There is a view in some quarters, including here in the UK, that modern-day Western societies are free of some of the caricatures often associated with some non-Western cultures; in recent times, negative comparisons have been drawn with Islam and Muslims in particular.
Similarly, there are uninformed arguments being made that, whilst – for example – it would be highly inaccurate to assert that the most ultraconservative, tyrannical and bigoted historical versions of Catholicism or some of the more fanatical and regressive versions of Christianity in general prevalent in some parts of the United States should be extrapolated to stereotype & denigrate Christianity and its diverse followers all over the rest of the world, Islam and Muslims do not demonstrate the same level of diversity either in the modern day or historically. The logic (not to mention the gross ignorance) of claiming that one particular religion and its followers encompass the spectrum of interpretations from liberalism & moderation to the ultraconservative opposite extreme, and that other religions and their followers do not, is patently faulty.
Matthew Harwood has recently written an excellent article for Comment is Free on the Guardian demonstrating this perfectly, titled ”America’s Paranoid Religious Right”. He specifically discusses the ‘Call 2 Fall’ movement in the United States. A few extracts, as follows:
The Call 2 Fall movement captures the mood among Christian nationalists – that God is punishing America for its sinful ways.
On the morning of Sunday 4 July, hundreds of thousands of Christians across America fell to their knees to beseech their god for forgiveness in an effort to decipher why he has forsaken the United States, the most Christian nation on earth.
The work of Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council, the day owes itself to the undeniably ecumenical influence of “public days of humiliation, fasting, and prayer” called for by the Continental Congress and the Adams, Madison, and Lincoln administrations during the tribulations of America’s birth and the adolescence of civil war. (It should be noted that none of these presidents can be ever be claimed as fathers of today’s religious right.)
Parallels with regressive characteristics normally associated with negative stereotypes of certain other religions continue to mount:
The idea behind it is simple, says the Call 2 Fall website: “[O]n the day we celebrate our ‘independence’, we should also express our ‘dependence’ upon the Lord.”
If you’re of a certain Christian persuasion that believes the United States is God’s providential actor on earth, crowned as history’s savour, the call to fall isn’t insensible. The United States hasn’t fared well the last few years.
….. During such times, asking why such troubles plague the United States is not only natural but necessary. Unfortunately, too many answer the question by looking to the simplicities offered by the religious right. “From 9/11 to war to natural disasters to financial and moral collapse, we are witnessing what happens when a nation turns away from God,” the Call2Fall website exhorts.
Matthew Harwood and his wife decided to visit a church run by this organisation in order to see what it involves:
In an effort to understand how Christian nationalists deal with a very frightening and insecure time, my wife and I sat in on a Call 2 Fall service at a full gospel church in the DC suburbs of Northern Virginia. The experience was an insight into the cultural insecurities at work within the religious right and its Christian nationalism – the belief that the United States was, is, and for ever shall be a “Christian nation”, utterly dependent on God for its success.
…..The first hour of the service was taken up with devotional music, which had me questioning whether I had made a mistake: maybe this church wasn’t a hotbed of Christian nationalist sentiment. I was quickly disabused of that notion when one of the church’s elders approached the microphone at the front of the church.
Again, despite the current propaganda in certain quarters, including the media, fundamentalist priests using fear as a motivation and deliberately distorting facts (or being grossly ignorant of them) aren’t necessarily unique to any particular religion, as Harwood himself found out:
In a sweet voice, he spoke of the founding fathers as God-fearing Christians, never mind the Godless constitution and its establishment clause, and offered a prayer taken from George Washington’s prayer journal. He politely told the congregation that historical revisionists had wiped away the Christian character of the nation’s first president, denying his personal relationship with Christ, although the book he took the prayer from was long ago determined by the Smithsonian Institution to be a fraud.
Afterwards, the church’s pastor finally took the microphone and preached on the biblical passage provided by the Call 2 Fall website: 2 Chronicles 7:14:
“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
The paranoia and fear quickly began to rise. The pastor jested that God wasn’t going to “kill all the non-Christians” to solve the problem of America turning its back on his lord. That would be too easy. Christians, he said, must “return what the enemy has taken away”, although he never defined who the enemy was. Therefore, Christians must repent and make a spiritual U-turn and return the country to its providential course.
Then the pastor prayed a special 4 July prayer, but one of submission not freedom, ignorance not knowledge. He spoke of the “rot of the godless media”, railed against government protecting sinful homosexual marriage and cried out against a country “infected by lies and spiritual darkness” where “evil is called good and good is called evil.” He called on America to return to his loving God, who would destroy this nation if we continued our sinful ways.
