Home > Politics > why are fundamentalists authoritarian? 3

why are fundamentalists authoritarian? 3

The most direct answer to this question is probably this: “because the Bible is authoritarian;” I’m not sure this is the most accurate answer.

It’s certainly true that the Bible doesn’t advocate many modern values, including democracy, pluralism, certain kinds of tolerance, gender equality, etc. and it appears to advocate things (levirate marriage, a couple of kinds of slavery, etc.) that are offensive to modern ears. But that’s not really what I’m interested in today; the usual approach to untangling these issues involves appears to a mix of general revelation, modern understanding of ancient cultures, and translation problems, and I’m just not going to delve into that today.

Fundamentalism tends to take a more authoritarian view than other conservative Christians partly because they’re Dispensationalist and so focus more on Pauline theology and example and on a particular interpretation of the books of Daniel and The Revelation, and tend to discount other Scriptural authors as being either secondary or irrelevant. Paul’s low opinion of fellow believers, especially as expressed in his letters to Titus, Timothy, and the Corinthians set the tone for an authoritarian leadership style; Paul installs leaders in cities from far away, describes the inhabitants of an entire island as liars, brutes, and gluttons, describes leaders as being accountable to God and to other leaders but not to believers generally, silences whole groups of people on the basis of his own authority, etc. In the book of Daniel, of course, there’s Nebuchadnezzar’s dream with the man with the golden head, silver chest, iron legs, etc.; this is probably the central image of Dispensationalist theology and is an appealing image to anyone who considers himself a self-made man (and hence the golden head, rather than one of the iron legs). And of course the Revelation Jesus (well, once He’s done with the letters to the churches of Asia) is so much more appealing than the Jesus of the Gospel because He’s a man of few words and much action.

Dispensationalists tend to ignore the limits on leadership and power expressed in the Mosaic Law and the incidents of prophets and teachers “speaking truth to power” in the Kings and Chronicles books. And of course they’re comfortable with Jesus affirming Pilate’s position as the will of God, but not so much His reference to Herod as a “fox.”

I don’t want to be too hard on Dispensationalists here by suggesting that they choose the books they choose because they can be used to support authoritarian positions, nor do I want to unwind the nature-nurture question regarding authoritarianism and fundamentalism. I’ll just say that by choosing the books they choose to make the primary foundation of their theology they tend to be more authoritarian than perhaps they would be if they placed more emphasis on the Gospels and the General Epistles.

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