Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Religious Extremism—U.S. Style

In the post, The United States: Its “British” Heritage and Its Politics, I briefly described the Scots-Irish immigrants and their history. I pointed out that the descendents of these people form the basis for the Republican party of today. It was made clear that these people could not be properly understood without knowledge of their religious background. This post will take up that subject. I recommend that you read both posts. If you are a visitor from another country and you sometimes wonder why the U.S. cannot get its act together—your question will be answered.

Joe Bageant, author of the excellent book about these Scots-Irish and their lives, Deer Hunting with Jesus, will be our guide. This material comes from a chapter in his book aptly titled “The Covert Kingdom.” We will use the term “fundamentalism” as the general description of this class of religious belief since all forms are based on a literal belief in the words of the Bible.

Bageant was raised in a fundamentalist family. He escaped both the region and the religion of his youth. He returned eventually to the region but not the religion.

In this world, anyone who can convince a person to listen to them can call himself a preacher. If you can get two people to listen to you, you can claim to have a church. If these two people listen to you for more than a week you can claim your own sect.
“Independent fundamentalist churches are theologically wooly places whose belief systems can accommodate just about any interpretation of the Good Book that a ‘Preacher Bob’ or a ‘Pastor Donnie’ can come up with. Members of the clergy arise from within the church ranks and are usually poorly educated, though, like most Americans, they do not see themselves that way. Lack of a broad higher education is a hallmark of fundamentalist ministers and goes completely unremarked by their congregations, in whose eyes a two-year technical school or community college, and especially a seminary of their own, is on a par with any of the vile secular universities. In fact, the ‘Bible colleges’ are better because they don’t teach philosophy, science, the arts, or literature in any form a secular person would recognize.”

“This rejection of ‘fancy learnin’ has been a feature of American fundamentalism since the backwoods-stump church days, and it continues to provide the nation with charismatic literalists whose analytical abilities are minimal.”
These people can no longer be considered harmless eccentrics. There are large numbers of them and they are promoting their ideas politically.
“But taken as a whole, fundamentalists have three things in common: they are whiter than Aunt Nelly’s napkin, and, for the most part, they are working class and have only high school educations.”

“Yet some evangelicals stand apart from the mainstream in one important way: They would scrap the Constitution and institute ‘Biblical Law,’ the rules of the Old Testament, and they take the long view toward the establishment of a theocratic state. Others believe we are rapidly entering the End Times and the fulfillment of the darkest biblical prophesies. Like many of their Scots-Irish ancestors, they see a theocracy of one sort or another as a necessary part of the End Times, and, though few publicly say so, some are not averse to nuclear war in the Middle East, ideally with the help of Israel.”
They see the founding of the modern state of Israel as the initiating event of End Times.
“....the Messiah can return to earth only after an apocalypse in Israel called Armageddon, which a minority of influential fundamentalists are promoting with all their power so that The End can take place. The first requirement was the establishment of the state of Israel. Done. The next is Israel’s occupation of the Middle East as a return of its ‘Biblical lands.’ Which means more wars. Radical Christian conservatives believe that peace cannot ever lead to Christ’s return, and indeed impedes the thousand-year Reign of Christ, and that anyone promoting peace is a tool of Satan. Fundamentalists support any and all wars Middle Eastern....”

“End Times theology, or premillennialism....has many variants. All of them boil down to the idea that history is scripted by God and will soon come to an apocalyptic conclusion according to his plan. Your only hope is to accept Jesus as your personal savior. Then, if you happen to be a member of the Rapturist cult of End Time believers, God will ‘rapture you up’ just as he launches seven years of horror and death upon the earth. An Antichrist will arise, and worldwide war will be the norm. Billions will die.”
Needless to say, such beliefs lead to political conclusions that are not helpful.
“The United Nations is a tool of the Antichrist. America alone must spread the gospel around the world.”

“There is no need to worry about the environment because we are not going to need this earth much longer.”

“Israel is to be defended at all costs and even encouraged to expand, because the Bible declares that Israel must rule all the land from the Nile to the Euphrates in order for End Times prophecy to be fulfilled.”

“God will provide a Christian leader to shepherd the American flock as they become his chosen people to extend the gospel worldwide and rid the earth of evil.”
Fundamentalists have essentially established their own education system. Once homeschooling was a means of avoiding integrated schools, now it is a means of indoctrinating children with conservative ideals, and avoiding contact with people of other beliefs.
“The training of Christian cadres is far more sophisticated than nonfundamentalists realize. By now, most informed people probably know that the homeschoolers have a university network, with dozens of campuses across the nation, each with its own smiling Christian pod people, each school a clone of Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. But how many outsiders know the depth and specificity of political indoctrination in these schools?”

“For example, Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Virginia, a college exclusively for Christian homeschoolers, offers programs in strategic government intelligence, law, and foreign policy, all with a strict, Bible-based ‘Christian worldview.’ percent of all internships handed out by the Bush administration went to Patrick Henry students, and many more went to similarly religious rightest colleges.”
If one suspects exaggeration in these statements, they can visit here and get the latest tally on the rapture index.
“It tracks forty-five categories—among them false Christs, plagues, inflation, beast government, and ecumenism—and assigns points to each indicating how predictive of the rapture it is. As I write this, the index stands at 160, perilously close to critical mass, when people like us will be smitten under a sky filled with deliriously happy naked flying Christians.”
As I write this the rapture index stands at 173. I’m afraid to look up.

Still not convinced? A few days after the final vote on the health care bill a poll came out that indicated that 24% of republicans think that Obama “may be the Antichrist.”

Someone is always ready to provide a service and earn a buck. There are many rapture believers who are pet owners. They are concerned about who will take care of their pets after they fly up to heaven. Go here and read about the man who set up a service of atheists who will remain behind and care for the animals for a fee (prepaid).

So cut us some slack—the U.S. has problems.

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