Saturday, November 20, 2004

Protestant Fundamentalism

If PBS Frontline ever does a documentary on the televangelists and their flocks (700 Club and like that), I hope they'll use Karen Armstrong as a talking head. Her Battle for God makes some interesting points, plus I've heard her live, and she's a good speaker. On the other hand, maybe Frontline has already done this story, and I missed it.

What interests me especially is the Darwinism angle. Superficially, it looks like they're against Darwinism, and some of the faith academy videos I've seen do a lot to link Darwinism to Marxism -- two corrupting influences we must avoid at all costs. But I wonder if they've succeeded, really.

Social Darwinism, which translates to an industrial age ethic (usually laced with racism, a holdover from slavery days), still informs a goodly portion of middle management in the USA (so-called "main street"). I seriously wonder whether the Christian Right has broken free of Darwinism in this form, even as it rushes, on paper at least, to embrace Intelligent Design (the latest and most sophisticated challenge to secular materialism).

Were Fundamentalists truly free of Darwinian influence, I'd think they'd be very receptive to Fritjof Capra, for example, who talks about the web of life, but with a strong emphasis on cooperation and networking, versus combat operations. The "every man for himself" ethic of the dog-eat-dog crowd is effectively countered in his rap. It's brains over brawn from here on, and the brainy thing to do is build networks (e.g. his new civil society, using ecodesign principles to supplant a moribund form of capitalism).

You'd think anyone trully serious about brainstorming faith-based initiatives would be paying close attention to such talk, as the denominations which most concertedly organize (especially on chaordic principles, ala Visa/Mastercard) are going to reap their reward in heaven, while those continuing to plant seeds in flood plains won't necessarily get bailed out (last I checked, God wasn't selling insurance).

In sum, if Social Darwinism is your game, and you're mired in dog-eat-dog, you might wake up one morning to discover that your televangelist leaders are losing the ratings war big time. That translates into fewer donations and mass defections, as the flock suffers a brain drain (what every church fears: no new recruits of any real caliber).

The moral of this story is replete with irony: the churches most into countering Darwinism may be the ones most likely to be done in by it, simply because they're not taking their own alternatives (e.g. Intelligent Design) as seriously as they could be. In allowing Social Darwinism to linger between the lines (with all the racism this entails), they're cutting themselves off from future funding and followers.