"Deeply hath sunk the lesson thou hast given and shall not soon depart."
-- William C. Bryant
A few years ago, Neopagan newsletters and journals were publishing articles about a religious freedom organization (now defunct), that had been founded by fundamentalists and which had invited Neopagans to join. The response from Neopagans at the time was, I believed, naive. That led to the first publishing of this essay in 1990 under the title, "Can We Trust 'Friendly' Fundamentalists?" Now with the growing power of the Religious Reich, which has almost completely taken over the Republican Party on a local and state level, it is even more important that Neopagans, and all others who cherish their Constitutional freedoms, should improve our understanding of fundamentalism, of the long-range plans of "Christian Reconstructionism," and of what a fundamentalist considers "religious freedom."
Throughout this essay I'm going to be referring to "fundamentalists," so perhaps I should clarify the term. Let me start, as I so often do, with a historical review of the term -- on this occasion quoting A Handbook of Theological Terms, by Van A. Harvey (MacMillan, NY, 1964):
Fundamentalism is a name that was attached to the viewpoint of those who, shortly after the turn of the [19th-20th] century, resisted all liberal attempts to modify orthodox Protestant belief or to question the infallibility of the Bible in any respect. The name is derived from a series of tracts published between 1912-14, entitled The Fundamentals that aimed at defining and defending the essentials of Protestant doctrine. The most important of the fundamental doctrines were (1) the inspiration and infallibility of the Bible, (2) the doctrine of the Trinity, (3) the virgin birth and deity of Christ, (4) the substitutionary theory of the atonement, (5) the bodily resurrection, ascension and second coming of Christ (parousia).
Since most of these beliefs have been a part of Christian orthodoxy [for fifteen centuries], historians have seen the uniqueness of fundamentalism to consist in its violent opposition to all beliefs that seem opposed to some teaching of the Bible. In the twenties and thirties, this opposition was focused particularly on any theory of man's [sic] origins, especially evolution[ary theory], that seemed incompatible with the account in Genesis. Consequently, fundamentalism tended to be identified with blind opposition to all critical inquiry.
Because of this identification, certain conservative theologians who share the above-described beliefs but who think they can be defended in a rational manner have tended to shirk the name "fundamentalist" and call themselves "evangelical conservatives." They generally oppose the spirit of ecumenism and any theology, including neo-Reformed theology, which does not regard the Bible as the absolute and infallible rule of faith and practice.
The term "fundamentalist" has since been extended by the mass media to refer to "fundamentalist" Jews, Moslems, and even Hindus! In each case, the inference is that some people refuse to budge from the most conservative version of their faith that is available to them. Non-Christian examples include some Orthodox Jews, Shiite Moslems and Mormons[sic]. Christian but not Protestant examples would be conservatives within both Roman and Eastern Orthodox Catholicism. Nontheistic examples would include most Marxists and Secular Humanists.
For the purposes of this essay, I could simply refer to "ultra-conservative monotheists," but "fundamentalists" is somewhat shorter and the modern Protestants who call themselves by this term are, in fact, the primary threat to our lives and freedom right now. So on those occasions when I don't specifically mention it, you may keep in mind all the others mentioned in the preceding paragraph.
The primary emotions driving fundamentalists are an Unholy Trinity of anger, hatred and fear: anger that there are other religions in the world (implying the possibility that their own fundamentalism might not be the One True Right and Only Way after all); hatred of these other faiths and their followers for daring to exist and refusing to immediately convert; a fear that if these other faiths are allowed to continue to exist, they will seduce the fundamentalists' membership away, and an even deeper fear that if their fundamentalist beliefs are actually incorrect, then they will have essentially wasted their lives avoiding opportunities for happiness in the here-and-now while chasing their "pie in the sky when they die" (which is not relevant for the atheist 'fundamentalists').
While psychological analyses of their religious beliefs infuriate True Believers, they can nonetheless be quite revealing to outside observers. It seems obvious to me that this Unholy Trinity is a religious expression of the severely dysfunctional childhoods so common to fundamentalists. The emotional repression involved in being raised as a fundamentalist tends to breed anger, hatred and fear towards yourself and the world around you.
Fundamentalism, with its pervasive sense of guilt about most normal physical and emotional feelings, and its patriarchal structure wherein the father's word is law, creates family atmospheres in which emotional, physical and / or sexual abuse of children is the rule, not the exception. Such abuse, now being publicized thanks to organizations such as Fundamentalists Anonymous, Walk Away, and various incest survivors' groups, can't help but create personalities in which legitimate anger, hatred, and fear towards their abusers is redirected inwards, creating the guilt and shame so useful for fundamentalist religious authorities. Later in life, these painful emotions can be redirected again, this time towards "safe" targets -- people with different religious and moral convictions than those one's family claims.
