Religious sectarianism has been the cause of more murders and blood shed in the world than any other cause. Christians against perceived heretics, or any other faiths; Catholics versus Protestants and vice versa, Hindus versus Buddhists, Muslims, Sihks .. Muslims versus Christians and other infidels, Buddhists versus Hindus, Tamils or Muslims - and everyone against Jews. All sanctioned by religion.
Thomas Paine defined theology as the study of human opinion and fancies concerning God.
Evangelicalism traces its origins to the great religious revival of the 1730s, the Great Awakening in America, the evangelical revival.
They preached the fundamental importance of every individual experiencing for themselves a personal conversion to Jesus Christ through a deep and genuine repentance. This repentance was understood as a response to understanding the meaning and power of Christ’s atoning work on the cross.
Such a message found a ready audience in both colonial America and post-Restoration England, and many thousands came to hear these men speak and discovered for themselves through their words a lively new faith.
William Marsh in 1850 defining:
an ’evangelical believer’ as ‘a man who believes in the fall and its consequences, in the recovery and its fruits, in the personal application of the recovery by the power of the Spirit of God.
Conversion, likewise, has consistently sat at the core of what it means to be evangelical. Originally, in the 18th century all evangelical preachers were expected to have undergone a conversion experience themselves so that they could speak with authority about what they knew.
The conversion of early Methodist preacher Sampson Staniforth – then a solider on active service – evinces the basic ingredients of the conversion experience:
‘As soon as I was alone, I kneeled down, and determined not to rise, but to continue crying and wrestling with God, till he had mercy on me. How long I was in that agony I cannot tell; but as I looked up to heaven I saw the clouds open exceeding bright, and I saw Jesus hanging on the cross. At the same moment these words were applied to my heart, ‘Thy sins are forgiven thee’. My chains fell of; my heart was free. All guilt was gone, and my soul was filled with unutterable peace.’
Rachel Louise Snyder describes a revival meeting:
people prayed in tongues, and preached that we must go forth and spread God’s word to save a world of sinners.
There was something unbridled and terrifying to me about the shifts in emotional tenor: people wailed, burst into praise for Jesus, and fainted, possessed by what I was told was the spirit of God.
My uncle’s church maintained that, in order to make it to Heaven, one had to become reborn, both symbolically and by claiming salvation aloud. The falling and rising on the stage at the revival stood for spiritual death and rebirth. It was called being “slain in the spirit.”
One person would spout what sounded like gibberish into the air, and then, after a few awkward moments, another person would offer an interpretation. This call-and-response came from God himself. Tongues was the divine language, meaning that no earthly being could understand it.
During the revival one afternoon, my uncle baptized people in a nearby lake, one after another—including me. I stood in my bathing suit beside him as he laid one palm atop my head and prayed. He asked God to watch over me; he called me a “lamb of God.” Then he covered my face with one hand and pressed me backward under the water. When I emerged, the attendees along the shore applauded. My dad came over and said, “Hallelujah.” He tossed me back into the water, and I laughed, because a lake in August came as a relief from that thundering tent. By Rachel Louise Snyder - NYRB 2023.
Religious scholars describe fundamentalism as a modern phenomenon, where the mysticism and mystery of religion is replaced with literalism and dogmatism.
Barry Jones, writing for the Saturday Paper (Feb. 3, 24) writes:
Religious fundamentalism, both Christian and Islamic, seems to offer cheap grace, a superficial transaction promising lifelong, even post-life, guarantees. Individual judgement or knowledge is not required and may be actively discouraged.
Fundamentalism is not merely intellectually crippling: it is profoundly contemptuous of Jesus or Muhammad, whose teachings are far more profound, universal, stimulating, controversial and compassionate than fundamentalists will concede.
Fundamentalism offers a creed without history, without scholarship, without depth, without context, and yet its phenomenal growth confirms it meets community needs and anxieties far more than do mainstream churches or mosques.
