A person can don a used world view by slowly exchanging his or her contemporary world view for a stronger story. This can be good like waking up, or, not so great. I took on a life redux in my post-divorce time of guilt. In the early ‘80’s I hefted on the big overcoat of salvation at age 30, desiring to be a perfect Christian wife in my second marriage, hoping to redeem my life mistakes, which were many. T.S. Eliot wrote in Choruses from the Rock of those who “By dreaming of systems so perfect that no one will need to be good…” I met people with tight biblical cosmology and they appeared happy.
Changing my perspective to a Christian view had different features. There was community and connection, new friends, meaningful work, outreach to needy people, drama and music and 1,100 acres of redwoods in which to live for a monthly tithe.
There was a dark side to donning salvation. A khaki, tailored thing with epaulets from another era. One thing about this religion I didn’t know then, was that I was enlisting to be a soldier. I’d heard the tune, “Onward Christian soldiers” but thought that was a vague metaphor of long-gone days. The mission Bible church, where I was inducted, became an outpost of militant purity. We were, according to our pulpit, more like the true church than the average. And, I am at heart, a peacenik, so I overlooked much of the language of domination for too long. Now it shouts on the public stage.
Back in 1980, my personal hope was simply to be made whole. I was sensible of my wounded self and my fractured life. I couldn’t afford a therapist. Like generations of penitents, I wept on my knees over my fallen nature — cringing in the light of God. My zero self-worth was easy to establish, as the firstborn of an abusive alcoholic father who grew up on a mission station in South Africa and of an unexpectedly pregnant mother who, even though she sang in the Methodist choir at 17, had no qualms about asking a doctor to remove me from her uterus.
In the teaching and in the company of others who had “repented” of being part of the human potential movement, I came to believe that I was “new in Christ”, so I stood on my feet and evangelized. I got a system and worked it.
Here’s how the view goes. God is in charge of the affairs of men, although not their conscience or free will. And men are in charge of their women. A church with a woman pastor needed a “covering,” meaning a male. My female pastor refused one. The saved believe while their fellow humans are seen across a chasm. Eternally damned. This connection to “the Holy Spirit” became a model of becoming deeply disconnected with myself. My fellow church people and I often fearfully didn’t ask questions, suppressed anger and slowly began wounding our consciences as power was more often exerted in physical abuse along with the unending humiliation of emotional “corrections.” I am deeply sorry for my actions and inactions then.
Everyone served the men, even the woman pastor, since God was referred to as “he.” Children were lowest on the pecking order and were inordinately disciplined at times. This was America in the late 20th Century, not Puritan days, even though it was an anomaly in the general population. I learned later that there were many cults in that decade – varieties of religious extremism. Note that many folks were instead flocking to easier conversions, with televangelists and super pastors and promises of prosperity. Modern American religion has less problem with serving both Mammon and God than does traditional Christianity.
Changing my view took time because one doesn’t throw a lobster into boiling water; one heats it slowly. That’s part of the recipe for delusion. It wasn’t a prayer to Jesus, but the practice that harmed. Living as a “disciple” in a fundamentalist church was a slow erosion of my self-referencing and conscience that went unaddressed. And once you’re immersed, well, you’re deluded. Taking on an identity that you soon fear will be ripped from you: By a word from a “godly” leader you may be kicked out and shunned by your fellows.
Roger McNamee wrote in a technology article in Time Magazine (Vol. 193, No. 3 2019) of the Facebook woes, “the business model depends on advertising, which in turn depends on manipulating the attention of users so they see more ads. One of the best ways to manipulate attention is to appeal to outrage and fear, emotions that increase engagement. [ital. mine]
One evening in the mid 80’s, I drove down from the Santa Cruz mountains to Los Gatos Christian Church to hear Jerry Falwell speak. He was teaching the white grass roots, filling a wealthy church with expensively dressed visitors. He encouraged believers to get active in politics – for the sake of their values. Indirectly, for God. He appealed to moral outrage and patriotism. At one point he mentioned the need for more women in Washington D.C. and a well-heeled lady behind me said audibly to her friend, “How come it’s always the women who have to clean up the mess?” We chuckled, but it was a moot point.
