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A Fundamental Evil

By Doug Soderstrom

31 January, 2007

I have come to the conclusion that the Christian fundamentalists, also known as the religious right, are the most evil people in the world. Others (such as those of various Islamic terrorist groups) were considered, but after due consideration, the Christians won……. hands down. In fact it was no contest.

However, in order to support my assertion that those of the religious right are such a nasty crew, it is necessary that I clarify what I believe it means to be evil. The minimal test of evil is, of course, one of awareness, an intent, an abject willingness to be malicious, a willingness to go out of one’s way to harm others, a lack of concern for the welfare of another person, an unwillingness to place one’s self into that of another’s shoes, a grudging reluctance to acknowledge the pain one may have caused another. Such is bad, but not as bad as having slipped to the point of having become psychically blind, effectively unable to face up to what one has done. Such is more depraved since it represents a loss of integrity, an existential unwillingness to take responsibility for one’s behavior. And, of course, worst of all are those who go to the extreme of regarding themselves to be shining examples, paragons of how to live a good and decent life, while having chosen to disregard the fact that they have lived life in such a despicable manner. And as we will see, the Christian fundamentalists seem to exemplify such folks at the apogee of evil, the nadir of civilized life, in that they preach to the world while yet living the life of a barbarian!

All of the great religions of the world indicate that we should strive to treat others as we would like for them to treat us, in essence suggesting that we follow the Golden Rule. However, considering this the gold standard for how we ought to live our lives, it is quite clear that Christian fundamentalists have missed the mark! Regardless of all the wonderful things they have claimed to have done for the world, it is apparent that the fundamentalists have been unable to live up to the most minimal standards for that of a decent life, almost as if they have gone out of their way to “cast a speck out of their neighbor’s eye, while refusing to recognize the enormity of the plank in that of their own.” With no apology, nor even a hint of remorse, they continue on their way running roughshod over others, with little or no concern for how their victims might feel. Rather than caring for others, disregard and disrespect has become that which defines them as a people.

However, in order to understand the Christian fundamentalist, we must first take a look at what they believe. What is it that these folks, as fundamentalists, hold to be fundamental? What is it that they insist one must do in order to be saved? The answer is threefold: First, in order to be a Christian, a person must believe that the Bible (the holy scriptures) is the one and only infallible, truly inerrant, source of truth, and that the holy books of all other religions are of demonic origin; Secondly, one must believe in an afterlife, that every human being will end up in either Heaven or Hell. And finally, it is essential that one understand that in order to go to Heaven he must accept Jesus Christ (the one and only Son of God) as his own personal savior, otherwise, and without exception, regardless of how good a life he may have lived, he will be sent to the agonizing fires of an eternally burning Hell. That is their doctrine…... that is what they believe to be The Truth of God.

Although not necessarily a fundamental, but as a result of their contention that the Bible indicates that all authority is given (and therefore inspired) by God, fundamentalists have been led to believe that it is unpatriotic, and therefore unchristian, to question the divine right of what our country has found it necessary to do....... regardless of how heinous. That is why Christian fundamentalists have, by choice, chosen to disregard the fact that “From 1945 to 2003, the United States attempted to overthrow more than 40 foreign governments, and to crush more than 30 populist-nationalist movements fighting against intolerable systems. In the process, the U.S. bombed some 25 countries, caused the end of life for several million people, and condemned many millions more to a life of agony and despair." (William Blum, Killing Hope). Thus, there is little doubt that if a Christian fundamentalist was forced to face the fact of what her country has done, she would have little choice but to reject her faith in God. For how would it be possible for one to believe in a God that chose to bless a country that has done such terrible things? It is such that seems to account for the fundamentalist’s tendency to have approached the world in such an indiscreet manner. While having regarded themselves as having been among the few who know the truth, they have broached the world with eyes, as well as a mind, that has been, out of necessity, “kept wide shut!”

Given such an overwhelming tendency to identify with those in power, regardless of how evil they might be, it is easy to understand how and why fundamentalists have become such a calloused crew. As explained in the work of Stanley Milgram, the well known social psychologist whose research highlighted the willingness of folks to comply with the commands of those in authority, “the fundamentalist-neoconservative” resides in what Dr. Milgram refers to as an “agentic state,” a state of mind more or less controlled by the normative standards of whatever group they have chosen to submit, resulting in a tendency to become “a rather helpless agent” of the group to which they have vowed allegiance. Accordingly, it no doubt becomes rather difficult for such individuals to engage in independent thought, to be able to think for themselves, and no doubt doubly difficult (perhaps even impossible) for them to question (to take an independent stance in relation to) the institution (the church and/or state) that has taken control of their mind. Such explains why fundamentalists are so terribly prone to becoming the rather pliant cogs (obedient servants) of whatever agency they have chosen to pay homage.

