Conservatives in the US - especially of the evangelical-Christian variety - have been wailing about our nation's plight in this week since the election proved Romney is no kind of savior. An author whose blog I watch (largely out of "I want to understand the other side" motivation) recently linked to this post by a religious teacher trying to understand what it means that Obama was re-elected. I found reading the post and other people's responses immensely enlightening. I've always wondered why otherwise-seeming reasonable people go off the rails about President Obama. He is not a socialist (far from it), fascist (less so than other recent Presidents, anyway), Kenyan (really?), or Muslim (did they forget his controversy-stirring Christian pastor?). He is not the antichrist (one assumes). So I've wondered why they were so freaked out about him. I've also wondered why I've wondered why they're so filled with bile and venom about gays, secular government, even the new healthcare law - I mean, it does the kinds of things Jesus taught, like helping the poor. Heck, if it had lived up to what many wanted it to be - nonprofit healthcare for all Americans (what the US Right feared, and what the US Left wanted, and which no one got) - we would be living in a much more Christian nation.

Well, now I think I understand the fundamentalist, evangelical Right a lot more:

1) Fundamental religionists (particularly from the evangelical branches of Islam and Christianity) hope to establish religious states not only where they live but to spread their fundamentalism across the world.

2) Those who do not believe as they do are wrong in the eyes of their respective gods, lost, and therefore unworthy of respect. Those gods, I might add, are the same "one true God," only with different prophets reforming His message in slightly but significantly different ways.

3) When fundamentalists pray but do not get what they want, they do not see the opposite result as God's will. Instead, they twist the results to prove that this is God teaching them a lesson... say, to work harder on the thing that someone with clear vision would see as something God did not want. If God really did want, say, Romney as President of the US, and you believe in an omnipotent god, don't you think it would have happened? By simple deduction, Obama's winning re-election despite people praying otherwise proves that God wanted Obama to win. (This sort of reasoning is nonsense, of course, in either direction.)

4) The recent US healthcare law is the work of anti-religion because it includes women's health and family planning as part of "healthcare."

5) I knew this one: Favorite passages from the Old Testament of the Christian Bible are more important than the teachings of Jesus.

This brings me to two conclusions:

A) "Fundamentalist" is another word for "illogical" and "self-contradictory."

B) Most importantly: So-called "fundamentalist" religionists don't follow the fundamentals of their religion at all. They pick-and-choose their favorite messages of hate and exclusion from pre-prophet writings while ignoring their chosen prophet's messages. They use their religion and the strength of numbers it provides in order to get what they want, rather than following the teachings of their prophets.

Fundamentalist religion is just another display of human selfishness. The illogic and ignorance they display is a symptom of their selfishness. They feel they know their god better than God's chosen prophet, who came to Earth to teach us the truer message. I don't claim to be an Islamic scholar, but I was raised Christian in an evangelical, fundamentalist branch of Lutheranism, so I'll talk in terms of Jesus' message.

If Christian fundamentalists were truly "Christian," they would follow the reformations that Jesus taught:

They would love one another as themselves, not fear everyone who is different. They would feel sorrow, sympathy, and compassion for others, not hate the "other."

They would turn the other cheek when attacked and love their enemies, not identify everyone who isn't just like themselves as "enemy" and then seek to destroy them.

They would sell everything you have and give to the poor, not strive to accumulate wealth by sucking dry the middle class, placing corporate profits above human welfare, and exploiting the lower class.

Finally, they would follow Jesus' "greatest commandment," which was, "Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind," followed closely by, "Love thy neighbor as thyself." This precludes hating others, because that is hating God's work. It precludes hate at all, because if "God is love," then hating is turning one's back on God's love - giving in to Satan, to use Christian metaphor.

So this loony little post taught me a lot about American fundamentalist Christians: They are not Christians at all. Fundamentally, they are no different from the Taliban: Selfish hate-mongers who think they understand their gods better than their chosen prophets. If, in all practical ways, they oppose Jesus (or Mohammed), how can they claim to follow the reformed religion with which they associate?

If empathy is the highest goal a human can strive to achieve (in these and many other religions), what happened to make their fundamentalist adherents so blind to their prophets' teachings and spiritually sick?

