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
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
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
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.
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
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
dence that days before
The Cargo Cults
Among the most dramatic of the
indigenous religious protests were the cargo cults of Melanesia and
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
By the 1860s there was a large
influx of European settlers to
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
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
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
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.
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
The Tshidi are
representative of many of the peoples of
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
imported from the core, the
The Christian Catholic Apostolic
Church of Zion (CCACZ) was founded in 1847 by
a Scotsman, Alexander Dowie, who came to
representative of the CCACZ to
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 white robes worn by members
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
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
each of the movements is rooted in a particular cultural tradition, and often in local conditions, they share some features in common.
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.
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.
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 gained international prominence
with the Iranian Revolution,
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.
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
fundamentalists in different countries share certain beliefs and goals, there are
significant differences among them. In
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
fi]s seen primarily as the
threatening 'other,' personified variously by the
Islamic Fundamentalism in
gained economic control over
withdrawal of the British from
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
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
Protestant fundamentalism has
gained almost as high a profile in the
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).
fundamentalism clearly has gained a strong voice in the political process in
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?
of Fundamentalism in
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.
War I fundamentalists interpreted
twentieth-century fundamentalists focused their early protests on schools and the teaching
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.
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
however, succeeded in turning the case into a science versus religion contest,
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
opposition to the ERA with Mormons; and their support of
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
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
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
The Contest between Liberation Theology and
Protestant Fundamentalism in
When General August Pinochet led
a CIA-supported coup against the democratically elected government of Salvadore Allende in 1973, the
From 1982 to 1983, General Efrain
Rios Montt held the presidency of
The active support for militaristic
regimes is only one paradox of the phenomenal growth in fundamentalist,
evangelical, and pentecostal churches in
The Growth and Development of Liberation Theology
Roman Catholicism has dominated
the lives of the peoples of
Catholic Church is being transformed from a core to a peripheral entity. In 1900, 70
percent of all Catholics lived in Europe and the
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
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
Third, at the
1968 meeting of the Latin American Bishops Conference (CELAM) in
Fourth, there seemed initially to
be support for a more activist role by clergy from the
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
traditional Christians considered these communities outrageous innovations and military
regimes closely monitored them, they grew rapidly; some three million Catholics
its ties to authoritarian governments and became a
critic of the established order, consequently reordering both the cultural and
political landscape of
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
of core Catholics has been reinforced by official opposition from the
The Growth of the Evangelical Movement in Latin America: The Case of
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
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
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
of the upper class in
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
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
evangelical movements actually succeed in implementing social and economic reform in
analogy of evangelicalism in
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
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
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
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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