In his book, Conservatives Without Conscience, John Dean, the onetime whistle blower of the infamous Nixon-Watergate affair, brilliantly summarizes the work of Bob Altmeyer, an outstanding social psychologist from the University of Manitoba, who has spent the past thirty years documenting the fact that individuals who tend to be politically conservative (the most extreme referred to as neoconservatives and nearly all Christian fundamentalists) possess an “authoritarian personality,” a deeply imbedded predisposition to act in ways that oppose, are in essential conflict with, Jesus’ command that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. According to such research, the neoconservatively-oriented Christian fundamentalist tends to:
oppose equality, be power-oriented (likely to dominate those they believe to be inferior and/or different from themselves, and to submit to those they have chosen to defer), highly prejudiced, pitiless, mean-spirited, militarily aggressive, chauvinistic, Republican, capitalist, socially-politically conservative, conventional (status quo oriented), highly religious, rather pious, trusting of untrustworthy leaders, narrow-minded, defensive, intolerant, bullying, dogmatic, hypocritical, highly self-righteous, able to entertain ideas that are highly contradictory, gripped by a rather low degree of self awareness (a seeming inability to understand the underlying dynamics of their own personality), and the possession of rather rigid patterns of thought (a tendency to think in terms of “black and white,” rather than demonstrating a willingness to struggle with highly complex ideas or issues).

With this in mind, fundamentalist Christianity got its start in the early years of the twentieth century by having rebelled against two competing historical movements, one a rather humanistic movement known as The Social Gospel (a belief that a Christian’s primary responsibility is one of love, peace, and social justice), and the other a loosely coordinated group of scholastics known for their interest in that of Higher Criticism (a belief that the Bible can be understood only if allowed to undergo a process of rational examination, scientific investigation, and historical analysis). However, the spark that ignited the fire, that is burning yet to this day, was that of the John Scopes “Monkey Trial” in Dayton, Tennessee in which reason, in the form of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, was pitted against the faith of Christian fundamentalists who believed that “man,” along with all other things, was created by God in six calendar days according to a literal interpretation of the Book of Genesis in the Holy Bible. Thus, for the past one hundred years, fundamentalists have been locked in battle with those suggesting that faith in God can be a rational matter, that it is important for one’s faith to make sense, that being a Christian involves nothing more than a sincere desire to live one’s life like that of Jesus, that one live one’s life honoring Jesus’ mandate that we love God, our neighbor, as well as that of our enemy.

First on the fundamentalist’s agenda was an effort to make the case for racial separation, that blacks and whites should remain “unto that of their own kind,” that black folks and white folks should not mix, that people would be better off if they remained apart. And in looking back at how blacks were treated in earlier years, fundamentalists seemed to have had no problem with the fact that black people, as chattel, had been auctioned off as livestock. Then later on, in the 1950’s and 1960’s, Christian fundamentalists were at the forefront doing everything they could to prevent black people from achieving civil rights. There is little doubt that The Reverend Martin Luther King, who did so much to enable blacks to take their rightful place in American society, was among those most hated by the fundamentalists for, as it turns out, he was fighting for everything that they in fact were against, the right for black people to be treated as full-fledged human beings. In addition, and as one might expect, the fundamentalists were right there at the side of the Senator from Wisconsin (Joseph Raymond McCarthy) as he did so much to destroy the lives of so many innocent folks accused of being a communist.

Add to this an assortment of other misdeeds such as: an insistence that the United States of America has been blessed by God enabling fundamentalists to fully support our country’s many wars of aggression (Viet Nam, a multitude of military intrusions into Latin American, the war in Kosovo, the Persian Gulf War of 1991, and, of course, the egregious invasion of Iraq in 2003); an acceptance of the idea that the United States has the right to overthrow any and all governments whose interests are in conflict with that of our nation’s foreign policy; continued attempts to limit civil rights legislation; a desire that women remain in subjection to men; an absolute disdain for the women’s liberation movement (even for a women’s right to be paid the same as a man); a presumption that young people should not be allowed to think for themselves translated into contempt for public school efforts to teach students critical thinking skills (an expressed abhorrence for that of the values clarification program); a belief that corporal punishment, otherwise known as spanking, is a good thing (spare the rod and spoil the child); a belief in the moral virtues of capital punishment (legalized murder by the state); hatred of homosexuals; xenophobically-inspired efforts to keep Mexicans from entering the United States (unless, of course, needed as low wage/slave laborers); a propensity to support republican congressmen so often controlled by the corporate community; a belief that capitalism (an economic system based upon greed) is God’s approved way of doing business; a love affair with guns (as represented by their support for the National Rifle Association); a belief that economic development trumps that of a clean and healthy environment; an ethnocentric tendency to reject anything and everything that is inconsistent with that of the American way of life (e.g., socialism, Islam, and love for one’s enemy); a dogmatic insistence that anyone who happens to disagree with their particular version of truth is wrong…… and therefore in danger of going to Hell; and last, but certainly not least, an absolute reluctance to deal with the greatest problem with that of their faith, what I refer to as the vexation of vexations, an insane presumption that a “loving God,” such as theirs, would allow such a huge majority, the bulk of the human race (as many as 94% according to the Southern Baptist Convention’s Map of Lostness), to be condemned to the eternally burning fires of Hell.

