James Clay Fuller

Things We're Not Supposed to Say

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Why are so many Christians so afraid?

Since we're walking in areas where toes get stepped on anyway...

Someone please tell me why so many Christians are so terribly frightened.

Of course I know Christians who move through life with reasonable confidence. There are quite a few among my closest friends. None of the Jews I know well seem perpetually frightened of the world around them. Muslims I have known – there are none in my immediate circle at present, but there have been several over the years – have been sensibly confident, rational people.

Nonbelievers of my acquaintance are not fearful, but they (we) tend to be angry these days.

And, of course, there is good reason for all of humanity to harbor a number of entirely rational fears about such things as climate change and the greed-driven violence of the present U.S. government and the equally greed-maddened leaders of the major corporations.

What I'm talking about here is the kind of apparent, constant fear of practically everything and, especially, everybody who isn't just like oneself in all major respects.

I see a lot of the kind of fear that causes the eyes to be wide and glassy, that gets people screaming irrationally at or about others, that looks exactly like the terror of a child convinced against all evidence that there are ferocious monsters in the closet.

The present inspiration for my pondering of this phenomenon is, of course, the weird rants of Minneapolis Star Tribune columnist Katherine Kersten, as noted in a couple of pieces a little lower on this blog. Also the appalling hogwash from a number of other right-wing writers, mostly on the Internet.

I'm not sure if it's a concerted campaign or simply hysteria spreading, but anti-Islamic nuttiness is on the rise.

So far, all of it that I've seen has come from chest-thumping, theocratic Christians.

Those who proclaim their certainty about the absolute rightness of their particular brands of religion appear to me to be the most frightened of all Americans. They know the Truth, and the Truth gives them serenity and unbeatable strength, they claim, and yet they tremble all the time.

They fear gays, they fear people of other races, they fear people of other religions, they fear most of the world because it is different from this country and often has different understandings of how things work. They fear everyone who does not adhere to any of their professed beliefs. They flock to leaders who promise certainty – the kind of preacher who says he, personally, gets the truth from his god and will provide you with all the strength and sureness (and sometimes wealth) you require so long as you follow his every pronouncement.

Such Christians are so afraid that if you will not accept their beliefs on every aspect of life, they will try to force acceptance. That, throughout history, has been the pattern of the fearful and, of course, the power hungry who rise to lead the fearful.

The preachers may or may not believe what they preach. Getting you to believe it and to do their will gives them wealth and power.

Prevent gay people from living their lives without interference and send me money, they say. Fight against the slightest accommodation to the religious requirements of Muslims – and contribute to my megachurch. Demand the teaching of “intelligent design” in public schools and complain at every opportunity that our government makes no accommodation for Christians and, by the way, demand “abstinence only” rather than sex education classes in schools – and send me every dime you can afford and more.

People by the millions follow the preachers' orders, and still they seem terrified.

One of the things upon which they absurdly insist is that while government today accommodates everybody but themselves, this is “a Christian nation.”

Nope. Is not, never has been, although there's no doubt that certain elements of Christianity sometimes have exerted undue influence on those who govern. Also that, contrary to the claims of those who play the Christian-as-victim game, much of American society, including its governments, order themselves according to the Christian calendar.

The Founding Fathers were Christians, the relgionists proclaim.

Nope. Those most influential in creating this republic were mostly theists, which is to say they figured that some sort of higher power exists, but they had no clear concept of what that might be. Some were Christians and some obviously were agnostic and even athiest, but didn't say so out loud because then, as now, it caused political problems.

Sinclair Lewis, that brilliant, often troubled, Minnesotan gave us great wisdom about the potential for fascism in America in “It Can't Happen Here.” He drew a brilliant picture of rural and small town America in “Main Street” and other novels, and much of what he told us still is true. And he wrote “Elmer Gantry,” which probably should be read by everyone who is inclined to follow the directives of any loud-preaching, money-grubbing televangelist.

That won't ever happen, of course.

So just explain where all that fear comes from, please. Show me its real roots, not the proclaimed fears – sex and gays and the rest – used to mask the actual overweening terrors that seem to afflict so many purportedly pious people.

Perhaps I can understand it and possibly I can be more sympathetic.