As is typically the case, fear is driving the discussion in virtually every facet of American political life. Fomenting fear is a very useful tool to those seeking political power. Encourage people to be afraid and promise them a solution–a solution that always involves the political leaders handling the problem through The System. All that’s required is just a bit more money and of course, more power for those running the political establishment. Fear-based decision making never produces lasting, viable solutions to societal problems; but instead, builds the bureaucracy and ultimately causes more problems.
Wouldn’t it be great to live life largely separated from the political power struggle? Walking a spiritual path should provide a positive alternative. Unfortunately, our religious systems, rather than encouraging spiritual growth, usually follow their own political process. Some of the time, it is done deliberately, with religious cult leaders exploiting their followers in order to achieve personal fame, fortune, and influence. Much of the time, this may be done subconsciously as clergy take advantage of people’s natural fear–fear of circumstances, fear of the after-life. “We’re from Christianity, and we’re here to help.” And there usually is a sincere desire to help. The problem is that the helpers maintain a caste-like hierarchy, and the help usually comes with strings attached.
See, religion is a system. A system that is based on rules and hierarchy and strictures. Self-preservation always becomes the institution’s number one priority, and out of necessity, freedom and spiritual growth are suppressed. There are no exceptions to this rule. It’s not coincidental that Jesus often spoke against both hierarchy and human systems of rules. The politics of religion have a pronounced tendency to become Machiavellian. This pertains even to Reformed, Protestant, Fundamentalist, and Evangelical religious systems. I’ve personally observed it over and over, and I know that many others have as well.
The ever-useful dictionary.com defines Machiavellian as “acting in accordance with the principles of government analyzed in Machiavelli’s The Prince, in which political expediency is placed above morality and the use of craft and deceit to maintain the authority and carry out the policies of a ruler is described.” I acknowledge that it sounds harsh to call well-intentioned Christian institutions Machiavellian, but anything less would be sugar coating the actions of institutions that artificially elevate the clerical class above the commoners, demand ten percent of members’ earnings to sustain themselves financially, use corporate marketing strategies and advertising gimmicks to sustain their populations, and demand adherence to a strict set of often controversial tenets as the means of escaping hell.
Most of the more conservative Reformed/Baptist/Evangelical institutions proclaim that the Bible is authored by God Himself, yet they function as corporate entities in a manner that is completely antithetical to the teachings of Jesus. And the fear of being ostracized, excommunicated, or “not being right with God” is the mechanism used to keep people from challenging the illegitimate authority of the clergy and the hollow religious practices of the institution.
God created humans as free agents with whom He could have a relationship. He wants us to live responsible lives in an environment that stimulates us to struggle through challenges in order to develop into more mature people. He does not want us to go through life in constant fear. He is not threatened by our failings, nor is He so insecure that He needs us to keep us in a state of terror in order to feel good about Himself. As beings created in the image of God, with a responsibility to grow, learn, and help others, we must not make fear-based decisions but reason-based decisions.
Perhaps you are a more mature believer, and you have a desire to help others around you grow and learn. That’s a noble endeavor as long as it is done in a spirit of love and humility. Don’t use fear to coerce people into believing exactly as you do. As Malcolm Guite so beautifully expresses in this interview, fear is a shaky foundation upon which to build a theological worldview. A faith based upon knowledge is much more likely to be solid and enduring than one based upon fear.