Again, I'm using the term "fundamentalists" very broadly. I've heard similar life histories from people raised as Orthodox Jews, Mormons, and Jehovah's Witnesses -- and I can clearly remember the patterns from my own Roman Catholic childhood.
The Unholy Trinity is exhibited in other ways that have affected all of Western history: anger towards ambiguity (why can't Mom / Dad / Siblings be predictable?); hatred towards women (why didn't Mom protect me?); and a generalized fear of the entire world (what awful thing will happen to me next?). The resulting emotional turmoil from these factors can't help but effect the overall worldview, and thus the religious beliefs and actions, of the victims.
Many people of good will are naive enough to think that they can logically persuade fundamentalists to be more tolerant. Unfortunately, trying to discuss religion with a fundamentalist is somewhat like trying to discuss color theory with people who can only see black and white. When you try to point out, however diplomatically, that their vision is limited by their inability to see red, green, blue or yellow, they will insist that it is your view that is the limited one, because you can't see that a black and white worldview is more accurate in some ultimate way. If you suggest that the universe is more complex than their dogmatic divisions of "100% Truth" vs. "100% Falsehood," they will accuse you of being dogmatic, because you refuse to consider the possibility that their dogmas might be 100% True. Their next step is usually to denounce you as demonic, or the dupe of demons, for thinking that there might be any Truth outside their particular denomination's version of their scriptures.
More sophisticated (or pretentious) fundamentalists will suggest that critics of fundamentalism should try to raise objections which show that it "fails" on its own terms, not "your" terms. This, of course, is impossible, not because fundamentalism has no gaping holes in its theology (it has many, as any moderate or liberal Christian minister will be happy to explain), but because it is a closed logic system that defines itself as always True and differing views as always False -- hence logical "failure" can never be demonstrated because it literally cannot be perceived. As for what they assume "your" terms are, this is always a simplistic cartoon that distorts -- and blurs together -- every competing view on the planet into a dualistic mirror of their own, which they then can triumphantly "defeat" (the famous "straw man" gambit).
When fundamentalism's prime philosophical opposition came from Scientistic atheists and agnostics, who were dualists themselves, it was relatively easy for fundamentalists to play this game. They are much more confused -- and threatened -- by pluralism, relativity, and ambiguity, hence their urgent need to reduce all complexity to the psychologically soothing, if philosophically and spiritually bankrupt, simplicity of dualism. More dangerously, for those of us who care about human rights, this need for simplicity leads them to desire secular power to enforce their views and eliminate all competing worldviews.
The ancient Hebrews appear to have invented religious genocide: killing the priestesses and priests of the competing deities worshipped within their own population, then the clergy of all the local tribes. For good measure, they also killed the conquered tribe's adults and boys, keeping only the little girls whom they could rape and brainwash into the new religion of Yahwehism (and their new roles as slaves to men). The history of what became known as Judaism is the history of sanctimonious religious terrorism -- practiced right up to the time when their weapons were taken away from them. While they were a conquered people, the Jews believed in religious freedom, but whenever they had land again, that freedom vanished for all but themselves. Fifteen centuries of Christian oppression made religious freedom again a cherished ideal, but as soon as there was a chance for another Jewish state, fundamentalist Jews were quick to oppress the non-fundamentalist Jews and the gentiles then in residence. The results have been the current mess you can observe on your TV news every night.
Let's not overlook the equally charming history of Islam -- another desert monotheism that started by committing religious genocide against local Paleopagans, enslaving their women, and slaughtering and oppressing "unbelievers" whenever possible. They, too, have promoted the ideal of religious freedom and toleration whenever economic or political fortunes have been against them, only to toss those ideals out the window when Islam was in power. See modern Iran or any other nation in which fundamentalist Moslems are in power for current examples.
That brings us back to the Christian fundamentalists and a bloody history with which most Neopagans (and other western non-Christians) are only too familiar. More men, women, and children have been enslaved, tortured, raped, mutilated, and murdered in the name of Jesus Christ than in the name of any other deity in recorded history. Christians have oppressed Jews, Moslems, Buddhists, Pagans, and each other throughout their centuries of power, preaching religious intolerance as the word of Jehovah whenever they had the military, political, or economic power to make it stick -- and then piously preaching brotherhood, peace, and toleration when they didn't.
