Many religious fundamentalists feel under siege by the secular world and harbor a deeply paranoid sense of victimhood

Many religious fundamentalists feel under siege by the secular world and harbor a deeply paranoid sense of victimhood December 10, 2014
  • Maryland and six other states  have articles in their constitutions saying people who don’t believe in God are not eligible to hold public office.  I thought that fight was over. It isn’t.
  • As reported in the New York Times  Rob Boston, director of communications for Americans United for Separation of Church and State said, “Right now we hear a lot of talk from conservative Christians about their being persecuted and their being forced to accommodate same-sex marriage. But there’s nothing in the state constitutions that targets Christians like these provisions do about nonbelievers.”
  • Good point. But I’ll make a bet: anyone who tries to roll back the laws that discriminate against atheist will face religious conservatives claiming that it’s further “proof” (“War On Christmas” – style) of the persecution of religion. I’ll make another bet: that most people who read stories about that backlash will not understand that it is a strategic move by some very determined people to keep their followers believing that they are victims.
  • Many religious fundamentalists feel under siege by the secular world and harbor a deeply paranoid sense of victimhood. I think of those who turn their sense of victimhood into material and political success and their claims of persecution into strategies of achieving power as Jesus Victims. I don’t mean they are victims of Jesus; rather, they claim to be victims for the sake of Jesus. This is the chip on the shoulder way of accruing power through the rhetoric of persecution. It is a tactic. I know because I helped craft it back in the 1970s.
  • America has a problem: It’s filled with people who take the Bible seriously so they fear the “world” and try to take the country “back” from the rest of us.
  • America has a blessing: It’s filled with people who take the Bible seriously so they feed the hungry and fight for immigration reform.
  • How does this blessing coexist with the curse derived from the same source: the Bible? The answer is that the Bible is a curse or a blessing depending on who is doing the “interpreting.” Sometimes belief in the Bible leads to building a hospital. Sometimes it leads to justifying a war on gay equality rights or tries to prohibit atheists from holding office. Same book—different interpretation.
  • When you hear words like “We want to take back America for God!” the twenty-first-century expression of such theocratic ideas can be traced back to some of my old friends: the Reconstructionists.
  • Most Americans have never heard of the Reconstructionists. But they have felt their impact through the Reconstructionists’ profound (if indirect) influence over the wider (and vast) evangelical community. And whenever you read about a college president writing to the president demanding to be exempted from civil rights laws protecting gay man and women that very idea is rooted in Reconstructionist thinking.
  • If you feel victimized by modernity, then the Reconstructionists have the answer in their version of biblical interpretation: WE must take back the world!
  • Most Evangelicals are positively moderate by comparison to the Reconstructionists. But the Reconstructionist movement is a distilled essence of the more mainstream evangelical version of an exclusionary theology that divides America into the “Real America” (as the Far Right claims only it is) and the rest of us “Sinners.”
  • In its modern American incarnation, which hardened into a twentieth-century movement in the 1960s and became widespread in the 1970s, Reconstructionism was propagated by people I knew and worked with closely when I, too, was both a Jesus Victim and a Jesus Predator claiming God’s special favor. You see my late father Francis Schaeffer) was one of the founders of the religious right.
  • The leaders of the Reconstructionist movement included the late Rousas Rushdoony, the Calvinist theologian, father of modern-era Christian Reconstructionism, patron saint to gold-hoarding haters of the Federal Reserve, and creator of the modern Evangelical homeschool movement, and his son-in-law Gary North (an economist and publisher).
  • Reconstructionism, wanted to reconstruct “our fallen society.” The leaders of Reconstructionism believed that Old Testament teachings—on everything from capital punishment for gays to the virtues of child-beating—were still valid because they were the inerrant Word and Will of God and therefore should be enforced. Not only that, they said that biblical law should be imposed even on nonbelievers.
  • So when atheists try to change past laws that prevent non-believers from fully participating in our democracy it’s well to remember that our problem is not the old laws but the current actors in the political field.
  • The evangelically dominated conservatives in Congress are in charge and at the same time buy into the idea that they are victims of the liberal media and “elite.” They want to run the country and yet cry persecution or a “War on Christmas” or a “War on the family” what-have you, anytime someone pushes back.
  • Make no mistake: the religious right’s agenda is still in deadly earnest. And it is deeply rooted in Reconstructionist ideas. When laws are challenged that exclude atheists from office many on the right will call giving rights to others “persecution” of religion. It’s a double standard.
  • And it keeps working.
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