Saturday, November 24, 2012

What Do The Puritanical Really Want? Revenge!

Giles Fraser has a very insightful essay in the Guardian about the right wing evangelical faction of the Church of England that successfully scuttled a vote on women bishops in the church's General Synod.  Here's a sample:

For the essence of the puritan mindset is revenge – as Nietzsche accurately described it, the revenge of the bullied who are subconsciously getting back at those who once made their life a misery. As the comedy puritan Malvolio rages at the end of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night: "I'll be reveng'd on the whole pack of you."
So what can be done? Argument is pretty useless. Conservative religious people are generally locked in a self-referencing worldview where truth is about strict internal coherence rather than any reaching out to reality. That's why they treat the Bible like some vast jigsaw – its truth residing in a complex process of making the pieces fit together and not with the picture it creates.
So rather than laugh at them or argue with them, the best thing is probably ignore them.

I've been making this point for years.  What these apocalyptic legalists want most is not universal love and peace, but the reward of seeing their enemies bound in chains and thrown into the unquenchable fire.  That is the essence of everything from angry subway preachers to fire and brimstone mega-church sermons on teevee.  "Our God will vindicate us and revenge us upon all of our enemies!"
I agree with Fraser that these folk are largely insulated from reality by a self referencing world view where it matters more that all the syllogisms fit like cogwheels than what the larger picture describes.  To me that larger picture describes a desolation.

In largely secular and religiously liberal England, I would imagine that all this appears simply marginal and freakish.  In the USA, this is a much more serious matter.  The USA is one of the few countries in the world (along with Saudi Arabia and Iran) to have a politically powerful religious fundamentalist movement.  Its power and influence may be waning after more than 30 years of hegemony over the political and cultural debates, but it is still formidable, especially on the state and local levels.  The USA is secularizing despite that movement's best efforts (you could argue that right wing religious influence accelerated that secularization and spawned a serious backlash against all religious life from Sufis and Quakers to Southern Baptists and Wahabists).

I've long argued, and continue to argue, that fundamentalist religious movements are ultimately secular.  They are not about religion or spirituality at all.  In fact, fundamentalists of all types rarely discuss religion, and certainly do not speculate about it.  Religion for them is a settled issue.  There's nothing to discuss.  Fundamentalist movements are about identity, about drawing a clear bright line between who's in and who's out.  Sorting out who's in the tribe and who is not is a very worldly political issue and not a religious one.


Anonymous said...

Fundamentalism is not as bleak, at least in its history, as you paint. Just as in all 'movements' there are the unreasonable, fundamentalist Christians were the ones, at least in England, that drove the social reform of the country, especially in the 1800's. George Muller, John Wesley, George Whitefield (I know Wesley and Whitefield are not strictly 19 century), William Booth, Charles Spurgeon, Josephine Butler to name a few. Each did wonderful, social action, loving others, changing a nation. And each were fundamental in their biblical beliefs. There are people in the church today who are like these and yet remain what is called fundamentalist in their approach to the Bible.

Rev Andy Morgan

it's margaret said...

Andy --I wholeheartedly disagree. Fundamentalism is always bleak, always a +/- discussion with no room for a third way --and those you mention weren't of the stripe of fundamentalists that are wreaking havoc in our time.

What concerns me with Giles Fraser's conclusion is that it is probably best to ignore them. Ignoring them is what got the CofE in to its predicament right now. Ignoring them is what brought us the Bush and Reagan tenures in the White House. Certainly the best model of approach that I can think of is that of Louie Crew --a constant loving engagement.

We must speak out. Now. Constantly. We cannot wait until they encroach on something dear to us --we must not ignore their rhetoric, actions, political moves and lobbying.... We will already be living for another generation under one of the most conservative and extremist Supreme Courts in our history as a nation.

We must not rest.

Counterlight said...

I would hesitate to classify some of those, especially Wesley, as fundamentalists. I can't see Wesley sharing that same literalist and legalist mindset of so much current fundamentalism.

