American Values vs. Fundamentalist Values

Contemporary Evangelical arguments for the mixing of Church and State usually fallaciously assume that for America’s most historically vindicated political, moral, and cultural values to be accepted as good and as true, either theoretically or in practice, or for these values to be preserved and advanced in future generations, Americans must accept and continue to perpetuate the Christian religious beliefs of many of our founding generations, going back to the Pilgrims.

This mistakenly assumes that the good values we have in America cannot be either theoretically justified or practically inculcated into future generations through any other cultural institutions or abstract philosophical frameworks than the contemporary right wing churches or their highly idiosyncratic, supernaturalistic, and intellectually outdated lenses of “traditional” Christian theology–which for most of Christian history was not exactly very egalitarian, democratic, progress-oriented, or otherwise consistent with our distinctively modern values.

They want to insist that our shared moral values are historically and logically predicated on a supernatural, law-giving God, whose full moral teaching is found in the Christian Bible and whose will alone is the source, justification, and irreplaceable guide to our best American values–even those of which Americans of all persuasions are most justifiably proud.

For this post, I will put aside the serious questions about whether or to what extent Christianity is historically to credit for actually contributing to modern American ideals, and whether or to what extent Christianity merely accommodated and learned to adapt to Enlightenment values which the whole way it has fought against. I want to focus here instead on what kinds of values self-consciously political, self-consciously literalistic and supernaturalistic, fundamentalist Evangelical Christianity actually leads to in the present and ask whether they are even consistent with truly American values–let alone their only logical support.

1. The values of science and innovation.

American prosperity cannot be separated from our rigorous empiricism, pragmatism, open-mindedness, hunger for newness, disdain for obsolete and stifling traditions, disdain for authoritarianism, and desire to transform the future into something different and better through human ingenuity. All these values are why we are a scientific and technological leader.

And none of these values would be presently waning if it were not for the influence of fundamentalist Evangelical Christianity, which explicitly and actively teaches people (1) to eschew empiricism whenever it undermines faith; (2) to fear pragmatism and prefer moral, economic, and spiritual absolutism instead; (3) to fret that open-mindedness is the path to destruction while closed-minded adherence to ancient texts and dogmas are the path to national salvation; (4) to spurn the new as heresy and denounce the ideal of a transformed future as a desire to betray a golden past; (5) to slavishly obey obsolete traditions; and (6) to celebrate and promote authoritarian domination of prisoners, the “lazy” poor, and foreigners around the globe.

2. The values of equality and human rights.

No group actively resists the full moral and political equality of women, gays, minorities, immigrants, prisoners, or the poor more than the fundamentalists. This is true worldwide and true in America. Right-wing fundamentalist Evangelical Christians really want us to think that their tradition, which still only rarely (if ever) allows women in pulpits is uniquely indispensable to women being in politics?

They really want us to think that a tradition which demonizes the poor as lazy and unworthy of a guarantee of the basic provisions of health care is uniquely indispensable to our valuing the full human rights of all people? They really expect us to believe that without their reading of the Bible, we would not believe in the full and equal treatment of vulnerable groups before the law, when they are the ones who refuse to acknowledge the full humanity of gays or to give them the full equal rights of citizenship (to marry, to serve in the military, to work without fear of being prejudicially fired, etc.)?

They expect us to believe that their values are the ones to guide us towards a greater appreciation of equality and human rights when their seething craving for vengeance leads them to support torture more than any other group in the country and to support ever tougher treatment of (unconscionably disproportionately black) prisoners when we already compete with only communist countries and Middle Eastern theocracies for the title of “most likely to incarcerate or kill its own citizens”?

3. The values of freedom in thought, expression, and religion.

Of course the religious political tradition which believes that laws should be made through considerations of what the book of Leviticus says is our only hope for deriving and preserving the value priority of protecting freedom of religion and freedom of conscience.

Of course the people who want the government to subsidize charity operations which proselytize their patrons, who insist on governmental calls for prayer, who relentlessly turn civic ceremonies into religious ones whenever permitted on stage, who talk about their God’s “dominion” over all of life including government, who try to defund public broadcasters and artists who do not share their narrow values, who demonize other faiths and try to get their houses of worship shut down, who panic with outraged offense whenever an atheist billboard announces the mere existence of, or reasons for, disbelief, etc.–these are the only people we can really trust to protect the individual’s conscience from governmental coercion in matters of private belief and the freedom of expression.

