Something that has bothered me in recent weeks. I have noticed that all of the advances that Progressive Christians have made in the last few years seem to be erroding and Fundamentalism is once again reasserting itself as the dominant form of Christianity in America. Having the perspective of being raised in a moderately fundamentalist home, I do have some perspective on it and why it is so popular, especially in the rural areas of the country. These are my observations, and they can be taken with a grain of salt, but they might help shed light on why this seemingly unforgiving and potentially harmful theology is so prevelant in our society.
1. Certainty: With the downturn in the economy has come an upswing in conservatism of all kinds. Religion is no different. The theology of "Good little boys and girls go to Heaven, Bad little boys and girls go to Hell" gives people a certainty in uncertain times. People tend to find comfort in things that do not change. Having a clear and basic theology, even one that is as flawed as Biblical litteralism, brings comfort to people. It is something that is easy to understand and gives a feeling of security. We saw a similar thing happen after Septembe 11th when people were willing to give up the uncertanty of their freedoms for security. Things will be better in the afterlife, so that is where we should focus, not on the bad times here.
2. Retribution: The Heaven/Hell scenario also gives those that are suffering a sense of comfort in knowing that thier lot will be better in the future. They can look at the Bernie Maddofs of the world and know that God will "get them back" for the evil that they have done.
3. Us vs. Them: Societies have always needed an enemy, an "other" to band together against. It drove the uber-patriotism of the 1980's to new levels as Ronald Regan railed against "Communist Russia". Today that enemy has become "Evil Islam", "The Gay Conspiracy", "Abortion Activists and Feminazis" and other groups that are "Unchristian". In having a scapegoat, we have something to fight for, a purpose.
The problem with this type of thinking is it forgets some of the fundamental principles of the Gospel message. Jesus earthly ministry, which has become a footnote in some circles, was about forgiveness, love, charity, and social justice. The Kingdom of God Christ spoke of wasn't about an Us vs. Them. It was an Us & Them. John 3:17 says "For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved." His focus wasn't about earning a "mansion in the sky" but about making this world a better place. The second part of the Lord's Prayer says, "Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven." Not on Earth so we can get to Heaven but as it is in Heaven.
We are all God's children, no matter who we are. "...in Christ there is no male or female, slave or freeman, Jew or Gentile." In order to get through this crisis today we need to band together, not as Christians, but as Children of God, regardless of what label we put on ourselves. We need to see the Christ within each person regardless of what denomination or religion they follow. In loving one another as Christ loves us, looking past labels of "Muslim", "Queer", "Sinner", and "Biggot" and reaching out to one another. Only then will we see the Kingdom. Jesus said that wherever your treasure is, so is where your heart is. Is your treasure a future reward for you or is it helping others here?