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Religion and Antisystemic Protest

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Religion and Antisystemic Protest


Religious distress is at the same time the expression of real distress and the protest against real distress. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of spiritless conditions.



—Karl Marx, Critique of Hegel's 'Philosophy of Right'

We are living in a society today that is quite sophisticated and very educated. Ours is indeed a clever generation, but one that is suffering because men are doing what is right in their own eyes and disregarding God's immutable laws. If a person is not a Christian, he is inherently a failure.

—Jerry Fallwell, Cited Ammerman, North American Protestant Fundamentalism

The rebellions and movements that we examined in Chapters 10 and 11 each sought, in their own way, to reform what participants saw as the excesses of capitalism. Few of these movements, however, offered a radical cultural alternative; that is, while they decried the constant economic and social change, the uneven distribution of wealth, the exploitation and marginalization of selected groups, or the environmental damage fostered by the cul­ture of capitalism, none actively sought to replace it with another. Peasants seek land, not the overthrow of the society that displaces them; laborers seek higher wages and better working conditions within the culture of capitalism from which, in their other roles as con­sumers and capitalists, they benefit; women and minorities seek improved status within the existing society; indigenous groups struggle to be left alone; and environmental protesters, with the exception of those who offer a largely undefined spiritual alternative, seek only greater environmental safeguards.

Communism was often depicted as a major challenger to capitalism, yet communism and its authors—Lenin, Stalin, and Mao—never rejected the larger nineteenth-century cul­ture of industrial capitalism. They sought largely to modify the nation-state to give workers greater influence and to obtain a more equitable distribution of wealth within a system of production, distribution, and consumption that differed little, if at all, from that of capital­ism. They simply wanted to replace private capitalism with state capitalism. Even Marx and Engels did not call for overthrow of the industrial order; their solution was to seize the


nation-state and raise the power of labor above or at least equal to the power of capital (the power of people over the power of money). The views of Marx and Engels (like those of many early nineteenth-century industrialists) were Utopian; they called for the end of private property, recognition of the equality of women, dismantling of the patriarchal nu­clear family, and discarding of organized religion. But the only groups to attempt to follow that or a similar agenda were the small Utopian or intentional communities that proliferated in the first half of the nineteenth century, such as New Harmony, the Oneida Community, and Amana, and later, following the political unrest of 1968, Twin Oaks and the many small communal groups that thrived in late 1960s and early 1970s, a few of which survive today (Kanter 1972; Erasmus 1972; Oved 1988).

While the peasant, labor, feminist, indigenous, and environmental protests and re­bellions did not seek to change the basic tenets of the culture of capitalism, there were and are movements to overthrow and replace it. Most of these are religious in character; through some spiritual agency these groups seek either the removal or destruction of what they believe is an immoral culture, a withdrawal from it, or the forceful or voluntary adoption of a new way of life.

Religion has always had a revolutionary element; most religions began as a rebel­lion against one or another established order. Christianity began as a Jewish protest against behaviors and beliefs that the protesters felt were violations of God's word. The gospels of the New Testament are clearly revolutionary in intent, as we shall see when we examine the emergence of liberation theology, while the Old Testament documents the struggles of people against what they believe is illegitimate authority.

Yet the fact that religion is often the source of antisystemic protest should not ob­scure the role of religion in legitimizing some of the basic premises of the culture of cap­italism. Certainly there was a good deal of cooperation between the church and the state in the early expansion of the world system. Missionaries accompanied the conquerors and explorers and helped pacify populations, convert them to one or another brand of Chris­tianity, and transform them into willing laborers for the global economy. Missionaries served as a vanguard of capitalism by introducing their converts to Western concepts of time, space, and the person embedded in the culture of capitalism. As Jean Comaroff (1985:27) observed,

[t]he mission was an essential medium of, and forerunner to, colonial articulation; it was the significant agent of ideological innovation, a first instance in the confrontation be­tween the local system and the global forces of international capitalism. The coherent cul­tural scheme of the mission—its concepts of civilization, person, property, work, and time—was made up of categories which anticipated and laid the ground for the process of proletarianization.

In his classic work, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Max Weber (1958) suggested that the Protestant Reformation provided an ideological basis for capi­talism as well as a motivation for making a profit by equating material success with per­sonal salvation and a sign of God's blessing. Historians have seen in religion of the nineteenth century a replacement for the moral restraints that had been provided by family and community but destroyed by the explosive growth of cities and the mobility of


labor. Anthony F. C. Wallace (1987), for example, pointed out how Irish immigrants in Pennsylvania confronted in the local Catholic Church a replacement for behavioral re­straints that had been provided by extended families in Ireland, a moral restraint very much welcomed by mine owners, business people, and others. Paul E. Johnson (1978) traced the religious revival in the United States in the 1830s and 1840s to the need for re­ligion to replace the moral guidelines and social constraints that had been provided in small rural communities by the family but absent in the newly industrialized cities of the Northeast. As we saw in Chapter 1, most religious leaders in the early twentieth century had little difficulty accommodating to the shift from an ideology of self-denial to one of self-fulfillment and indulgence. Nevertheless, while religion has served to buttress the as­sumptions of the culture of capitalism, it has served in some forms also to resist them.

The goal of this chapter is to ask the questions, to what extent have religious move­ments been expressions of antisystemic sentiments? That is, how have religious move­ments served as a means of protest against the expansion, both in the core and in the periphery, of the culture of capitalism? To answer these questions we will first examine some religious movements in the periphery, and then turn our attention to the large-scale protests that have emerged from the world's major religions.

Indigenous Religious Movements as Protest

Central in anthropology to the idea of religious change is Anthony F. C. Wallace's con­cept of revitalization movement. Wallace (1966:30) suggested that religious beliefs and practices start from situations of social and cultural stress as 'conscious, organized effort by members of a society to construct a more satisfying culture.' All religion, he said, originates in a revitalization process. The origins of all the major religions lay in reactions to social and/or cultural systems that the founders found unsatisfying; anthropologists, historians, and sociologists have documented hundreds of instances of religious move­ments around the world that originated in protest over people's conditions and have used the idea of revitalization to conceptualize everything from Melanesian cargo cults to the militia movements in the United States (Beeman 1997).

As useful, however, as the concept of revitalization has been in furthering our un­derstanding of religious change and protest, it has a basic weakness. As applied to reli­gious movements of the past two hundred years, it has failed to consider the fact that virtually all such movements have been reactions to a single phenomenon—the develop­ment and expansion of industrial or consumer capitalism. Generally, revitalization move­ments, such as the cargo cults of Melanesia and New Guinea, the Ghost Dance among the Indians of the American Plains, and large-scale religious movements that have emerged from Islam, Christianity, Judaism, and others, have been as much antisystemic protest as they have been revitalization. That is, the attempt to construct a more 'satisfying culture,' as Wallace put it, has generally been a protest to the negative affects of capitalist expan­sion. For this reason, it may be more fruitful to view these movements as expressions of antisystemic protest rather than solely attempts at revitalization.

To illustrate, let's examine three religious movements of peoples in the periphery, the Ghost Dance, the cargo cults, and the Zionism movement in South Africa. Each was


an expression of protest against economic and social conditions emerging from capitalist expansion but with important differences: they varied in the degree to which they used the trappings of core religions as opposed to indigenous belief and ritual. Furthermore, they varied in the extent to which they expressed overt hostility to the nation-state and conse­quently the extent to which they prompted oppressive and violent retaliation.

The Ghost Dance

In 1889 a missionary-educated Paiute Indian named Wovoka had a vision (Mooney 1965). He had been taken up to heaven where, he said, he met God; he also met Indians who had died and who were in heaven living their traditional life. God, he said, instructed him to return to Earth and tell people that they must live in peace with Whites and with each other. He was also given instructions for a ritual dance that, if performed for five days and five nights, would reunite people on Earth with friends and relatives in the other world. Converts carried Wovoka's message from Nevada to indigenous groups through­out the United States and Canada, where it was often embellished in various ways. In some versions Whites and Indians would live in harmony; in others the world would be destroyed and only Indigenous people brought back to life. In other versions the buffalo would return, and people would live as they had before the invasion of European peoples.

The message of the Ghost Dance, as it became known, was carried by representa­tives sent by rail by indigenous groups to meet with Wovoka and spread to groups throughout the American Plains and beyond to peoples seeking a revival of a way of life disrupted by capitalist expansion. The message of the Ghost Dance was particularly at­tractive to groups such as the Lakota who had been systematically deprived through treaty and deceit of most of their land and confined to reservations where they were dependent on government provisions that were often not delivered. However, the Ghost Dance, which held the promise to the Lakota of a revival of their traditional culture, ended in one of the great military tragedies in American history.

