Sunday, July 13, 2008

Why I hate American fundamentalism

It seems to me that true religious belief derives from a sense that there may be something greater than oneself. This can manifest while you are sitting quietly in a beautiful church or a beautiful hill of flowers in the Vermont countryside. Or by contemplating the utter wierdness of quantum physics. Or the miracle of DNA. Or when you visit an art museum or hear a Bach fugue or a late Beethoven quartet. Or visit the Alhambra, where you will see beauty so exquisite as to be almost unbearable. Or a million other experiences that lead to that most personal of moments, a sense -- however brief -- of the divine.

On the other hand, fundamentalism - at least the American, protestant version -- seems to be almost completely disconnected from this sense of wonder, beauty, and joy and to be more of a thought-control movement with a rigid moralistic agenda, enforced by flogging a literal reading of the New Testament (or sometimes the Old Testament if it serves their needs). No beauty, no joy, no kindness, no tolerance -- just rules of behavior, which even the leaders of these fundamentalist movements seem unable to follow, if the number of scandals plaguing the highest levels of the fundy leadership is anything to go by.

From their suburban-looking houses of worship, which often seem more like malls than churches, to their saccharine nouveau-Christian elevator music, there is little or no beauty. Do they forsake stained glass and Bach cantatas because of alack of funds? Or do they fundamentally distrust beauty and feel that their buildings and their music should serve only the utilitiarian purpose of selling Jesus as personal savior? (Or could they simply be so suburbanized in their basic asthetics as to be unaware of an unmoved by beauty?)

Fundy's have replaced real religious contemplation by the blind worship of Jesus Christ superstar as the path to personal salvation, a notion so patronizing, so "look at how much better I am than you" as to be more related to the reason people stand in line for the latest Apple iPhone than to anything reognizable as spiritualty.

And then there is their attitude toward science: while it seems to me that science leads one closer to the divine -- and, historically, science has often been the province of priests -- American fundy's are fiercely anti-science, many of them denying the reality of natural selection, for example. Though their Bible tells them that God created us in his image, apparently he did so with the caveat that we are not supposed to use our brains.

Non of which would matter - everyone can go to hell in his own way - if it weren't for the fact that these fundamentalist organizations -- of which there are now thousands -- enjoy non-profit IRS status and 1st amendment protection -- the same as real religions -- and use these public benefits to amass large amounts of tax-free money, which they use to support political causes directly inimical to civil rights and social justice.

From their attempts to pollute public discourse about the teaching of science in schools to their unrelenting campaigns against civil rights for gay people, to their so-called "pro-life" stance(which has condemned at least tens of thousands of children to lives of poverty and ignorance), to their obstructionism with respect to stem-cell research (thereby blocking research into life-saving treatments for horrible diseases), fundys are hiding behind freedom of religion to prosecute an agenda that has nothing to do with spirituality and everything to do with intolerance.

Were we as a nation to amend the Consitiution, I would strongly suggest we need a freedom from religion amendment to protect us from the small-minded bigotry which is the big business of fundamentalism.