Journal: Strip religious garb, fundamentalist tones from U.S. political power

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — 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.

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

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

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

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

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

“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

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

“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


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