Alarmed that the Ghost Dance might presage an open rebellion by the Lakota, an Indian agent assigned to one of the Lakota reservations called in the military. Frightened that they might be attacked, some of the Lakota fled; they were pursued by the Seventh Cavalry, George Armstrong Custer's old command that had been defeated by a combined force of Lakota and Cheyenne in 1876. The army caught up to the Lakota at a place called Wounded Knee and with cannon and rifles surrounded them. A surrender was arranged. As soldiers rummaged through Lakota shelters searching for guns, a shot was fired. The army responded by pouring cannon and rifle shot into the encampment, killing hundreds of men, women, and children, some of whom had sought shelter from the barrage hun­dreds of yards away.

In many ways, the Ghost Dance is a prototype of a form of religious resistance that parallels the 'weapons of the weak' we discussed in Chapter 10. They are religious movements that serve, if only symbolically, to protest economic, social, or political op­pression. When they result in violence, it is almost always violence initiated by the nation-state or their representatives, either against whole groups, as in the massacre at Wounded Knee, or against leaders of the movements who the agents of the nation-state fear are leading or are capable of leading a general revolt. It was probably not a coinci-


dence that days before Wounded Knee, the Lakota spiritual leader Sitting Bull was assas­sinated by Lakota police as they tried to arrest him.

The Cargo Cults

Among the most dramatic of the indigenous religious protests were the cargo cults of Melanesia and New Guinea. These movements arose in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century as core nations sought to exploit the resources in the Pacific Islands. Cargo cults generally began when a prophet announced the imminence of a cataclysm that would destroy the world, at which point the ancestors, God, or some other liberating power would appear and deliver the cargo—commodities possessed by Europeans—and bring a reign of eternal bliss. People prepared themselves to receive the cargo by building store­houses, jetties, and plane runways, sometimes abandoning their gardens, destroying their livestock, eating all their food, or throwing away their money. Cargo cults represent a par­adoxical response to capitalist expansion. On the one hand, they evidence themselves in a passionate desire to possess the commodities thought to be in abundance in the dominant culture; on the other hand, they tend to reject the power and influence of the Westerners who bring the cargo.

The story of European exploitation and the effects on indigenous peoples of the Pa­cific closely followed the patterns we examined in Chapter 9. Cargo cults were a response to the excesses of colonial exploitation and were documented by Peter Worsley (1968) in his classic analysis, The Trumpets Shall Sound. Capitalist expansion came to Fiji in the eighteenth century, for example, as Europeans sought sandalwood to supply the Chinese market with material for joss sticks and incense for religious services. By 1813 the supply of trees on Fiji was exhausted.

By the 1860s there was a large influx of European settlers to Fiji, which resulted in a vastly increased alienation of land from Fijians as well as increased lawlessness in the European community, which local governments were unable to control. There was also an increase in the need for native laborers to supply the growing coconut plantations. Colo­nial powers countered the reluctance of indigenous peoples to work on the plantations by introducing tax laws, forcing them to work to earn cash when they could have easily sub­sisted on their own produce. Treatment of native laborers, as in other areas, was harsh. In New Guinea colonial governments sanctioned various forms of punishment such as flog­ging or hanging by the wrists for laborers whose efforts did not satisfy labor supervisors. Equally harsh were the economic dislocations, ill understood by indigenous peoples, that were part of the global economy. Prices for coconuts, oil, and other cash crops rose and fell with the vagaries of the market, creating either new demands for labor or widespread unemployment.

Missionary activity was also a major factor in the development of the cargo cults. Missionaries played a major part in the colonial process in the South Pacific, comprising 15 percent of the European population in most areas. The missionaries divided up territo­ries among themselves, often leading Natives to question why rivalries existed between the different denominations. Religion was one area of European life that the Natives did not reject. In fact, religion was thought by those participating in the cargo cults to be the source of the magical power that created the goods. Native peoples had no knowledge of


the material reality of European society and the production process that created commod­ities, and the Europeans they knew apparently did not work for the goods they possessed; with their missionary education the natives concluded that secret magical power was the key to European wealth, power they wished to obtain (Worsley 1968).

It was in response to these conditions that the cargo cults flourished. A good exam­ple was the 'Vailala madness' first reported in New Guinea in 1919. The most obvious manifestation of the Vailala madness was the trancelike state or possession that adherents fell into. The movement occurred in an environment of colonial exploitation; oil had been discovered and plantations were being built. Most followers had been indentured labor­ers, often in conditions of severe discipline and illness. In June 1910, for example, in the Lakekamu gold fields, 225 of 1,100 workers died of dysentery and other causes.

The originator of Vailala madness was said to be an old man named Evara, who fell into a trance when he disappeared for four days. He said that a sorcerer had 'ripped up his belly.' He prophesied the coming of a steamer carrying spirits of dead ancestors who would bring the cargo with them. Rifles were among the expected goods. Cargo would be contained in crates, each identified according to the village to which it would be delivered. The spirits, said Evara, revealed that all the flour, rice, tobacco, and other trade belonged to Papuans, not Whites, and that the Whites would be driven away (Worsley 1968:81).

The hostility to Whites in Papua New Guinea was not surprising. One plantation manager used his whip to silence the lamentations of some 'boys' mourning for a dead friend; another said 'I want the nigger to work for me so I can make my pile and leave this so-and-so country' (cited Worsley 1968:82). While the movement evidenced hostility to Whites, people believed also that the ancestors would be White. Some Whites were actu­ally followed around by natives who believed they were their deceased relatives.

Ceremony and ritual accompanied the movement. People had visions of heaven in which food was abundant and people wore long, flowing robes. Many claimed to receive messages from Jesus Christ or God. Villagers set up tables and decorated them with flow­ers in beer bottles, bowls of rice, betel, and coconut husks; relatives of the dead who were thought to be returning sat around these tables feasting, while other villagers sat silently, their backs to the tables, awaiting the arrival of the cargo. Temples were built that resem­bled mission churches, and a flagpole was erected that was thought to be the medium through which people could communicate with the dead ancestors. There was a strict moral code that encouraged the giving of feasts for the ancestors, abandoning adultery and theft, and observing the Sabbath. There was also the idea that all native paraphernalia should be destroyed and gardens should be abandoned.

The movement lasted twelve years before it ceased spreading; by the time it ended, in the 1930s, people claimed the prophesies had been fulfilled; that they had seen the steamers, that messages had been received from flagpoles, and that tracks of the dead were seen on beaches. Furthermore, the cargo had been delivered as more and more people gained access to the European commodities they so much desired.

Zionism in South Africa

Both the Ghost Dance and cargo cult movements were influenced to some extent by mis­sionary activity. This should not be surprising: the message of the Bible, particularly the


New Testament, must have contained a very appealing message to participants in the movements: the equality of all under God, the favored divine status of the weak, the common stewardship over God's earthly domain are all messages designed to appeal to an oppressed people. Furthermore, if indigenous religious movements derived, at least in part, from missionary teachings, participants in the movement might expect them to be sanctioned by political authorities. Missionary activity was tolerated by European and American colonizers, indeed welcomed, but only to the extent that it contributed to the maintenance of a disciplined and submissive population. Thus the degree of the protest and resistance contained in indigenous religious movements had to be carefully measured against the likelihood of government retaliation.

One of the most repressive nation-states to emerge out of the culture of capitalism was the apartheid government of South Africa, whose military power made open rebel­lion by Africans virtually impossible. In that setting religious protest was often the only way to express resistance. Let's examine one such movement, the Full Witness Apostolic Church in Zion described by Jean Comaroff (1985) in her work on the Tshidi of South Af­rica, Body of Power, Spirit of Resistance.

The Tshidi are representative of many of the peoples of South Africa who lived pri­marily by a combination of agriculture and herding. The takeover of South Africa by the British resulted in African people being confined to theoretically self-governing protec­torates or homelands. Agricultural and livestock production declined not only because of such factors as cattle disease and drought but also because agricultural labor was being drained by the demand for labor in the diamond mines, gold fields, factories, and White farms.

The result for people such as the Tshidi was the underdevelopment of their rural base and the emergence of a system in which they were dependent on the sale of their labor for their survival. By 1970 over half the women were employed outside the home for extended periods and over three-quarters of the men were working away from home for at least nine months each year. Labor on the farms was left to the remaining women and children, who were prevented by South African law from accompanying their hus­bands and fathers to industrial centers. Furthermore, the passage of Blacks between the town and countryside was carefully regulated by the apartheid government; movement outside the homelands required a pass, strict curfews were imposed, and the African pop­ulation was carefully watched by uniformed police and bureaucrats. Thus the Tshidi came to realize their state of oppression in the brutal mine compounds and in the degrading rit­uals of apartheid.

