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November 28, 2002

The Invisible Hand A reader

The Invisible Hand

A reader (a reader, we have a reader!) objects to my take on Fundamentalist Christianity and my perception of it as a close cousin to the Islam of Osama Bin Laden in Indistinguishable from Magic

I'm not one to rail at dissenters, and I'm not going to trot out a blanket "I'm offended." But, Bigwig, I object to your characterizing Christians with strong moral viewpoints as anything like Osama and his ilk. I don't care for Jerry and Pat very much either. But quite frankly this is a major slap in the face to someone who truly believes that Jesus is God, as I do. You use as an example of freedom a lesbian writing about Jesus in bed with Mohammed. Why is it "morally" better for someone to mock my beliefs than for me to call her a blasphemer for doing so - as I would someone who portrayed Jesus in a homosexual relationship? Objectively speaking, to someone who is a non-believer, neither is more oppressive - both are an opinion about a person. Yet you would hold up her as admirably free and me as a modern Satan?

Bigwig, I'm a Christian with very conservative views on a lot of things; some would call me fundamentalist although I don't use that term, and I'm not associated with the evangelical movement. Am I Osama hiding behind a cross because I think it's better for all concerned if men and women both refrain from stripping down to nothing in public?

I know you're talking in part about "forcing" people into certain behaviors, rather than just having differing viewpoints. Are you such a complete libertarian that you believe in anarchy outside of national defense, and even that only on our shores? Or would you, for example, object to widespread sexual involvement of adults with children? Making a law against that is an application of some standard of morality, whether originating in Christian beliefs or otherwise, and in the minds of some it is an oppression. Are you morally oppressive to want that limitation? There are a lot of other examples, with moral and societal implications. Object if you wish to the morality that some extremists want to impose, but don't say they're trying to impose their own morality and you are not. You just wish for a different one to be imposed. Which morality should be imposed is a very different argument than whether morality should be imposed.

I don't mean to make you the object of all my distress at this attitude, but I'm getting pretty tired of Christians taking the fall as some kind of bizarre caricatures of dark Spanish Inquisitors. How can you expect me to have any respect for your views when you mock, deride and attack mine (by implication)? When you have as your opening premise that my beliefs are childlike and founded on nothing but wishful thinking and magical notions? When you tar me with the same brush as people I disagree with vehemently, painting fundamentalists as one-dimensional boogiemen? And *then* compare all of us to a monomaniacal murderer who thinks nothing of slaughtering anyone who disagrees with him?

It just makes me sad, and angry.

It makes it especially bizarre to me when you've made a point of talking about taking your own daughter to church because apparently she needs churching to be a whole person. WHY?! If you can raise her without any reference to a god, and that's a good thing, why take her to church? Isn't that hypocrisy on your part?

I'm going to write a post about this, probably for tomorrow. It's my intention to mention your post very little, because I'm truly not wanting to rip at you. Your attitude and words are very familiar to me because I've heard versions of them for many years, so I don't have to key off your post to say what I need to say. And like I said, I do really like you, and your blog. I guess that's one reason why I'm so upset about it. When I see things like this from people like you, it just disheartens me.

I think that you might be inferring certain things from the post that I did not mean to imply, like "When you have as your opening premise that my beliefs are childlike and founded on nothing but wishful thinking and magical notions?" I've re-read the post a couple of times, and I can't find anything I think implies that. I do think that about certain belief systems, like Wicca. Whatever Wicca is though, it is not authoritarian, which is what I was talking about when I lumped Jerry and Pat in with Osama and Barbra.

Christian Fundamentalism certainly has some different flavors, but the old tradition of the Southern Baptist denomination, one that allowed a wide variety of interpretations in each member church, came under attack beginning in the 70's, and is almost nonexistent today. Any church that does not toe the fundamentalist line has been forced out of that denomination, or has left.

Baptist Churches were founded on the belief that individuals should interpret the Bible on their own. In the Southern Baptist denomination, that founding principle has been essentially overturned, so that now a Southern Baptist might as well be a Catholic as far as his or her freedom to chose a doctrine is concerned. There's a Southern Baptist seminary in Wake Forest, Southeastern, where my father once taught.

He's a Methodist minister. I've blogged about being a PK before, but it doesn't come up often.

20 years ago, Southeastern turned out both Methodist and Baptist ministers, but after the Southern Baptist convention was taken over by the fundamentalist movement, any professor with a viewpoint other than the one held by its president was forced out. Dad had to leave when the Methodist church pulled its accreditation.

Where once Southeastern turned out Methodist and Baptist ministers with a wide range of faith and theology, it now graduates only fundamentalists. The product may not be hamburgers, but Southeastern is essentially a theological McDonalds.