More than this, fundamentalist Christians have, en masse, turned to the Bible (what they refer to as “the Holy Scriptures”) in order to justify such terrible deeds. All of this in light of the rather alarming belief that everything in the Bible (every “jot and tittle”) has been inspired by “the very hand” of God, rather than acknowledging the historically validated reality of the Bible, the fact that the Bible is a rather nondescript collection of varied stories that eventually morphed (through the transcription of scribes, the very few who knew how to write in those days) into a collection of oft-translated documents that, through a process of political compromise, eventually came to be known as that which is now referred to as “the Holy Bible”…… a rather awkward (although no doubt very natural) attempt, on the part of man, to come to terms with an evolving understanding as to what “The Truth of God” just might, or might not, be!

It is one thing for folks to have used the Bible in an attempt to understand where we, as human beings, may have come from, what our purpose on Earth just might be, and that of our eternal destiny, but to use the Bible to justify sinful behavior……. now that is quite another thing!

Over the centuries, Christians have used the Bible for the purpose of justifying the killing of: witches (Exodus 22:17), children who disobey their parents (Deuteronomy 21:18-21), anyone who curses his parents (Exodus 21:17), those who blaspheme (Leviticus 24:16), those who commit adultery or perhaps even fornicate (Leviticus 20:10 and 21:9), those who are non-believers (Exodus 22:19; Deuteronomy 13:7-12; 2 Chronicles 15:12-13), anyone who works on the Sabbath (Exodus 31:12-15 and 35:2), and for those who tell lies (Deuteronomy 19: 15-21).

More recently, however, fundamentalists have turned to the Bible in order to justify their support for capital punishment (Genesis 9:6; Leviticus 24:17; Numbers 35:16; Deuteronomy 17:6) with apparently no qualms regarding the well known fact that their is very little, if any, evidence to support the supposition that the death penalty has in any way reduced the rate of homicidal behavior, nor does there appear to be any concern for the fact that there is an absolute preponderance of evidence showing that Blacks are put to death at a much higher rate for the exact same crimes as compared with that of their white counterparts.

They have used the Bible to justify our country’s right (perhaps even its divine responsibility) to go to war with seemingly little awareness nor even a smidgeon of concern for the fact that tens of thousands, if not millions, of enemy soldiers and civilians (always referred to as nothing more than “collateral damage”) will end up being killed (1 Samuel 15:3; Nahum 2:2-10; Zephaniah 1:2-6 and 3:6-10; Jeremiah 50:21-22: Deuteronomy 7:16-24).

The fundamentalists have used the Bible to justify slavery (the forced enslavement of others…… especially that of Black folks in “the South”), support for Apartheid in South Africa, as well as a reason for which to have opposed the civil rights movement of the 1960’s (Leviticus 25:44-46; Ephesians 6:5; Leviticus 25:44-46; Exodus 21:2-6).
They have used the Bible to justify their ongoing subjection of women (Ephesians 5:22-24; I Corinthians 11:3-12, 14:34-36; I Timothy 2:8-15; I Peter 3:1-7).

Fundamentalists have used the Bible to condemn homosexuality as well as those who, without any choice of their own, happen to be homosexual (Leviticus 18:22, 20:13; Romans 1:26-27) as well as condemning the so-called abhorrent (although naturally occurring) act of masturbation (Genesis 38: 1-11) without ever considering the possibility that masturbation (on the part of their children) might represent a rather welcome alternative to the likelihood that their own sons and daughters will one day be coupling (and, in all probability, copulating) with others!

