Fundamentalism and the Death of the Republic (Part I):
When I was a kid, I was told that one should distrust scientists and intellectuals because their worldview wasn't "biblical," or "spirit-filled." Comic books were distributed, and even a musical staged showing a dictatorial "professor" confounded by an earnest, Bible-quoting student who stood firm in his faith, responding to scientific fact (often mistaken, and often dogmatically stated without a hint of irony) with endless scriptural references and homey "examples" of the absurdity of scientific "belief."
The anti-intellectual, anti-knowledge strain in this country has always been closely affiliated with evangelical religious institutions, since the great awakening of the 1840's. The "Jocko-Homo" of the 1920's, the Jack Chick tracts of the 1960's-70's, to the nonsense of Ray Comfort, Ben Stein and the Creation Museum today have all had this in common - they reject scientific inquiry and attempt to substitute some sort of "faith-reasoning" in its place.
The reasons for this are not hard to suss out. The fundamentalists institutions are in the business of selling certainty. What their "flock" is looking for is absolute statements of comfort and assurance, and an identity to belong to with a leader to follow. Science is not about certainty, or comfort, or obedience. Insofar as you are a good scientist, you are a bad fundamentalist; insofar as you are a good fundamentalist, you are a bad scientist. Science and intellectual inquiry are their natural enemy.
It is a short step from discarding all the science to believe in Noah's Ark, to believing in trickle-down economics. If you are already in the habit of discarding evidence and ignoring data so you can believe that early men ploughed with dinosaurs, then it's easy to disregard statistics showing that violent crime is down, not up, or that most people on public assistance are either children, aged, or disabled. It's easy to disregard statistics showing that immigrants are a net gain to our economy, and less likely to engage in violent crime than the general population when you are willing to believe that the sun stood still for Joshua. If you can believe that the world was made in six days, it's easy to discount the science on climate change. God could fix it by Tuesday, if that's His will.
Fundamentalism is a totalizing movement - it seeks to control everything about its followers' lives - the music they listen to (remember "Christian Rock?") the books they read, the news sources they get, even their schools and colleges. It is, at its root, as unamerican and undemocratic a movement as we have ever seen here since the fall of the German-American Bund. It has done immense damage to the lives of millions, to women and children especially, to the nation, and to Christianity itself.
Fundamentalism and the Death of the Republic (Part II):
In the end, the damage that Christian fundamentalism does to the Republic will not be via its rejection of science or reason. It will do it's damage by discrediting the very concept of faith and belief. Science will not fall because of yahoos like Ben Stein and Ray Comfort, it is Christianity that will be damaged. The very idea of faith will suffer.
By making religion a matter of rejecting reason, and by making religion an "identity movement" that paints anyone who doesn't subscribe to its dictates as the enemy, the religious institutions of the Republic lose their ability to act as social hubs - as places where common civic experiences can be celebrated, or common griefs can be shared. These are not functions to be lightly cast aside. They are the mortar that holds a society together.
And republics need faith - not religious faith, but a willingness to temporarily forgo personal advantage for the possibility of building a better world. By damaging the very concept of faith, deligitimatizing it in the eyes of the educated to serve their insular and self-isolated "flock," the fundamentalist movement damages the Republic as a whole in its very essence.
A republic is aspirational. It hopes and strives against history to create something better that what the majority of history has produced. Take away faith, you take away the motivation for a Republic, or even a better society.
Fundamentalism and the Death of the Republic (Part III of IV)
I was present at two events that signaled a significant change in how fundamentalist evangelical protestants saw their role in politics: the 1974 Kanawha County Textbook Protests, and the 1976 commendation of Anita Bryant's "firm stand" against homosexuality at the Southern Baptist Convention.
Prior to 1974, fundamentalist evangelicals were quite varied on their political stances, but they were generally firm on the idea that the church was no place for secular politics. Politics was considered "of this world," and something "rendered unto Caesar." I remember my father, who was the minister of a small, fervently Biblical literalist and fundamentalist church standing firmly against political speeches or endorsements being made at, or through the church.
Less than one year later he was marching on the Board of Education alongside the Ku Klux Klan, demanding the resignation of elected officials for "ungodliness" from his pulpit, and attending rallies with people who endorsed, and carried out the firebombing of an elementary school.
