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The Great Fundamentalist Hoax

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Thoughtful Americans have long wondered how it is that fundamentalist Christians--followers of someone who preached pacifism and tolerance--became the poster boy for hate speech, touting "moral values" indistinguishable from those of the Taliban. They wonder why, for example, fundamentalist Christians so seldom quote from the New Testament--which is supposedly what Christianity is all about--but prefer citing the Torah and Old Testament prophets.

One reason is that the Old Testament is full of murder, vindictiveness, and genocide--all supposedly ordered by God. So when fundamentalists want a Biblical excuse for hate speech and hate crimes--which they seem to need with considerable frequency--they turn to Old Testament sources.

Christian homophobes, for example, carry signs saying 'God hates fags', which they justify by claiming that Leviticus 18:22 (condemning male homosexuality as "abomination") is the 'word of God'. Yet more than a third of the entire book of Leviticus is devoted to God's detailed instructions on the proper manner of making burnt offerings of animals to Him. (The rest deals with keeping Jewish dietary laws, avoiding pollution from inadvertent contact with menstruating women, forbidding haircuts and beard trimming, justifying slavery, and saying anyone who swears should be stoned to death). Why doesn't God hate those who fail to make offerings in the exact manner He so carefully spelled out in chapter after chapter? Since fundamentalists feel comfortable ignoring 95% of the 'word of God' in Leviticus, why have they latched onto this isolated phrase? If "God hates fags", then God must feel positively murderous toward people who don't make burnt offerings of animal carcasses in the precise manner so carefully indicated, and in such extreme detail. (God must also hate people who eat lobster, shrimp and pork, which are also "abominations" according to Leviticus).

It's startling, in fact, how rarely fundamentalist Christians mention the sayings of Jesus. 'Morality' to them means the sexual inhibitions of ancient Middle Eastern patriarchies. They seem to be nostalgic for the pruderies of the 1950s, when the Hays office decreed that movies couldn't show pajama-clad married couples in bed together lest it incite teenage moviegoers to fornication. This obsession with sexuality is surprising, since Jesus seemed to have very little interest in the topic. In the four Gospels there are only four statements about sexuality, and these deal with adultery and divorce rather than sex per se. That is, with relationships--with causing injury to another.

Compare this with the nineteen statements Jesus makes about the importance of giving, and the value of divesting oneself of money and possessions. Yet we seldom hear fundamentalist Christians saying it's easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven. Or quoting the ten statements exhorting us to turn the other cheek--a Christian idea that seems to be anathema to hate-filled fundamentalists.

The Bible becomes the 'Word of God' when a bigot wants to use it to bludgeon his neighbor, and a mere archaic relic when it would be inconvenient for him to take it seriously. Fundamentalists of all persuasions--Christian, Muslim, Jewish--often manage to find some sort of backing for their hatreds in their sacred texts; for these texts were written in societies that were misogynistic, militaristic, and rigidly authoritarian--written, furthermore, by men who believed the earth was flat.

The reason why so many fundamentalist Christians are so notoriously "unChristian" is simple: for the majority of Christians (Quakers are among many notable exceptions) Christianity isn't about the teachings of Jesus, and never was. The early church fathers knew that Jesus' rather Buddhist message of nonviolence and voluntary poverty wouldn't fly in the Graeco-Roman world, let alone in the Middle East. The idea of a Redeemer on the other hand--someone who would voluntarily sacrifice Himself for humanity and their sins--was very popular. Instead of having to give up their worldly goods and espouse non-violence, all the Romans had to do was believe in the miraculous stories surrounding Jesus' birth and death, which was easy for them, since such stories had been told about pagan gods and heroes and were already familiar.

Christianity as it exists among fundamentalists isn't about behaving like Jesus. It's all about faith--about believing the story. The underlying message seems to be: you can behave any way you want as long as you believe the story and say you're sorry before you die. Following the teachings of Jesus is much too demanding, whereas with the Christianity of fundamentalists all you have to do is shut your mind off.

There ought to be a term that would designate those who actually follow the teachings of Jesus, since the word "Christian" has been largely divorced from those teachings, and so polluted by fundamentalists that it has come to connote their polar opposite: intolerance, vindictive hatred, and bigotry.