02 April 2009

The paradox of the (US) religious right

Here's a very interesting article on the American religious right.

nourishing obscurity: [the christian right] and other paradoxes:
It is said that only 40 per cent of Americans can name more than four of the Ten Commandments and a scant half can cite any of the four authors of the Gospels. Twelve per cent believe Joan of Arc was Noah's wife. This failure to recall the specifics of Christianity may be further evidence of the nation's educational decline but it probably doesn't matter all that much in spiritual or political terms.

Here is a statistic that does matter: 75 per cent of Americans believe the Bible teaches that God helps those who help themselves. That is, three out of four Americans believe that this notion, at the core of American politics and culture and which was in fact uttered by Ben Franklin, appears in Holy Scripture. And Franklin's homily is counterbiblical.

Some may wonder why the American religious right should be of interest to anyone other than Americans. One reason, perhaps is that because of the Internet and other forms of electronic communication the views of the American religious right have been disseminated throughout the world. Before about 1990 very few people outside the USA knew what they were thinking. There were books and magazine articles by and about them, and some radio broadcasts, but though we could read the text, the sub-text was not heard. With BBS conferences, newsgroups, chat-rooms and blogs this kind of thinking was revealed for the rest of the world to see.

James Higham of the Nourishing Obscurity blog refers to it as the "Christian Right", but I refer to it as the "religious right" because, as the article reveals, there is very little that is Christian about it.

What I have noticed is that it seems to be a kind of meta-religion among many Americans. I've seen similar sentiments expressed by people who claim to be Roman Catholic, Protestant, Pentecostal, "emerging" and Orthodox. Whatever their professed religion, its teaching are overridden by and subordinated to this metareligion, which, in Christian terms, must surely be seen as a kind of idolatry.

There are similar things in other parts of the world, of course. The difference is that they seem to have far less influence outside their own countries, and in some cases they have been influenced by US models.

On my bookshelf and in my "heresies" file I have some examples of publications by the South African religious right, which flourished in the apartheid era, though one still sees some echoes of it in some of the election posters that line our streets. Here's a quote from one of them:

Not only have we enemies on our borders -- we have them among us too.Apart from the categorical traitors, the liberals and the relativists, there are the "hands-uppers" -- those who would surrender us without resistance to our ruthless enemies. "Better red than dead" is their craven slogan. Our fate would then be that of Mocambique, which surrendered with little opposition.

That comes from a little booklet called Pray or perish by one Francis Grim, published in 1976. He published several other booklets in a similar vein, and all had one overriding theme -- that Christianity was reduced to being a mere means to an end. The end was to save the apartheid state from "communism".

So the American religious right is by no means unique. There's a movement called Pamyat in Russia that seems not dissimilar. But the American version has far more influence worldwide. So I recommend the article on James Higham's blog. It's worth a read.

The first and greatest commandment is this: God helps those who help themselves. And the second is like unto it: Thou shalt not tax the rich to feed the poor. These two commandments override all the law and the prophets, and nothing in the Bible or the church fathers should be allowed to gainsay them.


Tauratinswe said...

For the "conservative Christians" [an oxymoron] here in the U.S.A., it's not whether one believes the bible or not that counts. It's WHAT one believes ABOUT the bible that is important. I find that there tends to be an inverse relationship between the two positions.

Steve Hayes said...

As a friend of mine once said, "Either we decide about the Bible, or in the Bible Christ has decided about us."

Yewtree said...

Regarding the thing about "God helps those who help themselves" - I don't think Frnklin meant it the same way the religious right do.

There's a Jewish joke where a man is praying: "Oh Lord, let me win the lottery" and a voice from on high says: "Meet me half-way already - buy a ticket." That's what I assume Franklin's comment to mean.

A propos of the (un)Christian right, you might be interested to read this blogpost about The Lingering Damage of the Satanic Panic Scare.


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