Thursday, February 12, 2009

THE RELIGIOUS ROOTS OF HOMOPHOBIA: THE ALLURE OF FUNDAMENTALISM AND "THE ILLUSION OF CERTAINTY"

It has always seemed remarkable to me how the Gospel of Jesus, the God Who preached and lived a life of unconditional love; Who told us that the only Commandments we were to live out are the love of God and the love of others, and we are to never judge or condemn anyone, could be perverted in such a way that many professing Christians see no contradiction between proclaiming themselves to be Christians on the one hand, and then advocating and preaching discrimination against Gay people, and historically other minority groups, on the other.

What could be the roots of this clear disconnect between the Gospel of grace and love on the one hand and the vituperation of many professing Christians directed against our LGBT sisters and brothers on the other hand? After wrestling with this problem for many years, I wrote an article entitled, "The Illusion of Certainty," which is an updated revision that is currently appearing in my weekly newspaper column entitled, "Christianity and Society," that appears in the newspaper, "The Sacramento Valley Mirror." I've reprinted that article below this introduction.

The allure of fundamentalism in religious and other circles bespeaks: 1. An intolerance of ambiguity that is a direct threat to people fearful of life as it exists and who want to hearken back to a fantasy life of "tradition" and "safety" that they are falsely assured once existed in the past. 2. The need of many "religious" leaders to create sources of potential financial contributors to "the cause" that the creation of out-groups facilitates. 3. The creation of "out-groups," "enemies," so that in-group solidarity can be strengthened and that such a creation helps fulfill. 4. The creation of "the other," "the deviant," "the enemy," that helps in strengthening some people's fragile egos and weak self-concepts, by seeking to align with others of like mind so that feelings of moral superiority are strengthened, and the externalization of internalized rage, born of assorted sources of frustrations in their lives that cause that rage, is given a target that is viewed as being safe, and even justified as "Godly," to persecute.

The very obvious irrationality of the Prince of Peace being used as a vehicle to justify such overt discrimination and oppression that, in turn, creates all sorts of infliction of harm, suffering, suicides, assaults, and murders on Gay people and their families, shows that it is not Christianity that is causing these predations upon one or more minority groups, but the perversion of Christianity that meets the needs of those whose lack of emotional/sexual intactness and/or lack of sufficient cognitive intelligence makes them either unable and/or unwilling to confront the many gray areas, the many ambiguities, of life that offend their own rather simplistic and "comfortable" one-dimensional mind-sets as to what comprises life as it is supposed to be lived in a society.

Indeed, the many gray areas of life and of people, largely attendant upon living in a pluralistic society with its many cultures, subcultures, and countercultures, are also seen, to one degree or another, within each and every one of us, as none of us is purely one dimensional but, rather, is comprised of ambiguities, gray areas, of which even we, ourselves, are frequently unaware.

And when this awareness threatens to rear its head within a rather limited human being who is observing other people who express those ambiguities, their own worlds are rocked; their own comfort zones are threatened and invaded to such a point that many observers of these ambiguities or gray areas of life who lack emotional/sexual intactness feel that they have to lash out at these "others."

They often feel the desperate need to lash out at these "others," because these "others" are unwittingly holding a mirror up to their very own faces to show them that they, too, are multidimensional and that they, too, possess traits that, to one degree or another, reflect the very same traits that are seen in that "other," that "enemy," that these people who lack emotional/sexual intactness have constructed, so that they can maintain the fiction of what they falsely think is the inherent one-dimensional reality that they desperately need to believe comprises the composition of themselves and of each "normal" human being.

So, gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people greatly threaten what it means to be "a man" or "a woman" in the eyes of many of these one-dimensional thinkers who see gender and sexuality in dualistic terms: "men" as being whatever the culture prescribes as appropriate gender performance for males; "women" as being whatever the culture prescribes as appropriate gender performance for women.

