Picking up on yesterday's article, primitive religion sank its claws into the Republican Party and infected it with the rage and terror that characterizes all non-theological religion. You will notice, if you study it, that theologians as a group do not include fundamentalists of any stripe, for the most part. That is because fundamentalists do not study the intellectual propositions involved in faith; they study their Scripture and equip their memories with proof quotes to answer every question. There are fundamentalist Muslims and Jews as well as the Christians who presently are disgracing themselves as the American version of the Taliban. But I am not the spokesperson for faiths other than Christianity, nor do I wish to be.
As I have been studying the Education for Ministry program in Tucson, we have noticed that once in awhile an evangelical Christian enrolls in it, and drops out soon when they discover that actual reading and study is involved. It is analogous to the Jehovah's Witness who enrolls in medical school, only to quit when they realize that the curriculum is not going to reinforce their beliefs, but rather they are going to have to adjust their beliefs to the reality of medical practice. Of course some people do this, but frequently they lose their primitive religion in the process. That's a "fall up," if you ask me.
So the hold that evangelical fundamentalists have on the Republican Party is killing it, but that does not matter to people who do not engage in thought processes regarding their beliefs. In misrepresenting their proof quotes from Jesus and St. Paul, they would like us to believe that disapproval of their antics is some kind of badge of honor. This tactic has served them well, actually, over many generations when the general public was not well-educated while the Church offered enclaves of literacy to those men who were interested in such things.
This has engendered in modern evangelicalism a hatred and rejection of education and it is no coincidence that anti-intellectualism goes right along with the anger and fear that you cannot avoid as you listen to evangelical preachers. I think it is a legitimate exercise to ask why they are so scared, angry and defensive--so why is that, anyway?
The answer lies in primitive Jewish theology, which is enshrined in the Pentateuch, or the first five books of the Old Testament that are reputed to have been written by Moses himself (although that is not likely). The books of Exodus and Leviticus contain systems of law that are no longer practiced in Judaism today--something that many Christians do not realize. We tend to think that since God supposedly revealed his moral dictates to Moses, and Moses wrote them down, the Hebrew people must have been practicing them from then until now. After all, the writings use words like "forever" to describe such things as the Passover ceremonies.
But it is not true; Jewish theology has evolved over the thousands of years in which it has existed, just like the theology of other religions. In fact, as we can see from many centuries of thought, theology can progress or regress, and as faith groups split off into smaller and smaller factions, personalities take over and beliefs take on strange new forms. Angry preachers preach anger; fearful preachers threaten us, and so forth.
And so at several points in Christian development, the Old-Testament themes of God's anger, his revenge and punishment, and the erroneous copying of Scripture for various reasons have influenced Christian thought. And the more under-educated you are, the more likely it is that you will not know enough Church history to recognize what is no longer operative in theology. In fact, for Christians it is even easier to make errors in understanding when we tackle early Hebrew thought, which is embedded in a culture that we do not know.
So the terror of God's wrath was engendered by the ignorant reading of the Old Testament, accompanied as it was by the literalistic interpretation. It gives rise to such attitudes as, "We are so sorry, but it is written, and so we cannot offer any hope to you because after all, it is written." This is to deny that God knows that it is now the Twenty-First Century (and it is also a classic circular argument).
The anger in primitive religion is, I think, older and more insidious than the fear. Of course primitive people were terrified of the forces of nature, but they could conceive of gods of kindness and mercy to offset their fear. It was harder, though, to resist the resentment that comes from the severe imbalance of power between fragile human beings and the gods that control the winds and the seas. It isn't fair--that is self-evident. The first atheists emerged at the same time as the first theists; they were the impertinent, angry people who pointed out that the prayers and sacrifices didn't work. When the plagues and droughts came along anyway, it seemed apparent that either the gods were hostile or that they didn't care. And there were the fragile human communities clinging to existence against all the forces of nature, vulnerable and afraid.
And so anger began to build at the unfair gods and the vulnerability that anyone could perceive if their world view is framed as Man versus Nature. And as primitive Jewish theology conceived of a single Deity who was righteous and prone to punish innocent bystanders, the anger and fear built up and is still heading towards critical mass today.
With the communication level that we enjoy right now, the collision between the irresistible force of rejection and the immovable object of primitive theology is happening at last. What it has led to, so far, is widespread abandonment of organized religion. But it is not just organized religion in the abstract; it is the abandonment of an angry God who will torture you forever over mistakes made in one short human lifetime. It is the rejection of a hateful God who rejects human beings because they don't believe the approved list of commandments in primitive, outworn, fear-based precepts. It is a demand for intelligent religion, accompanied by a refusal to accept anything else. This overriding horror of the sufferings of the next life animates the preaching of evangelical preachers who grow ever more shrill, all the more desperate.
The tragic aspect of this situation is that we do not actually lack for theologians who are willing to re-examine Scripture and history. They are not afraid to re-evaluate our ideas about the nature of God. They understand that theology has to encompass not just Western civilization, but Neanderthal people and pre-human beings. We have to conceive of a God who understands ancient Egypt and Rome. Is that possible? There are theologians who believe that it is, but it is going to challenge our intellectual capacities to their utmost.
Nevertheless, we are now opposed by an evangelical church that is populated by people who literally live in terror of God every day--the same God they purport to worship. But it is intellectually impossible to love or worship an entity of which you are terrified. It can't be done, and of course the stress of lying just adds more to the crushing burden of evangelical fundamentalism--the burden that is crushing them as it is. If you read the preaching of early Americans such as Cotton Mather, you cannot escape the urgency of his exhortations to do something, anything to escape God's wrath. In reality the evangelical church knows nothing of God's love--the primary focus of Jesus' preaching.
For more info: Here in Tucson I have had no difficulties navigating the Affordable Health Care Act website, also known as Obamacare. My advice to those of you who are trying to access it is to use the Mozilla Firefox browser. If you do not have it on your computer you can download and install it for free. Examiner.com asks its writers to use it and the word in the tech community is that the Obamacare website works better if you do.
Keep in mind as well that as of this moment, we have no idea how many people are online trying to hack and otherwise sabotage the web page. There is no lack of tech expertise on the hard Right, although most of them look at my smart phone as though it were a big, hairy Arizona tarantula sitting next to me at my desk. That is just one of the side effects of electing Luddites to office. And for those of you who are palpitating with fear of the horror stories, keep in mind it reflects in large part the zeal of Internet trolls who get paid to call in or post false information. It's all part of the Republican effort: kill Obamacare or the economy gets it. But by now their names and voices are easily identified, and they are being outed for the amoral shills that they are.