The period between the 400s and the late 900s A.D. was termed The Dark Ages by scholars who later lamented that during that epoch almost all love for learning, art and craftsmanship disappeared in Western Europe.
During the Middle Ages a vibrant cultural commitment to discovery and progress was replaced by the preference for popular myths, fabrications and rumors, which were used by both the religious and political leaders to regulate the aspirations and fears of the masses. It is often forgotten, however, that during this dark period in Western Christianity’s history the Muslims developed a splendidly progressive civilization that stretched from Spain to China.
Behind the frenetic agenda of the political and religious right in America today lies a profound angst over the unspoken awareness that American civilization is most likely entering a profound period of economic, religious and cultural descendency. They know that our ability to claim pre-eminence in these areas certainly will soon be openly questioned by the world. Even our military pre-eminence cannot for much longer rescue us from our fading sense of supremacy.
This fear–that America is facing a significant period of economic, religious and cultural decline–is actually the essential root cause of the social anxiety which is behind much of the political and religious right’s recent achievements.
Evangelical fundamentalists are on a ruthless crusade to “save America” from what they perceive is its potential destruction from within.
They identify liberalism as the culprit, but they are sorely mistaken. The real danger for the world is religious fundamentalism. The most frightening aspect of this crusade is comfort level of fundamentalists with regards to an apocalyptic resolution of this conflict if their agenda of cultural redemption cannot be achieved.
The irony is that the world’s fundamentalists of every tradition have this in common, whether Christian, Jew or Muslim. They are distraught over the perceived losses and declines of their particular culture, and they are willing to use all means available to purge their culture of all people working for the cause of enlightenment and rationality.
Many of us in America have naively hoped that the religious and political retrenchments we have been experiencing were only symptoms of a short dialectical cycle that would play itself out naturally and quickly.
But what if this is not the case? What if what we are experiencing is just the early stages of the national manifestation of a worldwide fundamentalist agenda, which for some 30-plus years has steadily been sweeping the globe?
As painful as it may be we must entertain the possibility that America has over the last several decades been embarking on a substantially lasting period that will come to be known as our own kind of dark ages.
In just a few decades we have witnessed the rapid dismantling of religious higher education and the retrenchment of civil rights gains. All educational systems are being pressured to indoctrinate the young in the new mythologies of political, economic and religious fundamentalism. State university administrations and faculties are already being targeted for cleansing.
We have experienced the creation of economic, ecclesiastical and political monopolies that jointly orchestrate wars and conquests in order to give us a sense of national potency but will in reality only enhance further stagnation and decline.
Make no mistake about it, anyone who questions these religious and political agendas and their foundational myths about culture will continue to be targeted for elimination.
What can we do? We certainly cannot hunker down and wait patiently for a new renaissance. We cannot afford forbearance now that the world’s religious, economic and political fundamentalists have their hands on nuclear arsenals. Accelerated global warming and fuel reserve depletions will make this a dangerous period like no other. These issues alone leave us no option other than unqualified immediate action.
We will continue to need brave and self-sacrificing religious and political leaders who will endure the coming fury which will not soon subside but likely increase. We need religious and political leaders from every community who will thrust the best of their progressive traditions into the limelight without timidity.
Religious leaders must shine the spotlight on the best teachings of the great prophets and the sacred texts. We Christians must emphasize the prophetic principles of Jesus which have been submerged by Christian fundamentalists.
We religious nonconformists must take the offensive and call all fundamentalists to account on their own misuse of Scripture.
We followers of Jesus must not be ashamed to speak about his demand for a morality that values integrity, liberality and justice in the social sphere.
We cannot hide behind our commitment to the separation of church and state as an excuse for not being prophetic in the halls of Congress, in the church or in the marketplace.
We must protect the fortresses of higher learning and not be afraid but proud of being labeled as a liberal.
We must confess that we often prefer the label moderate because it is safer, not more moral.
The price incurred in the struggle will continue to be high but the cost of failure or timidity on our part will be incalculable. Let us all commit to do our part to bring about a political and religious renaissance in America while there is yet time.
Mike Greer is interim pastor of Edgewood Baptist Church near Lexington, Ky.