Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Two different faiths

Recently, in a lecture BP and I attended on different religious traditions, the point was made that fundamentalists of different faiths have more in common with other fundamentalists, than with liberals of their own faith group. We've certainly seen this as it relates to women, and to gay people. Islamic fundamentalists and Christian fundamentalists aren't so far apart on these issues. The spectacular silence of Christian conservatives about the Uganda gay death bill is no different than the failure of Islamic extremists to condemn the brutal torture and execution of gays in Iraq (more here).

But this got me to wondering: at what point does the squabbling between different extremes of Christianity become severe enough that Christianity becomes two different religions? Can you really say that an inclusive believer who embraces reason and conscience, and accepts the Bible as full of paradox and ambiguity, has anything left in common with a authoritarian exclusivist with a fundamentalist world-view, focused on sin and and literalist reading of Scripture? Given the accusations of idolatry and heresy that get thrown back and forth.... mostly back....Still, it seems to me that one view is all about the hope and promise of the resurrection, and the other is about the horror and suffering of the crucifixion. They have diverged in fundamental ways.

In any case, if you eliminate the ethnic component to religious identity (that is, being Catholic because your parents were), what are the chances for a realignment? Liberal Catholics, Episcopalians, and Lutherans have much more in common with each other than with their Talibanist right-wings and authoritarians.

At what point will there be two different religions?


IT said...

And are we already seeing it happen? As noted a while ago by Andrew Sullivan (and as we discussed here),

In 1990, 8 percent of Americans reported that they had no religious beliefs. Twenty years later, that's 15 percent. But when you look at younger Americans, you see that the proportion of "nones" is reaching 22 percent.....[A] huge 35 percent of the new Nones are ex-Catholics.....

the intellectual collapse of Christianity under the leadership of Protestant fundamentalists and Catholic theocons is surely relevant. The well-deserved inability of literalists to win many converts among educated people is also surely salient. The emergence of the politicized Christianist right - and its assault on Christianity as a freely chosen spiritual process - will surely lead to a continued and accelerating flight from organized religion.

61 percent of Nones find evolution convincing, compared with 38 percent of all Americans. And yet they do not dismiss the possibility of a God they do not understand; and refuse to call themselves atheists. This is the fertile ground on which a new Christianity will at some point grow. In the end, the intellectual bankruptcy of the theocon right and Christianist movement counts. Very few people with brains are listening to these people any more. They have discredited Christianity as much as they have tarnished conservatism.

So, when does the remaining rump of discredited conservatives become a different religion in fact?

David |Dah • veed| said...

Be careful IT, you are beginning to sound strikingly like the clarion call of one Rt. Revd. John Shelby Spong!

The fundies at Viagraville already accept that we are two different religions; they, the true Christianity and we, the new religion of societal indulgence.

I see it as being that they are a religion about Jesus and we are the faith of Jesus.

IT said...

Oh, I'm just an observer, Dahveed. Perhaps I should read some Spong.

I like your description, anyway.

Erp said...

Spong is interesting though he does seem to rub even some liberal Christians the wrong way.

I have a preference I think for Bishop Richard Holloway (former Primus of Scotland). A bishop who writes a book called "Godless Morality" and means it has something that us godless can listen to.

Hope everyone has a good twelfth night.

Erika Baker said...

It's always been like that. The mystics of the faiths have always been closer to each other than to the general believers in their own faiths.

As a lovely Jesuit priest said to me once in a conversation about fundamentalist vs liberal Christians: we all share the same faith, we just don't share the same beliefs.

You don't need to separate out into different religions... in fact, many people develop from one end of the spectrum to the other in the course of their lives. All you need is willingness to live with the tension and that old value of tolerance.

Drew Downs+ said...

IT, I have long asked "what's the endgame?" when confronted with decisions and the like that I find absurd or most especially, anything relating to "the gay issue". What is the endgame of this conflict? What you've done is crystallize the only rational endgame.

I am coming to believe that fundamentalism, in whatever form it is presented, can only perceive the world in terms of their dominion--it is their job to overcome, subdue, and subjugate the opposition and then rule directly and firmly by their ethical principles as manifest. To the rational mind, this is likely to be deeply offensive and intellectually indefensible. Well, I'm also convinced that more than a few bad actors in the group are not fundamentalist themselves (and therefore don't have this ideology ingrained within them) but also refuse to compromise or deal with a difference of opinion for political reasons. I find this even more offensive.

Since fundamentalist ideology isn't likely to overcome the rational majority, the only endgame I've conceived thus far is the bring-the-whole-damn-thing-down scheme. But now I have some new things to think about. Perhaps we're looking at a new group of Christians that "walk apart" from the rest of the pack...

JCF said...

it seems to me that one view is all about the hope and promise of the resurrection, and the other is about the horror and suffering of the crucifixion. They have diverged in fundamental ways.

Yes, IT, but cosmologized into Heaven and Hell [In the infamous example from my dissertation research, the "Altoona School of the Bible", their (mandatory for faculty & students) faith statement specified (as the ONLY alternative for non-Fundamentalist Protestant Born-Again Christians) this: "Eternal conscious suffering of the lost in the Lake of Fire"]


Dahveed: I see it as being that they are a religion about Jesus and we are the faith of Jesus.

Faith AND following, of AND in, and I'm there.


