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Fundamentalism: Reactionary faith

Posted by Ron George on August 14, 2011

“Fundamentalism” by Kyle Ethan Fischer

My second son texted me the other day with a question: “Have I been baptized?” Yes, I replied. What’s up?

Well, he’s returned to church after some years away and he says it’s been good for him. He recently married a lovely, devout woman from an evangelical tradition who seems to be OK with his faith background (he was baptized as an infant in a mainline Protestant denomination), but apparently he’s getting some aggressive encouragement from folks at church to be baptized again.

The first one wasn’t really baptism, they say. You were an infant. You didn’t know what you were doing. It’s the customary pitch from those whose tradition requires “believer’s baptism,” a conscious decision to become a member of the Body of Christ; and, in this case, I take that to mean a particular congregation of whatever evangelical denomination. My son and his wife have been content to worship with a somewhat large non-denominational congregation in North Texas, but he’s not inclined to be baptized – again – because he’s already a baptized Christian and doesn’t believe it’s necessary to repeat the water rite. His refusal seems to be raising some hackles among the brethren.

Frankly, I like “believer’s baptism” as a norm, although I was once part of a tradition that didn’t do baptism that way. If I had it to do over again, my children wouldn’t have been baptized as infants, but that’s water long gone under the bridge. I do believe my children are Christians by virtue of their baptism, and it’s galling for someone to suggest otherwise, let alone pressure one of my adult children to be baptized again, as though he were not “really” baptized 34 years ago. On the other hand, if my son found it meaningful to undergo the water rite again as an expression of his renewed faith and membership in his current church home, I would totally accept his decision – but those are the operative words: It’s his decision, and his fellow Christians ought to honor that. Among other things, it comports with traditional evangelical theology: One and only one person decides the baptism issue; in this case, my son, because it’s between him and God and no one else. It’s obscene and contrary to evangelical faith to pressure someone, anyone, into baptism.

It is typical of fundamentalists, though, that there is but one way of doing business with God – their way, to the exclusion of all other ways. (There are fundamentalists in every religious tradition. Evangelicals have no corner on the market.) No matter that Christian history has generated numerous traditions and perspectives on matters practical and theological; fundamentalists are incapable of seeing themselves as one among many but only as the right way and all others be damned. What a shame. In this case, the evangelical way of baptism is preferable, but it’s certainly not the only way; and the arrogant insistence of fundamentalists that it is is not only erroneous as a matter of fact but sinful, because it sets a stumbling block between God and faith-seekers.

Fundamentalist reactionary Texas Gov. Rick Perry: Incendiary

Christian fundamentalism and right-wing reactionary politics go hand in hand, and their message is the same – our way or the highway. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who announced yesterday that he’s running for president of the United States, is a pluperfect, integrated example of a fundamentalist politician whose religious faith his is platform. He recently sponsored a mega-prayer meeting for Christians in Houston, and he’s said he believes there’s revival afoot in America – his kind of revival, a century’s giant step backward into America’s irreducibly mean, racist, sexist past. Think not? This governor believes secession is an option for states unhappy with the federal government. If that isn’t a mid-19th century point of view, I don’t know what is.  

Perry is running in a field of 11 other candidates, one of whom, Michele Bachmann, who won yesterday’s Iowa Straw Poll, is as committed as Perry to the fundamentalist view of Christianity. The chief characteristic of their politics as well as their religion is their belief that they are absolutely right and that compromise with any other position is – and, boy has this become a worn-out phrase – “off the table.”  (Bachmann still opposes raising the national debt ceiling regardless of the economic disaster that would bring.) Perry and Bachmann are the darlings of the so-called Tea Party movement of right-wing reactionaries whose political ideology is as retrograde as Perry’s and Bachmann’s Christian fundamentalism. It’s an incendiary brew of fear-driven, self-righteous religion and take-no-prisoners politics that ought to send a cold chill down the spines of Americans across the political spectrum, from true conservatives (which the Tea Party is not) to radical left-wingers.

Iowa Straw Poll favorite Michele Bachmann: Her way or else

These people want to fix America and Americans – you and me. They believe in the good old days that never were and the good old boys – the fat cats who fund their political ambitions – whose ethical motives run no deeper than the bottom line of their personal and corporate financial statements. Their politics is that of disloyal opposition: They know what they’re against, and their solution is to overthrow American socio-economic and political progress of the past 65 years. Their rhetorical style is that of the Big Lie, and their method is simply to repeat big lies again and again and again until they become assumptions among the largely uninformed body politic: The federal government is evil, liberals are un-American and taxes are anathema. These are articles of faith to the reactionary right, as much part and parcel of their religious faith as their politics.

Recent history – 2000-2008 – demonstrates where these assumptions lead: into a deep hole. No president in history jacked up the national debt more than George W. Bush, that born-again, right-wing conservative and former governor of Texas. Perry’s 11-year reign in Texas has left us tied with Mississippi for the highest percentage of jobs at or below the minimum wage. Perry brags about job-creation in the Lone Star State, but more than a third of jobs created here have been government jobs, something he fails to mention on the stump. Perry’s complicit legislature left $6 billion in the bank for a “rainy day” while underfunding medical services for the poor by $4 billion. (I fail to see how that comports with Christian values.) Meanwhile, budget cuts in Texas are likely to put 100,000 people out of work – government employees, remember, also are people with families – all because our pious governor and his legislative fellow-travelers refuse to raise revenues, also known as taxes, by which citizens ought to share the financial burdens of civil society.

Right-wing reactionary policies – which historically have driven our nation into bankruptcy and war – are not made effective delivered behind a smokescreen of evangelical piety. The policies are fatally flawed, while the piety masks a desire to control with false doctrinal certainty the human encounter with that which is incomprehensible, mysterious and multiform.

Those who mix reactionary politics with Christian fundamentalism ought to inwardly digest the biblical truth that Christians who do not love are making meaningless noise; and that love, especially Christian love, does not insist on its own way. (I Corinthians 13)


4 Responses to “Fundamentalism: Reactionary faith”

  1. myword said


    […]Fundamentalism: Reactionary faith « The pelican papers[…]…

  2. Elizabeth McCafferty said

    Geoffrey sent this to me and I wanted to sign up. Like him, I thought I already had, but I guess not…

  3. Geoffrey said

    Just wanted to sign up for notifications. I thought I had done this already until I began to wonder why you hadn’t posted anything for awhile. Oops.

  4. Anonymous said

    Politics aside; with respect to fundsmentalism “the gentleman doth protest too much, methinks”

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