The following text is reprinted with permission from the Fall '95 issue of the excellent journal, "Religious Socialism" (PO Box 80, Camp Hill, PA, 17001-0080, USA email: firstname.lastname@example.org). A yearly subscription costs $7.50, and recent issues have included material from a broad perspective, and addressing an incredible array of topics, from the current state of the socialist movement, to technology and alienation in the modern economy, to the relevance of certain Buddhist ideas to contemporary radical thought and practice.
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This piece, by David Zink, originally appeared in the May 1991 issue of "Works in Progress," the monthly publication of the Thurston County, Washington, Rainbow Coalition. It's been slightly edited by "Religious Socialism."
Chris Faatz <email@example.com>
"Let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth." (1 John 3:18)
"So then, as the body without the spirit is dead, also faith without action is dead." (James 2:26)
I'd like to contribute a few of my thoughts to the public dialogue on Christian fundamentalism and biblical prophecy. In doing so, it's not my intention to denigrate anybody's personal faith. I'm of the mind that those who claim to have a monopoly on theological truth fool nobody but themselves.
From what I understand, the main concern of fundamentalists is personal salvation. Call upon the name of Jesus, confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and you will be saved. That's about all there is to it. Sounds pretty simple. Too simple! I see things differently.
As a Christian, I am called to serve the Lord. Accept and profess Christ? Sure, but then go out into the world to help make it a better place: feed the hungry, shelter the homeless. Then go the extra mile and work for radical systemic change. We need to cure the disease of corporate domination of society, not fiddle around with the symptoms, remembering the words of Dom Helder Camara, archbishop of Recife, Brazil, "When I feed the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist."
Christ does not call upon us to withdraw from the world. It is an active religion. Prayer and meditation are important, but the operative word is involvement, not withdrawal. Studying the Gospel, and the beatitudes in particular, has led me to see Christ as profoundly revolutionary. I believe that if he came today, in the way he came 2000 years ago, he would be a social activist and agitator, and be seen by the authorities as a troublemaker.
Fundamentalists tend to put a lot of emphasis on a literal, word-for-word interpretation whenever possible. For them, the "seven days" of creation become, literally, seven 24-hour days. god could have explained genetics and organic evolution to Moses, but He chose to communicate in ways the ancient Hebrew shepherds could understand. How fortunate we are that God saw fit to give Charles Darwin, Stephen Jay Gould, and other scientists their gifts of research and reason. Thanks to them, biology now teaches that creation didn't end after one week. Creation is still going on, if we have the eyes to see it unfolding. We are stewards of a rich, evolving biodiversity that is being destroyed by corporate greed. All too often, fundamentalists, appearing as the Pharisees of our age, take the literal word, apply rote scripture, and miss the real message.
When dealing with more enigmatic passages, like the book of Revelation, fundamentalists formulate interpretations that schedule Armageddon and the "end times" in the near future, some predict by the year 1998. This leads to a defeatist attitude (no use in trying to improve things, it's all out of our hands anyway), and a "survivalist" strategy to assure your and your family will live through the tribulation.
In my opinion, that sort of faith doesn't help anybody. Scripture says that it is given to none of us to know or say when the Lord will come again, but now is the "hour of decision:" to accept Him/Her and to follow Her/His example, or not. If we all acted like He/She was returning tomorrow, the world would be a much better place!
(When the Old and New Testaments were written, Hebrew society was severely patriarchal. To this day, fundamentalists insist that the Godhead is masculine. I see feminine, nurturing qualities in the universal creative force, as do followers of many shamanic traditions. Why must we assume that Christ must return as a male?)
The Bible has been interpreted in a great variety of ways. Armageddon and the Second Coming have been frequently predicted, from the middle ages, through to the present. The medieval church mis-used the Bible as justification for the brutal suppression of the shamanic, pre-Christian nature religion (Wicca) of Europe. In the "burning times," huge numbers of women were put to death. Black slavery was justified from the pulpit. Examples of "scripture abuse" abound! We all need to become more Bible- literate to avoid falling prey to the same.
In conclusion, I'd like to quote from John C. Cort's conclusion to his thought-provoking book, _Christian Socialism: An Informal History_:
"Most people get whatever religion they have from the Bible. The reactionary preachers who dominate television tell us the Bible teaches that 'government should get off the back of business,' that the nuclear bomb is the Christian's best friend, that our present economy is the best possible economy in the world. They are wrong. The Bible teaches nothing of the sort. All we have to do is tell them what the Bible really teaches, persuade them to believe it, and--who knows?--the Kingdom of God may yet come on earth as it is in heaven, at least insofar as poor, weak, human nature is capable, with the help of God. This is precisely what Jesus taught us to pray for, and work to make real. He also told us that God, our God, would indeed help us... If God tells us to do something, is that just 'human action?'"
God has told us to do something. Let's get busy: there's so much we need to do.