Suppression of African resistance has long been a feature of the South African landscape. Only in the past few years has the degree of violence—assassinations, kidnap­ping, and torture—used by the South African government to suppress dissent become public. Consequently resistance needed to be more subtle. People could not directly chal­lenge the mechanisms of political, social, and economic domination of the apartheid South African government; instead they contested the logic of the system on which it is based and of which they are a part. Resistance was to be symbolic.

To appreciate this kind of resistance we might think back to the means of resistance used by Malaysian peasants, the weapons of the weak, as James Scott (1985) called them. Or we might consider symbols of resistance and independence used by American



youth—the clothing, music, and other activities used to contest the discipline imposed by schools, parents, and the larger community. The Tshidi used as their vehicle a religious movement imported from the core, the Full Witness Apostolic Church in Zion. Comaroff sees the Zionist movement as a means by which Tshidi members protested their margin-ality to and the effects of the capitalist world system. The protest is expressed in dress, in ritual, and in ideology.



The Christian Catholic Apostolic Church of Zion (CCACZ) was founded in 1847 by a Scotsman, Alexander Dowie, who came to North America in 1888. In 1899 he built his Zion City on 6,500 acres on Lake Michigan, forty-two miles north of Chicago. Within a year the 'city' boasted a population of several thousand, a bank, brickyard, stores, small factories, schools, and a printing press.

Zion City was to be a haven from the sinful environment represented by the city of Chicago. The majority of its members were clerics, self-employed artisans, struggling small businessmen—mostly poor and working class. This was a population marginal to the nineteenth-century capitalist take-off who rejected much of the emerging capitalist culture, which they found alienating (Comaroff 1985:179). Zionists conceptualized the alienation they felt as an uncoupling of man and God; they expressed it in metaphors of sickness and health, which replaced the established doctrines of damnation and salvation. Through the metaphor of healing, Zionists sought to cast out disease and the influence of Satan by reintegrating body, soul, and spirit. As Zionism was exported to the periphery, it seemed to draw together everything that the experience of colonialization and wage labor had driven apart, offering the possibility of rebuilding a holistic community from which the culture of capitalism could be resisted.

The first representative of the CCACZ to South Africa arrived in Johannesburg in 1904, largely at the invitation of a Dutch Reformed missionary. Zionism was introduced to the Tshidi by returning migrant laborers or lone itinerant prophets searching for a local following. At that time most Tshidi had converted to Methodism, the dominant colonial religion in the area, although Black and White churches were carefully separated, but by the 1970s the CCACZ had made considerable inroads. According to Comaroff, 4,750 people were still members of the orthodox churches, but at least 3,750 had converted to Zionism, while another 1,000 were members of other independent churches.

The Full Witness Apostolic Church in Zion was founded in 1956 by Bishop N, a Zulu contract worker in the Johannesburg mines. The church itself is a 240-square-foot mudbrick structure. Followers dress distinctively in a white robe, green tunic, and white headscarf with red, black, and white yarn cords that are never removed.

Typical Sunday services begin with a meal; when all have eaten the bishop's senior wife signals the start of hymn singing, clapping, and drumming. Church members dance and the men sink to their knees facing east, the direction of the rising sun. The Spirit seizes several women and people begin to testify. The testimony contains themes of op­pression, often contrasting the outside world (wage labor, the city, strangers) with the inside world (home, the congregation). Central to the act of testifying is the idea of heal­ing (Comaroff 1985:210).

The Full Witness Apostolic Church in Zion represents what anthropologists refer to as a 'cult of affliction,' a community of sufferers, a solitary band of 'wounded healers,' whose bodies reflect their oppressed social state. Indeed, many converts, Comaroff noted,




The white robes worn by members of the Zionist Church in South Africa contrast sharply with the drab khaki, black, or tight-fitting uniforms required of workers.

come to the church with real organic distress. The ritual of testimony involves a healing process that dramatizes the difference between the corruption of the outside world and the healing spirit of the congregation.

The Zionist church also serves to ritually cleanse the commodities that Tshidi must purchase, at the same time rejecting the culture in which they originate. Members bring all their purchased commodities, such as foodstuffs, shoes, and blankets, and place them on a table located in the center of the church; during the service they are sprinkled with holy water. Thus the cargo of the rejected system is not itself repudiated; rather it is reformed and cleansed through a ritual act. As Comaroff (1985:218-219) said, 'as alienated products are given a new social and spiritual identity, the experience of alienation is reversed.'

In the same way that Zionists rework commodities through ritual, they also rework the body in dress. Members of the church clothe themselves in a combination of Protes­tant and indigenous garb to recreate an order that rejects the one prevailing in their lives. Their white robes, flowing hair, and colored tunics contrast sharply with the drab, often threadbare clothing worn by the majority of rural Tshidi, clearly communicating their 'otherness,' dress that combines the biblical appearance of the world of the Christian mission with hints of a precolonial Tshidi past. These clothes also contrast in color and form with the drab khaki or black, tight-fitting uniforms of the military, mine, mission, or domestic service.


Comaroff noted that dissenting movements in the periphery seem to adopt these 'side alleys' of Western culture, such as faith healing and occultism. But despite often di­verse origins, these symbolic orders share an opposition to the culture of capitalism and seek to subvert the structures of colonial societies. The Zionist Church, like other small-scale religious movements, serves as a refuge and emblem for those who are marginalized by the expansion of capitalist culture. As Comaroff (1985:254) said,

Zionism is part of a second global culture; a culture lying in the shadow of the first, whose distinct but similar symbolic orders are the imaginative constructions of the resistant pe­riphery of the world system.

The Global Challenge of Antisystemic Religious Protest

Religious movements such as the Zionist protest, of which there are probably thousands in the world, cannot hope to challenge the domination of global capitalism. Instead they offer a respite from the feelings of hopelessness and alienation felt by those at the eco­nomic periphery of capitalist culture. The rituals, services, and gatherings represent peri­ods of withdrawal from the system during which members can collectively regain their integrity and identity. They are not unlike the various Utopian or alternative communities that flourished after the revolutions of 1848 and 1968, which sought to create alternative worlds within tightly bound, sometimes physically isolated communities that gain public attention only when their members commit an illegal or seemingly irrational act.

Far more prominent are the large-scale religious protests represented by 'funda­mentalist movements' that have gained public attention in the past three decades. Rather than small-scale, isolated instances of religious protest, these movements are offshoots of the world's major religions, contain millions of participants, and have serious designs on the control of the nation-state. The cultures represented by these movements remain the only legitimate challengers to the global domination of capitalist culture.

In many ways these movements are difficult to characterize. They are called funda­mentalist movements by the media, government analysts, and many religious scholars, but the designation has been criticized by some as containing derogatory connotations. Mark Juergensmeyer (1993; 1996) suggested calling them 'nationalist religious move­ments.' However that implies that the movements are primarily political in nature, while they seem to be protesting a much greater range of cultural features. For that reason, per­haps antisystemic is a more accurate phrase, although we will retain the term fundamen­talism, largely because of its widespread use.

To explore the extent to which large-scale religious protests represent antisystemic movements, we will examine the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East, the role of Protestant fundamentalism in the United States, and the interplay between Protes­tant fundamentalism and liberation theology in Latin America. Each fundamentalism arose out of discontents with specific features of the industrial revolution and modern life, and each claims to provide a formula for transforming modern culture and society. While


each of the movements is rooted in a particular cultural tradition, and often in local con­ditions, they share some features in common.

1.          Contrary to impressions left by the mass media that these are recent movements,
most had their origins in the nineteenth century, as a reaction to the secularization
of religion in modern life or as a reaction to the expansion of the world economy
and/or domination by colonial powers.

2.          Each is historically oriented and interprets contemporary global events (the debt
crisis, war and ethnic strife, disease) as divine portents that validate their central
doctrines. Furthermore, each attributes what it perceives as the relative decline or
lack of prominence of its country in global affairs to a loss or lack of faith in what­
ever religious principles it espouses.

3.    Each contemporary fundamentalism has designs on state power and has, in one
form or another, adopted contemporary political structures (e.g., political parties,
youth organizations, modern communication techniques) to attain that end. In some
cases they seek control over established nation-states, while in others they wish to
establish their own, independent state.

4.    All insist that while converting others to their world view is a central goal, believers
should keep themselves separate from nonbelievers.

5.    Each makes and has a strong appeal to young people, particularly college students,
and has developed organizations to reach them.

6.    While each has attempted to reach its goals by socially approved methods, each has
a militant segment, such as Hizbullah in Lebanon, Operation Rescue in the United
States, and Gush Emunim in Israel, that challenges the power of the secular state by
disobeying secular law with violent and/or nonviolent means in what they claim is
a call to a higher law.

7.          Most religious fundamentalisms stress the importance of the family in social life,
claiming that the family as an institution has been undermined by the secular
nation-state. Some place a striking emphasis on the duty of women to embody tra­
dition, with the home being for men a sanctified retreat from the world of work,
where they can relax and assert their authority.

