About Me

Just a person in recovery from years of spiritual abuse at the hands of good, upstanding Christian folks.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Why I'm soft on fundamentalists

A parable of Jesus from Luke 18:9-14:

And he spoke this parable to some self-righteous people who hated and looked down on others. "Two men went up to the temple to pray. One was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and said these words: 'God, I thank you that I am not as other men: extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this fellow, a tax collector. I fast twice a week. I give tithes of all I possess."

"And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying 'God be merciful to me a sinner.'"

"I tell you, this man went down to his house forgiven of his sins, and the Pharisee did not. For anyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."

This story always comes to my mind when I read comments like those posted recently by a fellow blogger, a Progressive Christian minister who noticed that a nearby conservative church has the message "Christ died for your sins" posted on its sign.
He chose to amuse himself a bit by making fun of the message, using words like "fetishism" and "torture" to paint a caricature of how his fellow Christians interpreted the meaning of the crucifixion.

Even more discouraging to me were the comments posted by those who joined this fellow in ridiculing these good people. The scent of self-righteous smugness was apparent in their words, as they condemned their brothers and sisters in Christ as backwards, ignorant, homophobic and superstitious.

No one suggested starting a dialogue with the members of the fundamentalist church. No one suggested trying to see things from their point of view. They were too busy patting themselves on the back for their enlightened, tolerant ideals to see that they were modeling the same attitudes and actions that they claimed to despise.

It has never ceased to amaze me has we humans can so easily forget one of Jesus' core messages: that it is our own sins and shortcomings that we must be quick to note and to condemn, not those of others. Fundamentalists and neo-fundamentalist Evangelicals love to call Progressive believers heretics. They condemn us as anti-family and anti-American. They say we don't honor the Bible, that we compromise with evil, and that we are out of touch elitists. Sometimes they even push God out of His rightful place as judge of humanity and consign us to Hell.

And how do we react? We raise our noses in the air and talk in superior tones about our critics. We accuse them of being anti-science because they mistrust the theory of evolution. We label them as hateful because they have sincere concerns about the morality of welcoming practicing homosexuals into the church. We make snide remarks about their family trees, we wonder if they drive pickup trucks and live in trailer parks, and we engage in silly paranoid discussions about how many guns they own. All too often we liken them to Hitler, knowing full well that the comparison is not only unjustified but slanderous.

And all the time we are doing this, we forget words like these:

"Condemn not and you will not be condemned."

"Bless those who curse you, do good to those who despitefully use you and persecute you."

"Why do you seek to remove the speck from your brother's eye, and ignore the plank that is in your own?"

"Who are you to judge another man's servant? It is by his own master that he stands or falls. And he will stand, because the Lord is able to make him stand."

"Why do you judge your brother? And why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all appear at the judgment seat of Christ."

"It's easier to point a finger than to look in the mirror." (Okay, that one isn't in the Bible, but I like it so much I tossed it in the mix anyway.

And yes, I know that there are many on the Religious Right who would abolish government aid to the poor, declare Jihad on all Muslims, ban Harry Potter books, forbid the teaching of evolution, imprison homosexuals, etc., etc. if they could.

And I have heard the oh-so-handy rationalization "but it's perfectly okay to be intolerant of intolerance!" proclaimed by liberals and progressives looking for an excuse to indulge their own raging xenophobia.

But I never forget that intolerance, suspicion, groupthink, tribalism and a host of other ills are not the sole province of any one group of people. We are all looking for an excuse to hate and to dehumanize others. If we can no longer do so on the basis on race or sexual orientation, well then, we will simply use the fact that "they" don't believe everything I believe, therefore "they" are the enemy.

The terrifying truth is this: the shadow of Hitler hangs not only over political conservatives and religious fundamentalists. It also looms large over their ideological opponents. All of us - ALL OF US - are potential witch hunters. Let a well-spoken leader assure us of our own superiority, let him or her tell us that we are justified in our fears and hatreds, and we can all be manipulated into becoming a mob, burning, destroying, killing those sub-human - (fill in the blank here with your favorite prejudical term - queer, socialist, tree-hugger; or, if you like, fascist, redneck, homophobe - whatever; all those terms, when spoken in hatred, are spawned from the same dark corner of the human soul).

Jesus knew these things, and that is why he urges us so strongly to be slow to judge others, but quick to examine ourselves; slow to speak, but quick to listen; and slow to become angry, but quick to forgive and to seek reconciliation with all people. This is the way of peace, it is the way of Christ. And, if we are to call ourselves Christians, it must be our way as well. May God help it to be so.


  1. Bill, you wrote "All of us - ALL OF US - are potential witch hunters." I take exception to that, not out of spiritual pride but from thinking about my actual experience.

