Dark Christianity
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May 2008
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What fundementalists need for their salvation


This brilliant and devastating article from Orion Magazine takes a sharp look at today's religious supremacists. Here are some excerpts:

Having damned myself in what we might call "anti-evangelical circles," I'd like to qualify that damnation by stating what the word "evangelical" suggests to me.

Religious laws, in all the major traditions, have both a letter and a spirit. As I understand the words and example of Jesus, the spirit of a law is all-important, whereas the letter, while useful in conjunction with spirit, becomes lifeless and deadly without it. In accord with this distinction, a yearning to worship in wilderness or beside rivers, rather than in churches, could legitimately be called evangelical. Jesus himself began his mission after forty days and nights in wilderness. According to the same letter vs. spirit distinction, the law-heavy literalism of many so-called evangelicals is not evangelical at all: "evangel" means "the gospels"; the essence of the gospels is Jesus; and literalism is not something that Jesus personified or taught.

Nor need one be a Christian for the word "evangelical" to apply: if your words or deeds harmonize with the example of Jesus, you are evangelical in spirit whether you claim to be or not. When the non-Christian Ambrose Bierce, for instance, wrote, "War is the means by which Americans learn geography," there was acid dripping almost visibly from his pen. His words, however, are aimed at the same anti-war end as the gospel statements "Love thine enemies" and "Love thy neighbor as thyself." And "Blessed are the peacemakers." Bierce's wit is in this sense evangelical whether he likes it or not.


THE GULF BETWEEN THIS open-hearted evangelism and the aims of modern fundamentalism is vast. Most of the famed leaders of the new "Bible-based" American political alliances share a conviction that their causes and agendas are approved of, and directly inspired, by no less a being than God. This enviable conviction is less enviably arrived at by accepting on faith, hence as fact, that the Christian Bible pared down into American TV English is God's "word" to humankind, that this same Bible is His only word to humankind, and that the politicized apocalyptic fundamentalists' unprecedentedly selective slant on this Bible is the one true slant.

The position is remarkably self-insulating. Possessing little knowledge of or regard for the world's wealth of religious, literary, spiritual and cultural traditions, fundamentalist leaders allow themselves no concept of love or compassion but their own. They can therefore honestly say that it is out of "Christian compassion" and a sort of "tough love" for others that they seek to impose on all others their tendentiously literalized God, Bible and slant.


Each of these crusader groups has seen itself as fighting to make its own or some other culture "more Christian" even as it tramples the teachings of Christ into a blood-soaked earth. The result, among millions of non-fundamentalists, has been revulsion toward anything that chooses to call itself "Christian." But I see no more crucial tool for defusing fundamentalist aggression than the four books of the gospels, and can think of no more crucial question to keep asking our crusaders than whether there is anything truly imitative of Jesus—that is, anything compassionate, self-abnegating, empathetic, forgiving, and enemy-loving—in their assaults on those they have determined to be "evil."

The appropriation of Christian terminology by the American political movement known as neoconservative has resulted in a breed of believer I'm tempted to call "avengelical," but in the interests of diplomacy will simply call right-wing. The fusion of right-wing politics and religiosity has changed America's leadership, altered our identity in the eyes of the world, and created a mood of close-minded vehemence in millions. Critics of the right-wing/fundamentalist conflation are now often demonized not just as "traitors to America," but as enemies of a new kind of Americanized "God." A growing number of people of faith, however, believe that Americans are being asked to worship a bogus image of God...


The "Christian Right's" fully-automated evangelical machine runs twenty-four hours a day—like McDonald's, Coca Cola and Exxon-Mobil—making converts globally. But to what? The conversion industry's notion of the word Christian has substituted a "Rapture Index" and Armageddon fantasy for Christ's interior kingdom of heaven and love of neighbor; it is funded by donors lured by a televangelical "guarantee" of "a hundredfold increase on all financial donations," as if Mark 10:30 were an ad for a financial pyramid scheme and Jesus never said, "Sell all thou hast and distribute it unto the poor"; it has replaced once-personal relationships between parishioners and priests or preachers with radio and TV bombast, sham healings, and congregation-fleecing scams performed by televangelical rock stars; it has trumped worship characterized by ancient music, reflective thought and silent prayer with three-ring media-circuses and Victory Campaigns; it inserts veritable lobbyists in its pulpits and political brochures in its pews, claims that both speak for Jesus, and raises millions for this Jesus, though its version of Him preaches neocon policies straight out of Washington think tanks and spends most of "His" money on war; it quotes Mark 10:15 and Matthew 5:44 and Matthew 6:6 and Luke 18: 9-14 a grand total of never; it revels in its election of a violent, historically ignorant, science-flaunting, carcinogenic-policied president who goads us toward theocracy at home even as he decries theocracies overseas; it defies cooperation and reason in governance, exults in division, and hastens the degeneration of a democracy built upon cooperation and reason; it claims an exclusive monopoly on truth ("America is the hope of all mankind...") yet trivializes truth globally by evincing ignorance of Christianity's historic essence and disrespect toward the world's ethnic and religious diversity and astonishingly rich cultural present and past.

To refer to peregrinating Celtic monks and fundamentalist lobbyists, Origen and Oral Roberts, the Desert Fathers and Tim La Haye, Jerry Falwell and Dante, St. Francis and the TV "prosperity gospel" hucksters, Lady Julian of Norwich and Tammy Faye Baker, or John of the Cross and George W. Bush all as Christian stretches the word so thin its meaning vanishes. The term "carbon-based life-form" is as informative. Though it may shock those who equate fundamentalism and Christianity, ninety years ago the term "fundamentalist" did not exist. The term was coined by an American Protestant splinter-group which, in 1920, proclaimed that adhering to "the literal inerrancy of the Bible" was the true Christian faith. The current size of this group does not change the aberrance of its stance: deification of the mere words of the Bible, in light of every scripture-based wisdom tradition including Christianity's two-thousand-year-old own, is not just naiveté: it is idolatry.


The God of politically-organized fundamentalism, as advertised daily by a vast array of media, is a Supramundane Caucasian Male as furious with humanity's failure to live by a few lines from Leviticus as He is oblivious to the "Christian" right's failure to live the compassion of the gospels and earth-stewardship of both testaments. As surely as I feel love and need for food and water, I feel love and need for God. But these feelings have nothing to do with Supramundane Males planning torments for those who don't abide by neocon "moral values." I hold the evangelical truth of our situation to be that contemporary politicized fundamentalists, including first and foremost those aimed at Empire and Armageddon, need us non-fundamentalists, mystics, ecosystem activists, unprogrammable artists, agnostic humanitarians, incorrigible writers, truth-telling musicians, incorruptible scientists, organic gardeners, slow food farmers, gay restaurateurs, wilderness visionaries, pagan preachers of sustainability, compassion-driven entrepreneurs, heartbroken Muslims, grief-stricken children, loving believers, loving disbelievers, peace-marching millions, and the One who loves us all in such a huge way that it is not going too far to say: they need us for their salvation.

As Mark Twain pointed out over a century ago, the only truly prominent community that fundamentalists have so far established in any world, real or imaginary, is hell.

You have to read the whole essay. And get the magazine. Maybe they've fixed their link.

Avengelical... Perfect word.

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