Monday, May 9, 2005

Absolutely

John at archy has a very well-written and thoughtful post about the contradictions of certain elements of the fundamentalist Christians.

At the core of the religious right, movement Christianity lies a great theological contradiction. For the rank and file, this is no doubt a case honest confusion, but for the leaders, who I credit with a certain degree of theological sophistication, I can only suspect that this is a case of open dishonesty and crass opportunism.

Conservative and fundamentalist Christianity in the United States comes in a variety of theological flavors, some of which directly contradict each other. There’s nothing wrong with a little theological variety except that the religious right-movement Christians-try to advocate all positions at once. The greatest contradiction is between the pre- and post-millennial dispensationalists.

[…]

Here then is the core contradiction of the religious right. The majority who are pre-millennial fundamentalists follow a theology that says things must get worse before they can get better. Evil-the Antichrist-must reign supreme in all spheres of life before the Messiah will come and bail us out. The minority doesn’t believe in the Antichrist as a single being. They believe that they must reign supreme in all spheres of life before the Messiah will come. Seeking political power is directly opposed to believing in the Rapture and immanent end times.

Why do their leaders allow this confusion to exist? Are they also confused? I’ve asked this before. Do they lack confidence in their own theology and prefer to cover all the bases? Are they cynical bastards who will say anything to excite their followers? Forget I said that. Men of God (and an occasional suspect woman) would never do that.

I added the following comment.

What is interesting and troubling is that this form of extremism exists in every religion, be it Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or whatever. There are ultraorthodox sects in each one of them; even in the pacificist Protestant movements such as Quaker, Mennonite, and Amish, and they are forever battling with the more moderates for control over the mind and body of both their churches and their followers.

As to why the leaders of these churches allow this confusion to exist, my theory is two-fold: first, it keeps the followers off-balance so the leaders can be seen as keepers of Absolute Truth; it’s a great control mechanism (vis. Jim Jones). The second part is that since it is faith-based — what I believe is the Absolute Truth and anything else is heresy — no one can contradict you without being blasphemous. It’s an all-or-nothing proposition: believe as I do or go to Hell and there’s no room for doubt.

The amazing thing is that a great number of people find comfort in having absolutes. It makes life very simple. It doesn’t make it easy, but it does remove that troublesome process of having to think.

Which brings me to another of the great questions of humanity — if God meant us to follow his guidance and gospel without question, why did he plague us with the power to think?