Barbarians at the Gates

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How sad for Jerry Falwell that he died before the rapture was to take place. He assured us that the rapture is imminent--wouldn't it suck for him if the rapture happens, oh, say, this Thursday? If he had just been able to hang on for two more days...

I remember, back in the seventies when I was a teenage fundamentalist, coming across a faux post-rapture newspaper that some fundie Christians had printed; the paper reported with horror on the front page that millions of people had suddenly disappeared. Funnily enough, one of the people this fake newspaper reported to have have disappeared in the rapture was an unnamed President of the United States. The President at that time happened to be Richard Nixon. Make up your own joke here.

Part of the fun of the rapture for fundamentalists would have to be that it would serve as a kind of vindication. Once in heaven, the True Believers could look down on the world that was left behind and say, "Ha Ha", to all those doubters and skeptics they had lived and worked with who didn't buy the fundamentalist line and were now forced to deal with mass disappearances that served as the miraculous proof that the fundies were right after all.

The standard theology that I was taught back in the 1970s was that humanity was hopelessly depraved, and that this depravity was leading to an ever worsening situation that would culminate in the end of the world. This cynical view of humanity and the fate of the world dominated fundamentalist thinking. It saw humanity as being full of sinners and non-Christians who were destroying the world, and at the same time threatening and seducing true Christians with temptations and evil at every turn. According to this view, the world--and certainly Western culture--was becoming increasingly immoral. This always seemed to be especially borne out by changing sexual mores--books and movies were full of sexual depravity, people were having premarital sex, and so on. Christians had to take pains to avoid watching such movies or reading such books, lest they succumb to lustful thoughts. Fundamentalists always seem to have a particular problem with human sexuality.

These true believers saw themselves as an embattled minority, fighting what was in the short run a losing cause that could only be redeemed by direct Divine action. Falwell himself epitomized this view. Among the many offensive things that he did and said, his claim that "pagans", "abortionists", "gays and lesbians", and others whom he disapproved of were responsible in some way for the attacks of 9/11 was certainly one of the worst. But say what you will, it did reflect the prevalent view among his ilk that they lived in a world of human depravity.

The funny thing is, these people now have one of their own in power in the White House. You'd think that this whole "barbarians at the gates" paranoia wouldn't make much sense when one of your minions controls the most powerful country in the world. Their views were, or at least seemed to be in 2004, in political ascendancy in American politics. So how is it that the barbarians were taking over? In reality, the whole idea of Falwell's "Moral Majority" would seem to defy the logic of the impending end of the world. If you believe that the world cannot be redeemed from its evil, that the world is getting worse and is hurtling irrevocably towards its own self-destruction, what is the point in organizing in order to alter the political landscape in a way that you think will make things better? Isn't that a monumentally counterproductive waste of effort? Aren't you just trying to stave off the return of your Lord? But there you have it.

The best thing about my own liberation from the fundamentalist straitjacket was that I was able to view culture in terms of something other than this narrow-minded us-versus-them mentality. Certainly, there is still much of American culture that I don't have much use for. But no longer do I feel like the barbarians are at the gates, that I am constantly having to resist temptation, that the devil is trying to seduce me. Is American culture sometimes, or even often, stupid? Sure. Is the current world situation depressing, what with global warming, war, and the declining bee population? Sure. Are these world problems due to Satan, inherent human depravity, or evils that are tempting me on the road to hell? I don't think so.

So now, after all is said and done, Jerry Falwell has gone the way of all flesh. His hate-mongering continues, unfortunately, without him. Also living on are the eschatological hopes of millions of fundamentalist Christians for a violent end to the world that will usher in their Lord. Jerry Falwell's death should serve as a reminder to all of us that our hope lies not in hatred or bigotry or a hoped-for final act of carnage that would usher in the rule of Christ, but in seeking first the Kingdom of God--a kingdom built on love and universal inclusion.

8 comments:

Livingsword said...

OK don't get me wrong I am not exactly a fan of Jerry Falwell but you seem to be doing a lot of "hate mongering" yourself.

Perhaps the "Emperer" should put some clothes on.

My peace I give you, my peace I leave you

Mystical Seeker said...

I disagree with your assessment. It is not "hatred" to be angry at those who promulgate hatred, and at the devastating effect that such hate-mongers produce. I don't care whether the hate-monger in question is Jerry Falwell or a member of the KKK. I will not sit silently in the face of evil.