In The Brothers Karamazov, Doestoyevsky wrote (I think: this is a quote from memory, not reading the book, sadly! ;-/) "Happy families are all alike; unhappy families are each unhappy in their own way."

Personally, I think this, as a principle for our discussion here, is rather bass-ackwards.

I would say

"Fundamentalist Hells are all (painfully) alike; Liberal Heavens are each a paradise in their own way!"


Finally, Episcopal Cafe/The Lead points us to this at Slate:

Why do so many terrorists have engineering degrees?

engineers, in particular, were three to four times more likely to become violent terrorists than their peers in finance, medicine or the sciences. The next most radicalizing graduate degree, in a distant second, was Islamic Studies.


What else might account for the radical, violent politics of so many former engineering students? Is there some set of traits that makes engineers more likely to participate in acts of terrorism? To answer this question, Gambetta and Hertog updated a study that was first published in 1972, when a pair of researchers named Seymour Lipset and Carl Ladd surveyed the ideological bent of their fellow American academics. According to the original paper, engineers described themselves as "strongly conservative" and "deeply religious" more often than professors in any other field. Gambetta and Hertog repeated this analysis for data gathered in 1984, so it might better match up with their terrorist sample. They found similar results, with 46 percent of the (male American) engineers describing themselves as both conservative and religious, compared with 22 percent of scientists.

Gambetta and Hertog write about a particular mind-set among engineers that disdains ambiguity and compromise. They might be more passionate about bringing order to their society and see the rigid, religious law put forward in radical Islam as the best way of achieving those goals. In online postings, Abdulmutallab expressed concern over the conflict between his secular lifestyle and more extreme religious views. "How should one put the balance right?" he wrote.

20 years ago, my brother left the moderate Episcopal faith of his up-bringing, to convert to Judaism . . . note carefully, the Judaism of his idol, conservative radio talk-show host Dennis Praeger. Guess what field my brother has two college degrees in? :-/ (Thankfully, he seems to have mellowed in the second decade of his conversion. Now, he's merely stridently "apolitical". I asked him to Vote No on Prop 8, and I *think* he did---though I've personally lacked the 'nads to try to confirm it from him!)

I know we need to be careful w/ the above info (I mean generally, not just about my brother): we don't want to start treating engineers the way 1st c. CE pharisees treated "tax collectors"! ;-/

Counterlight said...

"Happy families are all alike; unhappy families are each unhappy in their own way."
--the opening line of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina.

I can vouch for the peculiar engineers' attraction to things authoritarian in religious and political matters. I have a cousin who is an aeronautical engineer. He worked a long time for NASA. Many years ago, he left the easy-breezy Methodism of his upbringing for Christian fundamentalism. I believe he joined the Assemblies of God (the Southern Baptists are too liberal for them). We haven't spoken in decades, so I'm not sure where he is now.

Counterlight said...

I'm not quite sure how I feel about the whole "2 different religions" issue. I find the views and the company of so many fundamentalists (not all) to be insufferable and infuriating. I notice that there are precious few fundamentalists who hold liberal or progressive political views. As far as I can see, a supremacist religious view fits quite naturally with supremacist political views.

Besides, "conservative" is a word that means something very different now from what Edmund Burke, or even William F. Buckley, meant.

And yet, I'm reluctant to throw back the anathemas hurled in my direction. They have a hard time recognizing me as human, let alone as Christian. I leave it to God, and to God alone, to sort out who is and who is not a Member. I wonder if God really troubles Himself much over that issue. I suspect that's an issue more for us than for Him.

I wish I could remember who pointed out that faith and piety are not synonymous.

IT said...

Good points, all.

I'm not surprised about the engineers. They tend to be politically conservative as well.

Indeed, the myth of the liberal academy doesn't describe science and tech faculty. I suspect the fraction of closeted scientists and engineers, for example, is pretty darn high, where our humanities colleagues can be as out as they like.

People may also be interested in this article: How religious people misunderstand scientists. The author did a study of religion amongst scientists (Disclosure: I was one of the several thousand in the study). There are religious scientists (duh!) but of course there is a lower rate in scientists than the general public.

JCF said...

"Happy families are all alike; unhappy families are each unhappy in their own way."
--the opening line of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina.

Doug, OUCH! }-p

[Hey, I knew it was from a Russian novel, OK? Just don't tell anyone about my bachelor's in International Relations (Russian/E. European focus), hmm?]

But Brothers Karamazov had the line about "every man dreams of killing his father", right? ;-/

Counterlight said...

The Brothers Karamazov had the famous episode of the Grand Inquisitor who seems to be taking over Christianity once again, and putting Jesus on trial all over again.

I didn't mean to make you say OUCH! I apologize if I pinched you.

JCF said...

Not your problem, Doug: you just (accidentally) exposed me pretending to know more than I do (a behavior I practice---far more than homosexuality, regrettably ;-/---All.The.Time. ... but for which I am only periodically exposed!)

NancyP said...

I think that the sorts of problems that old-fashioned engineers deal with tend to have solutions that "stay put". Newtonian physics will do just fine for them. Indeterminacy and unpredictable behavior of highly complex systems are not the typical attributes of a civil engineering or mechanical engineering problem.

Biologists and medical doctors are accustomed to their subjects' unpredictability. The medical saying is "the disease didn't read the textbook". You are continually reminded that indeed, you don't know everything and will never know everything about your subjects.

Göran Koch-Swahne said...

The shared ancestry of fundamentalists is Hellenism!