What the neo-Confederacy and biblical literalism have in common

By Christopher Cudworth (addition to original post)

In 2007 when I published my book The Genesis Fix, A Repair Manual for the Modern Age, the section on the Liberal vs. Conservative divide contained the following passage, focusing on what I called the neo-Confederacy. The sad truth is that my predictions are coming true before our very eyes. This post addresses that issue and what to do about the influence of an originally corrupted view of Christian faith.  

The Conservative/Liberal Divide

The current-day battle between liberals and conservatives carries the same stridency and stubbornness that marked the American Civil War. The difficult question we must face is whether we can anticipate the rise of a new form of “confederacy” in the modern age.

The original, Southern Confederacy stemmed from dissatisfaction with the state of the Union and the future of government.  It might seem easy to assume that the Union was 100% on the right side of political issues in the Civil War. But no matter how correct the Union cause might appear in retrospect, the Confederacy was not by definition without virtue. As a political entity it may well have been justified in defending itself against economic and military aggression by the Union. And in spite of the notion that the ideology of the Confederacy was purged through the Civil War, the personal and political freedoms advocated by the South are alive and well today in modern society, woven into the politics of libertarians and other conservatives who contend that the best government is that which governs least. These principles the Confederacy sought to defend, and the sense of pride in defending moral principles has never been lost on the South.

However unfortunate it may have been for the Confederate South to secede, one can admire the determination of the movement as symbolic of the American revolutionary spirit. It may still be possible that partisan politics will produce an America divided over ideology, geography, oligarchy, or all of the above.

Perhaps the most likely scenario is the formation of a “neo-Confederacy” around “doctrinal states” or politics focused on “Red” and “Blue” states. Proponents on either side of the political fence have begun to see the value of the “winner-take-all” approach. We are not far from a moment in history when battles over doctrinal authority could lead to a new secession in the hands of the “neo-Confederates” and the states they represent.

But there are other issues afoot as well. The next Civil War may be fought not in the fields and forests of America, but in courtrooms where armies of lawyers battle over the rights of corporations to control America’s life and politics. Corporate lobbies and revenue now influence every facet of American life.  The largest corporations and the individuals who run them have more money and power than many countries in the world. It is not a stretch to say that one cannot become a governor, senator or representative without the backing of corporations. A neo-Confederacy of corporate largess already exists in America, and it is not limited to the Republican side of the political fence.  It may not be long before the power vested in corporations becomes a self-fulfilling mandate and America will be forced to choose between its original model of a democratic republic recorded in the Constitution and a new, corporate society that is ruled by companies who run the business of America. Whether we accept that model, or have the courage to resist this takeover of American life is a question for our age.

***

It wasn’t that hard to predict the rise of the neo-Confederacy. The thought processes of people with politically doctrinal leanings that are furthermore prone to the more dogmatic brand of religion founded on literally misguided interpretations of the Bible are not that difficult to discern. It’s “their way or the highway” and once challenged on their own public turf, their propensity is not to stand and reason with the enemy. It is first to fight with angry words and name-calling, and when that fails, the primary instinct is to pull back and hide from the truth that confronts them.

And so we find ourselves face to face with the neo-Confederacy. It wasn’t that hard to predict. Honest.

Where do we go from here? 

Since it is not really appropriate to point out a problem––however profound our simple––without proposing a solution, we shall do so here.

The issue of secession in America may appear on the surface to be a challenge of politics, economics and personal autonomy.

Underlying these practical matters is a deeper issue that keeps causing major rifts in American life. That is religion. Specifically, it is the religion of literalism that on the surface seems so absolute and clean. Upon critical examination this brand of religion turns out to be a highly manipulated brand of faith, one concocted of absolutes without support of scripture. At the same time, it is a both a manipulative and aggressive brand of faith by necessity in the greater world of idea. This is because the fundamentals upon which religious literalism are based are at once deep seated and brittle.

Feet of clay and the illusion of strength

One can turn to scripture itself for an interpretation of how fragile the foundations of literalism really are. We turn to the book of Daniel for the principle example of a kingdom (or confederacy) built upon a brittle base. Daniel 2: 31-33 relates the interpretation of a dream by King Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon who was greatly vexed by his vision of a statue, wanting dearly to know its signficance. So Daniel told him:

Thou, O king, sawest, and behold a great image. This great image, whose brightness was excellent, stood before thee; and the form thereof was terrible.
This image’s head was of fine gold, his breast and his arms of silver, his belly and his thighs of brass,
His legs of iron, his feet part of iron and part of clay. (Daniel 2:31-33)

This interpretation pointed out that the character of the kingdom was flawed, built of materials cobbled together to give an impression of great strength, but when examined closely, that strength was in fact an illusion.

Protecting the base

The “base” of biblical literalism is the brittle translation starts with an image of the bible as an inerrant, infallible book, but also incorporates the idea that the words in the book must be taken literally or they would have no meaning at all.

