Sunday, April 17, 2005Why I Hate Fundamentalism
how to recognize the enemy
Look, I really don't have any particular beef with religion. I was raised -- at least for a time -- in a relatively religious home; my father was a lay minister (he pretended to have a D.Div., but that was about 80% bullshit), and I had numerous extremely formative experiences with the church. There was the time -- I think I was three, maybe four -- when we went to see my father lead a sermon before his then-congregation at the Rusk State (Mental) Hospital; I was very young and didn't understand where I was, but I could feel the crazy vibes coming off those parishoners like a wind of inchoerence off the lunatic sea, and the mix of Jesus and palpable insanity is one that a tot doesn't easily forget. Then there was the minister with the missing hand -- I can't remember what his name was, but as young as I was I didn't fail to notice his deformity -- who used to demand hugs and pat the top of my head with his stump. I remember the back corners of the church where my father served, the dim rooms containing cassocks and vestments on racks, the overpowering sickly-sweet astringency of sacramental wine, the "apartness" of the atmosphere. That kind of thing leaves an impression on a four-year-old.
More sublime was the almost-frightening awe and pleasure of hearing Bach played on a pipe organ, and the unintentional images formed in the stained-glass windows that only a young child would notice. I was sent to a private, Anglican-ish elementary school, and had a good head for Bible stories. I have no doubt that I inherited an affinity for religion from my father -- god help me, I hope I'm not the self-righteous hypocrite he was, but if anything I'm even more fascinated by religious meaning -- and spending many childhood years deep in the Bible Belt certainly encouraged me to take a rather gothic view of spirituality.
My own beliefs I keep private; they are many-layered and, I like to think, very nuanced; certainly not simple or easy to explain. I understand what people find in religion, even as I resist the urge to fall into simplistic thought patterns or to end my search with easy, self-flattering conclusions. I have long argued -- at least to anyone interested -- that science and religion are twin products of the same basic human impulse, that the scientific method as it is usually practiced qualifies in anthropological terms as a religious ritual (and I can prove it with a sheet of paper and a pencil). I strongly feel that when used for good religion is a hugely beneficial element of human experience.
But I'm going to say something now, pointing out that I don't say it lightly:
I hate fucking fundamentalists.
Now that we've rescued our gay, lesbian, and transgendered sistren and brethren from the untrue and unjust label of "mentally ill," I suggest we fill the empty pages in the Big Book O' Psychiatric Disorders by redefining fundamentalism as a malignant, sociopathic form of insanity. Fundamentalism is the cancer festering in the lymph nodes of humanity, the pustulent boil on mankind's collective psychic ass that prevents us from thinking about more important things. Sure, we've got other problems, but until we lance the sore and drain the pus, we're not going to get a goddamn thing done -- and once we do, imagine how much better we'll all feel.
And I don't just mean Christian fundamentalists -- although obviously as an American those are the ones who most often torment and offend me -- but all kinds of fundamentalists: Islamic fundamentalists, Jewish fundamentalists, atheist fundamentalists (Madalyn Murray O'Hair is as much on my shit-list as James Dobson), vegan fundamentalists, capitalist and communist fundamentalists, the lot -- you show me a Buddhist or a Unitarian Universalist fundamentalist, and I'll denounce them, too. Because it's not the religion that matters, it's the shitty, self-righteous, narrow-minded, willfully-ignorant attitude that makes fundamentalism what it is. Have you ever met a laid-back, open-minded fundamentalist? Of course not, it's impossible; the very idea is self-contradictory. These people are in it first and foremost to be insufferable assholes, and to make the lives of sane people an endless misery.
"What brought on this tirade?" I hear you ask.
