THE FUNDAMENTALIST THREAT
There is at the core of human society a spirit of anti-intellectualism, a taking pride in ignorance. From the street laborer, with a minimum of education, to the successful merchant, who succeeded despite his lack of learning, there is a common disdain for books and schools and scholarship. Even further, there is the lurking suspicion among the masses of men that “book-learnin’” only results in absent-mindedness, eccentricity, effeminacy, irreligion, and unpatriotic subversiveness. Common sense or horse sense is much to be preferred over egg-headed, ivory-towered scholasticism.
The reason for this, of course, is the democratic tendency in society to pull the whole structure down to the lowest cultural denominator. By sheer weight of numbers, the peasants have the majority voice in all the nations of the world. And since the fall of aristocracy in the great eighteenth and nineteenth century revolutions, crude plebeian prejudices and mannerisms have come into vogue.
Nowadays it is rare to find an ordinary person who habitually quotes poetic verses or Latin phrases or who appreciates good music. In Mark Twain’s day, frontiersmen might flock to a Shakespearian drama, and rough Colorado miners could appreciate an operatic aria. Politicians and pulpiteers spoke with eloquence, and men aspired to at least appear cultured and refined. Today the mood has changed, and if it has no marketable value, education is considered of little account.
Sadly, pulpits no longer set the standard for ideals of gentility, liberality, and good taste. Neither do many of them “exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees,” that is, promote charitable humanitarian sentiments and genuine altruism based on the Sermon on the Mount. Today the super-churches have a redneck flavor. The most popular preachers are those who offer spectacular entertainment and emotional stimulation, and audiences are held in thrall to charismatic movie-star idols masquerading as prophets of God.* A giant following is assured to any lectern pounder who will identify with the baser instincts of the mob by putting down minority groups, branding individualists as foreign sympathizers, and identifying “true” religion with right-wing politics.
*Diogenes the Cynic (c. 300 B.C.) put it this way: “Discourse on virtue and they pass by in droves. Whistle and dance the shimmy, and you’ve got an audience.”
At the heart of all this is anti-intellectualism. It is the non-reader who falls easy prey to the preacher who extols the virtues of being uneducated. It is the person without a liberal education who most frequently responds to messages of hate, intolerance, anti-welfare greed, super-patriotism, and denial of human rights to those of other creeds or political persuasions. (Persons at the bottom of the social totem pole are basically insecure, and so they exalt themselves by looking down on others that they consider to be of inferior status. Thus, poor whites mistreat blacks, just as call girls disdain street walkers.)
Fundamentalism and fascism are the comfortable retreats of small-minded follower types who seldom have an original thought of their own and who are suspicious of all thinking in general. Dictatorship is exalted, whether that of a wrathful God or a lawless president or a ruthless general or a domineering pastor or a chauvinistic husband. (The jargon of this group includes power-asserting phrases like “God-controlled,” “divine right,” “chain of command,” “ecclesiastical head,” and “submission to authority.”) Likewise, the Bible is set up as an omnipotent Paper Pope preeminent over all other books and all areas of human knowledge - to the detriment of reason, education, and cultural progress.
“Control” is a power word for Spiritualists, Pentecostals, and Fundamentalists,* for the mindset of cultists and Fundamentalists favors the approval of strict structures of authority. Not having understood or appreciated the real meaning of democracy, these people perpetuate Old World ideas of authorized pecking orders: God-pastor-people and man-wife-
*Spiritualists believe that a medium receives assistance in performing a seance through a spirit-agent she calls her “control.” (With witches this control, called a “familiar,” can take physical form in an animal, such as a black cat.) Likewise, those who believe in exorcism think that control by a demon is the cause of one’s being “possessed.” And the corollary of this concept is the Pentecostal teaching that the Holy Spirit controls the mind and will of anyone who submits to being “filled,” i.e., possessed.
Although they openly repudiate occultism, Pentecostals owe much of what they believe to its basic concepts of necromancy, sorcery, and divination. Necromancy has been adapted by them as the doctrine of demon- or spirit-control. Sorcery has become the magical acts of faith healing and contract praying (self affliction in order to obligate God to grant petitions). And divination is applied through using the Bible as an oracle (bibliomancy) and End Times date setting.
Likewise, while many Fundamentalists renounce Pentecostalism, they show every evidence of being profoundly affected by the charismatic movement. And one way the influence of Pentecostal superstition upon gullible Fundamentalist folk is exhibited is in their emphasis on the idea of “control.”
child. If they had their way, the whole world would become a giant military academy in which everyone learned to accept their proper places in the echelons of command. (These are the people who, down through the ages, have happily burned free thinkers, dissenters, and opponents of established authority at the stake.)
