The Hazards of Religious Fundamentalism in Politics
The Ancient Greeks – whom we say we got our idea for Democracy from – where a lot more morally advanced than we are now. Oh they had a God of war but the also had a Goddess of love, beauty and sex. A God of music, healing, plague, prophecies, poetry. A Goddess of wisdom and Zeus – The king of the gods, the ruler of Mount Olympus and the god of the sky, weather, thunder, law, order. It all kind of balanced out. This is not to say that the ancient Greeks did not go to war, they did and often but it was usually about power and land, not about their gods and beliefs.
It really wasn’t until the rise of the Abrahamic religions did people start to war of beliefs. The belief that there is One and only one God and that the God we worship is the one and only one God, which makes Us the Chosen People and all others heretics and disciples of the devil. Of course once you put yourselves above all others, this makes justifying their elimination very easy. Even commendable. And in every case this God is of the male gender, making the repression of women a significant part of the belief system.
Religious fundamentalism – especially in the Abrahamic religions – is not knew. I fact all three began this way. Most especially Christianity with the Roman Catholic church where challenging church doctrine was punishable by torture and eventually death. This carried on even after the protestant reformation where those who were of a different belief were persecuted and quite often killed for their beliefs, however pacifistic they may be.
Religion and more importantly religious fundamentalism has been behind nearly every war from the get go. From the early Christian Crusades and the Catholic Churches conquest of Spain though the 20th century and up to this very day, as Frank Schaeffer points out in this Alternet article.
Just take one example of religion’s baleful influence: President Woodrow Wilson’s messianic religion-inspired intervention in World War One. “My life would not be worth living” Wilson wrote, “if it were not for the driving power of religion, for faith, pure and simple.” (Letter to Nancy Toy, 1915.)
Wilson’s religious views were the driving force in his political career, informing his quest for world peace. And like all fanatics he decided to achieve this “peace” through war. The devout Woodrow Wilson upset fellow Presbyterians as he moved the nation toward entering World War One, including William Jennings Bryan, who quit as secretary of state in protest.
What did Wilson’s religious idealism actually achieve? Germany’s loss of World War One led to the rise of Hitler, and the Second World War. Wilson picked sides between two equally tarnished nationalistically-inspired colonial contenders and weighed in. So Wilson set the stage for the rise of Hitler and World War Two. With no World War Two there would be no Israel because there would have been no holocaust. Zionism would have simply become a forgotten quirk. And there would have been no Cold War either, maybe not even a Soviet Union.
The twentieth century began with wars rooted in religion and nationalism and ended as the century of wars rooted in ideological atheism led by the likes of Stalin, Hitler and Mao. Now the twenty first century seems to be shaping up to be the age of renewed wars of religion led by fundamentalist fanatics on all sides who believe in the divine destinies of their nations and/or religions.
These fanatics – they are all of the far right – have ranged from the Ayatollah Khomeini to George W Bush, from the far right leaders of the state of Israel to far right American fundamentalist like Michelle Bachmann who – if she and her fellow travelers have their way – would replace the Constitution and Bill of Rights with the Bible and turn America into a (Reconstructionist) theocracy.
But what is religious fundamentalism ? Or more specifically Christian fundamentalism. Wikipedia defines thus.
Fundamentalist Christianity, also known as Christian fundamentalism, is defined by historian George M. Marsden as “militantly anti-modernist Protestant evangelicalism.” Marsden explains that fundamentalists were evangelical Christians who in the 20th century “militantly opposed both modernism in theology and the cultural changes that modernism endorsed. Militant opposition to modernism was what most clearly set off fundamentalism.” The name is taken from the title of a series of essays published by the Bible Institute of Los Angeles (now Biola University), The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truth.
As an organized movement it began within Protestant churches—especially Baptist and Presbyterian—in the United States in the early 20th century. Many such churches adopted a “fighting style” and certain theological elements, such as Dispensationalism, but it is not an organized movement and has no national body or official statement.
Fundamentalism arose out of British and American Protestantism in the late 19th century and early 20th century among evangelical Christians. The founders reacted against liberal theology, actively asserted that the following ideas were fundamental to the Christian faith: the inerrancy of the Bible, Sola Scriptura, the virgin birth of Jesus Christ, the doctrine of substitutionary atonement, the bodily resurrection of Jesus, and the imminent personal return of Jesus Christ
In other words the belief that the Bible (or Qur’an or Talmud) is the only source of truth and all else is heresy. And in nearly every case beginning with the Popes of the Holy Roman Empire, the head of state was also the self ordained representative of god. Whose word could never be questioned. This same kind of exceptionalist thinking also leads to a kind of rigid fanatical nationalism as Frank Schaeffer says.
It’s no accident that the most dangerous cultures today are also the most religiously observant societies. The ultra-religiously observant USA embraces perpetual war as a way of life. With our notion of “exceptionalism,” we fear the “other” who might challenge our notion of having been chosen by God for some special task.
Like the USA the state of Israel has become an intransigent provocation to the world as it slides inexorably toward becoming the next apartheid state taking up oppression based on race and tribe where South Africa left off. Israel is the place where a demographic minority of the “chosen” already represses (and/or has expelled) the majority of the “un-chosen.”
As for the ultra religious state of Pakistan it was actually founded on self-aware religious difference! Pakistan is now the leading exporter of terror worldwide alongside Iran. Both Iran and Pakistan’s intelligence agencies are the purveyors of terror. And both countries (when not busy condemning people to death for the crime of heresy etc.,) see themselves as having special prophetic religious destinies.
But this literal interpretation of the religious documents – which they also apply to political, historical and economic documents as well – is selective. Choosing only to take those passages that fit their agenda and dismissing those that do not. Which makes one wonder whether or these fundamentalists are simply closed mined megalomaniacs using religion as a cover or rational for their persoanl agenda.
They fear tyranny, repression and subjugation and counter it with their own version of tyranny, repression and subjugation. And being Gods Chosen they believe that it’s they duty to convert all those who do not believe as THEY do or eliminate them. Its this back/white view of the world and selective editing of their religious views that also attracts some of these same people to Leo Strauss and Ayn Rand, even though this may appear to be counter intuitive. It’s this Nietzsche narrative that they find attractive. Which also makes one wonder just how truly religious these fundamentalist Christians really are.
But it is the rise of the fundamentalist black/white good/evil world view into politics and economic policies that is the most troubling. For the world is not black/white and good/evil. And as Shakespeare observed in Hamlet;
“Why then ’tis none to you; for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”