Home > Politics > why are fundamentalists authoritarian? 1

why are fundamentalists authoritarian? 1

One of the things I’ve learned watching usages of the term “fundamentalist” is that it’s a vague term, mostly used informally without reference to actual fundamentals, the fundamentalist-modernist controversy, or The Fundamentals. Another is that it’s almost a synonym for “religious fascist” or “religious authoritarian,” meaning someone who wants to restrict someone else’s behavior, by force if necessary, on the basis of a moral position with religious roots.

And while I can’t entirely unwind the term “religious fascist” (to my ears “fascist” has lost almost all its meaning through overuse and misuse, and has come to mean something akin to “bully”) the term “religious authoritarian” rings true. I don’t think I can do the term authoritarian in all its glory full justice right now, but I can wade into it from the following approach.

One of the issues that has plagued Christianity itself off and on since the days of Constantine is the question of authority. In a sense the canon was formed to answer questions about authority, and the Great Schism was a question of authority, and the Reformation, and the fundamentalist-modernist controversy. So for example when I listen to Immaculate Heart Radio to find out what contemporary Roman Catholic laymen are thinking and what questions are on their minds, I’m surprised how often the answer to whatever the question is comes back to authority; namely the authority of the Roman Catholic Church, embodied in the Pope and canon law, to interpret Scripture, which is only the ultimate authority in an indirect sense, as opposed to the Reformed distinctive of sola Scriptura.

In fundamentalist circles we tended to appeal to authority a lot, but our appeals to authority are complicated. In just the same way that we say we consider the Bible to be ultimate Truth and mean we consider our interpretation of the Bible to be ultimate Truth, we also tend to say “authoritative” when we mean “authoritarian.” We consider God to be the authority because of who He is, but then in the same way we consider our local pastor to be the authority because of the position he holds, or because of a call or anointing he has (or doesn’t have) from God.

And I suppose in a sense our complicated relationship with authority proceeds from our complicated relationship with Scripture. We consider the Bible to be the Word of God in some sense but never really examine that sense, so we tend to confuse the Scripture itself with the way in which it is translated, read, interpreted, and understood. So we tend to attribute the authority of God (who, we understand, can by His very nature only speak the truth) to our local pastor (who derives his authority from the Scripture, but only so long and so far as he interprets it correctly).

And of course by doing so we lapse into a kind of blasphemy and idolatry that is only available to conservative religious people.

This is a pitfall that is often hard to spot and harder to avoid and requires a humility in approaching Scripture that is rare and difficult because it distinguishes between things that are true and things that are certain or popular when the latter things are easy to find and the former surprisingly slippery.

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