By Dakota O’Leary | 1 February 2013
America has an infection. Whether it is terminal remains to be seen. The infection is that of anti-intellectualism, a steadfast refusal to acknowledge that one’s worldview is mutable, a worldview in which facts are only facts if they fit that worldview, and that anyone who disagrees with a Christian fundamentalist worldview is an “enemy” of God. The infection has taken hold in conservative politics, where it has spread to a significant portion of the American population, and even into a significant amount of the Canadian population. In Katherine Stewart’s article in the Guardian entitled “How Christian Fundamentalism Feeds Into the Toxic Partisanship of US Politics,” Stewart notes:
I don’t believe for a moment that this hysterical voice [Christian fundamentalism] that screeches in America’s political sphere is the authentic voice of religion in America. Most religious Americans want to mix it up at lunch! They want to make friends across party lines, and they want to help people who are less fortunate. A survey by the Public Religious Research Institute, released on 24 October, reveals that 60% of Catholics believe the Church should place a greater emphasis on social justice issues and their obligation to the poor, even if that means focusing less on culture war issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage. Earlier this year, in response to the Ryan budget, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops joined other Christian leaders in insisting that a “circle of protection” be drawn around “essential programs that serve poor and vulnerable people”.
So why is it that the so-called “values voters” are urged to vote against the politician who supports choice, not the politician who wants to shred that “circle of protection” for the poor and vulnerable? Why is it that when politicians want to demonstrate just how religiously righteous they are, they talk about banning same-sex marriage and making contraceptives hard to get, instead of showing what they have done to protect the weak?
There is an obvious answer, and it is, in a sense, staring you in the face every time you watch a political debate or read about the latest antics of Focus on the Family and the AFA. The kind of religion that succeeds in politics tends to focus on the divisive element of religion. If you want to use religion to advance a partisan political agenda, the main objective you use it for is to divide people between us and them, between the in-group and the out-group, the believers and the infidels.
The result is a reduction of religion to a small handful of wedge issues. According to the religious leaders and policy organizations urging Americans to vote with their “Biblical values”, to be Christian now means to support one or, at most, a small handful of policy positions. And it means voting for the Republican party.
Christian fundamentalists are not to be confused with mainstream evangelical Christians. While Christian fundamentalists may be evangelical, not every evangelical Christian is necessarily a fundamentalist. The symptoms of the infection of anti-intellectualism are as follows:
1. Erosion of education — escalating attacks on teachers as bad citizens, teachers’ unions as greedy “takers”, the evolution vs. creationism debate, resistance to stem cell research (or any kind of scientific research that conflicts with their Biblical worldview), fundamentalist emphasis on voucher system to create taxpayer funded fundamentalist schools, fear of a changing, increasingly pluralistic society (the current face of which is the extraordinary power fundamentalists give to the LGBT community as the force eroding American morality and bringing down the entire nation), and a negative economy which is generating public support by those who consider themselves members of the Religious Right by demonizing public education as a “liberal conspiracy” to take their children away from God.
2. Biblical Literalism: The Bible is the foundation of “truth,” from science to social interactions, and anything that disagrees with a fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible is a product of Satanic manipulation, of which the by-product of Satan is secularism.
3. Oversimplification: The idea that there is a clear right and wrong (based on Biblical laws, or cherry-picked verses), the universe is either moral or immoral, and that so-called “assaults” on religious “freedom” of fundamentalists signify an invisible war between the forces of God (or “good”) and the forces of Satan (or “evil”).
4. Assertion of the patriarchal right to control women: To fundamentalists, women are second-class citizens, subject to a strict social hierarchy. This hierarchy can be observed in every stripe of fundamentalism, from Islamic fundamentalism to Christian fundamentalism and it goes like this:
God/Jesus is the head of the man
Man is the head of the woman, subject only to God
Woman is subjugated to a status which is wholly reliant on having “faith” that her husband will do the right thing because he is specially influenced by God by special decree of the Bible. Fundamentalist website after website counsels women that if her husband does wrong that the only thing she can do is pray that God will guide him to a different decision, that she is not to disagree with him publicly (or in front of children). She is free (sometimes) to give an opinion, but the ultimate decision is the man’s, because he has special dispensation by God to be in that position. The equal status of women is a threat to this hierarchy, and thus, a threat to God.