I can only conclude that ethical humanism is closer to the fundamentalist teachings of these reformist prophets than the modern evangelical religions, and that - in their recent US election defeats, however they perceive them - the lesson their gods are trying to teach them is: You are wrong. Pay attention.

Full disclosure:
I abandoned organized Christianity decades ago. This dissociation started when my church tried to teach me that all unbaptized babies to go Hell. This did not sync with the teachings of Jesus, and when I tried to argue this point, I was told I could not be "confirmed" (accept Communion) without saying the words. This taught me fundamentalist evangelical Christianity is more concerned with human interpretation and the spread of their church than with understanding God's message from Jesus. My disillusion grew whenever I visited my stepfather's Catholic mass, which was less overtly hateful yet more smugly certain that everyone who went against the Pope's message was wrong. My search for spiritual fulfillment led me to study many other forms of religion, including the Christian mystics, Buddhism, Shinto, and countless less-favored forms. At the root of all these, I felt, we can identify God's or the gods' true message.

The mental readjustment for me arrived one day when I was camping in the Montana Badlands. This was the last day I lived in that state. I was the only human being for hundreds of miles around. A lone deer attended me as I hiked through dinosaur-bone-studded buttes. Layers of gray, brown, and black stone and dirt described in measurable form more than 100 million years of time piling upon the Earth. Occasionally the little deer came upon a flowering cactus - the only real color in that dusty place - and munched it, then resumed following me on my quest. At some point, in the quiet of my own thoughts punctuated only by breezes brushing loose mudstone pebbles, I realized that I was walking through a cathedral more holy than the greatest structure built by human hands.

As the sky darkened from cyan to cobalt to black, the endless universe around our little pebble of Earth began to appear in little pinpricks of light, extending the cathedral 12 billion light-years. Through telescopes I've glimpsed the miracle of star-birth amid vast clouds of gas and dust; I've seen stars gold and blue and yellow; I've watched distant galaxies pinwheel around their central supermassive black holes. By sweeping my telescope at random across the sky, I've explored the mysteries of the Milky Way, stumbled upon star-clusters ten thousand times the size of our Solar System, watched planets and their moons spin and orbit around the Sun, the hydrogen-powered ball of plasma and fusion from which all life on Earth depends.

Astronomy shows us the magic of the large-scale universe. It is silence and an infinity of stars overhead, an eyepiece to reveal the secrets hidden among them, Earth's rotation slowly sweeping new stars into view. For me, that's the best way to feel at one with the universe.

Biology and paleontology show us the magic of life, how living beings come to be, how they reshape over time and survive changing conditions, how they eat and mate and bear young and, yes, even love.

Geology and paleontology show us time, manifest. Each layer is an epoch, a million or ten million years of dust and death, compressed into stone. Buttes filled with relics of ancient days: Dinosaur bones literally poured out of those hillsides; you can feel the passage of time locked in rock.

Every science does this. They all seek to reveal the fundamental magic of the universe. Scientists openly share their results with others, and the practitioners who do it right praise the discoveries of others - even when new discoveries disprove part of what they believed until the moment when it was disproven. They then seek to fit this new discovery into their own world-view, or discard their prior belief if it cannot fit. And thus does science progress.

So that night in the Badlands, fatigued from hiking all day through rocks in my cowboy boots, I had to sit atop a dry-grass butte, for I could not stand beneath this beauty and glory that was the universal cathedral. The wondrous thing about the cathedral of science is that you do not avert your eyes from its mysteries; you stare into them to better understand! This is the moment I realized that religion is not the answer.

We will never find God at the core of any human-invented religion. The messages of religion are what's important, when they are appropriately examined, tested, and adapted to fit changing circumstances. By being secular humanists who strive to make the world a better place, who strive to feel empathy for all other creatures, who seek deeper understanding, we become closer to God than any fundamentalist evangelical follower of a human-manufactured organization could hope to approach.

We can only reach a fundamental understanding of our personal spirituality - become "at one with God," if you will - by seeking our individual connection with others and the universe around us. If there is any god, it resides in the energy of the stars, in the life-force of all living things, in sapient species' striving to understand the universe. All of this is God, as close as a secular universe allows. The stars and planets and galaxies form its body, nuclear fusion and other forces power its life, living beings comprise its spirit, and our self-awareness encompasses its mind. Our search for truth and understanding - the scientific process - is the universe coming to understand itself. So science, and sharing what we learn, and being open with one another, and active empathy - these are far better methods to be good followers of God than you could hope for by being part of any fundamentalist religion.