Which brings me to my next point. Some people might call you a fundamentalist, but the fundamentalists almost certainly would not. As you said, "I'm not associated with the evangelical movement." The evangelical practice of "witnessing" to others is integral to the modern fundamentalist movement. Evangelism is why well-coifed church-goers show up at my door every now and then and ask me if I've been saved. Evangelism is why Southern Baptists to pray for the salvation of the Jewish people during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Evangelism is part and parcel of Christian Fundamentalism, as is biblical inerrancy.

Dad used to be a fundamentalist minister, back in his teens and early twenties, before Korea and Duke Seminary. (In case you're wondering, I don't know what he thinks about Hauerwas.) I've inherited most of my views on the weakness and brittle nature of Fundamentalism from him.

He once told me that a fundamentalist is someone who doesn't know a lot about Christianity. The fundamentalist response to that, as Tammy Fae Bakker said, is "You can educate yourself right out of a relationship with God."

Of course, what Tammy Faye Bakker had to say didn't really matter much in our household, just as what we said didn't matter too much to her and Jim. I think that mocking a religion should have pretty much the same status. If your belief system can't take a good mocking, then it's not much of a belief system. And your faith will be mocked and derided. It's your cross to bear, so to speak. Jesus was mocked and derided. I've heard tell he turned out ok.

Frankly all faiths, all beliefs, not just religious ones, will be attacked at some point or another. They'll either survive it, perhaps with a stronger internal philosophical framework, or they'll fall by the wayside, to be nurtured and cared for by only a few, or they'll die out entirely.

"Think of it as evolution in action," he said, tongue pressed firmly in cheek.

If a radical lesbian feminist wrote a book where Jesus and Mohammed took turns being a bottom for each other, big deal. Feel free to condemn it if you like, that's as much a part of your civil liberties as it would be a part of the author's to write it. Both the act of writing the book and the act of condemning the book are morally equivalent.

But burning the book, or issuing a fatwa against the author, is an immoral act, because they impede the full expression of the civil liberties of others. Unsurprisingly, U.S.S Clueless has addressed something of this argument.

In essence, you have no obligation to associate with people like that. You have no obligation to in any way help them spread their opinions. But you should not attempt to actively suppress them, to actively work to try to prevent them from expressing their point of view. In part that means you should not attempt to use the power of government to persecute them, but it also means you should not attempt to coerce others to join you, except through the power of argument on the basis of the issues. Where you cross the line is when you do anything which works to prevent others from making up their own minds.

Certainly I don't regard Christian fundamentalists with the same jaundiced eye that I view the Islamofacists, but I don't view most of Islam with that eye, either. If I have to rank actions according to a moral standard, then a fatwa calling for the murder of a author or a journalist is certainly more immoral than burning a Harry Potter book. I tend to just label both actions as "immoral" and let it go at that. That said, some Fundamentalist Christians are perfectly happy with a certain type of fatwa when it comes to abortion.

When it comes to calling for death, Islam just has a lower threshold.

Editorial aside: Not that I think the writer is one of those people. Indeed, I think such fundamentalist terrorists are vanishingly rare, and make up a far lower percentage of the Fundamentalist population that do Islamofascists in Islam.

Object if you wish to the morality that some extremists want to impose, but don't say they're trying to impose their own morality and you are not. You just wish for a different one to be imposed. Which morality should be imposed is a very different argument than whether morality should be imposed.

Gandalf, you there?

Gandalf: Indeed he is in great fear, not knowing what mighty one may suddenly appear, wielding the Ring and assailing him with war, seeking to cast him down and take his place. That we should wish to cast him done and have no one in his place is not a thought that occurs to his mind.

Which morality should be imposed is an argument that I shan't be seeing anytime soon, as I answered the whether morality should be imposed argument in the negative long ago. I think moral systems should have to compete in the marketplace of ideas, just like any other thesis has to. I see radical Islam's rejection of Western ideals as a admission of its inability to compete with them in an open marketplace. The same admission is made when a fundie burns a book.

I don't worry about the "widespread sexual involvement of adults with children" because that particular moral choice has been declining in popularity for years. It's an odd argument to choose as a straw man in any case, as the arranged marriage of a barely pubescent girl to an much older man is a recurrent theme in authoritarian religions like Islam, as well as some of the fundamentalist Christian sects. Were it still a viable part of Western practice, I might have already arranged Ngnat's marriage to one of my college buds by now.

Speaking of Ngnat, I take her to church for the same reason that when she gets old enough, I'll open a bank account for her, or give her an allowance. People need practice with morality, same as they do with money. I'm not going to give her $200 bucks and set her loose in a Wal-Mart when she's 5, god only knows what kind of glittery crap she'll come back with. I don't want her coming home with the moral equivalent of that same glittery crap once she grows up. Going to church will give her a familiarity with the Judeo-Christian concepts and values that underlie Western Culture. Those values will give her a base to work from when the time comes for her to make her own choices. She, like myself and my parents before me, will be an educated consumer.

And that's all I really want.

Posted by Bigwig at November 28, 2002 12:45 AM | TrackBack
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