The next day after the talk, one of the teaching pastors at West Heights informed me that I was now a fundamentalist. “A what?” I asked. He explained that’s what Falwell’s movement was about, and that I qualified because I believed the basic truths of the Bible. I knew the nickname was not a compliment, as they never are when applied to groups, even though the he meant it as one. But then, fundamentalists take insults as a badge of honor. I learned quickly that “the world” would not accept me because I belonged to Jesus, which enhanced the model of us-and-them, the saved and damned. Which is how contemporary conservatives view the country. They say “our” America like they bought it and no one else has permission to pursue happiness.
Now, 20 years removed from that religious cult, transformed by hard work and the love of family and friends into a fairly normal human adult, I can understand today’s religious conservatives being up in arms. It makes sense why a surprising number of Americans supported a demagogue at the polls. Knowing how well the Moral Majority did their grassroots homework, it doesn’t seem like a big stretch. Like a televangelist, Trump’s a political leader who seeks support by appealing to the desires and prejudices of ordinary people rather than by using rational argument. Now the megachurches provide him one big base for this emotion-based persuasion. What do these hundreds of thousands of American believers want? Protect our investments and take us back to [imagined] days of moral purity. Don’t let the liberals make our government huge or expensive and don’t let them infect our children with their ungodly ideas.
I am reviewing those difficult two decades of my life to say that I understand now how otherwise rational people can fall in with a demagogue. And how accessible it is to engage in the primal practice of shunning the “unacceptable” and grooming the powerful to please. I get how we can feel threatened by liberal people, who believe they are the sane, safe ones, or by conservative people, who believe they are doing good and are scared of liberal views.
Reader, please accept that today I do not judge or take issues with any person who names their source of life Jesus, nor discourage anyone from gathering to pray for peace and wisdom, whatever the faith. It’s your choice.
However, my church experience, almost 40 years ago, became a communal study in delusion which I think mirrors a condition in our country that may be occurring large scale. Fundamentalism is an adjective for the more specific word, extremism. As in taking the Bible literally. Leaders’ power exerted in matters that are none of their business. When evangelicals stand up for a moral [note, not a civil] agenda in public, they call any negative reaction persecution – not disagreement. If liberals disagree, their voice is dishonored or disregarded because liberals don’t conform to the biblical agenda. But, has moral outrage become the purveyance of both sides? Sometimes lately it sounds like that.
Jesus promised persecution. So, in the cult, we got bolder and felt honored that our popularity ratings dropped to all-time lows. Even the POTUS views Democratic opposition as a kind of hate, as persecution of his innocent, positive self. Disagreement isn’t hate, but that isn’t clear in the public “conversations” which are fueled by outrage and fear. [Very little said about actual policy.] Trump has positioned himself as a protector of an entrenched segment of America who listen raptly. If you’re one of the base called “uneducated American” you can just believe Trump until his schemes don’t work out for you. What if he doesn’t keep his promise to the little guy? It’ll be, so what? I know, he promised every breath to you…which means words.
Some contemporary churches, particularly the mega churches, many of which are based on the prosperity teachings of Norman Vincent Peale (see POTUS prayer consort at inauguration), offered a comfortable salvation – belonging to the club — without worrisome issues like sin. The main benefit, besides the music, hi-tech emotional experience and company, is belonging to the right team. The great team. [see red hats] I remember when the church felt to me like an asylum from all we fear – addiction, violence, etc.
Today I am pointing out this protracted lack of civil discourse and an aggravated unwillingness to listen and learn from one another. On both sides, a form of moral indignation and fear. What concerns me about the war of the liberal and conservative extremes, is that I suspect a partial, if not complete blindness, to more critical issues. What work should be done that may need us to step out of our social/political polarization? What common understandings can we work for in our legislative bodies that would benefit all?
At this writing, during the infamous Shutdown, I know that the needs of many people are not being met in areas assisted by the Federal government, as well as our local issue in California with the expensive need to manage overgrown forests in the wake of devastating wildfires. Etc. etc.
