Updated: Feb 11, 2021
Last night, Tuesday Feb. 9th, I watched a clip of Real Time with Bill Maher and his “New Rules,” on what he calls America’s Mass Delusion (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zhTbtqOJA08 ~ originally broadcast on Fri. Feb. 5th). Predictably, he connects all the political mayhem of the last few weeks (months/years) explicitly with Christianity.
On Feb. 4th, almost a week ago, I jotted the following down as fodder for some future blog (and keep in mind that I self-identified as an evangelical for years, until about 2005, when the term was successfully hijacked by the Far Right):
It’s no coincidence that fundamentalist evangelicals in the United States make up the group most responsible for the QAnon conspiracy and the Donald Trump presidency, who claim that climate change is a fiction, and who don’t wear masks or get vaccines because they think COVID is a liberal attempt at controlling our minds and ruining our souls. Why do I say this? Because Fundamentalist Christians are the ones most often guilty of mistaking certainty for faith, literal interpretations for an informed reading of scripture, and Donald Trump for a special messenger sent from God to occupy the White House.
The majority of fundamentalist evangelicals believed Russian interference in our elections was a hoax.
The majority of fundamentalist evangelicals initially believed that COVID was a hoax.
The majority of fundamentalist evangelicals, at least initially, believed that the election results were a hoax.
There will also always be people who believe that the world is flat, that we never landed on the moon, and that some nefarious Deep State runs the United Nations. The only difference between them and today’s fundamentalist evangelical is that there are more of the latter and they’re made up mostly of Republicans. You see, when you’re certain that what you believe is true, it’s no longer faith you’re talking about. It’s alternative facts. Why? Because facts are things you can either prove or disprove. Alternative facts, on the other hand, are things you only wish were true. In this sense, alternative facts and conspiracies have much in common.
And why are Republican fundamentalist evangelicals especially prone to this kind of nonsense? Because they’ve bought – hook, line, and sinker – the lie that patriotism is akin to faith. Trouble is, where in matters patriotic, certainty is a virtue, in matters of faith, certainty is a vice, and when the confusion between faith and politics is complete, conspiracies become especially attractive because they provide certainty with none of the proof. In other words, for such folks, they provide a sort of magical revelation. No surprise that Maher read directly from the Book of Revelation in his 5-minute diatribe. More on that in a minute.
My 9 year-old son, Will, who has Asperger’s, has an eidetic memory. Recently, he recited this for me verbatim (which I recorded as a Note on my iPhone) as we lay in bed together, something he’d heard from one of his favorite vines/memes/videos or whatever the hell those shows are called on YouTube:
“Well recently I read an article that said the world is actually flat instead of round. It also said that you should spread the word about it, so that’s what I’m doing by hanging up these signs. Now I know the Earth is round. That’s what I said to myself. But then I realized, there is actually no way it could be round. I mean, look over there. It’s flat. I don’t see no curve. Now I realize it’s been proven by scientists and philosophers that the earth is round and I know that they’ve been teaching us this in school... well maybe that’s just what they want us to believe. Maybe the government is hiding something from us. Guys, I don’t know what it is, but whatever it is, I’m going to get down to the bottom of it.”
“Now I’m gonna explain satellite images. They could just be distorted pictures, and I’ll explain real footage of astronauts looking down on the earth... probably just a bunch of actors in front of one of those green screen things. So guys, I have a message. Society has lied to us. They’ve been trying to make us believe that the world is round, which it obviously isn’t. Look over there. It’s flat. Look over there, too. It’s flat. Heck, even look behind you. It’s also flat. So there is no way the world could be round if we’re surrounded by flat land. And tomorrow, I think I’m gonna go hang up some more promotional posters and maybe also get some new protesters.”
“(My brain): ‘You’ll probably just get more idiots like yourself.’”
Unfortunately for believers, we don’t believe in the fact of God’s existence, we believe in the truth of God’s existence, the difference being that a fact is something you can prove/disprove, whereas a truth is something that actually exists but which does not lend itself to irrefutable proof. (I know my mother loves me, for example, but I could never prove it because she may just be a really good liar, or maybe she has some ulterior motives for wanting my attention and affection, or maybe she just feels sorry for me because I live in a trailer next to an unbuilt home and don’t have a job. All the evidence I could amass would simply be anecdotal.) People confuse the two all the time. But when you insist that you know God exists the same way you know that gravity exists, you’ve entered the realm of pseudo-science (and denial, but that’s another post).
As Flannery O’Connor once said, “Faith is not certainty. Faith is trust.”
In other words, “fundamentalist belief” is a contradiction in terms. If you’re a fundamentalist Christian, you don’t have faith (aka believe) that God is real. You know God is real. You don’t have faith that Jesus is the Son of God. You know he is the Son of God. I recently saw a plaque that said: “Faith is not believing God can. It’s knowing he will.” Actually, it’s just the opposite. Faith is not knowing God will, it’s believing God can. Whether or not God does is, alas, not finally up to us.
So when we look back on this period in American history with Q-Anon and the cult of Trump and the Republican party going completely off the rails, we, the church, will only have ourselves to blame for all of this tragic nonsense. Shame on us, shame on pop Christianity, and shame on all our righteous moral self-adulation. We have seen the enemy, and the enemy is us.
Of course, someone with Bill Maher’s mental acuity will have a heyday with this sort of religious nonsense. It makes for a very easy target, like fishing in a hatchery. Which is why he was parroting your typical fundamentalist evangelical when he read from the Book of Revelation in his “New Rules,” and he read it as if it were to be believed literally. When someone does that, it sounds like a hallucination of biblical proportions (which, it turns out, it was – again, we have here the difference between truth and fact, not unlike a parable). I whispered at Bill through the screen, “It’s a fever dream, you nut job.” But I might as well have whispered that to any number of fundamentalist, pre-millennial, rapture obsessed pastors preaching from the pulpit these days in any number of towns across this great country of ours. Of course I believe that Christ is coming back. Of course I believe that this life is not the end of the story. Of course I believe that there’s trouble ahead – “Storm” or not – and that there will be hell to pay, in Robert Frost’s words, “ Before God’s last ‘Put out the light’ is spoken.”
As regards Bill Maher, as I’ve said many times before, if I believed in the same god Bill did, I’d be an atheist, too. For that reason, I can hardly blame him for his vitriol against organized religion. He sits down at the 31 Flavors counter of popular Christianity and sees the craziest flavors a person could ever imagine: in the Fundy section we have Pre-Millennial Pecan, Transubstantial Tangerine, Rapture Red, Sherbet 666… In the more traditional Reformed section: Virgin Birth Vanilla, Rocky Narrow Road, and Crunchy Chocolate Crucifix.
I don’t mean any disrespect, but honestly, we’re handing it to the opposition here folks, and if we continue to be this flatly stupid (as opposed to simply foolish – yes, there’s a distinction ~ see the difference between the Fundy and Reformed sections of the ice-cream bar, for example), then we deserve what we got coming in the name of Christianity, which will look not unlike a crazy shirtless guy in horns and an animal vest with blue paint smeared on his face storming the Capitol in the name of Jesus.
The only material difference between your average atheist and your average fundamentalist evangelical is the object of their certainty. One knows God exists, the other knows he doesn’t. Aside from that and perhaps a different set of moral codes, they’re very much alike. Maher would hate this, of course, as it puts him in the same camp as all the folks he so despises, which I find not a little amusing. I also find it downright frightening.
Houston, we definitely have a problem.