8.    While none of the fundamentalisms has a well-developed economic agenda to re­
place the corporate libertarianism of capitalism, they do have in common certain
criticisms of it. They feel that capitalism has replaced the fraternal atmosphere of
the premodern economy with ruthless economic competition and bitter competition
over public resources (Kuran 1993:290-291). They all believe that the economic
problems of today are caused by moral degeneration. Modern economics, they say,
sees human wants and consequently human demands as unbounded; the supply can
never catch up with demand. Most fundamentalisms reject this amoral approach,
seeing human wants as unbounded but a problem of modern civilization's ability to
control individual acquisitiveness. Individuals can be persuaded against pursuing
an immoral lifestyle (Kuran 1993:295).

The redistribution of wealth is a common theme in religious fundamentalisms, al­though not all deal with it in the same way. All encourage the wealthy to aid the poor, but


none insists on full equality. Islamic fundamentalists encourage the state to enforce tra­ditional Qur'anic rules on a religious tax whose proceeds go to help the poor. Christian fundamentalists are generally opposed to economic redistribution, advocating instead the end to transfer programs, arguing that obeying God's commands will alleviate pov­erty and inequality.

Islamic Fundamentalism

Islamic fundamentalism gained international prominence with the Iranian Revolution, Iran's transformation into an Islamic state and the return from state-imposed exile of the Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979. The media has paid much attention to the fundamentalist re­surgence, as have the leaders of nation-states with sizable Muslim populations. There has also been much media attention to so-called Islamic terrorist organizations, attention that has often bordered on bigotry. Thus when the Oklahoma federal building was blown up by American militia sympathizers in 1995, the media first reported the presence of 'Mid­dle Eastern-looking' men in the area of the blast. There has also been a tendency in the Western media to assume that the beliefs, goals, and organizational methods of Islamic fundamentalists are everywhere the same, thus ignoring important local differences.

The general thrust of Islamic fundamentalist belief is that Muslims have strayed from the moral life that the Qur'an dictates, and that true Muslims must return to a life of piety and faith. Fundamentalists believe that the early success of Islamic civilization was due to their faith and that the decline of Islamic influence over the past centuries is due to their straying from that faith. If Muslims can return to their previous religious idealism, they can eliminate the social, political, economic, and moral problems afflicting the Muslim people and create an ethical order on Earth (Sachedina 1991:406).

Muslims attribute the decline of Islamic piety to the influence of the West on their societies in general and on colonial and economic domination and the rise of Western sec­ular influence in particular. Islamic fundamentalists are not opposed to modernization; rather, they argue that the Qur'an could provide the foundation for appropriate social in­stitutions and social ethics in a modern, technical age. Islamic fundamentalists see a con­flict between the religion that God ordained and the historical development of the world He controls. Consequently they have tried to prevent further erosion in what they see as the true faith, at the same time resisting what they see as alien domination in any form over Muslim societies.

Islamic fundamentalists in different countries attribute the ills of their country— poverty, loss of influence, conflict—to a straying from true Muslim belief and behavior and to some degree blame the West, or modernization in general, for their political, eco­nomic, and social problems. In Egypt, for example, fundamentalists believe that their defeat at the hand of Israel in the Six Days War in 1968 was a sign from God that they had strayed from the true faith. National good fortune, on the other hand, is attributed to main­tenance of the faith; the discovery of offshore oil in Malaysia, for example, was attributed by Muslims to their faith.

While Islamic fundamentalists in different countries share certain beliefs and goals, there are significant differences among them. In Egypt, for example, fundamentalists be­lieve that creating an Islamic society will help people compensate for the loss of family


relationships incurred as people find it necessary to leave villages and become more inde­pendent of their families. For that reason, suggested Andrea B. Rugh (1993), the most militant are the young people, especially those who, despite having a college education, can find no jobs and who consequently see in Islam a non-Western alternative. The dom­inant feature of Islamic fundamentalism in Malaysia is the dakwah movement. The dakwah is a small religious group or commune that separates itself from the larger society to lead lives that members believe are based on Muslim law as given in the Qur'an. Man­ning Nash noted that dakwah is a youth movement of largely university-educated men and women. Members of dakwah express discontent with what they see as the modern, urban, pluralistic, and secular world. They see it as sensual, corrupt, neurotic, and trivial (Nash 1991:695). They read Islamic literature, carefully evaluating their behavior accord­ing to passages from the Qur'an. Women wear ankle-length dresses and, in public, the chador or a version of it. Members of the dakwah try to maintain small businesses or stalls or bake items to sell locally. Another unique feature of Islamic fundamentalism in Malaysia is its ethnic character and its appeal to Malays as opposed to other ethnic groups, such as Indians and Chinese. To some extent, it is a nationalist protest against the influence of Indians and Chinese who gained economic prominence in Malaysia during the British colonial period. It also relies heavily on anti-Western, antimodern rhetoric. The West, wrote Nash (1991:731),

fi]s seen primarily as the threatening 'other,' personified variously by the United States and Western Europe—a chaotic power, lacking in discipline, in morality, and indeed in simple human decency. Thus, for most dakwah organizations, the West remains the princi­ple enemy, an aggressor who through its educational systems and its mastery of science has been successful in implanting atheism, materialism, and moral decadence in the heart of Malaysian Islam.

Islamic Fundamentalism in Iran. The Islamic revolution in Iran has all the charac­teristics of an antisystemic movement. Iran was controlled by core states—Russia, Great Britain, and the United States—for over a century. The secular government of the shah was put in power by an American CIA-engineered coup in 1953 against an elected gov­ernment and was rapidly industrializing, led by the sale of its plentiful oil supplies to core nations. The Islamic revolutionary government quickly acted to reverse what they saw as the imposition of a foreign culture on their own. It's important, therefore, to understand the social and historical background of this revolution.

Iran was the center of the Ottoman Empire that began to rise to prominence in the Middle East in the sixteenth century. As the Ottoman polity began to break up in the nine­teenth century, both England and Russia inflicted military defeats on Iran and gained con­cessions to exploit various resources such as tobacco. But the tobacco concessions so angered merchants and the Islamic religious leaders, the ulama, that they forced the gov­ernment to rescind the concession to the British. A leader in this revolt was Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, who preached against Western imperialism and became one of the central fig­ures in Islamic resurgence at the turn of the century in both Iran and Egypt. Thus the pro­test against Western influence hardly began with the overthrow of the shah in 1979; it extends well back into the nineteenth century.


The British gained economic control over Iran when the Russians withdrew after the Bolshevik revolution in 1917. Because of the weakness of the Iranian central govern­ment there were various revolts, the most serious being the Jangali revolt of 1917-1921 led by Kuchik Khan—referred to by one English writer as the Robin Hoods of the Cas­pian Marshes—who financed their revolt by stealing from wealthy landlords (Munson 1988). Reza Kahn defeated the Jangali by gaining the support of the merchants and the army. Reza wanted to establish a republic but the ulama objected, so Reza had himself de­clared shah and established the Pahlavi dynasty. With the support of the British, he rap­idly secularized the country, clearly trying to westernize it; he forced men to wear European clothes, including brimmed hats, and forbade women from wearing the chador or veil, analogous to requiring European women to go bare-breasted. Public protests followed. More important, trade and commerce under the shah was monopolized by Europeans.

The gradual withdrawal of the British from Iran after World War II allowed the ulama to regain some of their authority and led to the democratic election in 1951 of Mohammad Mosaddeq as prime minister. One of Mosaddeq's first acts was to nationalize the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. He also banned a militant religious group, the Fada'iyan-e Islam, led by Ayatollah Kashani. These two acts ultimately led to his downfall in a coup arranged by the American CIA to install the son of Reza Kahn as shah. After the coup, the shah banned the parties that had helped put him in power and began the period of American domination of Iran and continued westernization of the country. When the shah announced that women would be allowed to vote there was a religious protest in Qum, the religious center of Iran, to which the shah responded by attacking the seminary. With the help of the CIA, the shah set up a security apparatus, SAVAK, to suppress domestic opposition.




The revolution of 1979 that overthrew the shah and brought Ayatollah Khomeini to power represented a joining together of the ulamas, the merchants, and the intellectuals in reaction to the shah's policies, the repressions, and the killings. The stage was set for the return of Khomeini on February 1, 1979, aboard a jet from France.

We can see in this history the interplay between, on the one hand, British and Amer­ican attempts to control political events in Iran and consequently the vast Iranian oil fields and on the other hand, Islamic leaders who objected largely to the secularization of Iran that seemingly arose from British and then American influences. But the fundamentalist revolution in Iran was neither sudden nor surprising. There were many factors involved in the revolution, including the poverty of the majority of Iranian peasants, the violent re­pression of dissent led by SAVAK, and the economic excesses of the leaders who took great pains to flaunt the wealth gained by oil sales to the West. It also marked the contin­ued resistance by many Iranians to the assimilation of their country into the culture of capitalism.

