Yesterday I was reading blogs, and came across a gem from Christian at Sharp Iron. His post is entitled, Mel Gibson in the Hands of an Angry God. Some of the insights Christian offers were profound and helpful in my ever ongoing quest to understand the mind and motivation of the fundamentalist.
I’ll be summarizing some of his points and expanding upon them, but please do go read his post. It is well worth your time.
Christian has that unique position of having traveled from the far right evangelical to the more moderate middle. He speaks with first hand experience of what it means to be of the “born again” genre. Born again seems to refer in the fundamentalist mind, to one who has surrendered to Christ. And that seems to mean one who has publicly admitted that they belief that Christ is savior, come to earth to die for our sins and through our faith in him, guarantees our eternal life.
Christian ponders how this coincides with who Jesus was as prophet, healer, and revisionist Jew. And he offers, I submit, an excellent rationale for how conservative Christians reconstruct Jesus to fit into their already extant worldview.
He in effect claims that they fail in the born again transformation, merely carrying their inborn anger at “the way things are” over into their new faith. God becomes the avenger of all that they dislike, and Jesus, as he puts it, will return with wrath upon “those who have it coming.”
In this he provides I believe a big answer to why fundamentalists are the way they are.
Let me explain. First lets look at the concept of being “born again.” Although the Right Wing Christian believes born again refers to “acceptance of Jesus as personal savior” it quite clearly doesn’t mean this at all. Refer to John 3:3-8 wherein Jesus explains what it means. He says that being born again is not belief in him but being reborn (transformed) by the Spirit.
Moreover, the Greek phrase is gennatha anothen. While it can be translated as “born again,” it is more properly translated as “born from above.” This latter is the translation of the NRSV. Indeed, the KJV (preferred text of fundamentalists) ONLY translates anothen as again in these two verses from John: 3:3 and 3:7. In every other place, the KJV translates the word in some other way.
More to the point, the purpose of being born of Spirit, is to be transformed. And this is where Christian makes his point most strongly. They are not really transformed at all.
One of the most serious errors that fundamentalists make in their “theology” is to equate the bible as some textbook guide to PERSONAL salvation. It is not that, and never was. It is NOT what Jesus taught.
Sure, Jesus spoke TO people, but his message was not directed toward some personal piety that would guarantee “salvation to individuals. He spoke, rather, against the prevailing cultural consensus of his time–against the Holiness codes and purity codes and that strict adherence to these was what would save Israel. Rather, he charged that one must have a heart of compassion and love, and by following that, they were imitating the Father’s love and compassion, and THAT would save Israel.
What the fundamentalist gets wrong is he “transforms his conduct from drinking, gambling, whoring, swearing, and all manner of PERSONAL inadequacies and presumed evils, and then goes to church regularly, or at least reads the bible a good deal, and declares to everyone within hearing that they too must do as he has done or they will be condemned.
God is the avenger who will punish those who are not born again, Jesus will judge and consign to Hell all slackers upon his second coming. Nowhere is there a true transformation which causes one to love one’s enemies and that by “doing unto the least of these” you do it to me.
War and hatred are not discarded as any fair reading of Jesus’ preaching would entail. Instead, the fundamentalist retains all his angers and hatred for others in the guise as Christian points out, of “righteous indignation” which they happily show you in the New Testament. Indeed the “Cleansing of the Temple” is found in all four gospels. It remains the singular statement of perhaps an angry Jesus.
I say perhaps because there is nothing said about anger at all in the synoptic versions. In Matt. 21:10-17, Mk. 11:11, and Lk. 19:45, all agree, “he came into the temple and drove out the moneychangers and overturned the tables. Nothing is said about anger. Nor does John’s version, (thought by many to be the closest to accuracy) Jn. 2: 13-17.
As Christian points out, this event could hardly have been a new thing for Jesus. He had been in the Temple many times. There was nothing new in what was going on there. He could not have been truly angry; rather, he wished to make a point, to get the events of his final days in Jerusalem underway. All texts report that the disturbance got the attention of the high priests and the scribes and Pharisees. It was this that was the final straw, and they determined that his ministry must be stopped lest it gain the upper hand. That fairly seems to have been his motivation.
This I think helps us to understand why right wing Christians maintain that war is a viable means to an end, and indeed seem to be in the forefront of promoting it to secure political ends. It explains why the death penalty finds adherents in this group.
It also I think, explains why social justice issues, fall on deaf ears, as regards them. All too often those on the margins, like those in the time of Jesus, were not good believers. Not good followers of the rules. Condemned by the Pharisees as unclean, as sinful by their conduct or failure to abide by the purity and holiness codes, they were the very folks that Jesus spent their time with. But alas, as we are all to a degree wont to do, we discard that which doesn’t fit our preconceived notions.
The fundamentalist finds fertile ground in the Hebrew Scriptures for an angry, avenging God. They relate to this God who will right all the wrongs they themselves perceive, and they then pervert and subvert the message of Jesus to conform as the returning JUDGE of all.
As Christian points out, this is not transforming, but merely recreating God and Jesus to suit one’s own proclivities. Personal salvation is the only goal, the Kingdom is only about heavenly mansions where we will get to live like the rich finally.
It explains a lot.