So, to those who lack sufficient emotional/sexual intactness, a gay male poses a threat to the definition of "manhood" as culturally defined; a lesbian poses a threat to the definition of "womanhood" as culturally defined, despite the fact that gay men can be "masculine" and lesbians can be "feminine" in regard to culturally approved gender performance, but not in the imaginations of homophobes (many, if not most, of whom are heteronormative and misogynistic) who need to see sexuality, gender performance, themselves, and most things that impact their lives in terms of dualities that are largely, if not solely, defined as being appropriate by the culture, and by religious sources that, unfortunately, all too often largely take their cues from the culture in which they are enmeshed, and which erroneously and tragically depart from the reality of human existence.

And, as I have written so many times before, those religious institutions are all too often enmeshed with the most reactionary forces within society, and help lead the charge against the expression of assorted ambiguities in and of life, such as in the realm of that which is our most primal urge: the sexual urge and its expression that is all too glibly and often labelled as "sin," unless it is reflected and expressed within the context of heterosexual marriage and, in many religious circles, to largely be justified and engaged in for procreative purposes and not solely, if at all, for "mere" pleasure.

Whenever evil is done there is almost always the appeal to virtue! Hence, many professing Christians who are to obey Jesus' commands to love God and to love others, and not judge or condemn others, see no contradiction between defaming and bearing false witness against Gay people because they really believe that they are doing God's work in engaging in that discrimination and oppression, because all too many religious leaders and their blind followers are so often propagandizing them with that big lie of inherent dualism and one-dimensional thinking as being equated with "God's will" that only the strongest and most spiritually discerning person can see is a lie, and not the truth, with which they are being inundated.

The following is my article entitled, "The Illusion of Certainty," that is currently appearing in three parts in my column, "Christianity and Society," that appears in the newspaper, "The Sacramento Valley Mirror,". This article tries to flesh out some of the dynamics of why there has been such an appeal to fundamentalism, to dualism and one-dimensional thinking that is part and parcel of fundamentalism, to the degree that this relatively recent phenomenon (That, rather than emanating from historical orthodox Christianity can more profitably been seen as having originated as more of a sect directed against science and modernism.) has come to replace in many people's minds, including many professing Christians' minds, Christianity itself.

Although I concentrate on Christian fundamentalism, all religious (and secular) fundamentalism is destructive to the psyches, bodies, and souls of all people: both participants in that framework of the perversion of the Gospel, as well as, and especially, the recipients of that perversion that has caused untold lives of unnecessary suffering, as well as untold numbers of suicides, assaults, and deaths to those who have been labelled as a threat by and to those who must see the world, others, and themselves in dualistic and one-dimensional terms, given their intolerance for the ambiguities and mysteries of life that greatly threaten their concepts of self, as well as their very holds on life, as they have come to more or less comfortably know and count on them for their psychological survival.

And, even more to the point, these fundamentalists are driven to insist that their mind-set represents "The Truth," and, "in the name of God" they are driven to seek to impose that "Truth" onto others, even to the point of contravening the very Gospel and the very God that they say they represent.

The following is the article to which I have referred, "The Illusion of Certainty":


THE ILLUSION OF CERTAINTY


“For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”
(Galatians 5:1)

Like many Christians, I have been curious and dismayed about what seems to be the increasing appeal of fundamentalism and fundamentalist thinking within Christianity. Actually, “fundamentalism,” rather than being within the mainstream of orthodox Christianity, may more profitably be seen as a relatively recent phenomenon that may be seen to be a sect that has grown out of Christianity, rather than existing as a movement within the rubric of orthodox Christianity itself. It is, therefore, indeed ironic that many people have come to equate fundamentalism with Christianity itself, and very often view Christianity as a legalistic religion when, in fact, and quite the opposite, it is a call to freedom in Christ, and is a religion of grace, love, and peace.

The term "Fundamentalism" originated as a series of pamphlets published between 1910 and 1915. Entitled "The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truth," these booklets were written by some leading evangelical churchmen and were circulated free of charge among clergy as well as in Seminaries. It was the emphasis on biblical criticism within Germany, as well as the beginning popularity of Darwin's theory of evolution dealing with the origin of the universe, to which conservative churchmen responded. The result was the pamphlets. In 1920, a journalist and Baptist layman named Curtis Lee Laws coined the term "fundamentalist" as a designation for those who were ready "to do battle royal for the Fundamentals."

