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Hedges' Choice Of Words Is Unfortunate

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Above all, Chris Hedges is a moralist, one of the most important moralists of our time. We risk imminent peril when ignoring his words. And those who need to ponder his writings the most are the same people  he pushes away the hardest--Christian Fundamentalists. 

In his book, American Fascists: The Christian Right And The War On America, Hedges makes a distinction between conservative Christians who sought to impose their beliefs on the rest of society from conservatives who did not. In his latest article, Fundamentalism Kills,  he neglects this distinction. All Fundamentalists, Christian or otherwise, pose a mortal threat to the rest of us. How? Because all Fundamentalists have determined to impose their fantasy world on the rest of us. Hedges continues by saying that the Fundamentalists who present the greatest threat to America are not Islamic Fundamentalists but Christian and secular Fundamentalists from America. They are the ones who embrace myth and self-worship while pushing away rationality and self-examination.  

Thus, according to Hedges, if Christian Fundamentalists hope to become part of the solution, they must leave their faith. Not only does this put Christian Fundamentalists in a bind, it also puts the squeeze on the whole country. That is because much of the country, for good and bad, has conservative Christian leanings. And since most significant change happens incrementally, the implication here is that we are doomed. But more than that, just has America's indiscriminate use of military violence reinforces the extreme world view held by Muslim terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda, so Hedges' charges against all Christian Fundamentalists in the above mentioned article reinforces the self-serving, apocalyptic  world view held by the groups of Christian Fundamentalists who are causing real problems. 

At this point, it would be helpful to define Christian Fundamentalism. We should note that the popular working definition focuses on negative personality characteristics that many, but not all, Christian Fundamentalists have. So what is real Christian Fundamentalism? Christian Fundamentalism was a reaction to the theological liberalism of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Such liberalism reduced all of reality to the physical realm. Thus Christian Fundamentalism arose in an effort both to recognize differences between conservative Christians who were seeking to be true to what they saw was the faith of the Apostles and counter the liberalism of their day and to identify a single group. It is based on five beliefs, four of which center on who Jesus Christ is. The other belief declares that God's word is infallible and inerrant--this claim applies to the original autographs only. And when one examines each of these beliefs, one would be hard-pressed to show how any of those basic beliefs would cause people to be arrogant and threatening or would imply political policies that would push us off the precipice. But having said that, we see many Christian Fundamentalists who pompously support destructive practices while they pretentiously reject rationality and valid criticisms.   

We should note here that the political convictions supported by many American Christian Fundamentalists are not shared by Christian Fundamentalists from other countries. This was shown to me a by fellow Christian Fundamentalists from England. In addition, there are American Christian Fundamentalists who are ecologically aware, who oppose Israel's current implementation of Zionism, and who oppose America's military empire. Also, I am a Christian Fundamentalist and a Socialist and I find a strong connection between the two. 

So why do some American Christian Fundamentalists hold to political convictions that are grossly unjust and self-serving? It isn't that Hedges is seeing things, far too many Christian Fundamentalists seem intent on proving him right. These American Christian Fundamentalists have not just believed Fundamentalism, they have passionately embraced exceptionalism, which is not a necessary consequence of Fundamentalism. In addition, we should note that the dogged belief in the one's own superiority over all others is a definition of exceptionalism, not Fundamentalism. An exceptionalist nationalistic self-image is normal for Americans of regardless of their religious views. In fact, claiming to be special is normal regardless of one's nationality.

This exceptionalism is evidenced in our consumption as well as our empire. With regards to consumption, this exceptionalism makes us feel entitled to enjoy a lifestyle that is beyond what those from other countries experience regardless of the price others have to pay. And, of course, exceptionalism gives us license to push our military weight around and force others to open their markets to our goods without having second thoughts.

This double-edged sword of our exceptionalism provides a feeling of significance that is not easily surrendered--again, this is regardless of one's religious beliefs. And it is this feeling of significance that is the cause of America's addiction to exceptionalism. For the Christian, incorporating the finding of one's significance outside of Christ as being a part of one's Christian life is like pounding a round peg into a square hole. Violence is done to both with the compromises made to one's faith being a sacrifice too easily accepted. 

While Hedges' view of Christian Fundamentalism requires that the Fundamentalist leave his or her faith before becoming a part of the solution, there is another approach. The other approach consists of showing a Christian Fundamentalist how working for peace, social and economic justice, and striving to help the environment, is consistent with the Bible. So when a Christian Fundamentalist wants to immerse him or herself in jingoistic pride, we can point to Romans 3 where Paul says that faith excludes boasting. Or we could remind a super patriotic Fundamentalist of Philippians 3 where Paul rejects anything that could make him proud of being a descendant of Abraham so he could focus on Christ. In addition, we could remind the patriotic Christian that all are made in the image of God, not just Americans.

When Christian Fundamentalists make the prosperity that flows from American Capitalism into an idol, we only need to remind them of Jesus' parables that warn us about either relying on earthly treasures or refusing to help those in need. Of note is Jesus' parable of the sheep and the goats. The sheep were invited to join God in enjoying paradise because they had helped the "least of these." Those who did not help people in need were sent to eternal suffering (Matthew 25:31-46). 

We should also mention that there is a historical force that has plagued Western Christianity, not just American Christian Fundamentalism, which has made Christianity more of a blight than a blessing. That force is the belief that one should work for a Christian society. Such a belief has caused Christians to think of society and the state as providing a supplemental source of discipline for those who do not submit to the Church. Such a view caused Luther to conclude that society must punish the Jews for persisting in unbelief or be guilty of complicity. Such a view mandated that Calvin approve of the burning of heretics at the stake. Such a view gave the Puritans permission to persecute and even kill Quakers. And such a view is uncritically accepted and moves many of today's Christians to show intolerance to all  who are different.

Hedges use of terms is most unfortunate because he sets the grounds for others to make Christian Fundamentalists, amongst others, into scapegoats. And considering that what Hedges is legitimately writing against is exceptionalism, his mislabeling undermines his work. Exceptionalism starts with self-righteousness that leads to feelings of superiority that result in attitudes of entitlement. People who cling to exceptionalism have both cut off their own ears as well as performed their own lobotomies. They have made themselves incapable of changing.

But we should also note that if Fundamentalism leads to an exceptionalism that makes one dangerous, then almost anyone who is committed to a group can become a mortal threat. That is because any serious allegiance to a group means acceptance of the core beliefs and philosophies of the group. And synonym for "core beliefs" is the word "fundamentals." So Hedges' own honorable commitment to the October 2011 coalition, a commitment I have made too, could make him, as well as all of the other coalition members, dangerous.

Hedges' complaint is all too legitimate but his choice of words was not the best. It is exceptionalism that kills, not Fundamentalism, Christian or otherwise. And we would all be wise to realize that any of us can become an exceptionalist but not because of fundamentalism, but because of the feeling of significance that exceptionalism brings. For what can make us feel better about ourselves than to believe we are exceptional.

 

Curt Day is a religious flaming fundamentalist and a political extreme moderate. Curt's blogs are at http://flamingfundamentalist.blogspot.com/ and http://violenceorsurvival.blogspot.com/
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Citing Christian Fundamentalism, Hedges makes some... by myklsamu on Friday, Aug 5, 2011 at 12:18:57 PM
Mykl,    First, thank you for readi... by Curt Day on Friday, Aug 5, 2011 at 8:49:32 PM