Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Individualism and the Religious Right

I have written recently concerning the dangerous every-man-for-himself ideology of today's conservative republicans. Unfortunately, this attitude has found it's way into conservative churches. Since the beginning of the Moral Majority, the continuing collusion of the religious right and Republicans has fostered a cross-breeding of sorts. The conservative churches are less Christ-like as they fight for the kingdoms of this world, and the Republicans find themselves grandstanding on social issues that only marginalize their party and reek of hypocrisy.
Another unfortunate side effect of this on the churches is the loss of true benevolence. Because conservative ideology has reduced being poor to moral failure, withholding true benevolence is a matter of letting God punish the poor for their sins. If benevolence is extended at all, it is with a very meager hand and on condescending terms- even to their own members!
Because these churches see as their mission to pray and work for the revival of America (which essentially means victory in the culture wars, all the conversion talk notwithstanding) they further denigrate benevolence as "social gospel" and consider it tangential if even relevant to their work.
I like to say that if a man has a bad toothache, he won't be in any condition to pay attention in church. How many times did Christ heal and feed before He preached?
Individualistic self-sufficiency has become a doctrine in many of our churches, and that goes completely counter to the message and spirit of Christ. I quote Camille Lewis from her blog:

"Even while Gen-X and Gen-Y fundamentalists reject the term “fundamentalism” qua fundamentalism, the separatist rhetorical forms persist in conservative Evangelicalism. Having reified the American ideal of individualism into a doctrine, these sectarians have shattered any sense of community in conservative Evangelicalism. They attempt to rebuild a notion of the community with their discourses of “biblical” living in order to woo and contain, but these attempts simply mask the egocentric and splintering rhetorical forms. They have become too individualistic to be fully human."

In other words, while rejecting fundamentalism, many have carried the divisive individualistic separatist rhetoric into conservative evangelical(CE) circles, destroying a true sense of community in doing so. However, I would say that it has been there for a long time, courtesy of Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority. The new crop of neo-fundies is finding a home among CEs that releases them from picky rules about music and cards and versions and overt "inter-varsity" divisiveness, but maintains a pathological antaganism to modern American society in general.
War mentality always requires an us vs. them outlook. It's baked in.
Gone is the ideal of seeking Christ together and seeing what He makes us into. Dominant is the paradigm of shoving the glass slipper on every believer in the name of traditional values.

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