The various sayings to be found in their scriptures give monotheists a choice of which "Trinity" to worship. They can follow the Unholy Trinity of anger towards the unbelievers, hatred of "sin" (ie. different moral beliefs and those who live by them) and fear "of the Lord" (meaning, fear of deviation from the One True Way), on the one hand; or a holier one of peace (from the spiritual serenity their beliefs are supposed to give them), love for all humanity (as fellow children of the "same" god), and hope for a new world (here or in their Heaven). Because of the dualism inherent in monotheism, however, individuals and sects tend to flip-flop between these extremes. The liberals and the oppressed among them stress the positive side of their scriptural message, while the conservatives and those in power stress the negative side. Of course, the conservatives often use the positive vocabulary when proselytizing, and both the liberals and the conservatives routinely describe each other as not being "real" members of The Faith. This gives them both "plausible deniability" for crimes ancient and modern committed in the name of The Faith.
Why should fundamentalist monotheists hate Neopagans more than they do the members of all the other competing religions around these days? Well, all of them don't. Most of the Moslems in the world, for example, have never heard of us. Their fundamentalists are too busy fighting Christians in Lebanon, Jews in Israel / Palestine, Hindus in India, Buddhists in Indonesia, Marxists in Afghanistan, authors in England, and liberal Moslems at home, to pay any attention to what is in essence a Western religious movement with no appreciable presence in the Islamic world. I'm sure though, if a Neopagan movement starts up over there, the Shiites will be quick to kill the participants.
Most of the fundamentalist Jews aren't paying any attention to Neopaganism either. We're just one more non-Jewish religion that their kids are straying off to, and we're viewed as a form of "craziness" rather than evil.
It's the Christian fundamentalists in whom we inspire the greatest anger, hatred, and fear. They denounce Buddhism, Taoism, the New Age, and all other competing belief systems, just as they have always done, but seem to save their greatest vituperation for occultists in general and Neopagans (especially Witches) in particular. As most Neopagans know, Christian fundamentalists are constantly publishing and broadcasting blasphemies against our deities, slanders against our members, and half-truths and outright lies about our beliefs and practices. Over and over, they strive to convince the general public, the media, and the civil governments that we are devil worshipping murderers, rapists, child abusers, and even cannibals. Their kids beat up our kids in school, their adults vandalize our stores and temples, shoot bullets through our windows, and manipulate the courts to remove our children from us. Why? What is it about Neopaganism that makes Christian fundamentalists so desperate that they will repeatedly violate their own "commandments" to try and stop us?
There are a number of theological reasons why fundamentalists of any monotheistic persuasion would find Neopaganism disturbing; after all, we disagree with them about everything they consider most important. But so do the Buddhists, the Taoists, the Hindus, and most of the other "new" religions on the American religious scene. The real reasons for the severity of fundamentalist attacks on the Neopagan community are, as usual, not theological at all.
We believe in magic -- that anyone can learn to do miracles. That makes their Christ (assuming he ever actually lived -- still an open question among non-fundamentalist historians) merely another magician. This destroys the main body of "evidence" for special claims of his divinity and thus for the fundamentalists' special position as holders of The Only Truth.
We believe in pluralism and multiplicity -- making us very hard to pin down and define, and bringing up dreaded "feminine" ambiguity. Worse, we worship Goddesses, our women have places of honor and leadership, and gay and lesbian people are seldom discriminated against [by us]. These attitudes threaten both the male egos that control fundamentalism and the inherent sexism of their way of life, and present the terrifying danger that fundamentalist women and girls (not to mention any gay men and boys unlucky enough to be born into fundamentalist homes) might find our religions far more attractive than their own -- which, of course, many do!
Perhaps worst of all, those of us who call ourselves Pagans, Druids and Witches have deliberately chosen to identify ourselves with the victims of conservative monotheism -- with the millions upon millions who have suffered at their hands down through the centuries. While reincarnation has not been officially accepted belief in monotheism for the last thousand years or so, a certain wave of fear must still pass over the fundamentalists when they realize, however subconsciously, that we just might be their victims come back from the grave to haunt them for their crimes, and that this time when they try to silence us, they will fail.
