There are days I look at the news and shake my head wondering how on earth the message of Jesus has gotten so twisted. Jesus taught love and peace and joy and truth… never disrespect for the dead, or abuse of women and children, or voices raised in anger, or judgmental hatred of minorities. When I look at the Fred Phelpses of the world I can hardly blame non-religious types for thinking of religion as a mental illness.
For those who say the world would be better off without religion, defense of faith isn’t my purpose in writing today. It’s enough to say that so much of humanity’s historical, cultural, and intellectual capital is rooted in the positive aspects of religion, that to do away with religion is essentially to saw off the tree branch we’re sitting on.
And, as so many people of various faiths have said before me, fundamentalists do not represent the majority of the faithful.
So how does fundamentalism spread? Here’s one story that I’m sure has been repeated millions of times in one form or another.
Today I received an email from an elderly friend. She’s a wonderful lady – matriarch of three generations, community volunteer, lifelong churchgoer. She sent me a link to a web page and video that was troubling her. Here is the web page it linked to — an article castigating President Obama and his choice of church attendance on Easter, with a “video” of said service. The video looked familiar so I popped over to YouTube and discovered the so-called “Easter service” was a tiny piece of a much longer sermon filmed over five years ago. There’s no indication it was filmed on any Easter or that the President was in attendance.
The website that published all this is a subset of One News Now, run by the American Family Association. According to Wikipedia, the AFA is listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, citing “propagation of known falsehoods” and “demonizing propaganda”. The AFA is, essentially, our generation’s version of the KKK.
But there’s no way my elderly friend could have known all this. All she knows is she got an upsetting email with a video containing the n-word and she wants to know what the world is coming to.
And she wonders how people can put this stuff in print if there isn’t some grain of truth in it somewhere.
And that’s how fundamentalism spreads… not in the halls of power, not via FoxNews, not via huge bank accounts, but friend-to-friend and family member to family member, by innuendo, twisted truths, false reporting. Deliberate misinformation sent out by an organization with its own prosperity in mind, to people who would never think to do such things. People who forward emails to their children and relatives and friends and say, “Have you seen this? Can it be true? If Mom (or Dad or Sis or Bro) thinks there might something in it, maybe there is…”
One News Now, the AFA, Focus on the Family, et al… they make their millions by sending out messages designed to incite anger and play into people’s fears. The language of their message implies that the nation as we know it will cease to exist if immediate action isn’t taken. (To be fair I’ve heard equal and opposite jargon from the “other side” but that’s a different story for another day.) They call people to stand for ‘God and country’ and they define what God said (“Stand firm!”) and what supporting country means (hyper-nationalism, wrapping the cross in the flag, no abortions, no gays, no immigrants, no blacks or women in power, always looking to “get back” to a more “innocent” era). And of course “taking a stand” really means “Send money! And send us the names and addresses of other people who will send money!”
Loyalty compels separation and alienation. Paul warned the believers in Corinth about the dangers and flaws of saying “I am of Paul” or “I am of Apollos.” Yet, this is the very fabric of Fundamentalist culture. […] We really believed our culture, our leaders, our “standards” put us a few notches above… Alliances and divisions were (and are) numerous and complex and rock hard.
A lot of Fundamentalist preaching is mayhem and doom, as preachers try to tie people in to the sense of being part of the enlightened and godly few. Fundamentalist preaching attacks music, movies, books, people, political groups, other cultures, etc. Loyalty thrives in a culture that so clearly and frequently culls out most other people as being unfit for God’s approbation, even if they are in Christ. And yet Fundamentalism remains dead silent about its own child molesting preachers, and those who have been caught in deceptions, frauds, and embezzlement. Fundamentalism protects its key men […] it cannot admit to the gross corruption of its leaders. In a culture of loyalty, the leaders must be protected…
How to stop it? Things that won’t work: Reason. Arguing. Shouting. Violence. Trying to understand where they’re coming from. The passing of laws restricting religious activity. Ignoring them. Treating them like idiots. Talking down to them. Telling them to “get with the times”.
What does work: Defeat the false gospel of power politics with the real gospel of Jesus. “Gospel” is an ancient word meaning “good news”. What these organizations spread is “bad news”. Remind people who are afraid that God loves them and is still in charge. Remind people who are angry that Jesus has already won the victory over sin and death on the cross. Remind them that real Christians “take a stand” on their knees… and have a duty to pray for enemies, perceived or real. Pray for them. Remind them of the depths of God’s love. Remind them that perfect love casts out fear. And when appropriate, remind them that Jesus’ sharpest criticisms were reserved for the religious leaders of his day… who sound amazingly like these fundamentalist leaders. Confront the leaders with God’s truth, especially as found in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew ch 5 & 6) Remind the followers – the flock of Christ – who their real Shepherd is.
Sounds crazy in the ears of a secular society, I know. But this is a spiritual battle. Humans are not the measure of all things. There is a reality beyond what our senses can perceive. And that’s what’s needed here. Nothing else will answer.