Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Fleeing Fundamentalism

Cross, Carlene
Fleeing Fundamentalism: A Minister's Wife Examines Faith
Algonquin Books, Chapel Hill (N.C.), 2006

This is an autobiography of a young woman who was raised by (presumably) non-Christian parents on a Montana farm. She and her brother found Jesus at a vacation Bible school. Later, she and her brother went to a Bible college, he to become a minister, she to marry the top student who became a minister, and a very good one at that.

They taught female submission which, of course, thanks to Dr. Scott Bartchy and other “state-of-the-art” Christian researchers, we now know is at least partially erroneous as what the Bible is really saying is that spouses are to submit to each other. My own opinion is there is really no differentiation between the genders any more than there is differentiation among the races. There is no hierarchy. There are really only individuals under God, no two alike, who are equal in value and all have the same God-given rights. This is one of the things that put Christianity head and shoulders over other religions.

The trouble started for the author, and for Christian fundamentalism, when Jerry Falwell and other Christian leaders started calling for more Christian involvement in government (1). They led people to believe that this would be going back to the original intent of the Founders, and the gullible members of the public believed it. They were aiming to stop the Equal Rights Amendment (which Amendment I supported), to crack down on pornography (which crackdown I opposed as I support the First Amendment as it is written), to overturn Roe v. Wade (I agree with that), and to condemn homosexuality (this is not even close to a government function).

I have previously discussed my stands on some of these issues before and will do so again.

The author's husband became more strict and overbearing over time. I personally have no experience in this area, being single for one thing, and having broken off with a few boyfriends when they began to think they could call more than half of the shots. (In all fairness, I have more than once been on the receiving end of the break-up too. I happen to be a highly energetic and assertive person and can get a little out of hand that way also. Of course, there are times to step up to the plate and insist on defending one's rights, but there are also times to stand down and cut the other guy some slack. There have been times when I foolishly opted not to tell the difference.)

The author's marriage progressed down lines that I find predictable, as I have read of these patterns before. First, he insisted that she keep the house white-glove clean and have everything in its place. After all, what would people think? Because he was a pastor they were living in the parsonage, and congregation members were always coming around, sometimes only to use the bathroom (2). Because the church owned the house, they could comment on its contents. This woman had no time to herself, but she believed it was God's will and hung in there.

I have come to consider “What will people think?” as a syndrome. Well, that syndrome and that of patriarchy escalated in what I would assume is a typical fashion. She, and another wife, began drinking. Husbands became more dominating. Later she learned that he had been going to strip joints. Later still, she found what she and most others would consider hard core pornography and alcohol hidden away. Other wives were finding the same thing.

Was this being played out among fundamentalists across the country? Or was it a local phenomenon?

In any case, this was happening at the same time the Moral Majority was agitating for a crackdown on strip joints and pornography!

That this is hypocrisy is so obvious that I do not need to say it. Less obvious is the harm it is doing to the church. And to our country. If intelligent people are leaving the church in droves, this has got to be one of the main reasons.

Certainly they are right in saying that the Constitution does not specifically mention the separation of church and state. Not in those words, as I pointed out earlier, but the First Amendment is clear on one thing and that is freedom of speech and press. The fundamentalists and the ACLU are both wrong. Both are calling for federal regulation and censorship. The Christians want to censor porn. The ACLU wants to censor prayers by students in public schools and to censor Christmas and other religious decorations on public property.

Likewise, the Fourth Amendment guarantees the right to privacy, even though the word “privacy” is not used. Look up “privacy” in the dictionary and compare its definition to the Fourth Amendment. It is not exactly the same, but it is similar enough.

The author, at the end, debunks many of the fundamentalist tenets, which interpret the Bible's commonly used translations literally. She throws out the baby with the bath.

This essay is not meant to deal with that subject, but allow me to say that new and better ways of learning what the original scripture said are becoming more available, so we are getting a far better handle on it. Rather than interpreting the Bible as a whole literally or symbolically, I think we must interpret it intelligently. God gave each of us, to one degree or another, a mind and it is incumbent upon each individual to explore the issues. I believe there are parts that must be taken literally and parts that are symbolic. The Good News of salvation is so simple that any person can understand it, and it needs to be simple because God did not give everyone a high intellect. But the Good News, and a degree of initiative, is all a person needs in order to go into the presence of God. The key is individual initiative.

If the state makes laws codifying good behavior (whether it be laws regulating strip clubs, the socialization of the institution of marriage, or the censorship of student prayers), it is taking away the individual's God-given right to decide for himself whether and how to relate to God.

(1) Cross, Carlene: Fleeing Fundamentalism: A Minister's Wife Examines Faith, Algonquin Books, Chapel Hill, 2006, P. 86-88.

(2) Hmm, I wonder where the pastor of my church lives in relation to the hiking trails I use. Very often I need to re-route a hike due to the need for a bathroom.

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