This is the clay at the foot of biblical literalism. Because it is so fragile, defenders of the literal faith must be on guard against any pressures that might cause the statue of literalism to topple over. That is why biblical literalists defend their interpretation of the bible so vehemently against perceived enemies such as science, evolution and social progress. All these knowledge-based (and therefore fluid) worldviews are a constant threat against the fixed worldview of biblical literalism.

But rather than sit back and take the blows, biblical literalists have learned to create a perimeter of defense around their worldview. Then they seek to infiltrate their enemies at every turn with probing attacks into the schools, science labs and government that would dare challenge the imposition of literalism upon the populace.

That is the culture war that drives so much of American politics. This is not one of imagination, but of stark reality. More than 30% of Americans believe the Bible is literally true. Is it actually a coincidence that the Republican base in America is also a relatively fixed percentage between 30%-35% who seem to back the Republican Party and its candidates regardless of their virtues. Immediately upon re-election, 20 states had petitions filed for secession. That’s around 40% of the states.

So we see a pattern of sorts emerging in America, drawn around doctrines that are both political and religious, but that ultimately shrink back to one stark fact: Americans fearful their worldview is too brittle to stand on its own.

How to fix the problem

In the tradition known as Christianity, there is a long history of education as its base. Jesus Christ is known as Teacher, and his instructional methods ranged from teaching his disciples in intimate settings to preaching to thousands on the hillside in the Sermon on the Mount.

As a teacher, Jesus was no slouch. In particular, he was a great defender of ideas that, once introduced, could be easily misunderstood. He repeatedly instructed and rebuked his own disciples on the meaning of his parables which were patently metaphorical. When the 12 questioned why Jesus taught in parables, he called them “stupid” for not grasping their meaning in the first place, and went to great lengths to document the purpose of teaching in parables, so that truth could be revealed through common means to people who have not yet been given the gift of the Holy Spirit.

So the teaching tradition of Jesus Christ was not based on literalism, but on heavy use of metaphor. Jesus argued with officials of the Jewish faith, challenging them on their legalism and use of faith to grab positions of high social and political status.

Does there seem to be a pattern here as well?

Modern day legalism

It’s really quite simple to see what is happening in America. Christianity has allowed so many of its sheep to stray from the metaphorical tradition of faith as taught by Jesus Christ that a huge portion of the religion has been permitted to crystallize at its base.

Recall that the entire reason Jesus was not accepted as Messiah in his day was the unwillingness of religious leaders to consider that the kingdom about which Jesus was preaching was not one of political power and control, but of personal revelation and salvation. A few zealots were so bitterly disappointed by this news they resisted Jesus. And the very people who ran the faith upon which Jesus built his ministry conspired to have him handed over to the Roman authorities, who apparently saw no real threat to their own power and authority other than that proposed by the people who feared him most.

Jesus was a threat to no one but those who refused to grasp the real meaning of his presence on earth. Those would be people whose priorities were political and therefore fragile, always threatened by the world of ideas threatening to encroach upon their fixed vision of an earthly kingdom.

And yet the earthly kingdom Jesus proposed was ever more real than that proposed by the zealots. The early kingdom Jesus brought to life was collaborative, loving and supportive. Christians enact that kingdom through they daily lives not by striving to fend off every new idea that comes along, or by trying to impose their faith on the laws of a nation, but by loving better and more often, instilling the benefits of the Holy Spirit and God in this world.

Time for a challenge

So it is time for Christians who understand the real kingdom of God and Christ to challenge the rigid worldview of fixed-faith Christianity. It is time for Christians who grasp the meaning of the parables to be the true disciples of the faith. It is time for Christians who understand that fear alone is not a sufficient foundation for faith in God, and that feet of clay offer nothing to stand upon.

It is time for Christians who believe in the living kingdom of God here on earth to challenge the false premises of biblical literalism. It is time for Christians who believe that a faith can exist freely within a nation without making it the law of the land to demand the absolutists to stand down, back off their arch convictions and open their hearts to faith that embraces science and comprehends the reality of evolution through reconciliation of a metaphorical understanding of scripture, just as Jesus would have us do.

And finally, it is time for Christians who believe in the living kingdom of God to demand that 30% of the Christians who believe in a literal understanding of the Bible to stop acting like Muslim literalists seeking to create Shariah law in nations around the world.

There is no difference when it comes to feet of clay. It happens time and again throughout history that brittle character takes over the faith and lives of otherwise good people.

It’s time to fight back against the secessionists of faith just as it is time to fight back against political literalists who seek to secede from the Union. Because the parallels are too clear to deny.

We close with a prayer, of sorts, from the book of Proverbs, which teaches us how and why we should have courage to rebuke those with an ear to hear.

Proverbs 9:8

Do not rebuke mockers or they will hate you; rebuke the wise and they will love you.

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