From: [identity profile]

I keep reading from people like the person to whom you linked about how religious people are being persecuted, which seems odd because clearly nobody is trying to force them to change their individual beliefs; they have the same right to their own personal beliefs as everyone else. But as near as I make it out, when you've been yourself oppressing other groups, removing your ability to oppress those groups is perceived as persecution by the heretofore top-dog group. In other words, some of these religious people perceive that their existing ability to dictate other people's rights is "normal," and that removing that from them somehow means that they're being oppressed. Hah! They should try real oppression sometime and see how much they like it.

Of course, some of what they're doing might be projection: assuming that the Other will do what they would do if they were In Charge.

From: [identity profile]

That's an excellent observation, and borne out time and again whenever you hear an American Christian talking about "religious persecution" or how the US gov't is trying to take away their First Amendment rights.

Really, dominant group? If so, that just means you're not governing yourselves as you prefer, because you're the ones in charge. This is reinforced every time a public official uses the word "God" or such.

From: [identity profile]

#5 has always been one my favorites, in terms of rebutting the anti-whatever hate-whatever arguments of fundies. "Where is that in the Gospels?" I ask. And they go on and on about Leviticus or one of Paul's paranoid rants against Roman society of the time, and I point out those aren't the Gospels. That's when they usually lose it entirely.

From: [identity profile]

I just can't get my mind around this one. Are they "Christian"? If so, why? I mean, if you don't care for what Jesus preached (as documented by his followers), and you want to be part of an organized church, why don't you pick a different religion? Humans have invented plenty over the millennia.

From: [identity profile]

Why follow the Gospels when you can use the rest of the testaments to be a hater? Hating is so satisfying, you know. Witness partisan politics, a religion in its own right.

From: [identity profile]

Chris, have you read any of Bishop Spong's work? The Episcopal church prides itself on being a "big tent," but Spong verges on the heretical as far as some are concerned. I'm working my way through the books and finding his thoughts on this problem very helpful.

From: [identity profile]

That sounds interesting, Sheila. I should check it out!

From: [identity profile]

The day after the election, a relative of my husband's put up a FB post that effectively said that Obama getting elected was a sign of the end times, because blahblahblah Israel take over the US, or some such rot.

He (my husband, that is) has several step-brothers who were steeped in fundamentalist Baptist ideology from the cradle, and believe it without reservation. I'm just glad they all live down South. And I'm also very glad that Dean has a good head on his shoulders WRT that sort of thing; he is firmly in the court that if God didn't want us to learn and think, he'd have kept us on the mental level of the nonsentient animals.

From: [identity profile]

God didn't want us to learn and think, he'd have kept us on the mental level of the nonsentient animals

Hear frakkin' hear! The whole "original sin" thing beginning with Adam and Eve discovering knowledge, be that right from wrong or how we evolved from single-cell organisms, has always seemed absurd to me, even when I was firmly in the religious camp.

From: [identity profile]

I've always been extremely grateful to my parents for raising me in a church organization that prided itself on it's learning, and has continued to grow and reach out to all sorts of people (the United Church of Christ).

I remember in my teens going to a series of lectures sponsored by our church on Transactional Analysis. Those lectures helped me in more relationships than I will ever know.

I recall a minister once talking about how scholars believe that none of the gospels were actually written by Matthew, Mark, Luke or John, but most probably by ghost-writers (for lack of a better term) a century or two later. That sort of thinking would get one thrown clean out of most Baptist churches, and probably run out of town!

I recall how good I felt the first time I heard that our church was now having an open communion, instead of a closed communion. I recall how excited I was when we called a woman to be our minister for the first time, and how disappointed I was that she didn't get much, if any, respect from the other ministers in our town (all Mennonite, all men).

And I recall how proud I was of our national synod, and how disappointed I was in our church (who opposed the idea), when a grant was set aside to fund scholarships for the training and ordination of gay ministers at our seminary.

