As my regular readers and the listeners to my podcast can attest, I have been experiencing a fair amount of cognitive dissonance this election cycle over the number of self-proclaimed Christians who have absolutely no problem supporting causes and candidates that directly contradict Jesus’ (and, for that matter, the rest of the Bible’s) social justice teachings. How can fundamentalist, self-proclaimed “Bible believing” Christians really believe that Jesus would find it acceptable to fail to care for “the least of these?” I have struggled to find an answer that makes sense while at the same time acknowledging that engaging in the search for reason in the midst of the world of fundamentalism may be not unlike searching for water in a desert. Even when you think you have found it, it may turn out to be just an illusion.
Still, wanting desperately to believe that most human beings can without assistance grab their backsides with both hands on a regular basis, I have continued turning the issue over in my head and at long last believe I may have the answer. The answer lies in the fundamentalists’ perverse relationship with and unquestioning allegiance to authority figures – and the closer the authority figure is physically to the fundamentalist, the more power they wield. Thus, rather counter-intuitively, the ultimate authority is neither God nor Jesus but rather Pastor.
The “theology” and praxis of fundamentalist churches is structured to support this decidedly unbiblical (yet allegedly biblical) concept. The Bible’s counsel to respect authority has been distorted into an Eric Cartman like cry from the pulpit of “respect my authoritah!” The day in which a largely illiterate public actually needed the pastor to read the scriptures to them and teach them the meaning of the text has long passed, but the practice continues. The reason is found in part in doctrine and dogma in which scriptures about not attacking the temporal King are perverted into a self-serving doctrine to not attack the pastor – no matter how reprehensible his behavior. The result is a church public that has been convinced to sit down, shut up, and believe what is told them – no matter how much dissonance those teachings create.
Take this nonsense one step farther and we see an ignorant clergy base seeking to distract people from its own misbehavior, ranging from running one of the biggest confidence games in history (the prosperity gospel) to using children in the church as their own pedophilia farms, and so has reduced ethical matters to two – human sexual orientation and abortion – and in doing so has created generations of ethical and moral midgets, all the while claiming to do just the opposite through catchy sloganeering around fictions such as “The Moral Majority.”
Out of this morass come the faithful, the “sheep.” While the metaphor of the faithful as sheep no doubt made sense in the shepherding economy in which it developed, today a quick visit to the county fair will remind us that sheep are among the dumbest, smelliest animals in the barn. That alone should be enough to encourage the Christian faithful to shed their “wool,” but loyalty to and fear of an “anointed” authority figure keeps them in the pen. Apparently, the fact that they are disobeying God in favor of obeying a local peon doesn’t bother the sheep at all.
Sadly, it is a small step indeed from obeying pastor to obeying his or her designee, the candidate. Having unquestioningly bought into the fiction of infallible clergy (another irony given the anti-catholic bias of most fundamentalists rooted primarily in papal in fallibility) and their simplistic moral teachings, it’s a small step to professing an equally unquestioning loyalty to candidate. Jesus, now effectively sequestered behind layers of self-appointed spokespeople, has become irrelevant.
2 thoughts on “Authority and Mindlessness”
Don’t underestimate the fact that the Bible is just hard to read and understand, full of references to unfamiliar places, events and tribes from antiquity. One in four Americans read no books at all in a given year. To not even crack a sci fi paperback and then to jump into the Bible is a bit much to ask. Most who are not forced to in a literature class will never read classics. They don’t have much historical background or context. Fully understanding the New Testament means you need familiarity with the Old Testament, which doesn’t even have Jesus in it. Then there is the fact that when you do jump into it, the Bible doesn’t sound like you expect it is supposed to, like God’s instruction book. It sounds like something else, so you must not be reading it right, and you’re not really qualified, and you’d better ask your pastor… People listen to the authority by default. And in fairness, I have to say it’s not only Fundamentalists who do this.
Agreed, but I think that most people can at least understand the Gospels themselves (with the possible exception of John) well enough to know when they’re being told something that contradicts them. Given that fundamentalist traditions in particular emphasize Bible reading, I am especially incredulous that the faithful don’t discover they are being sold a bill of goods.