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Jesuit journal decries fundamentalist tones emerging in U.S. politics

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — U.S. politics have become increasingly colored by an apocalyptic world view, promoted by certain fundamentalist Christians, that fosters hatred, fear and intolerance, said an influential Jesuit magazine.

In fact, this world view shares some similarities with Islamic fundamentalism since “at heart, the narrative of terror shapes the world views of jihadists and the new crusaders” and is drawn from wellsprings “that are not too far apart,” said La Civilta Cattolica, the Jesuit journal reviewed by the Vatican before publication.

A peace activist holds a sign saying "Resist Islamophobia!" during a prayer service in early March outside the White House in Washington. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

A peace activist holds a sign saying “Resist Islamophobia!” during a prayer service in early March outside the White House in Washington. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

The article, appearing in the mid-July/August edition and released online July 13, was written by the journal’s editor, Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro, and Marcelo Figueroa, an evangelical Christian, who is the director of the Argentine edition of the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano. Written in Italian, an English version was released on www.laciviltacattolica.com.

Titled: “Evangelical Fundamentalism and Catholic Integralism: A surprising ecumenism,” the article looks at the growing similarities in the rhetoric and world views adopted by evangelical fundamentalists and some “militant” Catholic hardliners.

More specifically, it also looks at how this rhetoric and mindset have seeped into U.S. culture and politics, including in some electoral campaigns and government administrations, such as that of U.S. President Donald Trump.

One feature of this “ecumenism of hate” is a clear “Manichean” delineation between absolute good and evil, it said, and a confident sense of who belongs in which camp as could be seen with U.S. President George W. Bush’s list of nations in an “axis of evil” and President Trump’s “fight against a wider, generic collective” body of those who are “bad” or even “very bad.”

The authors briefly examine the origins and spread of evangelical fundamentalist thought and influence in the United States and how groups or movements become targeted as a threat to “the American way of life” and demonized.

While in the past those threats included modernist mindsets, the defense of slaves’ rights, “the hippy movement” as well as communism and feminism, today the enemies are “migrants and Muslims,” the authors said.

Nothing or no one is “off-limits” in this narrative that drives toward conflict and the final battle between good and evil, God and Satan, the article said.

In order to support this sense of conflict, it said, biblical references are made, out of context and literally, to Old Testament accounts of conquering and defending the promised land, rather than to Jesus’ love in the Gospels.

“And the community of believers (faith) becomes a community of combatants (fight),” which not only numbs an individual’s conscience, it actively supports “the most atrocious and dramatic portrayals of a world that is living beyond the frontiers of its own ‘promised land.’”

The article makes brief mention of the theological-political vision of the late-Rousas John Rushdoony, a founder of “Christian Reconstructionism,” which calls for a nation built on Christian ideals and strict laws drawn from the Bible. This “Dominionist” doctrine, it said, inspires groups and networks like the Council for National Policy and the White House chief strategist, Steve Bannon, with his “apocalyptic” world view.

However, a theocracy with the state subjected to the Bible, it said, uses the same rationale as Islamic fundamentalism. And “at heart, the narrative of terror” that feeds the jihadist imagination and neo-crusaders draw from wellsprings “that are not too far apart,” it added.

Religious liberty, understood correctly, it said, must be protected, especially where secularism has spread. However, defending freedom of religion cannot be driven by a sense of “religion in total freedom” that challenges the secularity of the state.

The authors said, “a strange form of surprising ecumenism is developing between evangelical fundamentalist and Catholic integralists” as they appeal to similar fundamentalist values and have “the same desire for religious influence in the political sphere.”

“Some who profess themselves Catholic express themselves in ways that until recently were unknown in their tradition and using tones much closer to evangelicals,” they wrote.

While they share the same values and goals when it comes to abortion, same-sex marriage, religious education in schools and other moral issues, they “condemn traditional ecumenism and yet promote an ecumenism of conflict that unites them in the nostalgic dream of a theocratic type state.”

The most “dangerous” feature of this “strange ecumenism” between Catholic and evangelical fundamentalists, they wrote, is the xenophobia and Islamophobia that promotes “walls and purifying deportations.”

“Triumphalist, arrogant and vindictive ethnicism is actually the opposite of Christianity,” they said.

The authors said these abuses in fundamentalism and confusing spiritual power with temporal power are some of the reasons why Pope Francis is “so committed to working against walls and any type of war of religion.”

Spirituality can never be tied to governments and military alliances or guarantee the dominance of certain classes, because religion and spirituality must be “at the service of all men and women. Religions cannot consider some people as sworn enemies nor others as eternal friends.”

“Today, more than ever, power needs to be removed from its faded confessional dress, from its armor, its rusty breastplate,” the article said.

A truly Christian theological-political plan looks to the future and “orients current history toward the kingdom of God, a kingdom of justice and peace”; it fosters “a process of integration that unfolds with a diplomacy that crowns no one as a ‘man of Providence.’”

That is why Vatican diplomacy seeks to “establish direct and fluid relations with the superpowers” without preconceived notions or automatic alliances, it said. It is also why “the pope does not want to say who is right or who is wrong for he knows that at the root of conflicts there is always a fight for power.”

The authors end by warning that the temptation to build a false alliance between politics and religious fundamentalism is built on a fear of chaos and the breakdown of established order.

That fear can be manipulated when politics increase the tenor of conflict, exaggerate the potential disorder and make people upset by painting “worrying scenarios” that have nothing to do with reality.

Religion is then used as a way to guarantee order and a political platform comes to exemplify what would be required to get there.

“Fundamentalism thereby shows itself not to be the product of a religious experience but a poor and abusive perversion of it,” the article said.

That is why Pope Francis upholds a narrative counter to “the narrative of fear” because “there is a need to fight against the manipulation of this season of anxiety and insecurity.”

The pope, the authors said, courageously offers “no theological-political legitimacy to terrorists, avoiding any reduction of Islam to Islamic terrorism. Nor does he give it to those who postulate and want a ‘holy war’ or to build barrier-fences crowned with barbed wire.” The only barbed wire for a Christian, it said, “is the one with thorns that Christ wore on high.”

 

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