Can we just start calling some fundamentalist “Christian” leaders by a more accurate designation: religious authoritarians? And instead of calling the places that they build “mega-churches,” can we call them what they actually are: personality-driven mega-cults assisted by the shameless use of contemporary marketing techniques? Below is a quote from the NY Times, in which the newspaper did a profile of one of the far right’s more overtly anti-gay, anti-feminist, anti-intellectual, and pro-authoritarian mega-cult leaders. His name is Mark Driscoll, and in Seattle he has a cult following in the thousands:
What really grates [on Mark Driscoll] is the portrayal of Jesus as a wimp, or worse. Paintings depict a gentle man embracing children and cuddling lambs. Hymns celebrate his patience and tenderness. The mainstream church, Driscoll has written, has transformed Jesus into “a Richard Simmons, hippie, queer Christ,” a “neutered and limp-wristed popular Sky Fairy of pop culture that . . . would never talk about sin or send anyone to hell.”
This sort of macho posturing is worthy of Mussolini, and is a kind of fascism in American dress. And this is precisely what authoritarianism will look and sound like if it ever becomes a widespread movement in the United States.
Maybe it already has. Here’s another quote from the Times’s article:
Nowhere is the connection between Driscoll’s hypermasculinity and his Calvinist theology clearer than in his refusal to tolerate opposition at Mars Hill. The Reformed tradition’s resistance to compromise and emphasis on the purity of the worshipping community has always contained the seeds of authoritarianism: John Calvin had heretics burned at the stake and made a man who casually criticized him at a dinner party march through the streets of Geneva, kneeling at every intersection to beg forgiveness. Mars Hill is not 16th-century Geneva, but Driscoll has little patience for dissent. In 2007, two elders protested a plan to reorganize the church that, according to critics, consolidated power in the hands of Driscoll and his closest aides. Driscoll told the congregation that he asked advice on how to handle stubborn subordinates from a “mixed martial artist and Ultimate Fighter, good guy” who attends Mars Hill. “His answer was brilliant,” Driscoll reported. “He said, ‘I break their nose.’ ” When one of the renegade elders refused to repent, the church leadership ordered members to shun him. One member complained on an online message board and instantly found his membership privileges suspended. “They are sinning through questioning,” Driscoll preached.
Questioning is “sinning”? Breaking noses constitutes a “brilliant” retort? This is precisely the kind of talk you hear from fascists, as when Hermann Goering, one of Hitler’s closest associates, boasted: “When I hear the word culture, I reach for my gun.” Oh, and by the way, the favorite film among the male members of this cult is Fight Club.
We are entering a very dark period in American cultural history, indeed, if Mark Driscoll is the latest “thing” among young Evangelicals, and is considered by them attractive. He clearly speaks to some anxious, heterosexual males who feel existentially powerless before the forces that whirl around them, and are raging against the world’s excess of plurality, and apparent lack of meaning, by becoming zealous religious fanatics who pretend to have a unique relationship with God and “know” the “truth.” The solution for such a male is to try on the persona of Kierkegaard’s “Knight of Faith,” in which one casts everything upon God, and so becomes fearless, audacious, and “certain.” And this persona obviously is attractive to women who are nostalgic for traditionalist marriages, and long for someone to arrive on a white horse and “save” them from an excess of choices. So Mark Driscoll, by giving Seattle a version of authoritarian Calvinism, has met a need. He gives people a place to put their existential dread of death, responsibility, and freedom, and makes sense of an interconnected world that is always in flux.
But let’s hope that the economy does not move from a recession into “Depression 2.0.” A second “Great Depression” is precisely the sort of thing that a simplifying authoritarianism will exploit, drawing energy from people’s misery, and ultimately making a bid to capture political power, and keep it by similar authoritarian means.
To read the full NY Times profile of this charlatan click here.