My wife’s primary avocation, now that NFL season is over, is genealogy. She will spend hours plumbing through the archives and documents unearthed at ancestry.com especially to learn more about my family. Thus far she’s unearthed a German side (the Brumbaughs) that hearkens back to Germany ca. the 16th century, as well as a Revolutionary War soldier (Conrad Brumbaugh), and a thread disclosing a kind of ominous commitment to an extreme evangelical sect known as “the Brethren”.
The latter was marked by her 2011 discovery of a powerful evangelical Bible puncher (originally one of the group called "the Brethren") back in 1860s Kansas. This turned out to be none other than my great, great grandfather (born May 12, 1812) in Rockingham County, Virginia, on my dad's father's wife's side. (They're the parents of my grandmother's mother). Their image is shown in the accompanying ca. 1867 photo.
The question that my wife asked, and others have too, is: “How could you (a de facto Freethinker and agnostic atheist) have emerged from this family?” The question implies every family or genealogical line is somehow rigidly defined, but we know this is false. At any given point, someone 'X' could marry someone 'Y' and ‘Whammo!’ the family line is altered by the introduction of a wild card, or in this case, maybe a freethinker-leaning persona!(Interestingly, my 'emergence' had to wait one of the Brumbaugh -Stahl line (my dad) marrying a woman totally outside his region and family line and of Catholic Austro-Hungarian ancestry. Who knows how many freethinkers, agnostics or atheists had already existed in that separate line? Also - how many Anti-War forbears, like my maternal grandfather, who proclaimed conscientious objector status rather than fight in WWI.)
So what about all the Bible beaters descended from great great Grandpa in my family?
The authors of the book 'Nature's Thumbprint' have made quite an argument for the case that not only can physical factors be inherited, but also psychological, and personality. Who knows, there may even be more conservative family members who are yet to fall out of the family tree! In any case, it's interesting to speculate that these hyper -religious genes may well have been at work for some time, just waiting for the right person or incarnation to pop back out again! (In the case of one family member who shall remain unnamed)
But while all of this may well explain genetic propensity to hyper-religious memes, it still doesn’t account for why so many of the family (especially clustered around places like Joplin, MO) have retained a very powerful fundamentalist outlook. So, what is it that keeps feeding their values and their commitment to those values, despite living in a secular world that finds little to pay homage to? And what is it that’s driving evangelical fundamentalism to challenge mainline Protestantism (as well as Catholicism) worldwide and posing a political threat to every sane-minded person?
Freethinker author Jeff Satterwhite has documented the fact that the moral worldview of the Evangelical Right can be best described as one of perpetual militancy. His “sub-cultural identity theory” posits that hard-line evangelicals construct symbolic boundaries with the outside world that: 1) reinforce their theological and political beliefs within their closed community, and 2) designate outsiders that must be opposed at all costs.
In the case of (2) we’ve seen repeated forays against: Catholics, Eckists, Buddhists, Mormons, Muslims, Jews, Yoga practitioners, Hindus, and even Jehovah’s Witnesses and Seventh Day Adventists. In other words, any group that doesn’t perfectly fit in with the Christianoids’ template. If they don’t make the cut they – the group- must be fought as some kind of enemy, or in league with the ultimate enemy of “Satan”.
According to Satterwhite, Evangelical leaders and pastors thereby create an “embattled tension” within the sub-culture with their rhetoric. This rhetoric then mobilizes any adherents to do battle against all the forces that putatively threaten their faith or existence.
Regardless of the enemy’s label: Satan, godless Liberals or “Libos”, self-proclaimed atheists, Yogis, Imams, “Homos”, “Baby-killers”, “evolutionists” or some other confected adversary – the Evangelical Right inevitably sees itself under siege.
They are the perpetual victims and despite all their God-fearin’ claims to spiritual strength through the Bible, they evidently cower in terror at the spectacle of little 10 year –old girls doing Yoga and whispering ‘Om’, or of Buddhists in silent meditation, or…..of atheists simply writing about evolution or the Big Bang.
But it is this rhetoric of victimhood and the need for constant “spiritual war” that embodies the strength of the Christianoid Right. Thereby, as Sattlewhite observes, a “collective identity is reinforced that is durable and transferable to the next generation of young people” In other words, the fear mongering allows some excellent brain-washing.
The worst travesty is wrapping the gift of social acceptance in theological conformity. Thus, the Rightist Jesus freaks insist on every manjack being “saved” according to his special formula, and also conforming to other aspects of behavior.
Satterwhite (as a former evangelical) insists the Evangelicals like the Brethren are principled in their moral stance, but “overly obsessive about external authority”. In other words, they’re almost all hard-wired authoritarians. We already know the psychological genesis of this human variant is rooted in being denied love and affection as a child, while being beaten and mistreated instead. (See e.g. Harvey A. Hornstein's Cruelty and Kindness: A New Look at Aggression and Altruism, Prentice-Hall, 1976, 'We and They', p.13. )
The solution may well be to ensure children are treated properly as children and not with beastliness, vicious beatings and hyper-authority. We may then be more likely to see less of it manifested in venomous, authoritative religiosity later! As well as a perverse meme that seeks by its very nature to dominate all of humanity.