Valorizing the Lawless: the Christian Persecution Complex

Americans have a long history of civil disobedience: when the law suppresses the immutable freedoms of society, we revolt in the name of all of our citizens. Unfortunately, fundamentalist Christians have a similar history, but geared towards a slightly different end. While the former seek to secure the blessings of liberty for all, the latter fight for the ideological comfort of the few. Owing to the myth of Christian “persecution” at the hands of our secular first amendment, fundamentalist Christians spurn the law of man for the law of God, to the detriment of the Republic.

For a recent example, one need look no farther than John Freswater, a public school science teacher who burned crosses into the flesh of his students, and taught creationism in the classroom against the express mandates of his superiors. Now terminated, he’s nonetheless defended to the death by many of his students, who see his aggressive theocratic teachings and flagrant violations of the law as an example to live up to.

We even have (former) presidential candidates who defend the Constitution only insofar as it jives with their religious notions: says Mike Huckabee, “I believe it’s a lot easier to change the constitution than it would be to change the word of the living God, and that’s what we need to do is to amend the Constitution so it’s in God’s standards rather than try to change God’s standards.”

The Constitution and the law are about securing protection for all faiths, not enshrining one above the others. When fundamentalist Christians valorize zealots trying to work around the Constitution, they’re actively working against America. Any ideology that seeks to supplant the Constitution with arbitrary religious rules is dangerous, and it’s not “persecution” to say that, in a pluralist society, the law of the God of the few ought to bend to the needs of the many. We are not a theocracy, and we ought not be proud of people who want to make us one.

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9 comments

  1. Ames, I would caution you to not use ‘fundamentalist’ to freely. What you will see is that the root of all this silliness is evangelicalism. To be sure, most/all evangelicals are fundamentalists, but not all fundamentalists are evangelicals.

  2. Jolly good point :-)

  3. You know as well as I do that the guy who branded students represents no other group than that of Crazy People and that his students have Stockholm Syndrome.

    It’s unfair to Christians to take him as representative of any subset of them. His behavior was illegal, destructive, and without basis in any mainstream Christian doctrine. I’m not holding my breath to see you write about how Muslim suicide bombers are a symptom of a “The Muslim Persecution Complex.” But, while talk of changing the Constitution to make it more Christian has become about as idle as talk of reparations for slavery (both, in my cynical view, just a way to get votes) there’s a case right now (CRAP I can’t remember the name – I’m sure you’ve seen it) where one side is arguing that a US Court ought to apply Shari’a law. I think that’s the more “live” confrontation between our government and religion.

  4. Ugh! US applying Shari’a law would be bad too. The problem is, I don’t know about that. I think ProCon is right, above, to urge me to make sure I characterize these types as fundamentalist evangelicals. While I DO think he’s representative of that sect, I’d no more impute his failings to Christianity as a whole than I would from terrorists to Muslims as a whole.

  5. I said “or any subset of [Christians.]” You responded by saying that you believe that the branding guy is representative of “that sect,” meaning, I guess, Evangelical Christians.

    According to a study referred to on the Volokh Conspiracy (http://www.volokh.com/posts/1214105408.shtml) (fascinating post, btw) 33% of Americans identify themselves as Evangelical Christians. If a group that broad were really as nutty as you say they are, brandings like this would be so common as not to be newsworthy. Though I don’t classify myself as such, when you say “Evangelical” you are not referring to a 1% snake-handling fringe. And what “fundamentalist” means is sort of in the eye of the beholder.

    I don’t think I agree with PC’s classification (I think Evangelical is far broader than fundamentalist) but I think clarity is important.

    More statistics (which truly blew my mind) on the American public from the Institute for Jewish and Community research (Volokh has the striking comparisons to numbers among academics)
    93% believe in God
    85% identify with a particular denomination
    85% say religion is very or somewhat important in their lives
    86% want their children to receive religious training

  6. While I don’t think that Freshwater’s little flesh-burning stint is emblematic of fundamentalists or evangelicals, or the intersection of those two sets, I do think the idea that the law of God ought to govern in society – and that people should resist the law of the U.S. accordingly – is fairly typical of the fundamentalist evangelical group.

    But I’m aware of the problem with the definition. Since I talk about the true crazies of the Christian right a lot, I need a good way to identify them. I would say that that group is the intersection of fundamentalist & evangelical, but you’re right that fundamentalist is relative. Is there a better way to define them though? You’re very right that clarity is important. My family and I are liberal Christians, and we wouldn’t want Freshwater’s crimes attributed to our beliefs.

  7. Perfectly stated – the objection was about the attitude on the relationship between “God’s law” and man’s. I’m completely with you there. Sorry I was being stubborn. I think I ended up responding more to what I was afraid you were saying rather than to what you were actually saying.

    And, how blog-commenter of me to complain about what to call this group, when I can’t think of an adequate way to refer to them myself. I see what you mean. The way I think of them, “Wacky Fringe,” doesn’t have a very academic ring to it. :)

  8. See, I ain’t so bad :-). But I may need to work on presenting myself that way in the first instance. Thanks to you for keeping me honest.

    And “wacky fringe” sounds fine by me!

  9. [...] McCain, of course, is right. Huckabee is a proud theocrat, someone who makes no apologies for putting fundamentalist notions of religious morality ahead of [...]

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