Bill fucking Frist, that's what. As part of the earliest stages of his assumed 2008 run for President, self-admitted leisure-time cat-vivisectionist Frist is getting all cuddly with the would-be theocrats who want to turn our flawed-but-functioning democracy into a totalitarian Gilead. If these evil fucks ever got their way, the United States would make Iran look like Canada. These are people who are willing to deny a life-saving vaccine to young women on the basis that "they may see it as a licence to engage in premarital sex." These are people who want to allow pharmacists to refuse to fill prescriptions based on their own judgement of the moral validity of those prescriptions. These are people who not only want to deny gays and lesbians their constitutionally-guaranteed equal rights, but re-criminalize "sodomy" (except for their own, of course) so that they can toss the fags and dykes in jail. These are people who would happily watch the earth burn in a carcinogenic smog of greenhouse gases, since we're not going to need it after our impending Armageddon anyway. Women will become broodmares, men will have their porn criminalized, evolution will be denounced as heresy, scientific thought (except the kind that makes it easier to slaughter brown people) will be abolished, and all of us will have a simple choice between praying to Jesus or facing the consequences.
Yes, they're extremists, but moderate conservatives are happily letting them push and push, slowly making theocratic principles the core values of the Republican party while the sane stand by and passively watch. They've let them undermine the basic freedoms built into our society as they tirelessly work to replace ten amendments with ten commandments (always leaving loopholes for capital punishment and every man's god-given right to blow away anyone who breaks into his house.) They've said nothing when the fundamentalist-driven right makes veiled threats against the judiciary. They've supported the slaughter of thousands in an ineffectual attempt to thwart brown-skinned terrorists while saying nothing when a home-grown terrorist gets off with a plea bargain. They squeal indignantly about even the smallest perceived slight against their psychotic religious beliefs while happily grinding the religious rights of others into the mud. Fundamentalism in all its forms is a scourge, the enemy of civil discourse and social peace, and must be treated as such.
Of course, exactly what should be done is a trickier question. In the sixteenth century, England had a problem with fundies -- they called them Puritans -- and found a tidy solution: send 'em packing to the new world. They've obviously benefitted from the arrangement, since Europe now has a very manageable fundamentalist element, while we're completely overrun. And of course, there aren't many enormous empty (or, at least, mostly empty) landmasses left now; short of packing our modern-day Puritans onto a shuttle and launching them into the cold-but-morally-pure depths of space (at which point paradise would instantly descend upon those of us left here on Earth), there isn't much we can do but contain them, quaratine them like bearers of a plague.
Or we could always try treating them. There are more sane religious people in this country than you would ever think from the ruckus the nutjobs raise; perhaps if they became more vocal, more willing to go on the offensive and reject the putrid label with which they've been tarred by association, maybe more Americans would realize that being liberal and being Christian are not merely not-contradictory, but that in fact liberalism is much more closely aligned to the actual philosophy of Jesus than anything Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell ever dreamt of in their fevered hallucinations. It isn't liberals who lack morals; we collectively possess a principled, nuanced code of ethics that we can follow even without the stimulus of threatened eternal damnation if we don't. It's the money-grubbing, judgemental, self-righteous, hypocritical religious right that lacks the moral depth to see beyond Leviticus to the human reality that surrounds them throughout their lives, asking something more from them than blind self-interest, reactionary fear and pedantic adherance to dogma.
Imagine how pleasant the United States would be without fundamentalists -- we could all politely disagree again; we could acknowledge that none of us has exclusive rights to truth; we could learn how to appreciate each other for our differences instead of demonizing each other; we could discuss our problems like reasonable, responsible adults and not like psychotic infants. In time, the rest of the world might come to trust us again; we might even come to trust each other. How great would that be, to feel certain that even those who disagree with you still have your best interests at heart? To know absolutely and for-certain that they don't secretly fantasize about gloating from the bucket seat of a fluffy SUV-shaped cloud while masturbating to the sound of your horrific screams as your flesh melts away in the undying fire for all eternity? Wouldn't that be a refreshing change from the way things are now? You know it would.
There's only one thing standing between us and a renewed America, folks. All we have to do to reclaim our greatness is to reach out a hand, give each other a big, patriotic smile, and slap the fucking shit out of these fundie bastards. |