“The Bible is the sacred text of the Christian Fundamentalists. Indeed, if there is one single thing which binds Fundamentalists together, it is their insistence that the Bible is to be understood as literally true. Further, Fundamentalists see themselves as the guardians of the truth, usually to the exclusion of others' interpretation of the Bible. Fundamentalism in other faith traditions similarly proclaims guardianship of truth.” (Religious Movements Home Page Project at the University of Virginia, located at http://web.archive.org/web/20060907005952/http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/relmove/)

None of us want to have our comfort zones invaded or have our worlds rocked in any way! Many of us are relatively uncomfortable with ideas and behaviors that call into question those ideas that we have come to revere as deeply held truths, particularly when these “deeply held truths,” and various ideas and behaviors, have been given approval by God as asserted by assorted clergy over the last several decades. Similarly, if any idea or any behavior is viewed by fundamentalists as contradicting “God’s Word,” as they interpret it from the Bible, they feel duty bound to condemn that idea or that behavior and, despite rhetoric to the contrary, condemn the people holding that idea or who engage in that behavior.

Fundamentalism’s main attraction seems to be its promise of “certainty” in a very uncertain world! I’m reminded of what Jesse Jackson said upon the murder of Enos Cosby, Bill Cosby’s son: “We act as if life is certain and death is uncertain when, in fact, death is certain and life is very uncertain.” We’re frightened of this uncertainty and many people are, understandably, attracted to a voice that assures them that there is a certainty to be had by following the dictates of the Bible, or any other book viewed as “holy,” as interpreted and espoused by clergy and others who claim a mantle of authority to interpret that book.

It seems to me that most people who gravitate to “progressive” and mainline churches are likely to be somewhat more comfortable coping with ambiguity or, at least, are likely to be more willing to explore the many gray and multidimensional aspects of life and the spirit than those who attend fundamentalist churches. Moreover, they are usually much more likely to see the need to integrate social justice concerns with their understanding of the Gospel.

Clearly, when one is fearful and/or antagonistic to the uncertainties of life, one of the likely byproducts of the ensuing fundamentalism is the need for association with like-minded people, resulting in the creation of a "them" so that there can be an "us." Hence, the incestuous socialization that we find in so many churches where people who aren't in total agreement with the mind-set of the pastor and the congregation are considered "outsiders" and even "enemies" of both the people themselves but also are considered enemies of the "Truth" as the congregation sees that "Truth" as they interpret it from the Bible.

The need, sometimes the desperate need, to live in “certainty” drives many to torture logic, and deny even the most basic axioms of rationality, and assert such fallacies as the earth merely being about ten thousand years old, the lack of the existence of dinosaurs on the earth as the Bible doesn’t mention them, denial of the possibility of evolution as they (erroneously) think that it contradicts the existence of a Creator, etc. Although fundamentalism is attractive to many for malignant reasons, as well as to those with insufficient intelligence to deal with the many ambiguities of life, many people live in fear, and fundamentalism promises deliverance from fear by hammering home a view of God, the Bible, the world, and of people that breeds the illusion of “certainty” in an uncertain world, controlled by a God they have the temerity to claim they understand.

“We are fearful people….Fear has become an obvious dwelling place, an acceptable basis on which to make our decisions and plan our lives. Those we fear have a great power over us. Those who can make us afraid can also make us do what they want us to do.

”People are afraid for many reasons, but I am convinced that the close connection between power and fear deserves special attention. So much power is wielded by instilling fear in people and keeping them afraid… As long as we are kept in fear we can be made to act, speak, and even think as slaves…The agenda of our world – the issues and items that fill newspapers and newscasts – is an agenda of fear and power. It is amazing, yes frightening, to see how easily that agenda becomes ours.