    Some of us can be so burned by our early experiences that we always feel at least some empathy for those who are being attacked, even when it's our friends who are verbally attacking our enemies. I think, for example, of Goon Jones, a large and murderous Mississippi state policeman -- one of my civil rights movement colleagues was ranting about his in-/un-/non-humanity. I reminded my friend that Goon probably was very nice to his dog and maybe even to his wife and kids. He wasn't born that way -- he got twisted by his culture.

    Having a malignant narcissist for a father, and then becoming aware that there are people in the world who would kill me because I'm a Jew, and then becoming saturated in anthropology and its focus on understanding cross-cultural differences, and then 'finding' the radical Jesus and eventually being baptized -- all that has, I believe, inoculated me against any witch-hunter viruses. After almost 78 years, and thinking in terms of probabilities, I doubt that I'll lose my immunity.

    I had read this blog entry when Rev. Roger posted it at CrossLeft and was moved to check out your blog after reading the exchange about Saving Jesus from the Church. I hope you'll be active there. (I haven't been, lately. But I hope to have the energy to give it another try this weekend.)

    So, keep writing, Brother Bill. While I'm Brother Billy on Blogspot, at CrossLeft, I'm just Bill, so there'll be no confusion.

  2. Welcome to our little fellowship, Brother Billy! I appreciate your interest and your thoughts.

    I sincerely hope you are right about conquering that dark corner of your human soul; I wish that I could say the time. Perhaps one day I will be able to.
    In the meantime I will continue to preach to myself as well as to others.

    Take care. Hope to see you again.

  3. WOW, I have to really take issue with you automatically relating that parable with "fundamentalists". I am a fundamentalist (and every one that I know) calls themselves that merely because we believe in the fundamental doctrines of the Bible! Also, most of those who claim to be the most "tolerant" end up being the most intolerant. Most liberals define "tolerance" as, "you agree with me". Tolerance is peacefully DISagreeing!!! As soon as I disagree I am accused of being a hate-monger, racist, unloving, etc. just merely by repeating what the Bible says! WOW, how tolerant!!! How "open-minded"!!! Also, we can't read back into history anything we like. Hitler was a leftist... facism, communism, socialism are LEFTIST ideas. All of them are BIG Government, Less individual rights, Less freedom of speech via political correctness and media-demonization all in the name of pseudo-compassion. This is all in agreement with modern American Liberalism. I don't see how you could rationally link conservatism with Hitler, that is re-writing history.

  4. "I don't see how you could rationally link conservatism with Hitler, that is re-writing history."

    Kindly point out where I link conservatism with Hitler.

    "facism, communism, socialism are LEFTIST ideas. All of them are BIG Government, Less individual rights, Less freedom of speech via political correctness and media-demonization all in the name of pseudo-compassion."

    I really don't think that Hitler and Mussolini acted very often in the name of compassion or political correctness. And regarding the contention that fascism is a leftist idea, I suggest that you consult any standard political science textbook.

    You are redefining "the right" as being equivalent with libertarianism, which will not do. Libertarians would allow people to use drugs, consort with prostitutes and burn the flag. Many of them favor gay marriage and want to pull the US out of Iraq and Afghanistan. They would abolish the draft and slash military spending. Most of them also favor unlimited immigration into the US. Tell Rush Limbaugh or Bill O'Reilly that those are "conservative" positions and they will slap you!

    "This is all in agreement with modern American Liberalism."

    The problem with this statement is that it paints with much too broad a brush. There are many self-described liberals who champion free speech and individual liberty. They abhor speech codes and the like. You unfairly and inaccurately link them with the crowd that wants to impose language codes on the populace.

    This is the same tactic used by leftists who equate all conservatives with homophobic Fred Phelps types who want to toss homosexuals in prison and outlaw all forms of abortion.

    In both cases the stereotypes are nothing more than caricatures employed for propaganda purposes. They stir up the emotions and prohibit clear thinking. This blog was started to counteract such tactics whether they come from the Right or the Left, and it will continue to do so.

  5. "Also, most of those who claim to be the most "tolerant" end up being the most intolerant."

    That is exactly the point I make throughout the post. I'm glad we agree!

    "WOW, I have to really take issue with you automatically relating that parable with "fundamentalists"."

    I describe the people who had that sign outside their church as fundamentalists because they refer to themselves as "fundamentalist Baptists." I assumed they knew what they were talking about, but I suppose they could be deeply confused Unitarian Universalists instead. Anything's possible...

    "I am a fundamentalist, and everyone I know calls themselves that merely because we believe in the fundamental doctrines of the Bible!"

    I believe in the fundamental doctrines of the Bible as well, but I don't call myself a fundamentalist, because the term means far more than that in contemporary American parlance.

    However, if, as you say, everyone you know is a fundamentalist, then I wonder how seriously you are taking Jesus' admonition to "go out into the world and preach the Gospel to every creature." The salt can do no good when it's sitting in the shaker, and the lamp under a bushel provides no light to anyone.