This is why America is seeing so many attacks on women, from trying to pass laws that undermine Roe v. Wade (personhood laws, restrictions on abortions, waiting periods, attempts to push laws to punish abortion doctors, restrictions on being able to get birth control, etc), to going to the trouble of redefining rape as being the woman’s fault, even part of God’s plan, while pushing to give rapists parental rights, to the unfortunate proclamations of Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock, et. Al, that babies born of rape are blessings from God, that the female body shuts down its reproductive system when a woman is being raped, etc.). Controlling women’s bodies while at the same time denouncing “big government” is the popular meme of the fundamentalist mind. Women are simply not meant to destroy that Godly hierarchy set up by the Bible, and in their minds if you can control women, you’ve got half the populace conquered for God.
Fundamentalist anti-intellectualism often manifests itself in a sort of “pseudo-intellectualism” by which those with little or no educational background read a few articles or watch a few videos about a particular subject (usually published by their own religious compatriots, particularly about what a scientific theory is and evolution), and consider themselves “educated” because what they read agreed with their worldview, or, if being highly educated, usually get that education in a fundamentalist educational setting. They will then take that “evidence” and proceed to use it against empirical evidence that directly contests and even eviscerates the arguments they have carefully set up around what they have read or seen, and the argument invariably ends with ad hominem attacks against reason, facts, and education — because they have no actual evidence outside of the Bible to use to “win” the argument. A favorite tactic is to call the opposition an “atheist” (or a “liberal”) if someone disagrees with their worldview.
Education is then “demonized” as being a covert movement to “indoctrinate” the masses in the secular worldview, and thus, part of the forces of Satan. Rick Santorum demonstrates this principle admirably. Although he himself is highly educated, with a bachelor’s degree, Master’s degree and JD from Penn State, his Biblical worldview clearly trumps his empirical education and allows him to disregard it as a fly in the ointment in the “light of Biblical truth,” which is, of course, only empirical in that it is in print, in black and white, not empirical that it can actually be proven. Faith is evidence enough, and reason becomes a threat to faith, thus, reason is from Satan, not God. A good case in point is the persecution of Copernicus and Galileo by the Catholic Church, regarding the revolution of the Earth around the sun. This old argument, which has been proven in favor of Copernicus and Galileo, has arisen once again to haunt us.
According to a recent National Science Foundation survey, over twenty percent of the respondents believed in the geocentric model popular during the 1500s, that the sun revolves around the earth instead of the other way around. This is old, disproven thinking that comes from the idea that since humanity is God’s creation, naturally, everything revolves around humanity, with humanity at the center of creation. Humanity is thus, special. Anything that challenges the idea that humanity is special is thus a threat against God. After all, you can’t feel the earth move, so it must be stationary. You can’t see the stars move (well, you can with a telescope, something called parallax), but you can’t see it with the naked eye, so thus, the earth must be stationary with the sun moving around it. This is an example of pseudo-intellectualism. You know what you see, but you don’t investigate to see if your assertions are valid under close scrutiny. Fundamentalists cannot afford to indulge in close scrutiny of their ideas, because close scrutiny would most certainly disprove most of what they believe, and they fear, more than anything else, of the erosion of their own faith.
Susan Jacoby, author of “The Age of American Unreason” and “Freethinkers” sums up the problem of fundamentalist anti-intellectualism succintly:
This mindless tolerance, which places observable scientific facts, subject to proof, on the same level as unprovable supernatural fantasy, has played a major role in the resurgence of both anti-intellectualism and anti-rationalism.
Copernicus and Galileo were persecuted by the Catholic Church for suggesting that humanity on earth was indeed not the center of the universe. Copernicus did not suffer much persecution while he was alive, but after he was dead, his hypothesis that the earth revolved around the sun certainly did. Galileo dared to revive Copernicus’ idea, and packaged it in a mock debate between characters in a book he wrote called Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems (Dialogo sopra i due massimi sistemi del mondo) in 1632. The Catholic Church’s militaristic arm, the Inquisition, caught wind of what he had written, and banned his book, and placed Galileo under house arrest.
