Tuesday, June 8, 2010

According to some elements of the right the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are galloping to a neighborhood near you. According to some elements of the left, BP's oil slick will beat them to it.

The following is an excerpt from an article by Chris Hedges on the rise of Christian fascism. It has generated as much comment for his critique of the left as it has his critique of the right. I happen to think it's a pretty good synopsis of some of the more disturbing trends in the Christian right. I also think his take on the left is legitimate and deserves discussion.

The rise of this Christian fascism, a rise we ignore at our peril, is being fueled by an ineffectual and bankrupt liberal class that has proved to be unable to roll back surging unemployment, protect us from speculators on Wall Street, or save our dispossessed working class from foreclosures, bankruptcies and misery. The liberal class has proved useless in combating the largest environmental disaster in our history, ending costly and futile imperial wars or stopping the corporate plundering of the nation. And the gutlessness of the liberal class has left it, and the values it represents, reviled and hated. (The underlying assumption here is that those who called themselves liberal and promoted liberal causes in order to get elected were actually liberal. That's not an assumption I'm prepared to accept.)

The Democrats have refused to repeal the gross violations of international and domestic law codified by the Bush administration. This means that Christian fascists who achieve power will have the “legal” tools to spy on, arrest, deny habeas corpus to, and torture or assassinate American citizens—as does the Obama administration. (It could be the Obama administration doesn't want to give up these tools. Or if they do give them up it won't be until the very end of the Obama administration.)

Those who remain in a reality-based world often dismiss these malcontents as buffoons and simpletons. They do not take seriously those, like Beck, who pander to the primitive yearnings for vengeance, new glory and moral renewal. Critics of the movement continue to employ the tools of reason, research and fact to challenge the absurdities propagated by creationists who think they will float naked into the heavens when Jesus returns to Earth. The magical thinking, the flagrant distortion in interpreting the Bible, the contradictions that abound within the movement’s belief system and the laughable pseudoscience, however, are impervious to reason. (Reason only operates when emotion is in a more or less neutral state. That's why people who may have totally differing political views can and do dialogue in non threatening settings like bars or around office water coolers. This won't happen in the middle of Tea Party rally and that is exactly why orators focus on arguments which appeal to emotional centers.)

We cannot convince those in the movement to wake up. It is we who are asleep. (Or in denial.)
Those who embrace this movement see life as an epic battle against forces of evil and Satanism. The world is black and white. They need to feel, even if they are not, that they are victims surrounded by dark and sinister groups bent on their destruction. They need to believe they know the will of God and can fulfill it, especially through violence. They need to sanctify their rage, a rage that lies at the core of the ideology. (It doesn't help that this ideology of fear is what many of us who call ourselves Christian or Catholic were raised in, and is why fear works for the left as well as the right.)


I actually disagree with the last statement. It doesn't seem to me that the dominionist right has any need to sanctify their rage because the process it's based on and the theology it espouses assumes it's inherent sanctity. The need is to force culture to conform, not necessarily to the current expression of the ideology, but to enslavement in the paradigm of fear and control. Religious expression of this paradigm has historically been the most potent cultural institution through which to insure the propagation of the fear paradigm. I don't find it the least bit surprising that the theology of Christianity began to change enormously after it had been assimilated by the Roman governing structure. It became less a philosophy of living life in relationship and more a theology of our sin and it's sole redemptive power to counter that sin.

That's really not any different than what Glen Beck espouses when he maintains his politics offer the sole redemptive power for the sins of the rest of us and our immoral culture. Pope Benedict is continuing the same line in a faith/theological sense. Hitchens offers atheism as the redemptive solution to the irrational emotional fear of the theists. Current psychology/psychiatry is attempting to transcend the boundaries of specific cultural factors by discovering the neurophysiological mechanisms, and then targeting those mechanisms with redemptive drugs.

Fear it seems is a good thing for the prevailing power structures if it can be used, channeled, and controlled. But a very bad thing if it can't be. And a very bad thing indeed, if it's choked down too much, or stoked up too much, and it explodes. A certain oil well comes to mind here.

Redemption is not about controlling fear or denying fear, it's about personally transcending fear. There are many legitimate ways to accomplish transcending one's personal fears. All of those ways all tend to start with the same realization. I am not alone in my fear. I may not have the same exact trigger for my fear my neighbor does, but we both share fear, and it sucks.

If we could just start there, admitting we all share fear, we might realize that sometimes we share the same fears. Once a burden is shared it becomes lighter. It becomes more manageable. It's not just easier to see a common solution, or hear someones wisdom, it's easier to imagine a brighter day. The truth is fear magnifies differences, needs to silence opposition, and kills imagination. Not too mention it's presence precludes our ability to manufacture any neural peptides which emotionally express it's opposite. That would be the many variations of love.

Any Christian theology which exploits fear is not participating in the redemptive action of Christ. It's essentially a religious enterprise designed to support the existing cultural status quo and it's power structures because it has chosen to survive not on the message of love of the Founder, but on the 'traditional' methods of power.

In order to insure it's own cultural survival the existing power structure will co opt any philosophy for it's own ends. I wrote a long time ago that if the Obama administration proved to be nothing more than the same thing in different stripes it would only fuel more division. That has come to pass. Partly because Obama brought it on with his own rhetoric and partly because other people decided to ramp up the fear factors swirling around Obama for their own gain. Can anyone say Saran Palin?

