Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Evangelical Fundamentalists

In the news are reports of gloom and doom. Many of the groups shouting the loudest are evangelical/fundamentalists who claim the end of the world is upon us.

Trying to explain this phenomenon is the following excerpt from Frank Schaeffer's new book, Patience with God: Faith for People Who Don't Like Religion (or Atheism) (Da Capo Press, 2009).
Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye's Left Behind series of sixteen novels (so far!) represents everything that is most deranged about religion. If I had to choose companions to take my chances with in a lifeboat, and the choice boiled down to picking Tim LaHaye, Jerry Jenkins, or Christopher Hitchens, I'd pick Hitchens in a heartbeat. At least he wouldn't try to sink our boat so that Jesus would come back sooner. He might even bring along a case of wine. [...]

Given that Revelation is now being hyped as the literal -- even desired -- roadmap to Armageddon, it's worth pausing to note that it's nothing more than a bizarre pastoral letter that was addressed to seven specific churches in Asia at the end of the first century by someone (maybe John or maybe not) who appears to have been far from well when he wrote it. In any case, the letter was not intended for use outside of its liturgical context, not to mention that it reads like Jesus on acid.

The evangelical/fundamentalist literalistic "interpretation" of Revelation is symptomatic of a larger problem: make-it-up-as you-go-along biblical interpretation suited to hyping whatever the evangelical/fundamentalist flavor of the moment is, in a desperate effort to keep religion relevant. But taken out of the context of being part of a worship cycle, the Bible became something like an extremely sharp butcher knife in the hands of children running around a garden. There's nothing wrong with the knife per se, but context is everything. Enter semi-literate American evangelical/fundamentalist rubes armed with multiple "kitchen knives" and imbued with a frontier "no bishops or kings!" suspicion of any tradition, scholarship, or hierarchy that might moderate their wild-eyed personal "interpretations" of scripture and their burning desire to make a buck. [...]

Many evangelical/fundamentalist's can't get enough of this garbage. They've been sucking it up since the early 1970s, and now, in the Left Behind books, the message has gone viral. The video game Left Behind: Eternal Forces was developed by a publicly traded company, Left Behind Games. The player controls a "Tribulation Forces" team and is invited to "use the power of prayer to strengthen your troops in combat and wield modern military weaponry throughout the game world." The game blesses religious violence. It's the Americanized version of some Islamic sheik drumming hate of the infidel into young minds in some dusty Pakistani madrassa. It's legal evangelical Jihad training, a fantasy foreshadowing of the all-too-real killings of abortion doctors and others hated as "anti-Christ."

The expanding Left Behind entertainment empire also feeds the dangerous delusions of Christian Zionists, who are convinced that the world is heading to a final Battle of Armageddon and who see this as a good thing! Christian Zionists, led by many "respectable" mega-pastors -- including Reverend John Hagee -- believe that war in the Middle East is God's will. In his book Jerusalem Countdown: A Warning to the World, Hagee maintains that Russia and the Arabs will invade Israel and then will be destroyed by God. This will cause the Antichrist -- the head of the European Union -- to stir up a confrontation over Israel between China and the West.

Perhaps, in the era of Obama, Hagee will do a fast rewrite and say that President Obama is the Antichrist, because the same folks who are into Christian Zionism are also into the far, far loony right of the Republican Party represented by oddities like Sarah Palin. These are the same people who insist that President Obama is a "secret Muslim," "not an American," and/or "a communist," "more European than American," or whichever one of those contradictory things is worse -- not like us anyway, that's for sure. Christian Zionists support any violent action by the State of Israel against Arabs and Palestinians because the increasingly brutal State of Israel is, in the fevered evangelical/fundamentalist mind, the nation presently standing in for Jesus as avenger on evildoers everywhere, by which they mean Arabs and others not like us. Christian Zionists are yet another reason why I and countless other Christians, including many of the more moderate evangelicals, mainline Protestants, Roman Catholics, and Orthodox are hesitant to be labeled "Christian." Who wants to be confused with some of the most dangerous and stupid people in the world: nuclear-armed, paranoid evangelical/fundamentalist Bible thumpers rooting for Armageddon and worrying in paranoid "official" documents about being forced to become like "the Europeans"? (Just a thought: does that make high-speed rail service a tool of the Devil?)
Paranoia, fear and hatred should not be the basis for a way of life.

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