Now, the Catholic Church’s disagreement with Galileo and Copernicus did not make their ideas less true, which the idea certainly was, and revealed to be true through empirical scientific investigation over a period of years. Instead, the Church deflected the facts as “heresy,” which is something fundamentalists are particularly adept at doing. Ken Ham’s Creation Museum is a testament to this deflection of scientific facts as heresy. By dismissing evolution as nothing more than a “theory,” (which goes to show pure, deliberate ignorance of what exactly a scientific theory is), we see again the application of the ad hominem attack Christian fundamentalists so love to employ when inconvenient facts get in the way.
The fundamentalists of today are a hardy lot, and they will use anything to win this battle for God — the Bible, which is the ultimate authority, the Constitution, revisionist science textbooks, and revisionist American history (a la David Barton) that “proves” America was a nation founded to be their brand of a “Christian nation.” Never mind they are not Constitutional scholars. The Constitutional scholars are a threat to them because even though scholars have differing opinions about interpretation of the Constitution, any opinion that differs from the fundamentalist worldview is a direct attack on God. Never mind that the fundamentalist that lives in the general population is not a scientist. They know better, because Ken Ham and the Bible tell them that there is NO WAY God would use evolution to create (even though the Bible says nothing on the subject of evolution. The Bible is black and white. God created the world as it is now in six days, and rested on the seventh.
You will rarely see a fundamentalist in a secular college or university because secular universities and colleges do not agree with their worldview. This is why for the most part they are homeschooled, and go straight from homeschool to fundamentalist universities that teach their worldview. These universities and colleges churn out fundamentalists who are schooled in law, but only an interpretation of law that fits their Biblical worldview. Lawyers or judges who disagree with them, particularly in Supreme Court cases are dismissed ad hominem as “activist lawyers” and “activist judges” (i.e. enemies of God). This lack of empirical education is changing American society into one that has eroded science education, particularly with their attempts to force the school voucher issue, which is nothing but a bid to get taxpayers to fund fundamentalist education, yet they object to taxpayer funded public education because “secularism” is persecuting them for their beliefs by simply disagreeing with them (because again, nothing they believe is based on empirical evidence).
The lack of empirical education is eroding American society in favor of a “faith based” education that has nothing whatsoever to do with facts that threaten their worldview. Liberty is something they interpret as the freedom to live in a society based solely on their Biblical worldview. Freedom of religion for others in an inclusive society is anathema to them, because such freedom threatens to sideline them to the fringes. Individual liberty does not exist except for them, because they have an inherent distrust of the individual to make reasonable decisions, unless those decisions are based on their interpretation of Scripture. Thus, mainstream Christians are not their brethren; mainstream Christians are simply misinformed individuals who have deluded themselves into believing they are of the family of Christ, and only the clear lens of fundamentalism can see that mainstream Christians have been deceived by the enemy of God which is secular society.
The sole aim of fundamentalists is to “obey” God in creating conditions favorable to the return of Christ–and this one thought, this one design drives American foreign policy with Israel (they believe that when the Jews all return to Israel and the 3rd temple is rebuilt that Christ will return, (but not without sacrificing 2/3 of the Jewish people in the process), then all the remaining Jews will become Christians. American fundamentalists are only interested in Jewish people and Israel insofar as it furthers the return of Jesus Christ. That is all.
Because fundamentalists are engaged in the idea that they are warriors in a fight for God, (something Christian fundamentalists hold in common with Islamic fundamentalists), they have the sort of mindset that if it came to it (which it has not yet, I do not think), they would not afraid to die for their faith. Proof of this idea was given a disturbing form by a video game “Left Behind: Eternal Forces,” which advocates killing anyone who doesn’t agree with them (i.e. can’t be converted to their idea of Christ):
Aimed at conservative Christians, the game’s story line begins in a time after the “rapture”, when fundamentalist dogma contends that Christians will go to heaven. The remaining population on earth must then choose between surrendering to or resisting “the Antichrist”, which the game describes as the “Global Community Peacekeepers” whose objective is the imposition of “one-world government”.
“Part of the object is to kill or convert the opposing forces,” Simpson said. This is “antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” he said, adding that he was dismayed by the concept in “Eternal Forces” of using prayer to restore a player’s “spirit points” after killing the enemy.
In the game, combatants on one side pause for prayer, intoning, “Praise the Lord”. A player can lose points for “unnecessary killing” but regain them through prayer.