Protestant Fundamentalism in North America

Protestant fundamentalism has gained almost as high a profile in the United States as Is­lamic fundamentalism has in Arab and Southeast Asian countries. While it is difficult to estimate precisely how many people in the United States are fundamentalists, it is clear that many people share the same beliefs. For example, 72 percent of Americans say the Bible is the word of God and 39 percent say the Bible is literally true. Two-thirds say that


Jesus Christ rose from the dead, and 44 percent are creationists who agree that God cre­ated the world in pretty much its present form within the last 10,000 years (Ammerman 1991).

Protestant fundamentalism clearly has gained a strong voice in the political process in the United States, demanding that political candidates adhere to certain fundamentalist principles, including support for the banning of abortion, support for school prayer, and support for laws controlling what can appear in the mass media.

Foundations of Protestant Fundamentalism. There are three basic tenets held by people who consider themselves to be Protestant fundamentalists. First, they are evangel­icals, that is they begin with the fact that they are saved. Not all evangelicals are funda­mentalists, but this is one point on which evangelicals and fundamentalists agree. Second, they believe in the inerrancy of the Bible; they believe the Bible to be true, even when it says things they don't like. Furthermore they believe it provides an accurate view of his­tory and science, as well as God-given moral guidelines. Theologians may argue about what different passages mean, but through prayer and study the truth evident in the Bible will be revealed. Third, they believe in premillenialism, the doctrine of Rapture. Funda­mentalists, like other Christians, believe in the End Times, a point in history when the present world ends and the thousand-year reign of Christ on Earth begins. But fundamen­talists also believe that prior to that, Jesus Christ will appear and to the blare of heavenly trumpets lift his bride, the (true) church, up to heaven. This is the Rapture. Then begins the Tribulation, a seven-year period when all unfilled Bible prophesies are fulfilled, when God, Satan, Christ, and Anti-Christ meet in the final battle of Armageddon in Israel, and when Christ returns with his army of believers to begin his millennial reign on earth. Christians have no role in the playing out of these events, and nothing that anyone can do will change the date of the Rapture; that date was set by God at the beginning of time (Harding 1991:61). However, it is possible, through careful observation of world events, to predict the coming of the Rapture.

There are some variations in Protestant fundamentalist belief and practice, but the essentials are relatively consistent. The question is, what was the stimulus for the rise of Protestant fundamentalism, and how can we account for its recent resurgence?

The Emergence of Fundamentalism in North America. Fundamentalist belief began to form in the mid-nineteenth century, largely in reaction to the modernization and secular­ization of Protestant churches and as a response to the challenge to religion of nineteenth-century science, technology, and culture. Darwin's theory of evolution was one of the most threatening scientific developments, but others, such as sociologist Emile Durkheim's ideas about the power of social forces to shape individual behavior, Sigmund Freud's theories of sexuality, and the works of anthropologist Franz Boas that attacked ethnocentrism and absolutism, struck at some of the basic beliefs and the truth of the Bible. Fundamentalists were particularly offended when biblical scholars turned a scien­tific eye to the scripture itself, claiming the Bible is neither unique nor the 'word of God' and comparing biblical stories with the myths of other societies.

But it was not only the work of academics who threatened the inerrancy of the Bible that triggered a fundamentalist reaction; there was the change in American culture itself.


There were new attitudes and values that accompanied the shift from a primarily agrarian society to an urban industrial society. From the end of the Civil War to the beginning of the twentieth century the industrial work force quadrupled, and inventions such as the telegraph, electricity, and telephones were transforming the country. It was to science and technology that people began to look for improvements in their lives.

In addition, immigration and urbanization were changing where people lived and with whom they lived and worked. All of these changes prompted religious reactions. Some of those who were religiously inclined joined the Social Gospel movement, which sought to alleviate the ills caused by urban crowding and poverty; others became Adven-tists or Jehovah's Witnesses, carrying on the early nineteenth-century prophesies of Wil­liam Miller and Charles Russell that the world was about to end. Or people became possessed by the Holy Spirit and joined Pentecostal movements. Those who were funda­mentalists, however, differed in that they rejected any compromise with those who no longer saw the Bible as the word of God (Ammerman 1991:14).

Inerrancy of the Bible became the centerpiece of the fundamentalist movement in the early twentieth century. Theologians attacked the works of German scholars who claimed the Bible was an historic document composed by many authors. Fundamentalists argued that if the Bible claimed to be divinely inspired then, since it was the word of God, it must be inspired. Those trying to show that the Bible was in error, fundamentalists said, had to 'prove' that a disputed fact was in the original texts—those unsullied by copying and transmission—and that it really meant what the critic said it meant and was really in conflict with a proven fact of science. Given such a standard, it was virtually impossible to prove the Bible wrong.

After World War I fundamentalists interpreted Germany's defeat as punishment for the work of German scholars trying to examine the Bible scientifically and for the accep­tance of Darwin's theory of evolution, while they saw the League of Nations as the world government that they believed would appear just prior to the Tribulation. Thus, as Christian fundamentalists do today, they interpreted world events in terms of their religious beliefs.

Early twentieth-century fundamentalists focused their early protests on schools and the teaching of Darwin's theory of evolution. There is some misunderstanding about fun­damentalist objections to Darwin's theory of evolution. Most theologians had little prob­lem accommodating Darwin's theory to religious doctrine. The problems were created by two implications of Darwin's theories. The first was that if evolution operated through random beneficial variations and the destruction of the weak, then, by implication, the God of Darwin acted randomly and cruelly. Darwin could not accept that and became an agnostic (Larson 1997:17). The second implication was that the social world operated on the same principles as the natural world and that these principles (e.g., natural selection) could be used, as many did, to justify laissez-faire capitalism, imperialism, and milita­rism. Furthermore, the application of Darwin's theories to the workings of society legiti­mated the then very popular doctrine of eugenics, the idea that the state should enact laws to ensure that only the 'fittest' bred. This, of course, further imposed human will on a di­vinely guided universe.

The protest over the teaching of evolution in American schools may never have re­ceived the prominence it did had not William Jennings Bryan volunteered to prosecute John Scopes, a Tennessee high school teacher charged under Tennessee law with illegally


teaching the theory of evolution. Bryan was a major American figure, three-time presi­dential candidate, advisor to presidents, crusader for women's rights, and defender of the Bible. To counter Bryan the American Civil Liberties Union sent a team of lawyers headed by Clarence Darrow to defend Scopes. Darrow, in his way, was as imposing a public figure as Bryan, and probably the most famous lawyer of his time. He had also worked for Bryan in his presidential campaigns and shared much of his social philosophy. The Scopes trial has been depicted in theater, movies, and literature as a battle be­tween science and rationality on the one side, and religion and superstition on the other. Lost in that depiction of the struggle was a genuine antisystemic sentiment, particularly on the part of Bryan. Bryan had voiced his objections to Darwin as early as 1904. In one speech he said,

The Darwinian theory represents man as reaching his present perfection by the operation of the law of hate—the merciless law by which the strong crowd out and kill off the weak, (quoted in Larson 1997:39)

For Bryan, who had built his career denouncing the excesses of capitalism and mil­itarism, this was unacceptable.

The Scopes trial in Tennessee in 1925 was turned into a battle between religion and science by Clarence Darrow (standing in front of the table) in his defense of John T. Scopes (seated behind Darrow, in a white shirt and staring straight ahead).


Darrow, however, succeeded in turning the case into a science versus religion con­test, forcing Bryan to defend a literal interpretation of the Bible, and the issue of using the theory of evolution to interpret social history and human behavior never received a hear­ing. Bryan won the case; Scopes was convicted. But the public ridicule of fundamentalist arguments of the inerrancy of the Bible resulted in American public opinion overwhelm­ingly supporting Scopes.

After the Scopes trial and the public reaction to it, Protestant fundamentalists were convinced that American culture had come under the sway of 'secular humanism,' a god­less view of the world that substituted human action and wisdom for divine action and guidance. Since they could not transform society, they turned to saving individual souls. Most fundamentalist churches broke away from their parent churches and formed their own organizations, such as the American Council of Christian Churches founded in 1941 by Carl Mclntire. Fundamentalists joined missionary organizations, and there was enor­mous growth in Bible colleges and institutes as well as expansion into publishing and radio and television broadcasting. Charles Fuller's 'Old Fashioned Revival Hour,' which appeared in 1934, became one of the most popular shows on radio, followed on television by the enormously popular Oral Roberts and Rex Humbard.

