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I have been almost totally focused on the home stretch of my manuscript tentatively titled Faultlines: The 60s, the Culture War, and the Return of the Divine Feminine. This is really getting in the way of making frequent blog posts. But I think some modified snippets make very interesting posts. In this manuscript I argue that paths of sacred immanence are the spiritual way to eventually harmonize modernity with nature and overcome our present crisis of values. from this perspective the faux spirituality of the religious right becomes fascinating. I discuss it below the fold.
The religious right is a uniquely modern phenomena. At the same time it rebels against modernity. Hence its peculiar emptiness spiritually and humanly.
The modern world is unique in several ways and one is the extent logos (what we usually mean today by rationality, as in science) replaced mythos (knowledge of meaning expressed and explained through stories as vehicles of meaning). With the triumph of logos the character of Christian faith regarding the human experience changed from faith in meaning within the world to faith in reports about the world. This shift required meaning to come from elsewhere, not the world itself. A completely transcendent God filled that role. Science and history were to be religion’s handmaidens.
As the gaps where this “God of the gaps” acted shrank, and historical studies brought scripture into conflict with other explorations of history, rational minds could no longer claim the Bible was a coherent report of historical events verified by other means. When religious texts no longer fit the evidence as uncovered by logocentric methods, this earlier kind of faith lost its foundation.
In response to this crisis Soren Kirkegaard and especially Karl Barth urged the power of commitment to trump logos as logos had earlier trumped mythos. Many Christian theologians abandoned both mythos and logos in favor of the decision to believe. This move was in sociologist Peter Berger’s terms “a heroic act of will.” This move was fateful because while logos and mythos both are forms of rationality, commitment is not. Faith rooted in commitment had closed itself to rational evaluation by either mythos or logos and accepts no other source for evaluation beyond the individual’s will. Berger observes that this move opens religion up to the apotheosis of the human will. In Christian terms this is the fallen human will. In Pagan terms this is the fallible human will. Faith of this kind made itself safe by sealing itself off from communication with others.
This position elevates human will above any rational limitations because nothing in the world can independently justify commitment and nothing can legitimately question it from within its own framework. Absolute truth for the believer is what he or she chooses to believe as a starting point, but once the choice is made it is unable to be evaluated by either evidence or reason, instead what is acceptable rationally or by evidence must be in harmony with the commitment.
Fundamentalist Christians upped the ante further by demanding commitment to the literal truth of the Bible as well as to Jesus. If Christianity is true by an act of will, it does not matter how intellectually incoherent such a commitment becomes. By freeing themselves from both mythical and logocentric traditions for evaluating knowledge, “literalists” embrace irrationality; they reject in advance the necessity for reasons and evidence. They justify this move by arguing the world is truly so fallen that nothing within it can be trusted. Science bereft of scriptural guidance becomes a tool of confusion and even evil. God is utterly transcendent and alien to the world.
This is a modern version of Duns Scotus’s claim that because God was free and omnipotent, he could not be limited by reason. Therefore God’s will and power were the distinguishing marks of his divinity rather than any sense of divine reason or love as humans comprehended the term. Both were limits on God’s power. God was not good because He did good things; anything God did was good because it was God who did it.
By accepting this view of God, modern Fundamentalism made power central to their theology. Because in any literal sense scripture was contradictory, to base one’s views on its inerrancy was ultimately to argue that what one chose to believe was in fact the will of God because one believed it. Given an apparent contradiction the believer had to interpret one in terms of the other, with no clear way or deciding which provided the larger context for understanding. The Fundamentalist had to rely on his or her or some other human authority’s own will for this decision, and within this framework, had to believe it was guided by God’s will, not a human will.
This faith commitment meant that evidence to the contrary was to be ignored, belittled, or distorted and that contradiction was denied no matter how seemingly obvious it was. Standards of intellectual honesty were abandoned in favor of strength and sincerity of assertion made strong by being a product of will.
For the most part Fundamentalists applied this perspective privately and within the smaller usually Southern communities they dominated. The larger world was rejected as irredeemably fallen and doomed to complete destruction at Armageddon.
The religious right made the fateful move to take this largely inwardly looking perspective – the world is irredeemably fallen, Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world, and what matters is my personal relationship with Christ – and turn it outwards to the world itself. In doing so they took the same fateful steps with a remarkably similar logic dressed up in religious garb as the European fascists of the 20s had taken.
Will to believe trumps all evidence and therefore trumps all open discussion with those who do not believe. The goal is to bring those others under “dominion” if they do not submit to this religious vision. This goal cannot be achieved through the Enlightenment’s faith in reason or even through mythos alternative approach to rationality, and when reason is abandoned in matters political, force and domination is all that is left.
The religious right is therefore intimately connected to forcing and dominating others minus even the checks provided by older pre-modern religious traditions. It is the image of secular nihilism’s commitment to power and will, but decked out in religious form. The religious right is religious nihilism, and as much a child of the moral breakdown of the liberal order.