”But fearful questions never led to love-filled answers; underneath every fearful question many other fearful questions are hidden…. Fear engenders fear. Fear never gives birth to love. A careful look at the gospels shows that Jesus seldom accepted the questions posed to him. He exposed them as coming from the house of fear. ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? How often must I forgive my brother if he wrongs me? Is it against the law for a man to divorce his wife on any pretext whatever? What authority do you have for acting like this? … Are you the king of the Jews? Lord, has the hour come? Are you
going to restore the kingdom to Israel?…’ To none of these questions did Jesus give a direct answer. He gently put them aside as questions emerging from false worries. They were raised out of concern for prestige, influence, power, and control. They did not belong to the house of God. Therefore Jesus always transformed the question by his answer. He made the question new – and only then worthy of his response.” (Henri Nouwen, Lifesigns: Intimacy, Fecundity, and Ecstasy in Christian Perspective, 16-19).

As Nouwen pointed out, “fear engenders fear. Fear never gives birth to love.” Because those who seek out Fundamentalism are likely to be very fearful people questing the certainty that fundamentalism promises, and which they perceive it provides, they are not likely be particularly loving people.

My wife and I spent about fifteen years in fundamentalist churches, for reasons that are best left for another article. In any case, we never really understood why most, though by no means all, of the people there were not particularly loving people. For example, when they thought I was dying in the hospital from Pancreatitis, my wife was a wreck and she called a “friend” and “prayer warrior” who was very well respected in the church we all attended. My wife asked her to pray for me because I was dying. This prayer warrior, who daily read and quoted from the Bible, and who led women’s prayer groups, said, “I
can’t. I’m too busy now.” Believe me, if it didn’t happen to us, I’d have trouble believing it myself. In another instance, when my wife was diagnosed with cancer not one of her “friends” or acquaintances, many of whom went to the fundamentalist church we went to, even picked up the phone to call her and ask her how she was feeling, let alone offer to help her in any way. Even the pastor never called! We were on our own! In another fundamentalist church the pastor’s wife told my then sixteen year old daughter that she was “a tool of Satan” because she listened to rock music. An acquaintance of mine,
who went to a fundamentalist church, recently told me that the pastor’s wife approached him and said that she had heard that he was thinking of leaving that church. He replied, “I’m praying about it.” She replied, “I suggest you leave now.”

When one is afraid, one usually doesn’t have the psychic energy to empathize with another person, particularly when it is felt that the other person might conceivably be a “burden” in one way or another. Chronic fear, like any other type of neurosis, breeds self-absorption and, therefore, makes it rather unlikely that that person will seek to help out another person, since virtually all of that person’s psychic energy is being spent on “keeping it together.” And, fundamentalism’s success is that is does, in fact, help those who are fearful of life, of ambiguity, of the unknown, and of the complex multidimensional
aspects of life and of God, “keep it together.”

For many people, fundamentalism is a desperately needed form of psychotherapy! This fact is not all bad! Most of us want safe places, safe havens, in which to rest, even if it means having our complex and existential problems addressed by a simple Bible verse, or by a rather trite remark such as, “God doesn’t give us any more than we can handle.”

This illusion of certainty, although it serves a needed psychological and social purpose for many of those who seek out fundamentalism, has another, much more dangerous, downside. Fundamentalism, by its very nature, requires that there be scapegoats! In the fundamentalist frame of mind, there has to be an “us,” and for there to be an “us” there has to be a “them.” And the current “them,” the enemy du jour, is LGBT people!

The psychological need for certainty morphs over to the social need for bonding with like-minded believers. Therefore, it’s “us” against “them!” Anyone who is viewed as not seeing God, the Bible, or the world as that person does is viewed as the outsider, the enemy. In my experience, many people in fundamentalist churches don’t even see those who go to “progressive” (Seeking to apply biblical principles, rather than apply every biblical and cultural practice, to contemporary social problems and
issues.) churches as being “Christian.”

Furthermore, those who don’t believe or act in the way that fundamentalists believe is in the will of God, which is usually consistent with their own prejudices and stated behaviors, is viewed as “the other,” “the enemy.” And, to preserve our way of life, and be true to “God’s Word,” as these fundamentalists insist and perceive it, they come to deny “the other” the dignity and civil rights and civil liberties that they, the fundamentalists, take for granted are their God-given right to possess. Clearly, such a mind-set is not merely putting oneself in a psychological prison, quite contrary to the fact of the Apostle Paul’s assertion in the Scripture verse that precedes this article, but is ripe for fostering a climate of fascism that pays off for many politicians and religious leaders who frequently work hand-in-hand with each other for their own mutual material, financial, and what many perceive to be their own spiritual gain.