There was also a growth in political radicalism; Gerald Winrod wrote in his journal of seeing the End Times, a Jewish Anti-Christ, and a Jewish conspiracy to rule the world. In the 1950s, fundamentalists took up the banner of anticommunism, with Carl Mclntire arguing that the Revised Standard Version of the Bible was a communist plot, and that Jews and Blacks constituted the main threat to White Christian civilization. But it was the revolution of 1968, the civil rights movement, the feminist movement, and the antiwar movement with its slogan 'question authority' that seemed to provide evidence for fun­damentalists that society was disintegrating and the Rapture must be near.

Burned-out hippies and disenchanted liberals, along with other seekers who had failed in the 1968 revolution to transform society, began to join fundamentalist churches. As one hippie-turned-fundamentalist said (cited Ammerman 1991:39),

[o]ne person tells you to do one thing, and the next person tells you to do the opposite. 'Get a job, get a haircut.' Or 'Turn on, tune in, drop out.' Or 'Support the President,' and someone else says 'Impeach Nixon' or 'Stop the War,' or whatever it is, you know. It makes you crazy. What do you do? It's typical of the world. You're in confusion. In the Lord the Word shows you what to do, and you can rest in it. You don't have to be gray.

Fundamentalists were also concerned about America's role in the world; in spite of their condemnation of what was happening to American culture, America was still the fundamentalists' 'city on a hill'; moreover, America's military strength and economic in­fluence provided the entree into other countries for fundamentalist missionizing; there was a fear that 'the light of the gospel might go out because it would have no great chosen nation to carry it' (cited Ammerman 1991:40).

Finally, there were a series of changes that seemed to be challenging fundamental­ists to come out of their political isolation. Among them was the Equal Rights Amend­ment (ERA) to the Constitution; fundamentalists feared it would prevent women from fulfilling their biblical role as submissive wives. They saw laws promoted by governmen-


tal and private social agencies that sought to define the limits of a parent's right to punish their children as an attack on parental authority as it was defined in the Bible. They saw the extension of the civil rights movement to homosexuals, whose lives seemed to fundamental­ists grossly immoral, as a direct attack on biblical injunction. They fought against the pre­vention of prayer in school. And, finally, they saw behind Roe v. Wade and the legalization of abortion all the forces that were trying to destroy the family and Christian morality.

The defense against the scientific attack on the inerrancy of the Bible did not go away; it resurfaced in the doctrine of scientific creationism, the use of the tools and lan­guage of science to prove that the world was indeed created in 4004 b.c. But where the inerrancy of the Bible was the major issue one hundred years ago, today the focus of fun­damentalist interest is the protection of the traditional family—a legally married man and woman with their children preferably supported by the husband's work—as the basic unit of society (Ammerman 1991:45). From this flows the fundamentalist opposition to gay and lesbian rights, the equal rights amendment, and laws designed to protect abused wives and children. And at the centerpiece of this agenda is the opposition to abortion.

With these agendas, and the active participation of Protestant fundamentalists in politics, there has been a resurgence of fundamentalist influence in American life. One of the clearest indications of this is the enormous growth in church schools and home schooling. From 1965 to 1983 enrollment in evangelical schools rose sixfold, and the number of schools approached 10,000. As many as 100,000 fundamentalist children were being taught at home. While some of this was due to desegregation, it is also largely a re­ligious issue.

Some of these positions have served to unite fundamentalists with other groups with whom they have, at one time or another, been vehemently opposed. Their opposition to abortion with Catholics; their opposition to pornography with the feminist movement; their opposition to the ERA with Mormons; and their support of Israel with Jews. But it has also created splits with those who decried such alliances.

Variations in Doctrine. There are also new variations of Protestant fundamentalist be­lief, most markedly the Christian reconstructionists, probably the most clearly antisys-temic fundamentalist group. Christian reconstructionists seek to replace the 'modern bureaucratic state' with a Christian state modeled after the Bible; their ideal is the seven­teenth-century Puritans of Massachusetts. They argue that people must submit to the rule of God and follow a doctrine they call 'theonomy.'

The economics of Christian fundamentalists are more complex and varied than gen­erally supposed (Iannaccone 1993; Kuran 1993). Most people associate Christian funda­mentalists with support of the free market economy, opposition to government redistribution programs, defense of private property, and opposition to any form of social­ism. Yet little is made of economics in the writings of most Christian fundamentalists, and many fundamentalist colleges or universities do not even have an economics department. Jerry Fallwell is the most outspoken of the Christian fundamentalist leaders when it comes to the defense of the free market, but the Christian reconstructionists are the only group to systematize a conservative economic agenda, arguing that the Bible dictates that private property should be regulated only by the family and the religious community, not by the state. The Bible, they say, imposes a flat tax of 10 percent and argues against any


kind of centrally planned economy. Metallic currency is the only kind permitted, and income redistribution violates the eighth commandant, 'Thou shalt not steal,' and is simply institutionalized theft.

There is also an evangelical left that argues that the Bible teaches that God is on the side of the poor. Best represented by the writings of Jim Wallis (Agenda for a Biblical People, 1984), they draw attention to the vast disparities in wealth that exist in the modern world and argue that 'overconsumption is theft from the poor,' that the wealth of the core comes only at the expense of the poor of the nonindustrial world. The biblical solution, they argue, is redistribution. Christians should consume less, they say, and contribute more to the poor. Influenced by the secular left, the counterculture of the 1960s, and com­munitarian Christian groups such as the Amish, Mennonites, and Hutterites, said Lau­rence R. Iannaccone (1993:350) the evangelical left argues that

[t]he system which creates and sustains much of the hunger, underdevelopment, and other social ills in the world today is capitalism. Capitalism is by its very nature a system which promotes individualism, competition, and profit-making with little or no regard for social costs. Its puts profits and private gain before social service and human needs. As such it is an unjust system and should be replaced.

The Militants of Protestant Fundamentalism. Protestant fundamentalism also has its more militant activists, perhaps best represented by Operation Rescue. Operation Rescue was begun in Binghamton, New York, in 1988 by Randall Terry. Its goal was to protest legal abortion by barricading abortion clinics, blocking women's access to clinics, confronting women entering and leaving the clinics, and harassing them verbally and physically, even following them or tracing their license plate numbers and calling them at home. Operation Rescue picketed clinics and the homes of clinic physicians, sent threat­ening letters, and made threatening phone calls. By 1990 Operation Rescue reported that 35,000 of their protesters had been arrested, while another 16,000 risked arrests in what the group called 'rescues' (Ginsburg 1993).

The ultimate goal, however, was more than simply stopping abortion. Rather they intended to use the opposition to abortion, in the words of evangelical Protestant leader Francis Schaeffer (cited Ginsburg 1993:558), 'as a way for evangelicals to challenge the entire legitimacy of the secular modern state, withholding allegiance until the nation re­turns to its religious roots in matters like public prayer and religious education.' As Faye Ginsburg (1993:558) noted, the opposition to abortion is the means protesters use to return America to 'traditional Christian values.'

Operation Rescue was not the first group to use violence to protest abortion. The right-to-life movement goes back to the 1973 Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade that recognized a woman's right to abortion. Some groups had already adopted confronta­tional tactics of blocking the entrances to clinics and harassing abortion providers. The National Abortion Federation keeps a record of 'violent incidents' against abortion pro­viders that includes invasions of clinics, vandalism, murders, death threats, bomb threats, bombings, assaults, arson attempts, arson, and kidnapping attempts. From 1977 through May of 2001 they have documented a total of 3,031 violent incidents including 7 mur-


ders, 40 bombings, 163 cases of arson, 82 cases of attempted arson or bombings, and 370 cases of invasion. They have also documented 33,830 arrests of abortion protesters (see National Abortion Federation 2001).

The state's official reaction to the violence has been ambiguous. In an influential antiabortion essay in 1983, President Ronald Reagan, an opponent of abortion, said the increase in attacks on abortion clinics did not constitute terrorism because they were not carried out by an organized group; he did reverse himself in 1985, speaking out against these 'violent anarchistic activities.'

It is clear that Randall Terry's agenda is to refashion what he sees as a godless soci­ety according to the beliefs and values of his version of Christian fundamentalism. Thus as Ginsburg (1993:579) said, it is a mistake to look at Operation Rescue only in the con­text of the abortion debate; rather its intent is to impose on American society its version of Christian culture: 'For 'rescuers,' fighting abortion is simply a first step in reversing America's 'moral decline,' much as opposition to the teaching of evolution was consid­ered a way to fight secularization in the 1920s.'

Others have interpreted the movement by emphasizing its heavily male makeup. Susan Faludi depicted these fundamentalist men of the 'late baby-boom generation' as sociologically identical to Randall Terry, carrying a grudge against 'careerist women.' They missed out on the political engagement of the 1960s and were also cheated out of the economic bounty of that era, fearing that they will earn less than their fathers, be unable to buy homes, and be unable to support a family. They see themselves losing ground as women are gaining it (Ginsburg 1993:577).



