Sunday, June 16, 2013
TIGHTER AND MEANER
There it is on the “religion page” -- a short theory of religious “clumping.” Of course, the dividing and merging, reconciling and declaring war between human beings is always driven by economics and circumstances. People group into affinities and oppositions and the only difference with religiously-based congregations, denominations, and even world religions is that they claim justification for their life-managements as endorsed by some supernatural force, maybe historical and maybe recent. Their “metaphor” for their position is often expressed in some kind of ceremony like communion or fasting, bathing or traveling to some important spot. Or a book.
The examples in the newspaper stories were Pope Francis meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury to talk over their relationship since their constituencies split in 1534; a sub-group of Buddhists trying to understand how to achieve peace with Muslims; and the Southern Baptist Annual Convention trying to recapture mainstream America, now that the generations have so radically redefined what the mainstream is. Already the Southern Baptists, who split with the main body of Baptists over the issue of slaves -- Southerners being dependent on owning African-Americans for their economic survival -- have re-elected The Rev. Fred Luter, their first black leader -- without opposition. Mainstream Southern Baptists now oppose human trafficking, child abuse, and the high rate of incarceration. All of them forms of slavery.
But Southern Baptists are associated with white, separatist, male-dominated, Republican, conservative positions. These categories are diminishing -- even more than was thought before the last national elections proved the point. Every group -- religious or not -- is composed of three groups: the one that goes into the future, perhaps experimenting; the one that clings to the past, perhaps out-of-touch; and the main group that shows up every Sunday and pays the bills. Just as the nation has a middle class, every denomination has a middle class. But just like every middle class, the ultimate goal is to preserve the group even if the old-fashioned faction has to be abandoned, even if the cutting edge out front has to be accepted. So Southern Baptists accept dark-skinned people, missionize the north, and allow women to take leadership though still not the pulpit. They still pretty much oppose abortion, gay marriage or homosexuality in general, though they didn’t break affiliation with the Boy Scouts over it. The Boy Scouts are too strong an indicator of middle class virtue in America, even though the roots of THAT clump are in English military-based elite schools plus romantic ideas about Native Americans.
There is a sub-clump of Southern Baptists that has gone ultrapolitical, trying to make common cause with the Right Wing Republicans who badly lost the election: the people often called the “Tea Party,” because they took as their model the American rebellion against English domination through taxation, demonstrating by dumping English tea into the ocean while disguised as Native Americans. (It's hard to tell whether these guys are the future or the past.) The United States formed out of the crunch between the English and the Native Americans by creating a new category: Americans. The Baptist denomination formed out of the crunch between the Anglicans, which was the official church of England where the King/Queen is STILL the head of both church and state, and the wilderness. Like the laws, religious opinions were still handed down from England until citizens formed their own congregations. Then that solidarity split in the War between the States, the same as European Protestants had much earlier split from the Roman Catholic Church. (Native Americans, of course, were busy doing their own clumping and splitting.)
Tea Party Christians dominate the Super Conservative Republicans, which are in the process of splitting from the mainstream of Lincoln, Eisenhower, and Reagan Republicans, and who try to capture as much of the mainstream as possible by claiming God is with THEM. Because God is very much like THEM. (They don’t mean Jesus -- they mean Jehovah. Why truck with the Son when the Father is at hand?) This incredibility of God being on both sides has been assumed in every Christian-against-Christian war, notably WWI and WWII. No one questions that God is in favor of war, given the amount of war in the Old Testament.
Catholics try to force their membership to toe the line by making the line a matter of criminal law, imposing their standards on the whole country. Contraception is a sin, remarriage after divorce is a sin, both punishable by excommunication, meaning prevention from taking communion -- the rite of belonging and forgiveness. That’s supposed to be the punishment that fits the crime. But the mainstream American Catholics no longer take excommunication very seriously. They believe in marital self-determination and small families they can afford to support. In particular the youngsters also have friends who are black or gay or promiscuous, etc. and don’t have a very strong concept of either God or Heaven. In a culture where priests assault children, it’s hard to want to serve at Mass as an altar-juvenile. And the Catholic church is reluctant to let ordinary criminal law deal with those priests.
The Tea Party is more explicitly based on prosperity, the Holy Grail of our culture. This strategy works best among people who are poor, feel excluded, are in places where the economy is shrinking or shifting to jobs that require higher education or in rural places, and whereever fear creeps around chilling people. Places where people comfort themselves with alcohol, rage, and abuse of the weak. They hold up the Good Old Days as a Paradise Lost and need guns to feel safe. And the Evangelicals say that joining them in ecstasy will make their members rich. In short, the faction of the Southern Baptist mainstream that is far to the right is trying to push America back into the conflation of church and state, so that THEIR rules will become the laws of the land and force us all to do what THEY think is right, whether we agree or not.
They feel that the more liberal and successful people of the country have forced “pagan law” on them, and therefore they are justified in fomenting discord -- because to them everything is war and conflict, a fight for domination. They intend the economic split between the very, very wealthy (a small elite which they aspire to join) and the rest of us to remain, a replication of the southern world before the slaves were freed. Or the British Empire before the coal that fueled the industrial revolution ran out.
Now coal and oil are not so much running out as shifting to natural gas, of which there is a huge abundance on the North American continent. This means the Middle East oil supplies will matter less and we will be less inclined to need peace with the Islamic world or to participate in their quarrels among themselves. Now we can be more separatist, but since China will probably remain oil and coal dependent, we ought to be thinking about their religious positions, which do not so much guide as reflect their world views. Many of our progressive go-ahead people, esp. hip youngsters, have been interested in Buddhism for a long time. Few express interest in Shinto, the Japanese conservative religion. In China the advancing edge might be Taoism and the mainstream might be Confucianism, with the lagging group being atheist communism. I can guarantee that it will always be about economics and it will always be about an elite trying to control everyone else. Ask Israel.