Thursday, December 9, 2010

Fusionism vs. Christianity

Lisa Miller writes for Newsweek on the conflict between the Religious Right and the Obama Administration. As Miller notes, what is interesting about this particular battle between the Religious Right and a Democratic president is that the focus seems to be largely on economic matters and not the traditional social conservative causes like marriage and abortion. While the ailing economy is certainly a major factor working here, I wonder if there is something else afoot. Recently released statistics showing the decline of marriage and family life among less affluent Americans also reveal a decline in church attendance among those same working-class people who used to be the backbone of American Christianity. Not surprisingly, the decline of marriage, family life, and church attendance all seem to have begun in the 1970s, right around the time most Americans saw their real wages begin to stagnate or decline. It was the beginning of the era of neoliberalism.

American Christianity is in danger of becoming a rich man’s religion, complete with a preferential option for the affluent. On the other hand, the social issues that used to fire up working-class Christians are now being pushed to the side. I believe we are witnessing the ultimate poisoned fruit of Fusionism, the largely failed attempt to combine right-libertarian economics with social traditionalism. Fusionism is destroying American Christianity.


  1. I believe we are witnessing the ultimate poisoned fruit of Fusionism, the largely failed attempt to combine right-libertarian economics with social traditionalism. Fusionism is destroying American Christianity.

    Excellent post, but very depressing if it applies to all faiths. Whilst I’ve never been to America, I do notice that whilst most Orthodox Priests tend to be ‘men of the people’ that the noisiest American Orthodox priests tend to be petit bourgeoisie Republicans who are doggedly devoted to the GOP and stifling middle class values, no matter what the Ecumenical Patriarch says. I hope that the rank and file Priests are more earthy and outspoken, but can’t say from experience.

    Whilst I dislike the way that Brit politicians fawn over ‘America’ as they perceive it (meaning WASP America), I’ve sometimes thought that I might fit in well in the coastal states because they seem to commonly have faith whilst not being pietistic or fanatical. Do you think that the Catholic Church in America still has a wide range of social classes or has it too been adopted by the Beck/ Palin right?

    One fact that surprised me was that the Southern Baptist Church has been losing members despite both large proselytising in America and there being a large number of Latino converts entering the country. Perhaps many pastors in this faith alienate their congregations? Whilst I’m sure there are many good Baptist Christians, I would say their faith is fairly heretical and that they produce a lot of the worst headbangers like Robertson and Lahaye whose views are at least as opposed to Apostolic Christianity as any type of atheism is.

    I do retain a certain optimism that classical Christian social teachings are essential for society and that even if many Americans are only nominal Christians, they are still not completely ideologically brainwashed. However, as I can see from my Orthodox cousins across the pond, having the most appealing ideas doesn’t mean getting the biggest megaphone.

  2. Hi Gregor,

    Thank you for the insightful and interesting comments. From my own experience, the American Orthodox Christians I know tend to be Democrats, although that may have more to do with the peculiarities of the Orthodox community of Chicago. I had an Orthodox priest friend I used to correspond with and he was very displeased with the Republicans, particularly because of their anti-poor, pro-war positions, but he was also skeptical about their commitment to the pro-life movement, noting that they have accomplished little for the pro-life movement despite winning many elections since 1980.

    But I think your point about noisiness is very important, and I would say that right-wingers are the noisiest in most of the Christian denominations. The Right increasingly “owns” religion in America. First it was just rhetoric by Reagan and such, but I think over the past 30 years it has become such a part of the culture that more and more “religious” and “right-wing” are becoming synonymous. The same thing is happening with “secular” and “left-wing.”

    Good point about the coastal states. I also think the Great Lakes states are somewhat similar. Does it have something to do with touching water? I think on the ground the Roman Catholic Church is still pretty diverse, although I wonder if this will change as parochial school becomes increasingly out of reach financially for more and more working-class Catholic families. On politics and theology, I think there are still very hard feelings between conservative and progressive Catholics, with lots of fighting over Vatican II (still). I usually try to stay out of those debates, especially because I feel I don’t necessarily fit comfortably in either category, plus they can get quite nasty.

    That doesn’t surprise me about the Southern Baptists. I think many young people are reacting to how extreme some sections of that church are. Every morning I try to catch a little bit of Pat Robertson’s The 700 Club, and I would say its content ranges from the innocuous to the laughable to the insane (like Robertson’s speculation that the recent Haitian earthquake was the possible result of Haiti having made a pact with Satan to fight Napoleon!).

    Yeah, really it all comes down to money. Fusionism has had a lot of influence on American religion because it had a lot of money behind it and because (at least in my opinion) it was a movement with primarily economic goals in mind. So now we have people like Glenn Beck telling American Christians to leave their churches if the priest/minister talks about social justice because social justice is just another way of saying “communism” or “fascism.”

    The Orthodox Church in the United States grew by 16% in the last decade, I believe, which is pretty good for an industrialized country. I believe much of the growth was from Eastern European immigration, but I would be interested in seeing conversion numbers. I do not know how strong the Orthodox Church is when it comes to missionary efforts. It is interesting that fundamentalist Christians as well as groups like the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses that are the most aggressive about proselytizing. I wish it were the other way around, though. I wish Orthodoxy had more influence in America, instead of the fundies or the LDS.