Yet it seems something of an oversimplification to see the militancy of Operation Rescue in particular, and Protestant fundamentalism in general, as a reaction to the im­provement in the position of women. To begin with, the position of women has not im­proved that dramatically, as we noted in Chapter 11. Furthermore, as Ginsburg noted, the aims of the movement are far broader, seeking to replace the culture of capitalism with a society modeled on the Bible.

This takes us back to the question to what extent can religious fundamentalisms be said to be antisystemic? Certainly Islamic fundamentalism with its opposition to Western influence contains antisystemic elements, although some would argue that they are more nationalistic than antisystemic. The case of Protestant fundamentalism is even ambigu­ous. It, too, contains strong antisystemic elements, with its opposition to the power of the nation-state and condemnation of the very features that define the culture of capitalism, particularly the self-indulgent consumerism that is one of its key elements. Yet some ele­ments of Protestant fundamentalism clearly seem to be reactionary, founded in opposition to the agenda of the revolution of 1968, including the women's movement and the gay and lesbian rights movements. Protestant fundamentalists have been adamant in their defense of the patriarchal family. Yet even here there is ambiguity: Randall Terry claims he was strongly influenced by the political events of the 1960s and considers himself a 'young rebel' (Ginsburg 1993:577).

Yet if there is ambiguity in the extent to which Protestant fundamentalism is a pro­test against the culture of capitalism, the position of Protestant fundamentalism in Latin America is even more difficult to characterize.


The Contest between Liberation Theology and Protestant Fundamentalism in Latin America

When General August Pinochet led a CIA-supported coup against the democratically elected government of Salvadore Allende in 1973, the Methodist Pentecostal Church in Santiago, Chile issued a statement praising Pinochet. They claimed the coup was an act of God protecting the people from the evil and darkness of Marxism, in the same statement rejecting United Nations findings of repeated instances of torture and brutality by coup leaders.

From 1982 to 1983, General Efrain Rios Montt held the presidency of Guatemala, and each Sunday, dressed in civilian clothes, in his position of elder of El Verbo Church, a mission of California-based Gospel Outreach, he preached a sermon broadcast on state radio. At the same time, his military was carrying out a repressive antiinsurgency cam­paign against Mayan peasants marked by thousands of violations of civil and human rights. According to Amnesty International, 2,700 people were killed in purges in the first five months of his rule (Deiron 1991:143).

The active support for militaristic regimes is only one paradox of the phenomenal growth in fundamentalist, evangelical, and pentecostal churches in Latin America. In El Salvador in the 1980s membership in Assemblies of God churches grew 400 percent whereas in Guatemala, membership in Protestant churches doubled in the past ten years. The loser in the conversions is Roman Catholicism. But the battle involves more than re­ligion; it is also political. Catholics in Latin America have become associated in the past three decades with liberation theology, while Protestant churches represent those with more conservative, decidedly precapitalist political views. In some instances, particularly in Guatemala, the conversion to Protestant denominations was an explicit attempt by Guatemalan Catholics to distance themselves from the doctrine of liberation theology, in some cases to protect their lives.

The Growth and Development of Liberation Theology

Roman Catholicism has dominated the lives of the peoples of Latin America since the time of the Spanish and Portuguese conquests. Catholic missionaries accompanied the early expeditions and, in populations decimated by war, slavery, and disease, found fertile ground for their teachings. Throughout most of its history in Latin America, the Catholic Church either was apolitical or actively supported whatever regime was in power. Only in the past thirty years, and with minimal support from the Catholic hierarchy, have clergy begun to take an activist political role in the lives of church members. A number of factors pushed the Catholic Church to a more activist political role in the periphery.

First, the Catholic Church is being transformed from a core to a peripheral entity. In 1900, 70 percent of all Catholics lived in Europe and the United States; in the year 2000, 70 percent lived in the poor countries of the periphery.

Second, the experiences of clergy in their often impoverished rural and urban par­ishes forced them into a more activist role. In the wave of authoritarian repression that swept through Latin America in the 1960s and 1970s, the Church found itself in the un­characteristic position of opposing the military. The disappearances, tortures, arrests, and


killings affected church personnel, solidifying their commitment to the poor. There was, as some people called it, a 'conversion of the bishops,' as once conservative church lead­ers, as a consequence of the experiences of their clergy, began to oppose repressive re­gimes. It was the murder of a priest working with the poor that sparked Oscar Romero's conversion from an Episcopal conservative to San Salvador's champion of the poor and ultimately led to his assassination in 1980. Another once conservative Brazilian bishop excommunicated the governor of a Brazilian state, along with other officials and leaders of a landowners group, after the deaths of those advocating a land redistribution scheme.

Third, at the 1968 meeting of the Latin American Bishops Conference (CELAM) in Medellin, Colombia, the bishops issued a document that called for the end of institution­alized violence and the building of a social order that defends the poor and oppressed.

Fourth, there seemed initially to be support for a more activist role by clergy from the Vatican. Pope John Paul II went so far as to lump Western capitalism with Marxist collectivism as promoting forms of labor organization and control of the means of pro­duction antithetical to Christian principles.

Fifth, the Third World debt and the declining services, rising food and energy prices, and rising unemployment that it has inspired began to push the Catholic Church toward an anticapitalistic position. Two Bolivian ordinaries went so far as to say it was immoral for Bolivia to pay its external debt. All of this increased church hostility to capi­talism; the increased suffering of the poor, the role of institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, the political machinations, and graft and corruption emerging with capi­talism affected how all levels of the Catholic hierarchy viewed their economic system (Budde 1992:49).

Finally, the challenge posed by Protestant missionary groups working with the poor, and their growing success at gaining converts, pushed many in the Catholic Church to work more closely with the poor and seek to empower them to improve their conditions.

Thus liberation theology grew out of experiences that forced the Church to rethink its role in society and politics. The poor, instead of being objects hoping for a better life after death or objects of charity, became objects of empowerment and participants in reli­gious, political, and economic institutions. The idea that the poor shall inherit the earth takes on more immediate and activist tones with concrete efforts to enhance the role of poor people as legitimate participants in religion, society, and politics (Levine 1986).

The result was that Catholic churches became centers for the defense of human rights and attacks against government repression. Church leaders in Latin America at­tacked inequality and injustice and began to participate in forming organizations and social movements to give the poor a political and economic voice. Most prominent were the formation of Christian base communities. These were influenced by the writings of Paulo Freire (e.g., 1970, 1998) and promoted conscientization, a sense of class and op­pression, egalitarian and democratic internal values. It was an attempt, as some put it, to apply the Gospel to everyday life in the hope that these efforts would ultimately replace the old order of things.

While traditional Christians considered these communities outrageous innovations and military regimes closely monitored them, they grew rapidly; some three million Cath­olics in Latin America take part in them (Deiron 1991:158). Thus the Church began to cut


its ties to authoritarian governments and became a critic of the established order, conse­quently reordering both the cultural and political landscape of Latin America.

Growing Opposition to Liberation Theology

More recently, however, the optimism over the possibilities of liberation theology to pro­mote real social and economic change have been replaced by doubts from activists, schol­ars, and journalists over whether liberation theology has any future at all. Growing opposition from the Church hierarchy, the collapse of socialism in Europe, the loss of the poor constituency to evangelical Protestant movements, growing opposition from North American and European Catholics, and governments in both the core and the periphery have all served to weaken the appeal of liberation theology. Opponents of liberation the­ology were quick to label it a Marxist ideology and to minimize its similarity to the mes­sage of the Gospels.

The opposition of core Catholics has been reinforced by official opposition from the U.S. government (see Budde 1992). In 1969 a fact-finding report by Nelson Rocke­feller to Richard Nixon warned that the Catholic Church in Latin America, once a reliable ally of the United States, is now open to 'subversive penetration.' In 1980 a Reagan policy team concluded that opposition to liberation theology must be an important part of U.S. policy in Latin America. The document warned that liberation theologists 'use the church as a political arm against private property and productive capitalism' and recom­mended countermeasures. At a conference of American military chief of staffs in 1989 the two items on the agenda were subversion and drug trafficking on the one hand, and the subversive quality of liberation theology on the other; a confidential document leaked two years later said that the international communist movement has used the religious front to gain power. Thus the United States pressured Pope John Paul II to take an anti-Sandinista line in Nicaragua, found common cause with church conservatives, and used such conser­vative evangelicals as Jimmy Swaggert, Pat Robertson, and Jose Efrain Rios Montt to ad­vance U.S. interests in Latin America (Budde 1992).