Besides, fundamentalisms, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Hindu are all creations of the late 19th century in reaction against modernity.

Anonymous said...

My concern is against painting everyone with the same brush. Just as many fundamentalist / conservative christians tend to generally believe to be a 'liberal' believer is to effectively throw out the Bible, not all fundamentalist christians (and by fundamentalist I mean the more literalist Bible believers) are bigots, misogynists and intolerant. Wesley Wesley remained thoroughly orthodox in his theology, and he expected his followers to do the same. He described himself as a man of one book, emphasizing his submission to the primary authority of the written Word of God. Is that the definition of a fundamentalist? (that is not a sarcastic comment - just wanting to see if I am defining what a fundamentalist is in the same way). I am from England. I can point to many clergy who are men of one book, and submit to the word of God 'literally' and yet are working hard in their communities for equality - loving their neighbor, declaring the truth of Jesus' love to a world in need.

Not trying to start an argument - and I understand what Margaret has said in her comment - but I wanted to express what I have seen and experienced by 'conservative' clergy who are not the normal stereotype that Giles writes about (although I utterly acknowledge they exist!)

Rev. Andy Morgan

Counterlight said...

Wesley may have been "orthodox" (a word whose meaning seems so have shifted a lot over the past century, depending who claims to define what is "orthodox"), but I can't see him happily in the same company with the likes of everyone from Scott Lively to Bishop Jensen in Sydney. I certainly could not see Wesley in the same company as Christian Dominionists and Millenialists in the USA.
On the contrary, I think he would have been horrified.

I get the impression that fundamentalism is a marginal phenomenon in England (though I could be wrong). It is anything but marginal here in the USA. It is inescapable. It probably would not attract so much resentment except that fundamentalists here claim to know what is best for everyone and seek to legislate their views for all despite the desires and opinions of their fellow citizens who do not share their particular sectarian view of the world.

danielj said...

hello all   I stumbled upon this post during my daily blog readings..hope to be allowed to make these comments.

I was raised fundamentalist, both baptistic and pentecostal varieties; My Biblical and Divinity degrees were from those ontexts.  I am 60, but for the first 32 years that was the christianity I knew but did not accept alot of it.  Some years back I also had the honor of being a white man who walked alongside some first nations christians...I taught them some, they taught me alot.

One of the reasons why Margaret is so down on Fundamentalism is because of the unigue nature of her ministry i.e. on the rez.  There the bad effects of Fundam is much more fucosed and destructive, than in the larger world.  In the world, Fundam can cause problems, but the world is large enough, varied enough, and stong enough to limit the bad effects.  On the rez where personal death and cultural destuction is a major player, Fundam is far more dangerous.   A couple of examples.

Fundam tends to be exclusive.  theirs is the only true religion; other christians are often seen as backsliden or heretics.  Other traditional spiritualities are seen as pagan.  

the gov and church have a long tradition of trying to destroy native culture and spirituality.  On the rez today, it is fundam that is the major outside influence in this regard.  To be Christian means one has to give of being NDN  (indian) and the destruction of their culture is very harmful to them.

Secondly, Fundam tend to be focused on first steps....the major sermon is getting right with God and accepting Jesus thus excaping hell.    even in the churches which are full of their believers, this remains the primary and often, exclusive message.  Even at funerals, they cant resist laying on the fire excape religion

On the rez, funerals are constant and where fundam preachers preside, there is often the "renounce your culture and get saved...and if the one who has crossed over was not concidered a believer or died as "a sinner", the audience will often get the "fire excape stuff".

thanks for listening    danielj

JCF said...

"And each were fundamental in their biblical beliefs."

Come now, no one really believes that fundamentalists (I prefer not to capitalize that) are really defined by those 1905 "Fundamentals" pamphlet, do they?

It's not about Biblical interpretation ("literal", or not).

It's about religious chauvinism: the claim that having THE TRUTH gives one the authority to JUDGE others (and having judged, then punish).

