When I entered college back in the distant past of 1997 I was a fundamentalist Christian. I was proud of this fact, right down to my young earth creationism. There is an assumption that atheists often make that fundamentalism and some form of dominionism go hand in hand. It’s true there is a lot of overlap, but they are not necessarily the same thing.
First let’s be clear about what I mean by dominionism, because there is some debate about what this means. Dominionism is often thought of as some uniform group of people conspiring to push their religious ideas into politics. This is not entirely true. Dominionism exists more or less as a continuum of beliefs that people hold about the role of religion in politics. A few on the fringe would like to see an outright theocracy, but most have less ostentatious goals. Christians who argue that Christian teachers out to have the right to compel their students to organized prayer are an example of a relatively soft dominionism, and are much more common.
I would even argue that examples like “in God we Trust” on our currency and as the national motto are examples of a sort of soft dominionism. Many Christians of course disagree, and would argue that “in God we trust” is not an imposition of Christianity through the government. I’ve been told that I’m being over sensitive on this one. Many people I would consider dominionists don’t like the term dominionism.
Here is the thing, when I was a believer I was a fundamentalist, as I said, but I was actually not a dominionist. I was, in fact, incredibly a-political, and I viewed many of the preachers who overtly pushed dominionist ideas, like Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson, with suspicion. This was actually occasionally a point of contention between me and other theists I knew, but I was hardly the only fundamentalist who thought this way.
See, as I reasoned when I was a Christian, there were only two reasons to push religious expression and religiously based laws into politics. One either wanted to use the power of government to convert people to Christianity; the other was to force them to obey Christian morality for their own good, even if it was against their will.
The first argument I found problematic because I believed that in order for Christianity to flourish in someone’s mind they must make a free choice to accept the propositions in Christianity. Using the government to mandate belief was obviously wrong, but I also had a problem with giving Christian propositions special position in politics because, inevitably, some would just go along for the ride instead of truly believing. If people are to truly be free to be convinced of the merits of an argument on it’s own strength then we must make sure that all arguments start on equal footing. Promoting one belief through government gives in an unfair advantage.
I rejected the second argument because it seemed irrational to force non-Christians to comply with Christian moral ideas. Fundamentalists teach that in order to truly understand the moral propositions in Christianity you have to be a believer, and thus inhabited by the holy spirit. God dwelling within you gives the capacity to understand the inherent correctness of the moral propositions according to traditional theology. So it not only struck me as illogical to try to force non-believers compliance with these laws, it struck me as totalitarian.
Quite frankly, when I was a believer other believers tried to get me to involve myself in politics and I would refuse them. I didn’t even vote for most of my Christian life. When Christians would ask me if I opposed things like gay marriage I told them that I while I thought being gay was sinful, I could not expect the unsaved to understand that so I no opinion on whether or not the government should legalize gay marriage. My goal was to convert people through fair honest dialog, not political force or emotional manipulation. I believed that once conversion happened then the changes to moral values would happen automatically. This is why dominionists baffle me so thoroughly. Though in all honesty it may have been my dedication to having honest conversations that led me to be an atheist, since I now think that in a fair and equal marketplace of ideas Christian propositions fail spectacularly. Perhaps that’s why dominionists are so persistent?