Harwood was a first-hand witness to increasingly disturbing behaviour on the part of the audience. Eventually he and his wife made their excuses and discreetly exited the building:
When the pastor’s call to fall rang out, the congregation fell hypnotically at an uneven pace to their knees or went entirely prostrate on the floor. A woman approached the microphone at the front of the church to give a rambling plea for her god’s love and understanding, tears rolling down her face.
The fear, the confusion, the misery, the self-reproach were palpable. These are scared and confused people groping for anything to make a maddeningly and frustratingly complex world intelligible. So they grasp for a simple answer, a book they believe is infallible and has all the answers. But it only leads them into the throes of fear and hatred. What originally began as songs of love and sacrifice quickly rot into gay-bashing and the dangerous, yet indistinct talk of enemies everywhere. The room began to take on the darkness of Arthur Miller’s Crucible more than the enlightenment of Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence.
Before anyone starts referring to historical events such as “the Reformation” or “the Enlightenment”, it is also worth bearing in mind that very large numbers of the Confederacy during the American Civil War believed they literally had a God-given, religiously-sanctioned divine “right” to own slaves, and that they were willing to kill their fellow Americans in order to defend this alleged “right”; the war eventually resulted in more than 600,000 deaths, the largest number of American fatalities in any military conflict which that nation has ever been involved in.
Similarly, the actions of the East India Company in the subcontinent from the end of the 18th century onwards and particularly throughout the 19th century were heavily motivated by the rise of Evangelical Christian fundamentalism; people at the most senior levels fervently believed they had a God-given right sanctioned by the contents of the Bible and Christianity as a formal religion to wage wars of aggression in India, annex the territories involved either via outright conflict or various “doctrines of lapse”, and forcibly subjugate colossal numbers of the region’s inhabitants. This included exhortations to use the full machinery of the British Empire to try to convert India’s entire population to Christianity (or at least the imperialists’ own warped version of it); not to mention the increasingly severe penalisation of any British officers who were deemed to be “too” tolerant of the other religions prevalent in India, whether it involved participating in celebrations associated with local religious festivals, an academic interest in the actual religious beliefs, or even simply donating items to their places of worship. British historical records also confirm that the mass atrocities committed by EIC soldiers during the extremely bloody conflict of 1857 were frequently motivated by explicitly religious reasons, with the perpetrators again believing that they were behaving entirely in accordance with the tenets of Christianity.
Some of the surviving journals of British military personnel involved make truly disturbing reading, both in terms of the barbaric actions they committed and their unashamed dehumanisation of their targets. Various influential members of the Christian clergy during the Victorian era are also on record as similarly encouraging extreme bigotry towards Indians, including attitudes towards “non-believers” on a par with some of the most venomous diatribes by modern-day Islamist “preachers of hate”. And despite the carnage of 1857, the most hardline Evangelicals refused to acknowledge that Christian extremism had been one of the major factors in triggering the conflict, but instead they actually claimed that they had not gone far enough. This has also all been heavily discussed and forcefully condemned in the writings of modern-day British historians as diverse as Niall Ferguson and William Dalrymple. Furthermore, a particularly ironic fact is that there have actually been settled communities of Christians in India for hundreds of years longer than there have been Christians in northern Europe, including Britain. The parallels with the attitudes of the BNP and the EDL, particularly towards Muslims, are of course also obvious; not least the explicit presumptions of being “the new Crusaders”, a stance shared by aggressive Victorian colonialists when it came to their actions in India.
Universal failings in human nature
The extracts above from the CiF article, and this PP article, have not been published here as an attack against Christianity in its entirety or against Christians en masse, and certainly not in order to denigrate America and its citizens as a whole, but because Harwood’s writings eloquently demonstrate that the followers of no single religion have a monopoly on destructive irrational beliefs (eg. “female immodesty causes earthquakes”) or regressive religious fanaticism, regardless of the current propaganda and frequently-neurotic hysteria about one other Abrahamic faith in particular.
As the article above discusses and as readers familiar with the ultraconservative right-wing Fox News will also know, such attitudes can even occur amongst hundreds of thousands of people in the world’s most advanced and prosperous nations, and it is a result of some basic (and all-too-universal) failings in human nature rather than necessarily being exclusively associated with any particular religion, nationality or “race”. Tragically, it is evident that such destructive behavioural traits did not die out in either the 19th or the 20th centuries but in numerous cases continue to this day. Nevertheless, these issues also highlight the irrationality and immorality of tarring a religion’s followers en masse with the same brush because of the contemporary and/or historical attitudes of its most extreme adherents, or indeed attempting to stigmatise the religion as a whole by downplaying the scale of internal diversity it encompasses and falsely depicting it as a homogenous faith defined by its worst possible interpretation…..irrespective of the specific religion concerned.
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Filed in: Current affairs,History,Religion,United States