Friday, April 07, 2006

Fundamentalism Is A Political Movement

I have made the argument before (here and here) that Fundamentalism is essentially a political movement rather than a religious one, it is true of the Taliban in Afghanistan and it is certainly true of Fundamentalist Christians in this country.  Evangelicals are about spreading the word of God through testimonial and recruitment, Fundamentalists are about strict adherence to the Bible through legislative action.  To a Fundamentalist, adherence to God’s words are not an option, but rather an imperative and not just for himself or herself, but for everyone.  Our Constitution was designed to protect us from Fundamentalism and fighting for our Constitution is the only thing that will stave off the American Taliban.

I suspect that even Fundamentalists would not argue with that assessment, after all, they are highly organized and highly funded in their efforts to change the laws of this land to reflect and enforce their worldview.  I also suspect that they would consider themselves Christians first, and Americans second, so there would likely be no apology for their actions.  There is a sense among the faithful that what is good and right, is ordained by God, but good and right are far too subjective in a world made up of shades of gray.  Where our collective worldviews overlap, is where we must legislate from, but the fringes are where we must draw the line.  This is what it means to live in a free society, compromise and the common good is the focus and not any one minority view takes precedence over the rest.

The Bible was around when our country was founded, if our forefathers had wanted to establish a Christian Nation, they very easily could have.  But they didn’t.  Instead they were careful to keep God out of the equation and instead referred to “their creator”, meaning whatever higher (or lower) power each individual chooses to credit with life as each of us understands it.  Even a strict constructionist will have a hard time coming to a different conclusion.

Religion plays a large role in American society, whether good or bad, that is the reality, but we are given a legal framework for how to deal with that fact and we must use it.  I would prefer that God not be referenced in the Pledge of Allegiance, on our money or in our courts of law, but I also am not burning to take them out.  But it is also important to remember that the word “God” was not put there by the framers of our Constitution, it was added later in the ebb and flow over the years of Fundamentalist surges, and I would argue that it makes our country weaker.  

By adding the word God to our Pledge of Allegiance, we have not expanded God’s influence.  We have only managed to make the Pledge obsolete.  I will forever remember the Pledge, as I said it every day in school growing up.  My daughter doesn’t know it at all.  Fundamentalists will argue that Secularists are to blame for driving the pledge out of our public schools, but I would argue the opposite.  If in 1954, the Knights of Columbus hadn’t have insisted that the Pledge of Allegiance to our country also become a public prayer, the Pledge would still be recited in our public schools today.  If we are to honor our history as a tolerant, open and free society, God must not be forced on the public, but rather chosen by the faithful.  Government is for the people, all of the people, and Church is where God is best honored.


Anonymous Dale Hippert said...


Yet another literate exposition on a subject
that continues to divide our Nation.

About a year and a half ago I received an email request from a well meaning, if unthinking, Catholic friend of mine, to add my name to a petition to reinstate prayer in public shools.
I Googled up a response that reinforced my understanding of the issue and responded as shown below.

Lewis, I discovered your site while 'Googling" for a response
to a friend who forwarded the petition below.
I've bookmarked your site, as I expect I will visit it from
time to time!

Thank you,

Dale Hippert

Charles, I respectfully decline.

Dale H.
Even Jesus Was Against School Prayer
"Thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men...

"But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret." - Matt. 6:5-6

The Case Against School Prayer
(This brochure was produced by the Freedom From Religion Foundation. In order to combat the growing influence of the Religious Right, this brochure is being mailed to schools, school districts and state Secretaries of Education across the country.)

"I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
The "godless" Pledge of Allegiance, as it was recited by generations of school children, before Congress inserted a religious phrase, "under God," in 1954. (Intended to 'counter' 'Godless Communism' at a time of great concern and no little hysteria. DH)
Keep the Church and State Forever Separate
Should Students Pray in Public Schools?
Public schools exist to educate, not to proselytize. Children in public schools are a captive audience. Making prayer an official part of the school day is coercive and invasive. What 5, 8, or 10-year-old could view prayers recited as part of class routine as "voluntary"? Religion is private, and schools are public, so it is appropriate that the two should not mix. To introduce religion in our public schools builds walls between children who may not have been aware of religious differences before.

Why Should Schools Be Neutral?
Our public schools are for all children, whether Catholic, Baptist, Quaker, atheist, Buddhist, Jewish, agnostic. The schools are supported by all taxpayers, and therefore should be free of religious observances and coercion. It is the sacred duty of parents and churches to instill religious beliefs, free from government dictation. Institutionalizing prayers in public schools usurps the rights of parents.

School prayer proponents mistake government neutrality toward religion as hostility. The record shows that religious beliefs have flourished in this country not in spite of but because of the constitutional separation of church and state.


To add your name to the bottom, click on "forward."
You will

be able to add your name to the list and then forward
it to your friends. Or, if you prefer, you can copy
and paste, and then add your name to the bottom of the

Dear President Bush:

Many of us were deeply touched to hear you recite a
portion of Psalm
23 in your address to this great nation in the dark
hours following the terrorists attacks. We were
encouraged and comforted to know

that we truly had a believer working with us and for
us in our nation's highest office. We, the people of
America, are requesting that you lift the prohibition
of prayer in schools. As the pledge of our great
country states, we are to be One Nation, under GOD."

Please allow the prayers and petitions of our children
in schools without the threat of punishment.


The People of America

Mark 10:13-14 "People were bringing little children to

to have Him touch them, but the disciples rebuked
them. When Jesus saw this, He was indignant. He said
to them, "Let the little children come to

Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God
belongs to such as these."


2:03 PM  
Anonymous Richard Sepcic said...

Hi LG,
One point in your blog that will be coming up for increasing debate is how much Jesus really would have been part of the political process. If you have not yet read it, "What Jesus Meant" by Garry Wills is a relatively short but elegant discussion of this. For a shorter ready, his Op-Ed piece in today's (4/9) "NY Times" is a more pointed essay.

Wills' thesis, with which I agree, is that Jesus demonstrated throughout his life, as told in and through the Gospels, that he was apolitical. He rendered unto Caesar what was Caesar's, but his was the Kingdom of Heaven, not of earth. He abhorred earthly violence and sought instead to embroil his followers in the struggle for heaven. He embraced the downtrodden, the outcasts, and most of all, his enemies, through a message of love and compassion. He had no prohibition toward gays or same-sex unions. He did not believe in public worship or other public displays of piety, instead driving for these acts from the heart. He believed that you should treat others as you would wish to be treated, and to behave toward others as you would behave toward him. Mostly, he was a radical in his time, and rejected the earthly institutions that separated humankind from God.

Wills in his "NY Times" piece today comes across much more forcefully on some points than he does in his book. Support for public displays of the Ten Commandments is idolatry in his view, not something that Jesus would have condoned. Separation of Church and state is a necessary condition for spiritual emancipation and for realization of Jesus' message, not something to be opposed as "anti-Christian".

This debate is not going to be won in the political arena, nor should it really be fought there. What will finally put the Fundamentalist Christian assault on politics to rest is a reaction from the true, fundamental believers in the teachings of Christ to take them back from the pretenders and politicians. I welcome the debate that Garry Wills has tried to initiate. Much of what Christ stood for is lost in our current religio-political climate, and I look forward to the fruit that I hope this debate will bear. Regardless if you are Christian or not, this debate really needs to happen, and the time is right for it now before we launch another senseless invasion of a sovereign nation, allegedly in Christ's name.

9:53 AM  
Blogger Rory Shock said...

amen ... an atheisic amen that is

7:07 PM  

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