By its very nature, the psychological and social needs of most fundamentalists require that there be a scapegoat! There must be some constructed “enemy” against which to rail, so that one’s world-view is reinforced, and so that in-group solidarity is maintained. The famous sociologist, Emile Durkheim, gave us what is probably the closest thing to a law in social life. He said that when you have a threatening out-group, the in-group unites to protect itself against it.

Therefore, in order for there to be in-group solidarity, there must be an out-group which must be fought against. Even if there is no ready-made out-group(s), the in-group, the fundamentalists in this context, will actively, perhaps unconsciously, seek to create them until they find one or more that are viewed as “politically correct,” relatively “safe,” and “appropriate” to persecute. At one time the group was women; at another time it was African Americans; now it’s gay people. Even when it is no longer politically correct or appropriate to oppress gay people, fundamentalists will tenaciously seek out another out-group, as fundamentalism requires at least one out-group for it to not only flourish, but to even exist. In fundamentalism, there must be an “us,” and there can’t be an “us” without a “them!”

It’s always important to remember that Christians are principally defined by only two characteristics: the love for God, in that we trust God over and above seen circumstances; loving other people. One’s theology is relatively unimportant, in that there can be a wide variety of theologies and Christology among Christians. “Love” is what is important in the Christian life but, as shown above, since love can’t be a priority among those who live in fear and require black and white answers in a very grey world, fundamentalists emphasize one’s “theology” as being the criterion for membership in the Christian community.

Christians know the truth that “It is better to be of a lowly spirit among the poor than to divide the spoil with the proud.” (Proverbs 16:19) Most fundamentalists can’t psychologically or socially afford to absorb this central tenet of the Christian life. They may mouth such shibboleths as, “Hate the sin and love the sinner,” but the fact is (and, frequently, the consequences of their words and actions are) that they show themselves to hate those who they view as in any way opposing their views of God and of the world.

Freedom and humility are antithetical to fundamentalism! The Gospel of grace, faith, love, peace, reconciliation, and inclusiveness is antithetical to the arrogance that is part and parcel of fundamentalism! “Humility” is inconsistent with the belief that only one’s own views are the right ones, and all other views are wrong; those who claim divergent views, or engage in behaviors deemed ungodly or inappropriate by those who claim sole authority in interpreting the Bible and knowing “God’s will” are, therefore, usually viewed as not “moral” or “Christian,” or “in the will of God.”

Fundamentalist and allied churches meet deeply felt psychological needs of increasing numbers of people, and provide a safe space for incestuous socialization that reinforces the one-dimensional thinking and view of the world of many of these people, and provide a measure of comfort for their angst in wrestling with a world and a with a God none of us can really comprehend.

These churches are currently meeting deeply felt psychological and social needs of people. At a time of rapid economic, social, and technological changes, and the consequent fears that they generate, increasing numbers of people are looking for a measure of “certainty” that fundamentalism promises to provide.

And, many people tenaciously seek to grab on to this “certainty,” despoiling their own potential for psychological growth, and even and unwittingly do so at the expense of preserving and enriching the very fabric of civility of their society, even if this “certainty” is ultimately an illusion.
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2 comments:

Leonardo Ricardo said...

POWERFUL and REAL!
Dr. Maneker,

I posted part of this at my blog (hope it´s ok along with your picture) and I linked all of it back to here. Thank you so much for thinking this out so thoroughly, writing this for us and your newspaper column and most of all for MAKING SENSE of this defect in Christian behavior/beliving that is, and has been, so DANGEROUS to the real lives of LGBT everywhere.

Abrazos,
Leonardo Ricardo

Jerry Maneker said...

Thank you so much for your very kind words. It means a lot to me!

We'll keep on fighting the good fight until people come to realize that when one minority group's rights are at stake, everyone's rights are at stake.

Christians don't go around hurting other people, and if anyone does seek to prevent equal rights of others, or demeans or defames others, he or she is not a Christian!

Best wishes, Jerry.