A Response to John Nery’s Column at the Inquirer
“How can someone who knows the Bible well enough to quote from it at will—usually from the Old Testament—support the killing of drug suspects or the manifestly unfair shuttering of an entire TV network?”
That’s how John Nery of Inquirer.net started his column today, July 21. I was intrigued not just because I somehow recognized the Bible-quoting person he was writing about but also because fascism and the Bible don’t usually appear together in the same sentence.
Nery was referring to Canadian psychologist Bob Altemeyer’s work on right-wing authoritarianism (RWA), a study on the psychological makeup of authoritarian leaders and followers. In that study, Altemeyer found out that supporters of authoritarian leaders are usually “highly submissive to established authority, aggressive in the name of that authority, and conventional to the point of insisting everyone should behave as their authorities decide. They are fearful and self-righteous and have a lot of hostility in them that they readily direct toward various out-groups. They are easily incited, easily led, rather un-inclined to think for themselves, largely impervious to facts and reason, and rely instead on social support to maintain their beliefs. They bring strong loyalty to their in-groups, have thick-walled, highly compartmentalized minds, use a lot of double standards in their judgments, are surprisingly unprincipled at times, and are often hypocrites.
“They are blind to themselves, ethnocentric and prejudiced, and as closed-minded as they are narrow- minded. They can be woefully uninformed about things they oppose, but they prefer ignorance and want to make others become as ignorant as they. They are also surprisingly uninformed about the things they say they believe in, and deep, deep, deep down inside many of them have secret doubts about their core belief. But they are very happy, highly giving, and quite zealous.”
That’s quite a mouthful but no, I didn’t flinch with the shock of recognition. I don’t have a problem with Altemeyer’s work. His study subjects represented a wide range of religious fundamentalists in North America—Christians, Jewish, Muslim, Hindus, and others. That’s a broad category and he was quite explicit about it.
What is suprising to me is when Nery took that generic amorphous grouping of religious fundamentalists and lumped them together under the heading of Bible-quoting fascists—something that Altemeyer did not intend.
That’s the first reason why I think Nery’s post is faulty. He misapplied Altemeyer’s research to Christians despite knowing very well that the respondents were not all Christians. That’s not fair.
Second, by quoting solely from the field of psychology, he failed to give a fair picture of the Bible and its adherents. The title betrays a disregard of the fields of history, philosophy, law, arts, literature, and education, to name a few. It skips the role of the Bible and Christianity in the shaping of Europe, the founding of America, or the abolition of slavery from both sides of the Atlantic. It disregards the role of the Bible and Christianity in forming the bedrock of our morality, ethics, and traditions. No, all Nery showed was the apparent disconnect between the faith and practice of one lawmaker whose public life has been a subject of bewilderment among onlookers. Then he heaped Altemeyer’s findings on the camp of Bible-quoting people without any attempt at nuance.
You don’t judge the Bible and its adherents by using a snapshot of a few fringe examples. You look back to its long history and impact on culture and the nations over a period of more than two thousand years. More importantly, you need to look at the content of that Bible and perhaps you will see that in its first chapter alone, the dignity of our humanity is forever enshrined in the doctrine of the Imago Dei. Our notion about all men being created equal first sprung up from the good soil of Genesis 1. That doesn’t look like fascism to me.