Home > Politics > why are fundamentalists authoritarian? 2

why are fundamentalists authoritarian? 2

Authoritarian themes are sometimes hard to pick up on if you’re accustomed to hearing them, especially if you heard them as a child (when trusting an authority figure is often more important than understanding all the reasons they’re saying what they’re saying), but here are are a few examples I’ve heard myself and wish I had tapes of:

  • “You’re going to go off to college, and your professor is going to tell you your preacher didn’t know what he was talking about, and the earth is millions of years old.”
  • I like grid praying.”
  • “But he grew up in one of those households where they’d have the preacher for lunch every Sunday, and when he got old enough to make decisions for himself he stopped going to church.”

The first quote interpolates the pastor into a story about the historicity of the Ussher chronology, more or less. Even if we ignore the difficulty of Ussher’s interpretation, whether the preacher said something isn’t as important as whether the Scriptures say it. Especially among fundamentalists.

The second quote is part of Ted Haggard’s justification for “grid praying,” and was part of what made New Life Church sound so strange in the This American Life episode devoted to it; perhaps there was lots of discussion of sin and salvation at New Life, but none of it made the final cut. A careful listener could be forgiven for thinking that Alix Spiegel was on the verge of joining a cult headed by Mr Haggard, rather than converting to Christianity.

The third quote is an admonition against discussing a sermon critically in front of children. The admonition is an attempt to cast a shadow over the parents’ responsibility for children in favor of uncritically accepting what the pastor says. Looking back on my days in fundamentalist churches I wish my parents had discussed sermons a bit more critically: I came away believing they were entirely down with the program, while the truth was a bit more complicated.

Authoritarian language also surfaces in invocations of federal headship in the local church, where a New Testament concept where someone is “in Abraham” or “in Christ” is appropriated to suggest that someone needs to be accountable to the pastor (without any reciprocal accountability on the part of the pastor) to remain under his covering, or some such. I’ve heard variations on this theme repeatedly but don’t have any quotes handy. I would love to find a tape or compact disc of a sermon where this language is used.

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