The Inquisition was centuries before "The Fundamentals" pamphlet was created, but it's an archetype of fundamentalism (and see re Maoism for an example of atheistic fundamentalism: no god---well, Mao was like a god---necessary to judge/punish!)

Conversely, see the Amish: can there be any doubt that their Christian beliefs adhere to the Fundamentals? Nevertheless, if they judge others, it's only to FLEE them. Not to rule&punish. Thus, they are not fundamentalists. Rev Andy, HTH.

JCF said...

Oh, forgot to say: rather conspicuous that this, um, large street preacher's Damnable-Sin List does NOT include Gluttony, eh? [Nor, need I add, the PRIDE necessary to broadcast such a list in the first place]

it's margaret said...

danielj, --it is not just in the unique context of the Reservations that fundamentalism can be so destructive. I have sat at besides in places as disparate as Oregon, So Cal, NYC, VA and watched people be terrified watching a loved one die because they 'had not been saved.'

If you want to see destructive fundamentalism --look at the rise of the Tea Party in our political system and etc. Not just biblical literalism --but the rejection of science and on the larger scale anti-intellectualism and racism.

In this, Counterlight is correct --these movements are not religious movements --they are about perceived wrongs and revenge --about identity --and political power.

In any event, I still see Fraser's conclusion of ignoring them as very flawed. We. Must. Not. Ignore. This. We must push back, in every instance, every where, all the time.

just sayin'.

rick allen said...

"For the essence of the puritan mindset is revenge"

When I read statements like this I think of those on conservative websites who like to call Obama things like "Bolshevik"--showing they know neither the president's values, nor anything about an actual group of people who called themselves Bolsheviks.

I know it's common to call people "puritans" and "fundamentalists" whose views have little to nothing in common with the puritans and the fundamentalists, historical groups who, for all their flaws, can hardly be honestly reduced to a mindset of revenge. If one is accusing people of being vengeful, and of having no other theological bona fides, seems to me you should do so directly, and not by associating them with some commonly disliked group.

I know that some would consider that mere quibbling, and say that terms like "puritan," "fundamentalist," "Bolshevik," "fascist" have taken on common secondary meanings, indicating an intense dislike of someone's religion or politics. Arguably so. I suppose what I object to about this is that they substitute name-calling for actually stating what one objects to.

As a non-Anglican of any stripe I have no desire to comment on the recent vote on women in the episcopate. But the complexity of the problem, especially the means of accomodating the minority without offending the majority, seems to me to be sufficiently difficult that I am doubtful about attributing the outcome to mere malice in the form of a secret motivation of revenge.

Counterlight said...

After a lifetime of hearing Christian salvation sold to people as a kind of spiritual protection racket ("believe in this or that will happen to you"), it's hard not to come to the conclusion that the world is to be divided into the Saved and the Lost, and that the destruction of the Lost will be the vindication of the Saved.
I can't think of anything more divisive, or more malicious in intent.

rick allen said...

I've talked a little about this with my friend rmj over at Adventus. I know there is more in Christianity than soteriology, salvation--there is a cosmic metaphysical construct, and a cosmic history, and there are ethics and cult and artistic expression--but I'm not sure how the idea of Christianity, at least as it appears in the scriptures, in the Fathers, in the writing of the saints, in our prayers and in the liturgy, makes any sense at all when the idea of salvation is taken from it. Jesus' very name means "Yah saves," given to him, we are told, because "He will save his people from their sins."

Now of course that idea can be corrupted into a sort of zero-sum competition, with winners and losers. But Jesus did talk about sheep and goats, not to initiate some sort of universal Super Bowl, but to let us know what sorts of things will save us and what sorts of things will destroy us.

(I understand the position that nothing will destroy us, that nothing can destroy us, that we are all predestined to glory, and of that I can say, I hope it's right, but I don't have confidence that it is so.)

There is much disagreement about what we must be saved from, and how we go about being saved from it, and what we are saved for. But I don't think our being in desparate need, and God meeting us in that need, necessarily constitutes a spiritual protection racket. Anyone who is genuinely crying for help from the abyss will take no pleasure in anyone else suffering the same fate, I think.