But Simpson counters, “The idea that you could pray, and the deleterious effects of one’s foul deeds would simply be wiped away, is a horrible thing to be teaching Christian young people here at Christmas time.”
Troy Lyndon, CEO of Left Behind Games Inc., which is promoting the new video, has defended the game as “inspirational entertainment” and said its critics were exaggerating. The game is based on the popular “Left Behind” novels, a Bible-based end-of-the-world-saga that has sold more than 63 million copies.
Now, while this is a disturbing element, and the Left Behind books have genocidal scenes that seem to justify killing masses of unbelievers because they are incorrigible (not ever going to convert to the fundamentalist mindset), it should be reiterated that fundamentalists are not yet at the point in the US where they want to kill people, so let us not be alarmist. However, that being said, the way some fundamentalists are choosing to portray institutional racism and genocide (as punishment for sin and disbelief) to school age children is disturbing, and it is the belief of this scholar that the elements for radical action portayed in the video game are there–but would need utter desperation in order to explode into being. It is the opinion of this writer that fundamentalists are not yet this desperate, but attempts to normalize killing for God are disturbing, to say the least. The Guardian had this to say about the subject in May of 2012:
The story of the Amalekites has been used to justify genocide throughout the ages. According to Pennsylvania State University Professor Philip Jenkins, a contributing editor for the American Conservative, the Puritans used this passage when they wanted to get rid of the Native American tribes. Catholics used it against Protestants, Protestants against Catholics. “In Rwanda in 1994, Hutu preachers invoked King Saul’s memory to justify the total slaughter of their Tutsi neighbors,” writes Jenkins in his 2011 book, Laying Down the Sword: Why We Can’t Ignore the Bible’s Violent Verses (HarperCollins).
This fall, more than 100,000 American public school children, ranging in age from four to 12, are scheduled to receive instruction in the lessons of Saul and the Amalekites in the comfort of their own public school classrooms. The instruction, which features in the second week of a weekly “Bible study” course, will come from the Good News Club, an after-school program sponsored by a group called the Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF). The aim of the CEF is to convert young children to a fundamentalist form of the Christian faith and recruit their peers to the club.
There are now over 3,200 clubs in public elementary schools, up more than sevenfold since the 2001 supreme court decision, Good News Club v Milford Central School, effectively required schools to include such clubs in their after-school programing.
The CEF has been teaching the story of the Amalekites at least since 1973. In its earlier curriculum materials, CEF was euphemistic about the bloodshed, saying simply that “the Amalekites were completely defeated.” In the most recent version of the curriculum, however, the group is quite eager to drive the message home to its elementary school students. The first thing the curriculum makes clear is that if God gives instructions to kill a group of people, you must kill every last one:
“You are to go and completely destroy the Amalekites (AM-uh-leck-ites) – people, animals, every living thing. Nothing shall be left.”
“That was pretty clear, wasn’t it?” the manual tells the teachers to say to the kids.
Even more important, the Good News Club wants the children to know, the Amalakites were targeted for destruction on account of their religion, or lack of it. The instruction manual reads:
“The Amalekites had heard about Israel’s true and living God many years before, but they refused to believe in him. The Amalekites refused to believe in God and God had promised punishment.”
The instruction manual goes on to champion obedience in all things. In fact, pretty much every lesson that the Good News Club gives involves reminding children that they must, at all costs, obey. If God tells you to kill nonbelievers, he really wants you to kill them all. No questions asked, no exceptions allowed.
Educating Christian fundamentalists simply doesn’t work. They do not accept any education that is in direct conflict with their worldview. What remains is to educate the rest of the American populace about Christian fundamentalism and dominionism, educating the American populace about the David Bartons of the world, so that when elections occur, an educated populace can reject the infiltration of fundamentalism on the rest of American society, which will, given the right opportunity (usually in a climate of fear like 9/11), erode American democracy entirely and push our nation into the fringes of the world into irrelevance.
Dakota O’Leary is a freethinker, and often sassy, scholar of theology and literature. She got her Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Theology from the State University of New York College at Buffalo, and her Master of Arts degree in Theology and Literature from Antioch University-Midwest. Dakota is a co-host of the God Discussion radio show, offering insight to the news stories of the week.
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