Monday, November 15, 2004

Why Christians Can't Read

One thing that has constantly puzzled me about Far-Right Republican Christians is how they can call themselves Christians and then live as they live, and act as they act.

That is, given that they are meant to be followers of Christ, an interesting fellow who is famous for saying such things as “Sell all you have, give it to the poor, and follow me,” and “If someone steals your coat, give him your shirt too,” and “You cannot serve both God and wealth,” and “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone,” and “Judge not lest ye also be judge," where do they get off driving Hummers, and get all snotty about welfare, and supporting the death penality, and bombing the hell out of Iraq?

Well, Steve Almond has an essay that attempts to explain what he thinks might be up, and he’s pretty convincing:

It’s (a) the salad bar approach to the Bible that these Church Christians are so famous for – by which I mean, they haven’t actually read their own text (as usual, which is how one of them, as quoted on The Poor Man ( a few days ago, could think that the Bible says “to thine own self be true,” as well as how my students, every semester, fall for my little joke, “As it says in the Bible, “God helps him who helps himself.”)

And it’s (b) misreading, because Christians –Fundamentalist Christians, at least -- can’t read. And why can’t they read? Because they can’t think. And why can’t they think? Because their culture actively discourages independent, critical thought.

First off, from infancy, they are taught to obey authority instantly and unquestioningly*;

Second, a main tenet of their religion is the surrender of their free will to someone else’s – God’s, in the ideal sense, but often, in the real sense, to that of some preacher or commanding officer;

And finally, their main institution, the fundamentalist church, is actively opposed to critical thinking, and makes no bones about it. The reasons behind this are transparent: their text and tenets will not stand up to critical, empirical challenge, and they know it.

In any case, read this article by Steve Almond. It’s interesting and enlightening:

It also, if Almond is right, explains a great deal that is apparently contradictory about the Religious Right.

Doesn’t do us any good, mind you. We’re still stuck with them. But you know me and my fierce belief in the enlightenment doctrine: the first step in fixing something is figuring out how it works.

* As in this example from the charming site, “The Loving Art of Spanking,” about why you should beat your child into submission for thinking for herself: “If my six year old daughter is told to bring all the dishes off the table into the kitchen and she brings all but the water glasses, that is not obedience, however promptly it was carried out. She may figure someone else should help her. She may decide it would be handy to leave the glasses so they are available for the next meal. She may think a lot of things to justify herself, but 90% obedience is disobedience” (

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