Here’s the obvious problem with dualism. If there’s a “correct” side then the other is damned. And both the left and the right seem convinced that they are correct. In the struggle for the moral/social/public advantage, only a few are addressing critical issues. For example, the rapidly widening wealth gap. This is equality business that I think ought to be attended to for the well-being of all. It might also ease the climate change factor. When I reflect on the agenda and squabbles of leadership back in the fundamentalist cult it was, underneath the finer points of scripture, mostly about control and money. I suspect the contemporary conservative stance is mainly about protecting monied interests in the name of taking the moral high ground. That is hypocrisy.
How dare the Dems deny a wall? Is it King Cyrus having another temper tantrum, the way he’s done business all his life? Or, I wonder, is the wall a red herring? Trump’s campaign revisited in his Tweeted video clip today was pure propaganda. From here on out, it’s going to be only America first. “Every decision on taxes…. will be made to benefit American workers and their families. I will never let you down. We will bring back…we will bring back…we will bring back…we will not fail. [My inauguration] marks the day the people became the rulers of this nation again.”
How, in the past two years, has he made “the people” rulers? He has incited mob violence, but that isn’t rule of law. Besides the video clip’s stirring call to nationalism, watch it with visual literacy. His claim of greatness is back grounded by military might, repeatedly through the frames. Look at the expansive scale of everything. Let’s consider, too, how much the media corporations profit by this push and pull drama.
A Tweet this morning from a white Trump supporter said Californians are all haters. That by virtue of being in California, we hate Trump because we love immigrants more than our own countrymen. There are obviously multiple definitions of “our country,” emerging. Or is our definition being irrevocably changed? Is the partisan war today loudest on the outside edges – do we only hear the voices of the angry white supremist or his more-educated superior conservative counterpart – and in opposition, only hear the shouting of liberal human rights activists, calling for more gender and racial equality? When I think partisan, I wonder was there ever a political party that steadfastly stood for universal human rights? I don’t remember…
The contemporary surge of liberalism mostly represents to me evolving human rights issues, better thinking and action for social and economic equality, understanding differences, establishing justice for peoples who have been disenfranchised, humiliated or murdered for their sexual preference or their skin color, or both. I remember how we fundamentalists automatically judged those people sinners.
But even under reasonable presidents, have we noticed and dealt with the multi-billion-dollar corporations and banks, the federal contracts, dark money, the Wall Street gamers, gerrymanderers, lobbyists pumping billions into politicians – have we already let them steal the prospects of a livelihood for the next generation? Have we noticed the escalating number of homeless people with heartbreaking addictions? The rise of child poverty numbers in a wealthy country and the underfunding of their schools?
Recently, one of my liberal women friends in a book club was shocked that I was reading David Brooks’ The Social Animal. “He’s a conservative! she gasped. It also happens that Mr. Brooks is a good writer and has articulated some complex ideas. Was I really to worry that I would be tainted? This cultural war is not healthy pluralism.
I am in awe of civil rights leaders, and watchdogs who show up now at the Congressional table and speak up. I dread them losing their voice or vote and even more I’m shaken by this: What if the stakes of this 40-year cultural/social war are reframing, or possibly dismantling, what our constitutional forbearers designed as government for the people, of the people and by the people? The entire game of politics and economics, even modern-day religion has changed during the digital age. How do we know where this is going, even if a Democrat is the next president? Is government being re-defined as the relationship with the governed is strained or simply manipulated more and more?
I’m trying to apprehend how to live my civic life as a We thing, which is the gist of pluralism. Our present institutions are mostly structured top down and American life is viewed as a power struggle within the factory model. Or a big triangle on the American dollar. This does not need to engender demagogues and followers, but in the digital age, the way public “discourse” is proceeding, it has.
We face some tough problems that are being exacerbated by our positions of in-it-for-me – government continuing to operate in the clutches of big business, for example; or in it for “my team,” aka the politically correct agenda. I’m interested in the view of work from the book, The Power of Positive Deviance, demonstrating that, while we know much about how to prevent the suffering and inequality in our nation (and world), we aren’t taking a We stance to do anything about it. The current POTUS thrives on division as he lines the pockets of his cronies and global pals.