From: [identity profile]

The way you describe your church is why I don't have negative feelings toward all organized religion. Sounds like a positive place!

From: [identity profile]

It was, and still is. I don't go often anymore, but I always kick myself for not going more often, because I always feel better.

From: [identity profile]

Comment, part 1

Many of your points are, you know, things that are in the Bible. So the believers, fundamentalists or not, certainly have precedent on which to base their faith.

1) Fundamental religionists ... hope to establish religious states not only where they live but to spread their fundamentalism across the world.

Evangelism of some sort is present throughout the Old and New Testaments. In the former, it was perfectly acceptable to take over lands and instill your own god(s)--even though the Israelites didn't care for it when it was done to them, it was perfectly acceptable for them to do unto others. They were getting their instruction from God, after all. And the latter is nearly entirely devoted to the story of spreading the gospel as far as possible--the last book being a cautionary tale of what will happen to those terrible people who didn't listen.

2) Those who do not believe as they do are wrong in the eyes of their respective gods, lost, and therefore unworthy of respect.

See item one. If it's acceptable, encouraged even, to convert people (sometimes by threat or force) to your own way of thinking, it goes without saying that anyone who disagrees with your faith is unworthy of respect.

3) When fundamentalists pray but do not get what they want, they do not see the opposite result as God's will. Instead, they twist the results to prove that this is God teaching them a lesson.

Again, there are so many examples of this in the Bible, I'm sure I can't remember them all. The issue goes hand-in-hand with the concept of a vengeful god who thinks people (even his own people) need to be thoroughly punished before they can even consider forgiveness. Israel wandering in the wilderness for forty years, their numerous defeats at the hands of enemies, the terrible persecution of the early church. What could this be, other than God testing their faith and teaching them lessons?

5) Favorite passages from the Old Testament of the Christian Bible are more important than the teachings of Jesus.

Jesus and his teachings make up a tiny fraction of the Bible. Jesus appears in only four out of the sixty-six books of the Bible. Five books if you count Revelation, which is kind of stretching it, IMO. And since those four books are pretty much re-tellings of the same story (with some Very Interesting Differences if you look closely), there's honestly very little in the Bible that Jesus actually said (I'm using a very loose definition of the phrase "actually said"). Even if you consider the New Testament to be a Kinder, Gentler Testament, there is still a lot of vitriol spewed around, especially (interestingly) in regards to the treatment of other Christians, especially (of course) women.

My point here is that this behavior is not limited to what you're calling Fundamentalists. So your statement that "So-called "fundamentalist" religionists don't follow the fundamentals of their religion at all" isn't accurate. They are following the fundamentals of their religion, according to their (wildly divergent and contradictory) text. They're just choosing different fundamentals than we, perhaps, would prefer.

From: [identity profile]

Re: Comment, part 1

I get it: You're saying that my Platonic ideal of Christianity (see what I did there?) is incorrect because non-heretical Christianity is all about the things most people wish it weren't? That it's not and never claimed to be anything more than an Old Testament-lovin', New Testament-verbalizin' sheep-like mass? That was fun to type. But, seriously, you don't think Christianity could be something worthy? Maybe not, now that I reflect on my own experience. But it's funny; some people I love and respect find a lot of comfort and happiness in Christianity. There must be SOMETHING good about it....

From: [identity profile]

Re: Comment, part 1

you don't think Christianity could be something worthy?

No, I don't.

some people I love and respect find a lot of comfort and happiness in Christianity

That doesn't make them unworthy of love and respect. However, if they are honestly good people, they are not good people because of their religion. They could/would be good people given an alternate moral compass method.

There is no religion that makes up for in goodness all the negative baggage that goes along with it.

From: [identity profile]

Re: Comment, part 1

Well, then, I get your message! Didn't realize you were of quite that slant against Christianity. I'd love to hear more on why, beyond its hypocrisy.

I agree that good Christians are almost certainly good not because of that external force, but I also feel that any community of people striving to better themselves and supporting one another in those efforts can lead toward healthy things. Just too bad it has to take the form of organized religion, with its inherent displacement of agency, as you described.

From: [identity profile]

Re: Comment, part 1

I'd love to hear more on why, beyond its hypocrisy.