In the United States, Donald Trump’s central appeal is not so dissimilar. He presents himself as a kind of radical prophet, a politician who says he’s not a politician and promises to turn America away from the 21st century. He is a master in harvesting fear, rage and humiliation. Bullying is central to his appeal. Revenge is a powerful incentive to vote for him. That he doesn’t know stuff is seen as irrelevant or even as an asset. The 91 charges against him are his stigmata.
Trump’s endorsement by fundamentalist Christians confirms God moves in mysterious ways, because his link to the Gospels is tenuous. He offers simple solutions for complex problems. The answer to gun violence is more guns. Easy. Next question. Barry Jones
For too long, we who value democracy, pluralism, religious tolerance, peacekeeping, free speech, compassion and kindness, have wilfully ignored fundamentalist thinking in our communities.
AMERICAN HERETICS takes audiences into the buckle of the Bible belt where a group of defiant ministers, congregations, and community leaders are challenging deeply rooted fundamentalist Christian doctrine in favor of a Gospel of Inclusion.
Labeled as “heretics” for their beliefs and actions, they refuse to wield their faith as a sword sharpened by literal interpretations of the Bible.
The antidote to creeping fundamentalism is learning to embrace progress and celebrate diversity. Celebrate and love those around you, no matter the differences between you.
Throw away fear and perfectionism and moral superiority. Embrace your doubts. Your spirituality is more than a set of rules laid out for you. If it is important to you, then wrestle with it. You may decide it is so ugly and wretched that it is time to throw it away.
New Apostolic Reformation, is a loosely linked network of charismatics and Pentecostals that, over the past decade, has played an influential role in conservative American circles.
New waves of inspirational speakers develop newer versions of old tricks. Hillsong, spruiking ‘prosperity theology’, in direct opposition to Christ’s message in Luke:
“From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”
According to Michael Pascoe, It’s pretty much the opposite of prosperity theology – the idea that God makes nice believers rich. Clap hands and shout hallelujah to win Lotto while poor people must be undeserving.
Brian Houston’s new brand spread from New Zealand to Australia and found fertile soil in America until - as in most religions, it was revealed he had engaged in exploiting young men for sexual favours.
Harmful Religion #
Fanatical followers of any religion form a view that if they believe something to be true, those who don’t, are lost and harm to them is irrelevant and harm can be blamed on moral shortcomings of the victims, justifying violence.
In 1493 Pope Alexander VI issued a Papal Bull – Inter Caetera which divided the world, discovered and to be discovered between the Spanish and Portuguese empires.
The Bull justified the taking of land from barbarous nations if they didn’t know Jesus Christ, exhorting the spread of Christianity, sanctioning the invasion of lands and the enslavement of non- Christian peoples if they disagreed with the invaders’ opinion about gods and spirituality.
So much for Christian tolerance.
During ‘Operation Blue Star’, Indira Gandhi, Prime Minister of India, ordered an attack on the Sikh Golden Temple in June 1984. The aim was to silence demands for Sikh religious and political autonomy, and resulted in the deaths of 492 civilians. In retaliation, Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her two Sikh bodyguards. The events that followed represent one of the darkest periods of modern Indian history.
The assassination of Indira Gandhi led to the retaliatory 1984 Sikh Genocide. Within a period of three days, almost 3000 Sikhs were murdered, and the human rights of thousands more were violated.
The 2005 Nanavti commission described the ‘systematic’ nature of the attacks, whereby men were beaten before being burnt alive.
John Dickson’s Bullies and Saints writes:
Is religion a pernicious force in the world? Does it poison everything? Would we be better off without religion in general and Christianity in particular? Many think so. But the critics are only partly right: this is not what Christianity was at its foundation or on its best days. Jesus of Nazareth gave the world a beautiful melody - of charity, humility, and human dignity - and while many of its followers have been tone-deaf, many others have sung the tune and transformed the world.
Has Christianity changed from a faith of the crucified to one with the power to crucify?
Perhaps, as Thomas Keneally quesions,
“Is Christ also a sort of victim of the Church?”
Some churches appear a platform to settle scores and slap back at intellectual colleagues for past slights. Thomas Moore noted, “Those who plot the destruction of others often perish in the attempt”.