Calvinism is a favored doctrine among these people, because they believe God to be in such absolute control over His universe that He operates it as a puppet master pulling strings to make everything happen. This God is an unfeeling Tyrant who predestines every soul to heaven or to hell simply because He has the power to do so. He is the despotic Old Testament Jehovah, the autocratic Allah, who, no matter what He does to their lives for good or evil, demands the absolute obedience and servile submission of His subjects.
Most Fundamentalists do not have any use for the Pope, but they still insist on elevating their own little priestly despots over every congregation. They may not, like the Muslims, set up a sheik as the absolute life-and-death ruler over womenfolk and children in a family, but their all-powerful males still speak God’s edict to submissive households. They may not acknowledge any kinship with Hinduism, but they still set up despised, untouchable castes of scientists, scholars, social workers - and any upstart women who show signs of leadership skills. They may look down their noses at horoscope addicts, but all the while they go on seeking God’s direction through out-of-context or randomly-selected verses in the Bible. (Not being controlled by the stars, they substitute a like superstition, divine direction through oracular inscriptions.)
Enlightened Christians should remain on guard against these insidious elements that can creep into churches unawares. Especially should they be vigilant about the Fundamentalist emphasis on control that makes itself felt in some popular hymns and some new Bible translations. The following examples may be cited: The song “Send A Great Revival” has one bad line that says, “Let the Holy Spirit come and take control.” And the little chorus “Spirit Of The Living God” is flawed by the dismal prayer, “Break me, mold me, fill me, use me.” Then there is the old camp-meeting hymn “God Leads His Dear Children Along,” which extols unfair favoritism by God’s leading some people through “shady green pastures” and others through “fire” and “flood.” Can this be the same impartial Deity who causes equal amounts of rain to fall on the just and the unjust? And what do these songs all have in common? It is the bad flavor of Pentecostal control and Calvinistic determinism.
As for bad Bible translations, the worst has to be that Fundamentalist product, the New International Version. Many examples from that inferior Bible version could be cited, but the one following should suffice:
The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. Rom. 8:6-9
This is not what the original text says. The word “control” does not have a Greek equivalent in these verses. In fact, this word does not appear in any standard concordance of the King James Bible. Comparison of this passage with either the KJV or the RSV translations shows what the proper rendering should be.
A robot may be controlled, but a man is not. A puppet may be controlled, but a person is not. A mob may be controlled by a demagogue, but a rational assembly is not. A church may be controlled by a priest, but a Free Church adherent is his own priest, controlled by no human spiritual authority outside himself. Jesus Himself will not break down the door to a person’s soul; He gently knocks until He is admitted inside as an honored Guest. Even then He does not seize control, but walks alongside as the guiding Paraclete. He does not predestinate actions; He does not dictate that anyone offer Him love; He does not usurp the will of the mind of His child; He leaves His people free to search out truth and follow Him as close or as far off as they are able. He promises, not that the Spirit will take control, but that “if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed!”
Admittedly, every religious cult or philosophy has some elements of good, but overall it must be argued that Fundamentalism has a generally degrading influence within human societies. It has been said that ignorance is bliss, but, in fact, this is hardly ever the case. Consider the religious Fundamentalist. He is so radical that his unhealthy and unattractive faith dooms him to a life of trials and terror. In extreme cases, he will handle a snake or drink poison to prove his piety. When sick, he will rely on faith-healing and refuse medical treatment. He will undertake foolhardy ventures,
tempting God to not let him fail. He will live in superstitious dread of demons, witchcraft, black magic, and the occult. The Fundamentalist will oppose education and condemn his children to ignorance like his own. Being unlettered, he will hate scholarship. He will avoid the use of literature besides the Bible and will prefer the unlearned opinions of his peers above sound theology. To him the King James Bible will be the oracular Word of God, beyond his understanding and, therefore, mysteriously divine. He will see sin in every normal avenue of joyful living. He will keep fasts and look with distaste on sex and the human body. His wife will be drab, dull, unkempt, and servile. His family’s needs will be sacrificed to the enrichment of some flashy charismatic preacher. He will be suspicious of “man-made” institutions and of government. He will defend obsolete Old Testament ideas and practice virtue our of fear of the stern Hebrew Jehovah. He will pursue signs of the Second Coming and wax dogmatic about end time dates that even Jesus did not presume to know. Every organization with which he does not agree, whether it be science, the United Nations, or the Papacy, will be labeled as “the Antichrist.” The Fundamentalist bigot will claim to belong to “the true Church,” all others being under the dominion of Satan. He will seek ways to be different and disruptive. He will profess deep commitment and charismatic gifts and accuse others of apostasy and carnality. Know the Fundamentalist for what he is: a danger to himself, an offense to others, and a shame upon Christendom.
Back in 1922 Harry Emerson Fosdick preached a famous sermon, “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?” The question is still at present in doubt. But hopefully in the long run the public school system will have the final say. And as the educational level of the population gradually rises, there must follow a corresponding decline in those baser qualities that characterize the great unwashed, untaught, and unenlightened masses of men.