In countries where people were easily coached to take a we stance, amazing problem solving arose within the groups. Even in classrooms, teachers today facilitate growth in thinking and learning with students when they adopt a we stance, discarding the factory model of education.
Fundamentalist doctrine infers that a nation gets the leadership it deserves, that a healthy nation is upright, traditional, and thus, godly. This is defined outwardly: Does the president hold a prayer meeting? Does his family go to church? Is he against abortion? That’s all it takes to be accepted by the conservative.
This was the way it was when I lived in delusion. The only explanation for my fellow countrymen and women who lived a different set of values –or who didn’t care about Christianity — was that they were blindly, without their overcoats, doomed. In clearer psychological terms, they were unacceptable. Think of Trump’s small vocabulary: bad people, terrible people…very bad…
Here are some racial/gender/social issues to tackle if conservatives really feel the need to clean up society. My list would include: educating and disarming good old boys in pickup trucks who are gun-toting racists who openly disrespect women. It would be challenging religious fundamentalists – well-situated, white, and respectable in appearance who see themselves superior to those who are poor, different or who disagree. I’m white and realize I’ve only been abused by white working-class men, by white people who sold me drugs, and by white religious fundamentalists. My daughter was beaten up once by skin heads, a white supremist gang. In more recent years, the children shot in schools were shot by white boys. The children of color who were killed in their own neighborhoods were shot by white policemen. What is with this white superiority? How does race and income equal supremacy?
My hope and belief is that there are religious people who keep sight of our humanity while they worship, and who believe that all people are basically good. They see that some people make bad choices, get into trouble or addictions and, should get help if they choose to change. They don’t quote chapter and verse from their Bibles and seem to tend to be more observant of the way things are. Self-righteous, rigid conservatives living in the evangelical bubble, staying safe from all the bad people, is a problem. Their primary fault: their worst problem is that they usually cannot, or will not, call out a leader in error. The blinders are on. Don’t touch God’s anointed. I was a bystander, then a victim, then a perpetrator of religious bullying.
When I look back on the day I was expelled from the cult, it was the moment I became sick and tired of living in fear. So, I’m not willing now to revert to a life of fear and silence. Even if things today are scary. During my fundamentalist stint, my fear of wrongdoing made me behave the way a germ-o-phobic handles being around other humans. I feared the porn shops, the drug dealers near my kids’ school, and the rise of crime in my city. Which didn’t change anything. Honestly, back then I would have thought any man running for the position of POTUS who appeared godly would be a likely choice to deliver us from societal ills. We’re programmed by Hollywood, besides primal belief, that you are naturally better if you are rich. The current POTUS claims he is going to fix the poor among us, even though his practices and politics may, in the final analysis, exacerbate poverty. Note, technically he’s only going to assist the white poor who have jobs.
By the 90’s my view of home, community, work, state and nation had shifted to a deo-centric world, as a result of “being discipled” in a community that modeled itself on “the true church.” My life became more and more about compliance. I became rigid. In retrospect, I was using the childhood coping mechanisms for surviving an abusive, alcoholic father. Everyone at the cult, especially under new leadership, tried to maintain. We tried to keep on the good side of the “anointed” leader, with little or no say. It reminds me of Trump’s first set of staff.
Now, I notice and hear rigidity. Could there be three, or more sides to our story? What if? I question the value of long term entrenchment in an uncivil war because, like it or not, we are all in this together.
Falwell’s Moral Majority disbanded in 1990, but the cult did not. It lost members and was torn with divisions. I realized that much of the infighting was basically about money. There were two tracts of valuable land in shared contracts. I wish it had been about mercy and justice, but it wasn’t.
A person can don a used world view, by slowly exchanging his or her current world view for a stronger story. This can be good like waking up, or not so great. I am working on a new view, a view of us, a We-View, as in we the people, and as in my fellow humans. I hope that history will show me some groups who survived nicely without the conquistador or monarch approach. Without slavery and cruel dominion. Without a tantrum-throwing patriarch in the White House. Self-aggrandizing lies. The Stock Market going up means that we don’t have rising poverty in our nation? Really? The power of positive thinking is a business tool for the entitled and is the 45th president’s religion.