But silencing us is something that they must at least attempt -- and not only because we are a healthy, growing competitor in the marketplace of religious ideas. As a pluralistic, decentralized, feminist, ecological, and democratic collection of religions, we represent the future of faith in a world of ever-increasing change and diversity. Fundamentalists know that the world is changing and that they cannot control the changes. They are horrified of the future and anything that reminds them of it. Neopaganism combines a revival of old deities that the fundamentalists have been taught from childhood were "demonic," with a pattern of belief and practice that fits in perfectly with the new global culture now emerging. The Fundamentalists have no psychological options left. They either have to cure themselves of the dysfunctional personalities that have made them fundamentalists, or (being dualists) try to silence us. Guess which tactic they're more likely to choose?
In recent years, the United States and other western countries have seen the rise of the Religious Reich, led by fundamentalist Christian men with literally theocratic agendas. That the Republican Party has become a "holy owned" subsidiary of the Christian Coalition is fairly obvious. What many Americans don't know, however (until it's too late), is that the Religious Reich focuses as much attention on taking over local school boards, town halls, and county governments, as it does grabbing for power on the statewide and national levels. This is part of their long-range theocratic plan for America, which they call, "Christian Reconstructionism." They want to take over enough state governments to call for a constitutional convention (they are only a few states away from that goal). At such an event they could legally scrap our current Constitution and the entire Bill of Rights, replacing them with their own twisted vision of "Biblical Law."
If they succeed in taking over America because the rest of us were too lazy to fight them and too cynical to bother voting, they fully intend to institute the death penalty for being homosexual, for having or performing (or assisting someone to have or perform) an abortion, for living in "sin" (including all "unconventional" partnerships, lovestyles, and family structures), for practicing "witchcraft" (any minority religious, metaphysical, astrological or New Age belief system), and for having or distributing "pornography" (hence their support for the CDA).
I know it sounds unlikely, but remember, their predecessors have been terrorizing "unbelievers" for centuries, slowing down only when they lost political power. Today they're close to regaining the secular power they lust after, thanks to gaybashers, anti-feminists, Klu Klux Klanners, dozens of right-wing millionaires, and thousands of Fundamentalist preachers, Catholic priests and Orthodox rabbis who see their livelihoods and power threatened by sweeping global change. They are counting on the votes of millions of modern "Know-Nothings" who are terrified of the future and willing to vote for whoever their preacher / priest / rabbi tells them to.
Want to know the sordid details, straight from the Christian Coalition's own messiah? Just read The Institutes of Biblical Law, by Rousas John Rushdoony, the ayatollah of Christian Reconstructionism. Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Ralph Reed, and all the right-wing fundraisers of the Christian Coalition praise, quote and follow Rushdoony, who lays out his plans and goals as clearly as Adolph Hitler did in Mein Kampf.
Whether you are a moderate Christian or Jew, a Hindu, Taoist, Unitarian, Pagan, agnostic or atheist -- whether you are gay, straight or bi; male, female, or undecided; if your lifestyle, beliefs, or political views are even the slightest bit different from those of the Religious Reich -- you are a target. Let's not make the same mistakes German democrats and liberals did in the 1930's. Let's make sure that The Handmaid's Tale remains fiction, by getting off our comfortable rear ends, stepping away from our keyboards, and exercising our citizenship rights while we still have them.
Now, in their quest for absolute power, spokespersons for the Religious Reich often use the language of the civil liberties movements, in fighting what they perceive as "government interference" in their practice of religion. Some Neopagans say that we should work with such "friendly fundamentalists" in a common quest for religious freedom. I urge caution and further investigation of individuals, groups, and their motives, before doing so.
While Supreme Court rulings interfering with the practice of minority belief systems are offensive, and the Religious Freedoms Restoration Act was well worth supporting, we should not be fooled by fundamentalist references to "religious freedom." Their complaints about "unconstitutional government interference" with religious practices are actually more about the fundamentalists' loss of their traditional -- and very unconstitutional -- privileges. For three hundred years, religious zealots have been shoving their theology down our throats, usually with the connivance of the civil government. Where do you think most of our laws about sex, drugs and gambling originated? From "blue laws" that close stores on Sundays to mandatory (monotheistic) prayers at graduations, conservative Christians have dominated the public American culture since shortly after the Revolution. But over the course of the last few decades courts and legislatures have gradually taken away one after another of the fundamentalists' special privileges. Organized prayer is no longer allowed in schools, evolution [may be] taught in biology classes, big city kids can learn about safe sex and birth control methods, etc. -- all of which upsets the Religious Reich terribly.
The Religious Reich complains that the existence of rights for secular people (including the right not to be subjected to fundamentalist opinions) violates their rights as spreaders of the Gospel. They argue that the separation of church and state is itself a violation of the first admendment freedom of religion clause, i.e., that they have the "right" to use the government to promote Christianity as long as they aren't pushing any particular denomination of it. Often they attack the ACLU for its pro-separation stand, despite the fact that the ACLU has done more to fight for freedom of religion than any other organization in American History.