Heather said...

Mystical,

I would agree with your difference between anger and hatred. It's clear that you are not fond of Jerry Falwell -- you're not grieving over his death, but you're also not celebrating that he's dead, either. This post is more along the lines of analyzing the fundamentalist viewpoint, of which he played a part.

Plus, hating someone in a way gives that person power over you.

Heather said...

I should clarify my above statement -- that's what I get for posting when I haven't eaten in six hours. I wasn't saying that you hated Jarry Falwell. My comment on hating someone gives that person power over you was made because I believe you were once a fundamentalist? (If I'm remembering wrong, my apologies). And it does seem to be a very 'controlled' mindset, so I would see you being very leery of ever being in a situation where something like that has power over you.

Mystical Seeker said...

Hi Heather,

Hopefully you will eat something soon if you haven't already! :)

I didn't interpret what you said as suggesting that I hate Jerry Falwell. It is true that am not grieving his death; I do think that he did and said a lot of terrible things, but making note of that fact doesn't make one hateful. I think it is appropriate to call attention to what he has done--and many bloggers in the past day have done just that. I don't intend to dwell on the subject or write a posting that catalogs all the things he has done. I would rather try to stay focused on more positive things as much as I can. I do write about fundamentalism from time to time because I know it well and feel that it should be tackled head on.

One reason I focused a lot on the rapture rather than Falwell's hateful comments on gays or his accusation that feminists and gays caused 9/11 or whatever, is that I was trying to explore one specific element of his theology (the end of the world) and the political mindset that it involves. I think that building a better world is very important to my own faith, and one way to do that is (for me) to contrast this vision with the idea that fundamentalists have that human depravity is leading us inevitably towards its destruction, an idea that I found hard to reconcile with Falwell's own political activism that tried to create a "moral" (as he saw it) nation.

Heather said...

Mystical,

**I think it is appropriate to call attention to what he has done--and many bloggers in the past day have done just that.**

I agree with this as well, and not just in Mr. Falwell's case, but in general. Death shouldn't be used as an excuse to 'gloss' over certain characteristics of a person, but rather a time to analyze and understand the legacy left behind -- both good and bad. Many who knew him personally said that he was funny, charming, kind and such. Those are their impressions, and I know they are sincere in what they say. But those personal impressions weren't carried over to the public arena, and many of us only have his public behavior to go on. And many of us are angry at the public legacy he's leaving behind. But that doesn't mean we hate him (although some do).

Livingsword said...

I am not a fundamentalist, nor am I of the religious right or left. I am a follower of Jesus. I am wondering if perhaps (and I mean this in a caring sensitive manner) your reaction is not one of anger as much retaliation from hurt. You have been hurt by Falwell and those like him so you have that urge that is within all of us (including me) to retaliate. Maybe there is something to this whole “depravity” thing after all. I know that this lurks within me, and the only thing that restrains me is the love and grace of God (note I am not saying church, religion, rules, fear of Satan, etc.). I have allowed Him to interact with my nature in a personal way. That is the only time I am at my “best”. That is the only thing that helps me “turn the other cheek” and “love my enemies”, the only other option is survival of the fittest, and there is always somebody else more “fit”.

I find your comment about liberation exhilarating! My case is exactly the opposite of yours. I didn’t grow up in the church; I did the whole booze, drugs, party, orgy, wild life, etc scene and know what it is all about. In my personal experience none of that compares to what I have with Jesus!

Ruth said...

Livingsword

I'm truly glad that you have found a pleasing alternative to booze, drugs, party, orgy, wild life, etc in Jesus.

I wonder whether you'd agree with me, though, when I assert that Christianity is about so much more than being happy through Jesus. In fact, in my opinion, that barely even comes to it - and can sound most off-putting and smug.

For me, being a Christian means living, insofar as we possbly can, as Jesus did. And that means challenging the status quo where it leads to hatred and oppression. Christianity at its strongest in William Wilberforce fighting, year in year out for 18 years, against slavery. It is Desmond Tutu struggling throughout much of his lifetime to remove appartheid.

It should be Christians around the world speaking up for the poor, the marginalized, and the discriminated against. It's more than turning the other cheek - it's speaking and acting against big business and the social divisions of the world. It's shouting out against those nations that still condemn homosexuals to death.