4. The values of democracy and individual autonomy. 

Logically, how could we ever believe in rule only by the consent of the governed, unless we believed the whole universe was a cosmic tyranny in which an all-powerful being imposed His unstoppable will on all people without respect for their own wills and damned to eternal torment all those who dissented from His judgments and refused to love Him?

How could we believe in the rights, dignity, and autonomy of all individuals if we did not believe in a God who could punish them for thought crimes, and for not loving Him, and for pursuing their own individual conceptions of the good inconsistent with His barbaric, archaic Old (and New) Testament commandments?

How else could we either logically derive, or in the future pass on, our belief that the most just form of government is a democratic republic with a separation of powers, if we did not believe that the universe itself is actually most justly run as a theocracy?

These views are clearly of an unbreakable piece.

 

Fundamentalist Evangelical Christian theology, values, and political behaviors could hardly be less consistent with the distinctive American values which are most celebrated as the source of American prosperity–let alone be claimed to be their logically necessary precondition. There is little logical connection between closed-minded, fundamentalist, reactionary, authoritarian, hierarchical, superstitious, theocratic nostalgia and America’s open-minded, idealistic, progressive, liberty-loving, egalitarian, scientific, democratic optimism.

The claim that contemporary fundamentalist Evangelical Christian values are the irreplaceable logical basis for either deriving or developing America’s highest values is a total and complete lie. Even to the extent that historically Christianity in general sometimes played a positive role in the centuries-long process by which we came to have and to develop these values in the West, still the core distinctive values of reactionary fundamentalism in the present represent a counter-reaction against liberal, Western, American values–however we got them. They are not conservatives, in the true sense of the world. They do not want to conserve distinctively American values. They are restorationists who want to reimpose a theocratic order while giving disingenuous lip service to the reigning ideals of America.

Your Thoughts?

More Camels With Hammers criticism of the religious right and advocacy for the strict separation of church and state:

Why Clergy Rightfully Have No Place At A 9/11 Memorial (Or Any Civic Ceremonies)

9 Vital Points About The Public Relevance of Political Candidates’ Religious Beliefs

On The Conflict Over The Meaning And Cultural Influence of Political Secularism

The Religious Conservative’s False Choice: “Big Brother” Or “Heavenly Father”

How Christian Beliefs And Values Are No More Creditable With America’s Founding Than Islamic Ones

Thoughts on the Ethics of Private vs. Publicly-Mediated Generosity

Santorum’s Hypocrisy and Backwardness on Questions of Epistemic Authority

 

  • Pen

    I couldn’t agree more.

  • http://freethoughtblogs.com/assassin Assassin Actual

    Well I agree 100% with your observations.

    But how do we deal with the cultural narrative that many evangelicals and fundamentalists are taught from the cradle? We may see the inconsistency but they don’t. They can’t separate their cultural history from the greater American story and choose to superimpose their understanding all over. And with “Liberal Bias” being almost a slur to them, only a small fraction are able to ever break away from their previously held concepts.

    Christianity has never increased its moral progress of it’s own volition, it just changes to keep up with the zeitgeist when it must to stay relevant.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Camels With Hammers

      It’s tough to say what the difference between Christianity changing “of its own” as opposed to in response to a zeitgeist really means when explicit Christians used to be in every important station in society, more freely influencing things on explicitly Christian grounds both for good and for ill.

      I don’t know how to counter the narrative. Maybe sharing this post with as many people as you can might help (*wink* *wink* *nudge* *nudge* everybody)

  • http://confessionsfromthepeanutgallery.blogspot.com/ YankeeCynic

    Absolutely fantastic post.

    I think a lot of the “Creeping Sharia” concerns that so many on the right embrace are really reflections of their own intentions. They see themselves everywhere. As such, their intolerance towards any ideas but their own, the constant need to control the discourse, and a fear that people are out to destroy them reflect the darker side of their own ideology.

    Ultimately, these people are fanatics who simply cannot comprehend any lifestyle other than their own. That’s why they despise the values that you’ve listed, and that’s why they think everybody ELSE is out to get them. In other words, every single time I see these sorts of comments, and then read about people warning of a silent Islamic takeover, I think of Shakespeare: “I think the gentlemen doth protest too much.”

    Ultimately, that’s one of the big reasons I’ve tried to become more open about being an atheist and to try to create a conversation about these sorts of things; because if nobody does, then these elements only gain more power.

  • P Smith

    “This mistakenly assumes that the good values we have in America….”

