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The Great Fundamentalist Hoax
By Philip Slater
Thoughtful Americans have long wondered how it is that fundamentalist
Christians--followers of someone who preached pacifism and
tolerance--became the poster boy for hate speech, touting "moral values"
indistinguishable from those of the Taliban. They wonder why, for
example, fundamentalist Christians so seldom quote from the New
Testament--which is supposedly what Christianity is all about--but
prefer citing the Torah and Old Testament prophets.
One reason is that the Old Testament is full of murder, vindictiveness,
and genocide--all supposedly ordered by God. So when fundamentalists
want a Biblical excuse for hate speech and hate crimes--which they seem
to need with considerable frequency--they turn to Old Testament sources.
Christian homophobes, for example, carry signs saying 'God hates fags',
which they justify by claiming that Leviticus 18:22 (condemning male
homosexuality as "abomination") is the 'word of God'. Yet more than a
third of the entire book of Leviticus is devoted to God's detailed
instructions on the proper manner of making burnt offerings of animals
to Him. (The rest deals with keeping Jewish dietary laws, avoiding
pollution from inadvertent contact with menstruating women, forbidding
haircuts and beard trimming, justifying slavery, and saying anyone who
swears should be stoned to death). Why doesn't God hate those who fail
to make offerings in the exact manner He so carefully spelled out in
chapter after chapter? Since fundamentalists feel comfortable ignoring
95% of the 'word of God' in Leviticus, why have they latched onto this
isolated phrase? If "God hates fags", then God must feel positively
murderous toward people who don't make burnt offerings of animal
carcasses in the precise manner so carefully indicated, and in such
extreme detail. (God must also hate people who eat lobster, shrimp and
pork, which are also "abominations" according to Leviticus).
It's startling, in fact, how rarely fundamentalist Christians mention
the sayings of Jesus. 'Morality' to them means the sexual inhibitions of
ancient Middle Eastern patriarchies. They seem to be nostalgic for the
pruderies of the 1950s, when the Hays office decreed that movies
couldn't show pajama-clad married couples in bed together lest it incite
teenage moviegoers to fornication. This obsession with sexuality is
surprising, since Jesus seemed to have very little interest in the
topic. In the four Gospels there are only four statements about
sexuality, and these deal with adultery and divorce rather than sex per
se. That is, with relationships--with causing injury to another.
Compare this with the nineteen statements Jesus makes about the
importance of giving, and the value of divesting oneself of money and
possessions. Yet we seldom hear fundamentalist Christians saying it's
easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man
to enter heaven. Or quoting the ten statements exhorting us to turn the
other cheek--a Christian idea that seems to be anathema to hate-filled
The Bible becomes the 'Word of God' when a bigot wants to use it to
bludgeon his neighbor, and a mere archaic relic when it would be
inconvenient for him to take it seriously. Fundamentalists of all
persuasions--Christian, Muslim, Jewish--often manage to find some sort
of backing for their hatreds in their sacred texts; for these texts were
written in societies that were misogynistic, militaristic, and rigidly
authoritarian--written, furthermore, by men who believed the earth was flat.
The reason why so many fundamentalist Christians are so notoriously
"unChristian" is simple: for the majority of Christians (Quakers are
among many notable exceptions) Christianity isn't about the teachings of
Jesus, and never was. The early church fathers knew that Jesus' rather
Buddhist message of nonviolence and voluntary poverty wouldn't fly in
the Graeco-Roman world, let alone in the Middle East. The idea of a
Redeemer on the other hand--someone who would voluntarily sacrifice
Himself for humanity and their sins--was very popular. Instead of having
to give up their worldly goods and espouse non-violence, all the Romans
had to do was believe in the miraculous stories surrounding Jesus' birth
and death, which was easy for them, since such stories had been told
about pagan gods and heroes and were already familiar.
Christianity as it exists among fundamentalists isn't about behaving
like Jesus. It's all about faith--about believing the story.
The underlying message seems to be: you can behave any way you want as long
as you believe the story and say you're sorry before you die. Following
the teachings of Jesus is much too demanding, whereas with the
Christianity of fundamentalists all you have to do is shut your mind off.
There ought to be a term that would designate those who actually follow
the teachings of Jesus, since the word "Christian" has been largely
divorced from those teachings, and so polluted by fundamentalists that
it has come to connote their polar opposite: intolerance, vindictive
hatred, and bigotry.
Philip Slater has an A.B. and Ph. D. from Harvard and taught sociology at
Harvard, Brandeis, and UCSC. He is a former Professor and Chairperson of
the Brandeis University Sociology Department.
'Feuch air fear coimhead Israil
Cadal chan aom no suain.'
(The Shepherd that keeps Israel
He slumbers not nor sleeps.)