Why this radical change? A new organization, not yet prominent, called the "Heritage Foundation," targeted the Kanawha Valley for a political campaign designed to turn these nominally independent churches into footsoldiers for the GOP. Their tool in doing this was a slide show portraying "new" textbooks, (they had actually been in use for years) as endorsing and encouraging homosexuality, Communism and Satan worship. By selective quotations, and often outright lies about what was contained in those textbooks, they outraged the members of these churches, who were largely uneducated and politically unsophisticated (even today, Southern Baptists have one of the lowest percentages of college graduates of any large denomination at 19%. The national average is 26%.) They provided organizers and arranged rallies to whip up these people into a righteous rage.
It succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. I was held out of school for the better part of a year, in defiance of the truancy laws, people were shot not a half-mile from my home, and an elementary school was firebombed. Thousands of children were sent to unequipped and unaccredited "church schools" in the basements of churches where the curriculum consisted of the memorization of Bible verses, and the study of "historical" and "scientific" pamphlets supplied by - you guessed it - the Heritage Foundation.
In 1976, Anita Bryant, a former Miss America, revived her flagging celebrity by taking very public stands and crusading around the country denouncing homosexuality, and claiming that homosexuals were using the schools to "recruit" children into their "lifestyle." At the 1976 Southern Baptist Convention, (I was present with my father who was sent by our church as a "messenger") a resolution was passed to support her crusade. This resolution was used as a tool to propagandize and spread misinformation about the homosexual community, and to purge the seminaries of "liberals" who refused to denounce homosexuality publicly. This removed every "moderate," and anyone who opposed using the church as a political tool from Southern Baptist institutions. It also established the precedent of using the church as an arm of right-wing "values" crusades.
The insistence on "values voting" meant that the fundamentalists became a "faith based" arm of the GOP. They have remained so. This allowed the turning of the formerly Democratic South, over time, to a Republican stronghold, unreachable by argument or appeal to fact by anyone who did not cater to their intolerant agenda.
Fundamentalism and the Death of the Republic (Part IV of IV):
To recap: Christian fundamentalism has become a political, totalizing movement that is, at its root, an exclusive, anti-science, anti-intellectual, identity-based, supremacist, socially intolerant "base" used by the corporatist, pro-capitalist faction of the Republican party as "footsoldiers" who are, due to their self-imposed social and intellectual isolation unreachable by factual or logical persuasion. They are thus perfectly content to vote and agitate against their own social, economic or political interests if their language and symbols are adeptly co-opted by the demagogues of the right. There is no analogous movement on the left to speak of, although their intolerance and "buzzword" based process is rivaled by the much less politically significant "politically correct" faction of the Democratic Party.
There has been much hand-wringing by certain thinkers on the moderate left as to why the Christian fundamentalist movement has gone "all-in" with Trumpism, when the leaders of the Trumpist junta are not, in terms of their lifestyle, much like them. Trump and his circle are irreligious, licentious - the photographs that exist of the First Lady posing in lingerie in seductive photos would have been considered utterly unacceptable by an earlier generation of fundamentalists, and Trump's divorces would have disqualified him. My father said many times that a man who had been divorced would not be acceptable as President since, "If he can't run his own home, how can he lead the country?"
This was, of course, before the apotheosis of Saint Reagan, which was made possible by the 1970's politicization of the movement.
People who find this shift incomprehensible badly misread the modern fundamentalist movement, which is tribal and identity based rather than based in any real conviction about righteousness or personal purity. Homosexuality is loathed and feared not for reasons of sexual purity (note the willingness of the movement to welcome back "repentant" sinners - leaders who "stray" from their marriages or who even engage in homosexual behavior) but because homosexuals, in their eyes represent a rival "tribe," who are perceived as representing a "lifestyle" that is secular, and incompatible with their own.
Christian fundamentalism sees pluralistic, secular democracy with its emphasis on dialogue and science-based policy as a threat to their carefully manicured reality tunnel. They see secular education as an attempt to recruit their children away from their lifestyle. There will be no reconciliation with them; compromise is impossible, since serious inquiry is taken as a "lack of faith." Since the social life of a Christian fundamentalist centers around the church, which is liturgically centered around the figure of the "preacher," rather than around a hierarchy and the sacraments, it is, by its nature compatible with authoritarianism.
Modern Christian fundamentalism is a threat to the Republic, and its pluralistic principles. It will always be so, and those who value pluralism and a healthy, multicultural society must seek to limit its power and scope. To do otherwise is to abandon the power of faith and moral aspiration to an authoritarian religious sect that is "fundamentally" incompatible with "E Pluribus Unum," and Constitutional governance and that has abandoned the social message of the Gospels. It is not only a threat to the Republic, it is the most puissant threat to the proper social role of Christianity, and to the concept of faith itself.