Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Southern Baptist Gift to America

In To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee wrote “Sometimes the Bible in the hand of one man is worse than a whisky bottle in the hand of (another)... There are just some kind of men who - who're so busy worrying about the next world they've never learned to live in this one, and you can look down the street and see the results.”  Instead of "whiskey" you could say gun or constitution or so many other "fundamentals" that spring from fear and selfishness.  
I remember the first time that I saw the fundamentalism of the conservatives in my old Southern Baptist life. Friends of my father visited our cabin at Ridgecrest and talked about their congregation's love of old-time hymnody and how tiring it was always contending with a board of deacons about the value of a gym née "family life center," or a seminary trained assistant minister.  
Some of my Furman classmates changed their majors so as not contaminate their already certified beliefs.  My most vivid memory was hearing "Fun-DAMN-mentalism," as my mom would call it. "They've made the Bible matter more than Jesus himself." 
After the Pressler-Patterson takeover, a new fundamentalism practiced from inside the renovated walls of the SBC was more sophistry than theology.  Think of the boycott of Disneyworld, called in response to an official day in the park to welcome gay and lesbian patrons.  All the while Disney movies spewed pagan and heretical themes without a peep from Al Mohler and his minions, as if a pharisaical purity was the better definition of the denomination than any coherent discussable theological position.  
What is happening now is worse because it has grown outside the confines of the SBC into a national attack on thinking Christians, really just thinking itself. 
Since Fundamentalism is NOT a theology but a way of (not) doing theology, it is easy to replicate and apply to other areas. Some of those same Furman friends are now just as fundie about the US Constitution. Their attacks on President Obama mimic the ones used against my dad in the sixties. They say things like, "I don't think he loves my Jesus/country enough."
The response to fundamentalism in my current Christian community is two-fold: first is to be honest about the effects of fear and power. Then following from that honesty to approach scripture with our own version of Paul Ricouer's second naiveté.  
I think the same understandings can be used toward this emerging breed of Constitutional fundamentalism.  It takes a fuller and less fear-based exegesis to read the second amendment as a necessary provision for the arming of citizens joined in militias in contrast to that of fundamentalism's open carry and arming oneself for protection against imagined tyrannies.  
Neither Holy Scripture nor the Constitution require or deserve the reading my fundie friends have rendered.  But in the end fundamentalists are not doing theology, they are not refining their citizenship and participation in a government of, by, and for the people.  They are instead reacting in fear and in being so worried "about the next world they've never learned to live in this one."  

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