Hypocrisy, murder, theft, misogyny, racism, intolerance, what, that's not enough?

any community of people striving to better themselves and supporting one another in those efforts can lead toward healthy things

Here's the problem: They only support one another insofar as they all agree. The instant someone voices a dissenting opinion, they run the risk of being shunned from the group. Even my father--my father, one of the most compassionate and charismatic men I know--isn't sure he would still have his pastoral job if the elders at his church knew he voted for Obama. He has to keep his political views to himself in order to keep his job at his Christian church. Nauseating. And yes, honestly, it does make me think less of him that he continues to work with and for these people who are working to take away my civil liberties and the rights of my friends.

Also, I don't believe the majority of people in a religion are attempting to better themselves any more than the general population (which is to say very, very few). In fact, I'd bet that fewer people who are active in a religious organization are trying to better themselves. I'm sorry, I can't, due to my bias, believe that taking steps to get Closer To God can be seen as "bettering oneself."

I firmly believe that any religiously-motivated Good Deed has a very likely chance of becoming tainted with the negativity of the religion.

From: [identity profile]

Re: Comment, part 1

Okay, well, I'd say that hypocrisy, murder, theft, misogyny, racism, intolerance, and all the other things are plenty.

I've wondered about that about your Dad, too. I mean, he doesn't seem like a hypocrite, yet he's willing to work for such an organization. Weird.

From: [identity profile]

Re: Comment, part 1

Yeah, it's really weird. I don't understand. I think he needs to be needed, and this was his best opportunity since he couldn't do the public speaking thing full time any more due to his age/health.

From: [identity profile]

Re: Comment, part 1

Okay, that makes a lot of sense. I didn't realize it was his health that stopped him from traveling.

From: [identity profile]

Comment, part 2

what happened to make their fundamentalist adherents so blind to their prophets' teachings and spiritually sick?

Things probably started to fall apart about 15 minutes after Jesus came off the cross not under his own power. At that point, the movement had to stop being a cult (yes, the disciples' and followers' relationships with Jesus was totally that of a cult) and either disband or become a religion. The remaining believers had to admit that he didn't bring the kingdom of God like he promised (and remove themselves from the group) or convince themselves that this was just another Teaching Moment (and devise a belief system in his absence). And there, in that realization that Jesus didn't do what he promised (I am, for the sake of this argument, holding the position that there was a Jesus), began this spiritual sickness. Because if your God is willing to deal you such a crushing blow, there must be a reason for it. It's just that he works in Mysterious Ways and not even your children's children might experience his eventual plan.

My point here (I know, I'm taking a long time to get there) is that this sort of thinking is not limited to ultra-conservatives or fundamentalists. The bases for the examples you give are present in every aspect of Christianity. I don't suppose that's very comforting, but I don't find any aspect of religion very comforting (except for some of their art, much of which I am quite fond on an aesthetic level).

Frankly, religion of any sort irritates me because they all, at some level, minimize or (at worst) negate the importance of an individual and his or her actions. For Christians (and Muslims): Leave things in God's hands. There are a zillion ways that Buddhism falls into this trap, too (there are a zillion forms of Buddhism, and some of those, honestly, aren't much different from Christianity), but I'll use the commonly known concept of non-attachment as my example for it: Attachment is the cause of suffering, so don't become attached (this extends to people, too). Heck, even Paganism falls into this trap with the idea that one can alter the world by channeling ethereal powers. Religion, by necessity, must denigrate the importance and power of the individual. Because if the individual has the capability to change the world (and be independently happy) there is no need for religion. None of these things are inherently bad, either. But religions are created to (at some level) control people. And the best way to control them is through fear, and the best way to make people afraid is to remove personal agency.

Now, one can take this too far to the other extreme, where the individual is the be-all-end-all (hello, Ayn Rand), and I agree there must be a happy medium between the importance of the individual and the importance of the community. That's not my point right now, though.

The reason that I always get my back up when you say things like "science is a way to find God" is it's just replacing one religion with another similar concept. And I think that concept is one that really needs to be left in the dust. Because, as I point out above, all religions carry the seeds of intolerance because they all have an us versus them mentality and a tendency to eliminate the importance of the individual as a powerful, worthy human being. Using the words "spirituality," "holiness," and "God" reinforces the continued presence of religion by relying on its terms for defining something that has nothing to do with religion.

