Seven months have passed since my last blog post on the subject of religion and as I listen to 2016 Republican Presidential candidates speak about God, Jesus, and Christianity, I cringe. Ted Cruz (scary guy that he is) said recently “I’m Christian first, American second” and Pope Francis (quite correctly in my opinion) questioned Donald Trump’s Christianity, going as far as to suggest Trump “isn’t Christian.” (In these regards Rolling Stone’s Jesse Berney wrote a poignant piece you can find here)
While the focus of this piece will, as the title suggests, consider whether or not Conservative Christianity is consistent with the Gospel, I shall begin with just a few quotes I’ve found on various on-line forums:
Every discerning parent who has been blessed with a little child in his home realizes that his initial impression of the sweetness and the innocence of the child is in reality an illusion. A child very quickly demonstrates his fallen, depraved nature and reveals himself to be a selfish little beast in manifold ways. As soon as the child begins to express his own self-will (and this occurs early in life) that child needs to receive correction. My wife and I have a general goal of making sure that each of our children has his will broken by the time he reaches the age of one year. (Source)
“Some things can not be explained by science. Take for example, rainbows. Rainbows are a mystery and you can not touch them, just like god. Despite this fact, they are still there even though there is no scientific explanation for.” (Source)
Q-If God created the world 6,000 years ago or so, why are stars millions of light years away?
A-Brendon, what a question! Yes, we know from the dates God gives us in the Bible that He did create the whole universe about 6,000 years ago. When we hear the term light-year, we need to realize it is not a measure of time but a measure of distance, telling us how far away something is. Distant stars and galaxies might be millions of light-years away, but that doesn’t mean that it took millions of years for the light to get here, it just means it is really far away! (Source)
Unicorns get off the Ark, gallop (or fly) to the southern regions of Pangaea, get pregnant, have tree sloths; gallop or fly to another part, get pregnant, have aardvarks. Later, God breaks off a chunk of Pangaea, moves it to the eastern hemisphere, along with these tree sloths, and voila — tree sloths in South America. Ditto for the aardvark. Easy as delivering the newspaper. (Source)
Maybe you chuckle at these, or maybe you shake your head. Maybe–especially with the first–you cringe. These four quotes are just a sliver of a sliver of the shit you can find in various Christian forums and web-sites.
Now what do I mean by Conservative Christian? Firstly, I am employing the term to those that are American and, most typically, of Protestant and/or non-denominational stock which tend toward evangelism and/or fundamentalism. The kind that go to the types of churches that creates the signs you’ll see peppered through this post.
Now I’m typically not one to judge an individual for what he or she may believe. What is problematic for me, however, is that with elections this year, the Republican Party seems to cater to the people who make the above kinds of statements and those on church signs.
Perhaps I am somewhat of an idealist in that when I think about elections, I think it is best to make an informed choice which is made, in large part, on the basis of rationality. Yet it seems to me that many (not all) Conservative Christians place blind faith over rationality. This is not to say that I think faith is a bad thing per se.
Fides quaerens intellectum is a classical definition of theology meaning “faith seeking understanding.” According to Karl Barth, faith seeking understanding is what distinguish faith and the practice of the community from blind assent. Faith seeking understanding means the Christian faith should prompt inquiry as it “dares to raise questions.” (Migliore 2). It is glaringly obvious (to me at least) that most Conservative Christians lack the inquiry and the daring to raise questions. They just take what they’ve been taught, what they’re told, and what the Bible says–more often than not, it seems (again to me) that most take the Bible literally.
Again, nothing against faith per se, but I find it quite ridiculous to take the Bible literally. I’ll just take two examples. If say, Adam and Eve were truly the first human beings–the father and mother of human kind–doesn’t that mean that the existence of billions of human beings in the (at most) 6,000 or so years since there’s been a hell of a lot of incest? There are billions of forms of animal life on the planet, many of which are microscopic. If they exist, then Noah must have had a pair of each on his ark. Now let’s forget about the big beasts–the kind we can see–and think for a moment about the microscopic forms of life…To consider the proposition that Noah housed two of each animal on his ark is surely so preposterous it really needs no further comment.
A great many Americans believe this shit really happened. Again, go ahead and believe it. Whatever floats your boat. But problematic is that they very people who believe as much is the very constituency the Republican candidates appeal to. The Pew Research Center, for example, found that 61% of White Protestants and 71% of Evangelicals lean Republican. (PewResearchCenter). In some respects it makes sense considering the amount of bullshit that comes out of the mouth of people like Ted Cruz and Donald Trump.
Meanwhile, the vast majority of religiously unaffiliated voters lean Democratic. (ibid.)
So okay, let’s now move on to the question–is Conservative Christianity consistent with the Gospel or are Conservative Christians modern Pharisees?
To address this question, I turn briefly to University of California-Berkeley cognitive linguist George Lakoff’s work on metaphor. According to Lakoff, two types of morality fundamentally inform liberalism and conservatism.
