

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