I am led to wonder what political discourse would be like if we stopped trying to fix each other, or if we stopped standing across a chasm shouting with moral outrage? We may have a crisis in Washington that becomes a meltdown of government beyond a shutdown. This isn’t a prediction of the end, just not great hope for a change for the better from this point.
The left and right see two different messes. Two lenses. The conservatives see Trump as the Messiah [yes, Cyrus was called Messiah in his day] to clean up the Washington mess. Trump says he’s draining the swamp. What will the gators do? Would it be possible for some thinkers and leaders to abandon party platforms – the glamour of power – and dig in to do something for the good of all? That would be a we-thing. I think there are some people trying to in D.C.
I am encouraged by several incoming Congressional and state leaders, fresh thinkers…fearless people. Could local as well as big governments, schools, factories and businesses begin to learn to take a we approach? Would a nation of united people, united by respect rather fear, solve many more pressing problems than if we continue in our present polarization? The following quote spoke to my sense I am backing into passive, woo-woo position. Yes, I admit my innate, trained “white moderate” posture comes easily. And I am not fearless. I aim to not let my fears paralyze me.
One passage of King’s response seems especially apropos to this moment. In it, he confessed that he had become “gravely disappointed with the white moderate.” Too often, he said, they were “more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice,” and preferred “a negative peace, which is the absence of tension to a positive peace, which is the presence of justice.” -Op Ed. Miami Herald, Leonard Pitts, Jr.
I think my search for a “new” view must sound ridiculous, childish. Kids often just want parents to get along and be nice. We want people fighting wars to just stop. Or it might sound like I’m saying everybody move back to the middle, like the Centrists, which I’m not. I am not asking everyone to sit down and be quiet as in parental order. Change is messy. My inkling – as inarticulate as I am about it — is closer to something I could work for, better than hiding in my house, hoping without evidence for better news, while a greed-committed political world continues to abuse a heat-stricken planet, and another generation grows up who are vulnerable. Trying to be perfect, to do it all right. They may be likely targets for demagogues, as many conservative and uneducated voters were in 2018.
I long for a positive peace. I will speak up for that. A person can don a new world view, by slowly exchanging his or her current world view for a stronger story. This can be good.
So, if you love Jesus, that’s fine. I am advocating we think more about how to build our lives around things that matter, and truth and beauty matter. I want to continue to change my view in order to get something done for the good of others. Currently we’re not promoting e pluribus unum, one out of the many, because the many aren’t having helpful conversations. Who has much of a voice today unless making headlines or Tweet storms? But I conclude: This nation will never be homogenous again. Well, not ever without ethnic cleansing…
There really isn’t any going back – bringing back, as the POTUS says – the real America – unless you want to risk that attempt at greatness being enforced, as in, swallow the propaganda and lies [and forget to remember Hitler]. This is another area to pay attention. I suspect that the current deepening of division of the American people makes us more vulnerable to the rise of a totalitarian leadership that none thinks could never happen here.
When Trump was elected, an article in The Guardian by Martyn Percy, a Church of England priest and the dean of Christ Church college, Oxford explained:
“…Trump’s political rhetoric can be traced back further, to the specious singularity of his religious roots. Norman Vincent Peale, the pastor of New York’s Marble Collegiate church, was Trump Sr’s pastor and presided at the wedding of Trump and Ivana in 1977. Peale’s bestselling 1952 book, The Power of Positive Thinking, manifestly shaped the world of the Trumps. The book also launched the motivational thinkers’ industry, and its practitioners are businessmen just like Trump. Marketed on confidence, pragmatism, expectations of exponential growth and realising your dream, ambition or vision, it also shaped numerous Christian evangelical and fundamentalist ministries.”
Percy also wrote, “Graham, in signaling that Trump was a kind of Cyrus, was simply saying that evangelicals and fundamentalists could now rid themselves of a once dominant, centralising liberal hegemony, and reclaim their religious freedoms. They could do this even by voting for someone who manifestly doesn’t share their evangelical faith.”