They also use the Bible to justify the use of corporal punishment (physical punishment) in order to discipline (and sometimes abuse) their own children (Genesis 22:9-10; Proverbs 13:24, 19:18, 22:15, 23:13-14, 29:15)

They (as avid anti-environmentalists) have also used Genesis 1:28 (And God said unto them….. Be fruitful, and multiply and replenish the Earth, and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the face of the Earth) in order to justify their commitment to mammon, their enamored interest in the corporate world; no doubt a kind of “have your cake and eat it too” approach to life, allowing them, on the one hand, to pretend that they have been good stewards of the land “given to them by God,” while, on the other, allowing them the “divine right” to plunder and pillage the Earth. It is no wonder that fundamentalists have been the prime movers doing everything possible to deny the reality of human ( read: corporate) involvement in global warming!

And lest we forget the hypocrisy of the fundamentalists in regards to the Jewish state…… Convinced that the Israelis have been blessed by God (in that this is where Jesus was born and raised), fundamentalists, believing in the prophesy of “the Last Days,” feel they have little choice but to support the Jews (regardless of how terribly the Israelis have treated the Palestinian people), since the Jewish state must somehow be preserved long enough for it to endure the prophesized onslaught from that of the world’s greatest military powers, followed by “the rapture of the church (in which all those who have been saved by “the blood” of the Lord Jesus Christ, most all of them fundamentalists, will be escorted to Heaven) while the Jews (ninety-eight percent according to the latest statistics concerning the religious makeup of Israel) will, upon death, be sent directly to Hell!

At the same time, one must wonder how it is possible for fundamentalists to have chosen to give the Bush-Cheney administration so much support. During the presidential campaign of 2000, 68% of the fundamentalists voted for Bush and Cheney. Nevertheless, after four years of devastating public rule, the religious right came out in even greater force doling out 78% of their votes for the neoconservatives. From the foregoing, there can be little doubt that the fundamentalists are a rather heartless group of folks, but considering what they believe to be a divinely inspired gift of discernment (a supernatural ability to distinguish good from evil) paired with an apparently proven inability to comprehend (to essentially cut through the neoconservative crap/the evil intent) of the Bush-Cheney administration, perhaps the Christian fundamentalists are every bit as stupid (arrogantly ignorant) as they are bad!

So, as a psychologist, I am compelled to ask: what is it that seems to have motivated such people to have become so depraved, to have chosen a style of life so opposed to everything that Jesus taught? What is it that has led fundamentalists to become such a mean-spirited gathering of folks? What is it that such people have in common, that which might serve to explain why they have led such horrid lives?

The riddle of why such folks, who look upon themselves as being so very good while having behaved so terribly bad, can be understood by realizing that fundamentalists suffer from an axiomatic inability to face who they have, in fact, become. In having followed the dictum to be “in” the world, but certainly not “of” the world, they began to set themselves apart, to disengage from the rest of the world, effectively creating an inner sanctum, a world of their own, an imprisoned partition separating them from the rest of humanity. And, of course, all of such in order to protect themselves from being contaminated by an outer world of sin. Thus in having symbolically reached for the heavens, while yet remaining so deeply mired in a rather cognitively truncated, black and white, world of their own making, they have become unable to even touch the sky. In believing themselves to have become the true remnant of God, the special elect, the keepers of the keys to the kingdom of God, they allowed themselves to have been lulled into worshiping a deity who has turned out to be nothing more than a figment of their own imagination, an extension of their own rather neurotic needs, a red, white, and blue god willingly ready to allay their fears, fill their pockets with gold, and to destroy each and every one of their enemies. Falling right into line, they began to look upon the neo-conservative leadership of our nation (George Walker Bush, Richard Bruce Cheney, Donald Henry Rumsfeld, et al.) as men inspired by God, men, no doubt, appointed by God to take charge of the world, and to do whatever needs to be done in order to redeem the world. Consequently, the fundamentalists, supposing themselves to be at war with an, as yet, unsaved world, have become convinced that they can do no wrong as long as they continue to faithfully obey the commands of their hallowed leaders, each and every one a crusader, struggling to restore the once lost kingdom of God…….. a people crying out for “the blood of the Lamb” to cleanse the world, in perfectly-pitched and four-part harmony, chanting “Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before! Christ the royal master, leads against the foe, forward into battle, see his banner go!”

Perhaps the foregoing has shed a bit of light on the mystery of how, and, perhaps even, why such a self-righteous group of folks has become so terribly evil…….. why it is that Christian fundamentalists believe they have been set free to disregard the normal restraints of man, a law of the heart requiring that we, as human beings, respect the rights of others, why they, as the faithful followers of the Old Testament’s readily rendered red in tooth and claw claim for the right to extract an “eye for an eye,” have declared for themselves the divine authority to take charge of, to rule, to plunder and pillage, even, if necessary, to bring on Armageddon ……. and all of such in the name of a “thoroughly providential and loving God.”

Doug Soderstrom, Ph.D.

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