Counterlight said...

Pardon my inner Protestant, but Salvation is the free gift of God unearned and undeserved, and in the case of the crowd at the foot of the Cross that first Good Friday, unbidden.

The Kingdom of Christ is the only state with no compulsion, and no one is invited to enter it by threats.

JCF said...

I understand the position that nothing will destroy us, that nothing can destroy us, that we are all predestined to glory, and of that I can say, I hope it's right, but I don't have confidence that it is so

Well rick, I'll just hold onto that confidence for you then, oh ye of little faith. ;-/

Seriously though, I really cannot make sense of a faith where God is less than one's hopes. Does.Not.Compute.

rick allen said...

"I really cannot make sense of a faith where God is less than one's hopes."

I think I understand where you are coming from, JCF, but I would say that it's not so much a hope about God as a hope about humanity, and there our hopes often go disappointed.

I would agree with Doug that "The Kingdom of Christ is the only state with no compulsion." The one thing God cannot do is make someone love, to force anyone into the Kingdom of God who adamently will not go. That, perhaps, is my Catholic to his Protestant--I have been reading Erasmus and Luther, lately, and there is where Luther identified the great issue on which it all turned--the freedom of the will or the bondage of the will. I am one of those who continues to see it free, but the terrible consequence of that is that we remain free to oppress, to sin, to hate, to say no to God. Without that we are compelled to enter the kingdom. God loves us, but does not, cannot make us love him. I hope all of us can make that choice which God will not compel. But it is a hope.

JCF said...

Are we free to reject God? Yes.

Will anyone ultimately do so? No.

We're free . . . AND God's Perfect Love is irresistable.

It's a paradox.

MarkBrunson said...

As Doug points out in his thesis, it may be possible that rick allen is holding onto a hope, just not one of Salvation, but of condemnation.

It's always warm/fuzzy to imagine one's enemies "getting theirs" in Hell, or whatever. Yet, simple enlightened self-interest tells us that, if they are to be judged, so will I, and none of us will be in Paradise this, or any other, day.

rick allen said...

"God's Perfect Love is irresistable."

This is how complicated it gets, I suppose. "Irresistable grace" is one of the "Five Points of Calvinism" asserted at the Synod of Dort. Actual, historical puritanism has not been without continuing influence.

Sid said...

I agree with Rick, and, contra Mark Brunson, I see no hint of a "warm/fuzzy" on Rick's part that his enemies will be getting theirs in Hell. Nor do I think this is an important component of Catholic (as in, undivided, patristic Christianity) thought - only an unintended corollary of it. That there are people like the one pictured here who feel that way, I have no doubt. As a matter of fact, that many individuals feel that way, I have no doubt; it's part of the sinful human condition. And I will say that I get more than a hint of it directed at the "anti-gay" contingent of our society by people who - seemingly - can't wait to see the looks on those people's faces when they die and are confronted by God. So, I believe this is as much a feature of the fundie standing on the corner as it is his targets.

None of us are immune to this kind of thinking. Our first error is in thinking we are, followed closely by thinking it's OK for us to think that way, because, obviously, we're on the side of the angels.

Back to the question of Hell, if we accept Christ's words, then it is unquestionable that some will refuse God and end up there - wherever or whatever "it" is. His teaching on this is quite explicit. But, with God as my witness, I have no desire to see anybody there, and I'm quite worried that I might end up there myself. I don't think I'm the only one who feels that way.

As to Fraser: "That's why they treat the Bible like some vast jigsaw – its truth residing in a complex process of making the pieces fit together and not with the picture it creates" - I agree completely.

Counterlight said...