    That statement mistakenly assumes that the US has “good values”, or supposedly better values than the rest of the world. Other countries would disagree, especially those in which the US has opposed or overthrown democracies, and/or installed dictatorships. 9/11 was retaliation, not instigation.

    As for the point of the text, “fundamentalist values” are nothing but a shortcut to rationalized hypocrisy and imperialism. It’s easier to justify atrocities when you claim a “supernatural being” gave you unchecked authority.

    .

  • Ace

    I can appreciate what you are trying to put forth in this article however, while you were laying down the so-called evangelical position, you were not in essence dealing with the actual claims of the Christian position as demonstrated from the scriptures and which forms the Christian Worldview.

    In fact while you were effectively disposing of the “Fundamentalist” straw man, your opposing positions on issues of values, morality and knowledge actually did more to support the Christian claims of a creator and creation dichotomy than it did to oppose it.

    You actually affirmed (accurately), the humanist antithetical position, however what begs the question is how have you come to these ideas and claims of values, human rights, freedom, dignity and logic, from your autonomous, humanist and naturalists presupposition?

    How is it that from this presupposition you can put forth the “logically necessary preconditions” of your position without borrowing from the Christian biblical position in matters of knowledge, ethics and the nature of reality?

    I am not trying to turn this into a bashing session, because I think that aside from the argument against the perceived current state of the evangelical landscape, you are bringing up issues that should be at the heart of all the conversations of our day.

    You have accurately stated and represented the human autonomous position and life-view and while it appears on the surface to be antithetical to the Biblical Christian position, I would argue that it is not completely antithetical.

    Both sides assume certain things and take certain things for granted, such as values, human dignity, freedom, human rights and the use of reason and logic, albeit some more than others have error mixed in while attempting to use reason. The antithesis comes in at the point of the authority claims. Christians have an authority claim based on a creator and creation dichotomy, whereas (for simplicity sake), the humanist authority claim is in self and in human convention.

    The Christian claim is that without God there can be no basis for “objective” claims of values, human rights and dignity, freedom and reasoning through the laws of logic.

    I am sure that you are familiar with this opposing position as you are a learned man in the field of Philosophy and with which comes the study of “Greek” ideas of life matters.

    With this in mind, the issue of American values in this matter are more complex than what you have put forth in this article. The “Framers” of our Constitution who held to a so called Christian life-view, can be clearly shown to be a far cry from the “Founders” who came to these shores at Plymouth, Jamestown and Pennsylvania.

    The framers were about as Christian as those Fundamentalist of whom you have written about in this article. The enlightenment movement(s) and the non-biblical position of the social contract theory among other issues (arguably), can be shown as part of the root cause of our present state of affairs in this nation.

    It is not the propagation of the Christian system and life-view, but the abdication of it. What is left today and what your article is arguing against, is an antinomian, pluralist, syncretist and apostate Christianity, which the scriptures state to be no Christianity at all.

  • Bob Calder

    Daniel:
    Do you agree that mainstream Christian churches should repudiate their ecumenical embracing of evangelical theology in favor of a modernist doctrine that does not include an accessible spirit plane intermingling with and affecting actual people?

    Come to G+ ;-)

    • Robert

      I like this comment. I’m not 100% sure I understand it, but I like it.

  • Robert

    I agree in principle. It’s ironic though because it’s the lefties who always seem to want to mix church and state, or especially, religion and politics. If you don’t believe me, make a politically incorrect statement about homosexuals. The response you’ll get will be a thundering roar of condemnation worthy of the puritans.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      I am not sure what you are saying, but there is a difference between religion and ethics. If you make denigrating or marginalizing remarks (the kind bigots like to euphemize as “politically incorrect”) about gays then you deserve moral disapprobation for doing so. This has nothing to do with religion. it has to do with morality.

  • Nicholas

    I agree with this article. I’ll never forget the feeling of being told to my face that nearly all of the things I had grown up to love about my country was false. Or how I felt after returning home from what I thought as ‘bringing reason and justice to an Afghanistan that was ruled by sharia law’, only to see ‘Thank God for Dead Soldiers’ protesters at soldier’s funerals.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=649813048 Nicoline Smits

    My mother, a self-described born-again Christian, has spent countless hours in bible study. However, when I told her the bible condones slavery in both the New and the Old Testament, she was shocked to the point of disbelieve… No doubt conservatives who purport to have “studied” our nation’s founding documents perform much the same mental contortions when they read into it that – hey, presto! – it fits in perfectly with Tea Party standards for morality. (In public, that is.)