The first he calls “Strict Father” morality. Emerging in response to the “perception oflifeas hard and dangerous,” this model of morality seeks to develop “strong, morally upright children who are capable of facing the world’s threats and evils.” (Lakoff and Johnson 313). In this model, children are not to be coddled “lest they become spoiled.” After all, a spoiled child lacks moral strength and discipline. Essential to this model is reward and punishment: “To survive and compete, children must learn discipline and must develop strong character. Children are disciplined (punished) in order to become self-disciplined” (314) and therefore, moral. Character is developed through obedience to the “father” who established the rules. Falling short of the rules warrants punishment.
The second model is dubbed the “Nurturant Parent” morality. In this model, children develop through positive relationships, through contribution to community, and “through the ways in which they realize their potential and find joy in life” (315). Children learn obedience, self-discipline, and self-reliance not through fear of punishment, but through “being cared for and respected and through caring for others.” (315). According to this model, a child who is nurtured (which is not the same as being coddled or spoiled) will grow up to be fulfilled, happy, and nurturant themselves. They learn cooperation and the importance of forming social ties–that is, relationships.
Now which of the two would you think Lakoff associates with each political orientation?
If you answered Strict Father goes with a conservative orientation and the Nurturant Parent with the liberal, you’d be correct.
Conservative Christians tend to focus on the punishing side of God and are those who, more often than liberal Christians, will cite passages from Deuteronomy and Leviticus. Perhaps most famously, they choose to cite Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 to give reasons to why “God hates fags.” Conservative Christians are those who emphasize hell-fire, retribution and revenge. God is primarily understood, to use Lakoff’s term, from within the “Strict Father” metaphor.
God as Jesus speaks of him in the Gospels, however, is a loving, compassionate, merciful, and forgiving God. Yes, there is the “threat” of punishment in the Gospel, but God’s mercy, love, and compassion are far more emphasized. In this manner, Jesus’s understanding of God operates from within the Nurturant Parent model. Moreover, Jesus admonished those to whom he spoke to enter into a relationship with God, not simply to serve him through strict obedience. Jesus’s God, in other words, is not a “strict-father.”
In the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus said, “Do not think I have come to abolish the law and the prophets. I have come not to abolish but fulfill.” A few verses later, he says, “Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” The Pharisees were a Jewish sect that emphasized study of Torah and adherence to Mosaic law; “scribes” were those who passed on tradition. Scribes and Pharisees sought to abide by the law to the letter of the law.
But Jesus said one must go beyond living to the letter of the law. For example, in Matthew 5: 27-28, he addresses adultery: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Put simply, the law regulates actions in the world in relationship with others–it seeks to regulate actions/behavior external to the person. That is not enough for Jesus. To surpass the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees, one must make necessary internal changes. Such requires looking within oneself.
By virtue of blind faith, Conservative Christians tend to externalize, hence their threatening of whoever it may be in vogue to threaten (immigrants, homosexuals, Muslims) with hell-fire. In doing so, such Conservative Christians are the “hypocrites” in Matthew 7: “Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye?..You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your own eye.” But to do so would require looking in the mirror which is seemingly impossible for Conservative Christians since they operate from within a Strict-Father morality.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says the meek, the merciful, the clean of heart, the persecuted, and the peacemakers are blessed. How meek or merciful, how clean of heart are the kinds of Conservative Christians who are the focus of this post? They may claim that legalizing gay marriage is a form of their being persecuted, but are not they–the ones who judge and condemn–those who persecute? Are those who persecute peacemakers?
Like Pharisees, Conservative Christians are (self) satisfied with abiding by the “letter of the law,” which in their case is faith in certain prescriptions/doctrine. Abiding simply in some statements of faith differs little from the Pharasaic adherence to the law. As such, their “blind faith,” a faith that does not seek understanding, is a (self) righteousness that does not surpass the scribes and the Pharisees and is precisely not Gospel.
To end, I return to the Strict Father morality. In citing research from within the field of psychology (namely attachment theory, socialization theory, and family violence studies), “the Strict Father model does not, in fact, produce the kind of child that it is supposed to foster…the Strict Father family tends to produce children who are dependent upon the authority of others” (which might help explain how and why Conservative Christianity tends to remain generational). Likewise, it produces children who “cannot chart their own moral course” (i.e. the literalization of and attachment to the Bible and doctrine). Last but not least, such produces in children a diminished capacity for respect for others and, ironically, have “no greater ability to resist temptations.”
Much like a Strict Father morality doesn’t produce the children it wants to produce, Conservative Christianity produces more Christians who are, again to use Pope Francis’s words, not Christian since their form of Christianity is not Gospel.
Lakoff, George and Mark Johnson. Philosophy in the Flesh.New York: Basic Books, 1999.
Migliore, Daniel L. Faith Seeking Understanding. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2004.