Scott Lively issued this statement today about the explosion in Springfield, MA on November 23rd that destroyed a strip club and injured 20 people including many firefighters:

"For about two years I have been including imprecatory prayers in our church services and Bible studies at Holy Grounds Coffee House. Imprecatory prayers are Old Testament prayers for the defeat and destruction of the enemies of God and his people. A New Testament variation on these prayers is to ask God to save the people but destroy the institutions. Our prayers, part of our seven year campaign to re-Christianize the City of Springfield, have included an appeal to God to destroy the works of Satan in this city. We have specifically included the strip clubs in these prayers. Yesterday the three story Scores strip club on Worthington Street was completely obliterated in a gas explosion, right down to the ground. I believe this was the hand of God at work in answer to our prayers. We are giving Him all the glory and praise for this occurrence, since it is only by His power that any of our prayers can have any effect."

I think the title of Lively's blog post (from which this statement is lifted), "The Power of Imprecatory Prayer," says it all.

MarkBrunson said...

I agree with Rick, and, contra Mark Brunson, I see no hint of a "warm/fuzzy" on Rick's part that his enemies will be getting theirs in Hell

But rick's on your side sid, so of course, that's what you'd see.

And, yes, both sides feel great pleasure in the idea that the other side will get theirs. It is part of the human condition - as I noted - so, to say you don't have it . . . does that make you not human? There is a difference between what you will and what you desire. Denying something in yourself lets it control you.

Of course there's a Hell - several, in point of fact. We each build one, and each choose or reject it. It's ours and we are gods there - all alone, with all our anger and self-righteousness, to burn in that lake of fire which is our own desires. Doubtless, some will actually enjoy Hell, believing they've found freedom in the ability to suffer, fight and try to make others suffer. Most who choose Hell won't even notice they repeat it all again and again.

rick allen said...

Mark, I certainly agree with you that each of us naturally wants justice for others and mercy for myself (and for my friends and relatives) (well, not for all my relatives). But that inescapable self-centeredness doesn't necessarily discredit asperations to overcome it. Otherwise everything is answerable with an ad hominem.

An example from the late presidential election. How many times did we hear that Obama just wants to keep power, that Romney just wants to help his rich friends. I think in both cases those claims were more or less true--no one seeks the most powerful office on earth without wanting power, including the power to help his friends. So what? We can't see into the heart of either. We judge their claims and policies and character based on our limited experience of what they have done and our evaluation of the rightness and reasonableness of what they propose. They may have more sinister motives--they must, really--but that's really not a good criterion for deciding whether one economic policy is superior to another.

So--getting back to our topic--I don't think it's quite accurate to say that "Puritans" act our of revenge. It's somewhat true, but so do "libertines" and "liberals" and everyone else. I don't know how many times I've been assured by people on the right that I only am attracted to socialism because of my envy of the rich.

And I agree with much of what you say about hell. The kingdom of heaven is not pie in the sky when we die. It is here among us; so is the kingdom of hell. I am sometimes asked, when someone particularly monstrous dies, whether I think he went to hell. My pat answer is always, "The question is not whether he went to hell when he died, but whether he got out before he died." It is then that my belief in purgation after death is most comforting--for them and for me.

MarkBrunson said...

Of course, but you are aware of the presence of that flaw, thus the aspiration, and, like faith and works, aspiration without action is meaningless.

This has been the basis of my online life as the "bad guy." I don't want people to choose Hell, and won't validate that choice, no matter how much my basest, darkest self enjoys the burning.

In the end, I think the problem is not of puritan and libertine, conservative or liberal, but of easy answers - starting with our easy answers about ourselves. I admire you, rick, and have said as much before - you are one of the few fearless people I've run into, liberal or conservative. I just like to keep you on your toes, as you do me on mine.

(And I really hate it when people tell me I just envy the rich and that's why I embrace socialism, as well - it's like "Yes or no - have you stopped beating your wife?" If I begin to explain, it gets dismissed as self-justification. Why do people not get it that it isn't always just about my wallet? Off topic - but it really struck a chord).

IT said...

Just to put it out there, here's a brilliant tweet from Bosco Peters.

Justice: getting what you deserve.
Mercy: not getting what you deserve.
Grace: getting what you don't deserve.

I would say the fundamentalists are all about justice, and only a little about mercy.