In the little mountain community where I live there are about three thousand people and one thousand nine hundred sixty seven different fundamentalist Christian Churches. Fundamentalist Christianity, made more political than ever by Ms Sarah Palin, vice presidental candidate in the last election is a force quite fierce where I live. Call them "fundies" call them "happy clappys" just don't call them late to dinner. They are some serious folks. They go to church on Sunday morning, take a break for lunch and show up again for evening service. Many attend a bible study midweek, in addition to prayer meetings. American Christianity probably has more offshoot groups than any other nation. Why is that? As I traveled through the fundamentalist subculture I was surprised by some of the things I learned.
Most of the Fundamentalist Christians I met were not big on reading the bible. Any message straight from the "spirit" trumped anything written down in a dusty old book written in archaic language. In fact the most popular translation they used was one from the 1970's called NIV. It was supposed to be easier to read than the much loved poetical King James version. The second most popular was a paraphrase version called "The Message" followed by an new American edition which was also a paraphrase - not a translation of the bible. The lack of education made them disinterested in being well-versed. Shocking to me, because I figured anyone who made religion such a cornerstone of their life would surely want to heed Jesus word to "know the scriptures."
Most of the Fundamentalist Christians I met were not big on history. They did not know about the protesant reformation. They did not consider Catholics "Christian"! Imagine my surprise when I pointed out that UNTIL the Protestant reformation, the ONLY Christians were Catholic. My statement was met with blank stares. "OH no," they insisted. "There must have been other Christians besides Catholics, because Catholics are not Christian." Talk about Gee Whiz. This history of religion isn't arcane knowledge. Once upon a time even grade school children had a cursory knowledge of Christianity, the crusades, the King James translation of the bible.
Even though they don't put much stock in reading the bible or interpreting it, Fundamentalist Christians are eager as anyone to do Christianity "correctly." To that end they have completed and continued the Protestant reformation. Every time two people disagree on a church board around here, one of the members takes his ideas and starts his own church. Thus we have the Mormens who decided a whole new book had been discovered by Joseph Smith. We have a Luthern Church that just recently broke with it's mother organization over the issue of gays in the clergy. We have an Assembly of God Church that has no females on it's board. It's ironic to me because in the early days of A of God, the church was radical for having ordained female clergy. The first year of it's existence it ordained more females than males, but the local arm of this religion has it's own take on that doctrine.
Anything anyone says while in the "Spirit" can't really be verified. My former husband was a covert drug addict while he was on a church board. He told all sorts of people stuff the spirit of the Lord had told him and they believed him. I asked a Christian person about this later because I had my doubts about God being behind some of this strange advice. The Christian assured me that just because a person is on drugs does NOT mean that God can't use him. So rest assured if you are in my neck of the woods and you are at one of our many many fine fundamentalist churches you may well have a drug addict telling you what God wants you to do.
We have a Catholic church up here too. Just one. That religion sets up by parish, so there is no competing Catholic church. Sometimes the priest is a wonderful person, and sometimes the guys are more sketch. Apparently the church rotates the men around and the poor parish has to attend with whomever gets assigned. Catholic means "universal." I do find their service to be more flexible, more open to world changes than the Fundamental churches. You won't find any members there taking their ideas across the street and opening up a competing assembly.
Once men are in command they had a hard time resisting telling other people what to do. It's a heady feeling to have the mantel of God on you, to have everyone believe that what you say is the will of God. We had a Baptist church up here for a while that was big on teaching "submission." Every week, and mid week too, a sermon on submission. I went to a class advertised as a bible study only to discover it was actually a prayer meeting. When I complained about the mis-representation I got a free lecture on submission. Apparently the correct chain of command is for a woman to ask her husband to speak to the male members of the church board or the pastor. Yikes, is all I can say. Some of the strongest most vocal supporters of the submission teaching are women themselves.
A lot of women welcome the emotional laziness it encourages. If your man is one hundred per cent responsible for making decisions in a marriage, then when things go wrong it's all his fault. Plenty of women at those church picnics got off on putting down their mates to other women. I found it distasteful, but common place. Talking about how stupid men were seemed to be almost a buddy bonding thing amongst those "submissive" women.
I wish that people would be more kind to one another. Nothing in the Fundamentalist teaching addresses this. The main thrust of the teaching is that people are inherently bad. Because they are bad no action no thought can make them good. Some God created people as bad, then punishes them for being bad with eternal damnation. A couple thousand years after He invented these bad people God relented and decided to send JC to earth so some people would have a chance. Trust me, it's an odd belief system, so odd people have to keep reinventing it with yet another church.