If progressives have made mistakes it's because of a kind of blind hope that anything was better than Bush and a belief that changing the rhetoric was enough to change the strategy of the power brokers behind the reality. It's not. Progressives need to follow through on changing the rules as well as the rhetoric and to elect public officials who intend to walk the talk.
The real players know it's not what a person says which counts. It's what a person can be paid to do. In this paradigm fear is much more useful than integrity or love. That's what has to to change. Honesty, integrity, and love are not solely the property of one side and neither is acting irrationally from fear. Maybe if we can at least admit that we can begin to find some real solutions for our collective problems.


  1. "If progressives have made mistakes it's because of a kind of blind hope that anything was better than Bush and a belief that changing the rhetoric was enough to change the strategy of the power brokers behind the reality. It's not. Progressives need to follow through on changing the rules as well as the rhetoric and to elect public officials who intend to walk the talk."

    C'mon. There are no power brokers behind the reality. There is no one that competent. And riding the wave at the top is always a temporary position. We all have strings pulling us.
    I wanted Medicare for all, but the health care bill is better than nothing. I wanted the big financial institutions broken up and the system decentralized but the finance reform bill is better than nothing. I want guaranteed pensions, paid maternity leave, and mandated paid sick time and paid vacations - but extension of unemployment benefits and subsidy of health insurance costs is better than nothing. I wanted Gitmo closed and the Patriot Act repealed but...well...you got me there...hopefully we're not torturing prisoners at the moment.

    I'm not too disappointed. I actually think Obama is trying to govern. He's just the President, not the Pope, and was dealt a pretty bad hand, not to mention a disloyal opposition. McCain (or, God forbid, Palin) appointing Supreme Court justices? Things could be far worse.

  2. In the old days power brokers used to be individuals or families, but now they are global corporations and the biggest beneficiaries of health care and financial reform will still be health care companies and Wall Street.

    If the object is to provide relief after the profit needs of our corporations have been met, why don't they just come out and say that?

  3. As a Canadian I usually refrain from commenting on specific aspects of American politics. That's for you to decide.

    I couldn't be prouder of the USA for electing President Obama. He's not the messiah, as some wanted to make him. He's not the anti-Christ either. He's had a hell of a year and a half and made incredible progress, even if it isn't perfect, given the circumstances.

    You'd like Canada.

    There really are power brokers. Yes the individuals change but the organizations don't. You might enjoy this podcast of a talk given by Nobel Prize winner Muhammed Yunis on social corporations and the Grameen Bank.



  4. Great analysis, Colleen, thanks so much. Obama better than nothing, or better than Bush? It's now a little too late for those kinds of excuses. Too little too late. Which I think is the point of Hedges warning, exaggerated or not. The blandness of 'liberal' leadership, and its inability to deal decisively and strongly with the furies out there is creating a vacuum that the fanatical fringe is only too eager to fill.

    Another quote from Noam Chomsky is to the point:

    “Well, the world is too complex for history to repeat, but there are nevertheless lessons to keep in mind, and even memories. I’m just old enough to remember those chilling and ominous days of Germany’s descent from decency to Nazi barbarism, quoting the distinguished scholar of German history Fritz Stern, who tells us that he has the future of the United States in mind when he reviews what he calls “a historic process in which resentment against a disenchanted secular world found deliverance in the ecstatic escape of unreason.” If that sounds familiar, it is. This is one possible outcome of ‘collapse of the center’ when the radical imagination, which in fact was quite powerful at that time, nonetheless fell short”

  5. If you think about it for a moment, it is the overt Fascist attitude & deeds of organized religion which cause most Atheists & Agnostics to be so.

    In talking to many of them, the more intelligent ones will easily concede that the teachings of Jesus Christ are very much what they would consider to be admirable ideals. And to be a penultimate form of Altriusm. They will view His teachings are profoundly moral & agree with them on that level.

    ...they will also note pointedly that the Church has not exactly LIVED those teachings. Much less taught them with clarity!

    They do not just 'have a point'; they are correct!

    Atheists/Agnostics will also see clearly the over disconnect between Jesus & "Catholic Health Care"...which is BIG income for the Church!!! They (and I) see the immorality of the Church operating health care facilites which:

    1.DARE to overcharge
    2.Will DARE to charge & then sue for non-payment those who cannot afford to pay their bills.
    3.Operate for-profit hospitals, nursing homes, etc. under the false cover of being 'not-for-profit' entities....making $billions.
    4.In operation of nursing homes, these Catholic entities do & will seize the assets of the elderly (homes, etc.). This is called THEFT; not care for the elderly!

    Thus the Atheist/Agnostic & I will both look upon these realities, and say:

    "How DARE you talk about the morality of Abortion....in light of the abominatons you DARE to do to ppl who come to you for help"?

    Of course in doing these things, the Church fulfills Christ's prophecy against them in Matthew 23, specifically:

    "Woe to you, hypocrites! For you devour the houses of widows & orphans, praying long prayers. For this you shall receive the greater judgment..."

    Anon Y. Mouse

  6. Excellent summary of how love vs. fear plays out in our society and in all institutions, including the RC church, in our society. I don’t believe that this is understood by very many people. My wife and I gave a talk on this very subject at a marriage group and were greeted with silence. I believe this plays right into the anti-intellectualism trend in the us. I have been accused by people of being “all in the head” (I have an masters degree in theology), but what I see is people swallowing whatever is fed to them, esp. by the RC hierarchy. One of my professors used to say “God wants us to use our intelligence” and “If it does not make sense to you, don’t believe it (of course this precludes that we understand the paradoxical nature of much of what we believe, e.g., lose life to gain life). So, intellectuals are bad, because they question the status quo, while anti-intellectualism is good, because they follow like lambs. How did we get it all so wrong?