The Undemocratic Unfreedom of Sectarian Christianity

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=li7FZ6E8HOo%5B/embed%5DHerbert Marcuse’s variant of cultural marxism emphasized how the materialism of post-war capitalism had created a “democratic unfreedom” whereby cogs in the capitalist machine genuinely preferred the materialist options produced by GM, GE, and Disney. Everyone would prefer to be striving for a Buick while working a low wage job and giving political control to the corporatists, not even realizing that they weren’t really free to envision a different set of relations of production. At least the one-dimensional materialists of Marcuse’s dystopia choose to be materialist pawns, but now even the freedom to be a tool of the system is being challenged by sectarian Christianity. “Religious Freedom” is now taken to mean the freedom to prevent people sectarian Christians don’t like from enjoying the material fruits of the capitalist system. It’s an old argument, you can’t attend a KKK rally or read a transcript from 1950s White Citizen’s Council meetings or the Friends of the Court briefs from Loving v Virginia without seeing the argument that religious freedom is the bedrock of segregation and discrimination. Notably, sectarian religious justifications for racial discrimination are a minority position, and these views draw the ire of the majority of Americans. Since Max Weber and Ernst Troelsch, sociologists have defined extremist religious groups within the dominant tradition as “sects”, and this conceptualization was honed further by Ben Johnson, Rodney Stark, Bill Bainbridge, and Roger Finke. The Sect-Church continuum remains the principle way to classify religious groups from any tradition—exclusivist groups claim to know the TRUTH, which implies that all other groups (generally, but not always the majority) are wrong. Far from being dead or antiquated (as Christian sociologists who hail from sectarian traditions seem to want), in my recent book Changing Faith, I amended these concepts to shed the notion of tension with broader society as being the primary characteristic of sects and instead focus on exclusivism–universalism as the proper measure. I did this because many exclusivist sects hold control over entire nation states, regions of a country, or localities. Believing that drinking alcohol is a one way ticket to hell does not put you at odds with the dominant social order in Waco, Texas, and extremely homophobic sectarian Protestants and Catholics with sectarian inclinations hold power in large swaths of the United States (if you don’t understand the concept of sectarian movements in churches, revoke your PhD and go back and read Stark and Bainbridge, submit a ten page essay to me explaining the concepts and I may give it back to you—nah, probably not) . Ah, but, writ large, exclusivism is at tension with civil society.  You may be a cool dude beheading the gays and drug dealers in a sectarian Wahhabi kingdom, but civilized societies are going to oppose your barbarism and there will be consequences in global society. Similarly, sectarian Christianists who are now militating to be able to discriminate against gays and lesbians are finding pushback from the majority of Americans who support same sex marriage (56%) and who think that homosexuality is perfectly acceptable (also 56% in the 2014 GSS).  Exclusivist sectarian beliefs based on primitive fundamentalist interpretations of Abrahamic sacred texts are at odds with broader civil society, and that is why sects are called sects! They aren’t evangelical. That’s an orientation toward proselytization which is absent from many, if not most, sects. Evangelical is a term favored by Christianists, who want to mask their true orientation and act as if they are a part of civil society—they aren’t. They’re sectarians who are antithetical to civil society.

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