Okay this got way long. Also, I am the queen of parentheticals. Sorry.

From: [identity profile]

Re: Comment, part 2

I think I see your point: All religion bears the poison of religious thinking, which leads to these ills you illustrate here, so equating (even in language choice alone) scientific pursuits to something resembling religion could poison science, too.

I totally get that and agree! I'll be careful to limit my choice of language when writing about science and the value thereof. However, I wonder if you're also suggesting I should stop thinking (for myself, alone, re: my own spiritual conceptions) about the universe methaphorically as God? That I could poison my own clarity of thought?

From: [identity profile]

Re: Comment, part 2

I try to conceptually separate what I think of as the "spiritual impulse" from the "religious impulse." The "spiritual impulse," to way oversimplify it, I see as the desire to feel a profound connection with something outside yourself. The "religious impulse," by contrast, I see as the desire to be told that that connection is correct.

From: [identity profile]

Re: Comment, part 2

I like this. The notion of "spirituality" still trips my triggers a little bit, but not nearly so dramatically as the other words.

From: [identity profile]

Re: Comment, part 2

I prefer the word "numinosity," but it, y'know, means the same thing, basically. It just makes me feel smarter.

From: [identity profile]

Re: Comment, part 2

Ooh, "the numinous" is one of my favorite words. Cuz, y'know, it sounds purdy and stuff.

From: [identity profile]

Re: Comment, part 2

It gets tossed around a lot in supernatural fiction circles as we all try to come up with classy-sounding words to describe inexplicable supernatural stuff.

From: [identity profile]

Re: Comment, part 2

Me too! Connection with others outside one's self and with the world around us is one of the greatest sources of strength and satisfaction we'll ever feel. Many go so far as to displace their own agency, as CR described here, and to accept tenets and rules without consideration of their appropriateness and even ethical rightness in varying circumstances. This is where religion starts to really go off the rails, and how it can be an actively harmful force in our lives.

Spirituality is exactly what I was writing about in this post. It differs only for humans, in how we describe it. But the drive itself (the "impulse") can be measured in all higher mammals - something religionists use as proof of the gods, but which I think simply a measure of community-based creatures' need for connection with others.

From: [identity profile]

Re: Comment, part 2

I would never tell you what to think. That's something for you to chew on and decide for yourself. Those words might not have the negative effect on you that they do me, and that's fine! Use them in your own inner dialog, or on your LJ. Goodness knows I'm not going to tell you what to say on your own blog.

I will say that if you want to engage me personally in discussions about science that stirs you on an emotional level, it's best to avoid language that incorporates religious references. That's where this whole crazy-long essay response came from, was your attempts to discuss this with me in person, when I didn't have the time or mental resources to tell you at the time why your use of the words "holy" and "sacred" bothered me so much in that context.

From: [identity profile]

Re: Comment, part 2

Got it! I figured as much, though it's also good to keep in mind that the language and words we choose might have meaning in others' minds beyond what we meant.

This particular post, though, is all about how I perceive our scientific pursuit of understanding is closer to what religions ought to be doing than what fundamentalist religions do. A delicious irony, because you can do science without the slightest spiritual impulse.

From: [identity profile]


(I'm going to be vague about it) said something prior to the election about another relative's economic issues and identified said relative as a 'parasite.' That someone believes their 15% tax rate is TOO MUCH, TOO MUCH I tell you and begrudges someone who has four kids and one income an earned income tax credit that is chump change in their household.

They also hold the belief they are a Good Christian, very devout. Though anyone not in their particular little valley of Christianity are going to hell.

I was at their house for a visit, and fortunately they had kept discussion of politics at bay until the end. But after what they said about the relative, I just had to leave before I said something I'd regret.

But it just makes me very sad.

From: [identity profile]

Re: Someone

Something that's always seemed at odds to me between Christianity and how modern evangelical fundamentalists practice it is this:

Jesus was a socialist.

I mean, geez, read what he said and how he acted and try to tell me otherwise....

From: [identity profile]

Still my favorite religion joke, from Emo Philips. Captures SO much of the problems of religion in one, um, nutshell.

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