The Growth of the Evangelical Movement in Latin America: The Case of Guatemala

While some scholars, journalists, and government officials question whether liberation theology is dead, few question the health of Protestantism in Latin America, especially in countries such as Guatemala that have experienced a mass of Protestant conversions in the past two decades. Protestant missionizing in Guatemala began in the nineteenth cen­tury and for the few converts offered an alternative to the domination of the conservative Catholic Church, which was resisting the growing modernization of the Guatemalan elite. But it was not until the second half of the twentieth century that Protestantism began to make inroads among the Guatemalan peasantry.

Catholic opposition to the Guatemalan government began when the American CIA orchestrated the overthrow in 1954 of the democratically elected government of Jacobo Arbenz Guzman in order to protect U.S. investors, in particular the United Fruit Company for which Guatemala was a virtual colony. The United States installed a series of repres-


sive military regimes that drew the Catholic hierarchy into criticizing the human rights vi­olations of the government. The Guatemalan government reacted by attacking the Catholic Church. They accused the Church of harboring communists and caches of guns and claimed that priests were leading bands of guerrillas in the peasant revolt in the Gua­temalan highlands. The government also retaliated politically and militarily, harassing and arresting church leaders and killing more than a dozen priests and hundreds of lay leaders (Stoll 1994:103).

One of the reactions of the peasantry and the elite to government repression and killing was to flock to Protestant churches. These churches, not necessarily fundamental­ist in the same sense as the North America Protestant churches, share the devotion to the Bible and the conviction that members are 'saved' or 'born again.' But unlike other fun­damentalist movements, the Guatemalan evangelicos, as they call themselves, do not want to go back to their roots; instead they reject the past, claiming, for example, that the Spanish conquest created a society in which one group, the ladino—mixed descendants of the Spanish and indigenous populations—dominated and despised the other—the indige­nous people. They blame Guatemala's impoverished state on its Hispanic Catholic heri­tage and want to remake themselves in the image of the society they idealize—the United States. In some fashion, the evangelical movement in Guatemala resembles the cargo cults of the South Pacific, religious movements that promised converts the deliverance of the precious cargo of European and American colonizers—refrigerators, automobiles, home furnishings, and the like.

Who in Guatemala is converting? Certainly the vast majority are poor. Others join simply to distance themselves from the Catholic Church's criticism of the government and to protect themselves from state-sponsored death squads. Yet as many as 5 percent of the elite have also joined evangelical churches. Evangelical religion in Guatemala re­ceived an enormous boost when in 1982 the army put into power General Rios Montt without knowing that months before he had joined a California-based evangelical reli­gious sect, Church of the Word. Montt did not claim, as past military rulers did, that he had been put in power to restore stability; instead, he claimed that he was put in power by God. He was replaced by the military after sixteen months in office, but he was so popular he likely would have won the 1990 presidential election had he not been disqualified by a law that banned from state leadership people who had previously been installed by a coup d'etat (Stoll 1994:102).

Other members of the upper class in Guatemala are answering the appeals of North American missionizing groups, such as the Full Gospel Business Men's Fellowship, an international network of men's clubs with fifty-nine clubs in Guatemala alone by 1990. Dressed in business suits and meeting for lunch in restaurants and hotels, they suddenly break into a hymn or jump up to hug each other and listen to a member testify how he was saved from drink, corruption, or philandering by the Lord (Stoll 1994:105). Groups such as this have proved receptive to the appeals of the North American religious right and the electronic evangelicals such as Pat Robertson and Jimmy Swaggert.

What is the attraction of evangelical groups? As mentioned above, they were for the poor a sanctuary from the death squads. But that accounts for only a part of their ap­peal. Given the shortage of priests in the Catholic Church, there was a real appeal of a re­ligion in which any person could start a church. Evangelical religion met the needs for


new places of worship, while schisms within the churches led to constant splitting and forming of new congregations. Furthermore, the demands and control of worship were not so rigorous that church members could not continue to consider themselves Catholics, a tendency made easier by the Catholic Church's increased tolerance for charismatic prac­tices as a way of decreasing defections.

The elite were attracted by the 'health and wealth' message of evangelical churches, the doctrine that God wants people to enjoy the good things in life, and that re­pentance from sin—drinking, smoking, sexual philandering, and so on—will bring afflu­ence. One might see in evangelical Protestantism in Latin America a similarity to the mind cure religions of the early twentieth-century United States that paved the way for the growth of consumerism, which we discussed in Chapter 1.

Both rich and poor may have been attracted by the belief in the power of prayer to transform society. David Stoll made the point that most nonreligious people (as well as most anthropological and sociological theories of religion) view prayer as an act or a stage of religious thought in which the believer feels helpless to influence events in his or her life and so turns to prayer as a last resort. Yet, he said, to the believer, prayer is a form of social activism, a form of spiritual warfare against the powers of Satan. As one pastor explained to David Stoll (1994:109):

If God controls the universe and I pray to him, he can work in several ways. He can change the hearts of people, for example. There is a great quantity of Christians who do not live as such. They don't pay their taxes, they don't stop at traffic lights, they don't reject bribes. What would this country be like if they started behaving like Christians?

The goals and the attraction of evangelical religion lie in the assumption that if you can change individual behavior, if you can bring morality to the people, you can trans­form the entire society and bring a reformation in public morality. They take prayer cam­paigns such as 'Jesus is the Lord of Guatemala' and turn them into ways of interpreting the crisis in Guatemala, arguing that if they can cast demons out of the individual, they can cast them out of the country.

Of course by emphasizing changes in the individual as a way to transform society, evangelicals are also able to avoid talking about needed social and economic reforms and government and military abuse of power, subjects considered delicado, critiques that could bring a visit from the death squads. Evangelicals explain that it is not their mission to examine the historical, social, and economic causes of Guatemala's civil war; rather their task is to accomplish 'silent social work' to transform Guatemalan society from the ground up. Even when Stoll brought up the subject of human rights with some of the few military converts, they simply referred him to Old Testament justifications for the slaugh­ter of old men, women, and children along with combatants (Stoll 1994:114).

Can evangelical movements actually succeed in implementing social and economic reform in Latin America, as opposed to, say, liberation theology or violent revolution ? Some American sociologists suggest they can; by forming small, private congregations that promote equality, they say, evangelicals are modeling change for the larger society in the same way nineteenth-century dissident churches did in England, in the process paving the way for 'democratic capitalism.' But David Stoll (1994:118-119) questioned the


analogy of evangelicalism in Guatemala with Protestant-inspired change in England. Given the control of the country by the military and the resistance of the privileged elite to any real social and economic change, there is little opportunity to speak out, let along effect any real change:

Like other Latin Americans, Guatemalans are also being caught in deeper and more disad­vantageous forms of dependency on the global capitalist economy. With the country be­coming a free trade area for transnational giants, competitive forces are likely to undermine the kind of small-scale entrepreneurialism which Protestantism is supposed to promote but which in fact is already well established in Latin America.

Conclusion

We began this chapter by asking to what extent religious movements have been expres­sions of antisystemic sentiments and how they have served as a means of protest against the expansion, both in the core and in the periphery, of the culture of capitalism. It is clear, we believe, that in the case of small-scale religious protests, such as the Ghost Dance, the cargo cults, and the attraction of Western religious movements such as Zionism, partici­pants are responding to the effects of the expansion of the culture of capitalism. It is less clear, however, in the case of the various fundamentalisms that have gained popularity in the latter part of the twentieth century. These cultural movements oppose what they call modernization, secular humanism, or, in the periphery, Westernization, seemingly syn­onyms for capitalism. Yet they contain elements, particularly in their view of women and the family and opposition to alternative lifestyles, that suggest that they are more reac­tions to the antisystemic revolution of 1968 than protests to capitalism. Certainly the rise of Protestant fundamentalism in Latin America bears some resemblance to the religious changes that accompanied the rise of capitalism in early twentieth-century America. The emphasis on individual salvation and health seems to mirror the mind cure movements that set the stage in the United States for the seeking of happiness through commodities.

Yet we should remember that antisystemic movements rarely specifically target the whole culture of which they are a part. Rather, they select some element and blame it for the source of their distress. Poor Malaysian peasants blamed slightly less poor peasants for their plight; Kikuyu in Kenya blamed other Kikuyu; coal miners blamed coal mine op­erators, who in turn blamed the U.S. government; while fundamentalists blame academ­ics, women, and homosexuals.

Regardless of the object of their protest, we must remember that in seeking to trans­form capitalism by using the Qur'an, the Old Testament, the New Testament, the teach­ings of Buddha, or some other cultural alternative, fundamentalisms represent, with the exception of small-scale secular and religious movements, the only viable alternative to the culture of capitalism and, in the event of a global economic collapse, the only cultures prepared, politically and ideologically, to replace it.









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