As I mentioned before, the Christian Reconstructionists of the Religious Reich would prefer that America was a fundamentalist theocracy in which they would have every one of their old privileges back, and a number of new ones as well (with only fundamentalist Christians eligible to vote, run for office, or teach in the schools, for example). No matter how friendly, reasonable and ecumenical they may occasionally act towards non-Christian groups, on the day they decide they don't need us anymore they will cheerfully rip our throats out.
Does that sound paranoid? Perhaps. But remember -- we know their track record. Fundamentalists have never supported religious freedom for anyone but themselves except as a temporary tactic. They are going to have to be a lot more convincing if they expect us to be able to trust them. I suppose they could start by publishing apologies for, and retractions of, all the lies that they have published and broadcast about us over the years, signed by all the national leaders of the Religious Reich (some of whom have told those lies). I'm not going to hold my breath waiting.
Fortunately, those of us in the Neopagan community who are looking for religious freedom groups to join do have some trustworthy choices. There's always People for the American Way (2000 M St. NW, #400, Washington DC 20036). This group has pluralistic, feminist, and democratic biases fully in keeping with Neopagan polytheology. They have been keeping tabs on the Religious Reich for over fifteen years and their website contains a wealth of information the fundamentalists would rather you didn't read. I'm a member and I recommend them.
The other major force fighting the Religious Reich is Americans United for Separation of Church and State (1816 Jefferson Place NW, Washington, DC 20036), a nonprofit, nonpartisan educational organization of moderate and liberal Christians, Jews, Unitarians, atheists, agnostics, and yes, a few of us Pagans! You can visit their website or send email to their net liason at email@example.com. Their phone number is 202-466-3234. Their newsletter, Church & State is an excellent source of news and advice on the fight against theocracy. I'm a member and I recommend them.
Also worthwhile is The Freedom Writer, a newsletter published by the Institute for First Amendment Studies. IFAS was founded by ex-fundamentalist minister Skipp Porteous and attorney Barbara Simon. This publication, now available online, focuses on the activities of the Religious Reich, exposing fraudulent ministers, anti-Semitism, censorship campaigns, etc. There are also frequent news clipping about civil liberties victories. Those of you who were once fundamentalists might also be interested in IFAS' former publication turned webpage, Walk Away, written by and for ex-fundamentalists. You can send IFAS email at firstname.lastname@example.org or snailmail at Box 589, Great Barrington, MA 01230. Their phone number is 1-800-370-3329.
For keeping tabs on trends throughout the American religious scene, I can recommend Religion Watch (Box 652, N. Bellmore, NY 11710, $19.95 year USA). The editor, Richard P. Cimino, does an excellent job of reporting trends in both mainstream and minority religious movements, albeit with a slight Christian bias.
Of course, for civil liberties activism in general, there is no beating the American Civil Liberties Union. I'm a card carrying member and proud of it (even if that does mean I can never be elected President). Controversial as the ACLU is, and disgusting as some of their clients have been over the years, they remain the largest and most effective defense against all those forces (including the fundamentalists) who would trash our Bill of Rights.
There's a group called Americans for Religious Liberty (Box 6656, Silver Spring MD 20906), founded as a front for the Humanist Society, but I can't recommend them. The Humanist Society is an association for atheists, agnostics and scientolators - people who sneer at all religions equally. If you can put up with the kind of folks who run sleazy "debunking" groups to attack psychics and parapsychologists, you might find ARL worth investigating. Ask them about their platform in which they advocate keeping "pseudoscience" as well as religion out of the public schools.
For a long list of groups fighting the Religious Reich, visit a page called They Fight the Right, compiled by Political Research Associates. This is part of the "Fight the Right Action Kit" (posted by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force), which includes all sorts of links and resources.
If Neopagans are going to support civil liberties and anti-discrimination groups, which I obviously think we should, then we had better be selective in our choice of allies. It's usually the fundamentalists themselves who oppress our civil liberties. We'll be much better off setting up our own groups, or supporting organizations that are genuinely neutral in matters of religious belief. I don't think that we can or should trust "friendly" fundamentalists. After all, deeply hath sunk the lesson they have given and shall not soon depart.
Special thanks to Paul Caughell (http://www.charm.net/~lonewolf/traditions.shtml) for typing up an earlier version of this essay in HTML format for me!
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