Monday, December 30, 2019

The Triumph of Heresy - Chris Hedges

Christianity in America has succumbed to heretics and it gave up without so much as a fight. That's Chris Hedges' take on the rise of radical Christianity in the United States.

He's right.

On Christmas Day the Guardian's editorial addressed the same theme - that, around the world, Christianity is in a struggle for its soul.
For liberally minded Christians, 2019 was the latest in a succession of anni horribili, during which a cultural appropriation of their religion did service for aggressive nationalism, xenophobia, homophobia and anti-environmentalism.
...The battle to defend the rights and human dignity of all, irrespective of gender, race or sexuality, is having to be fought all over again. But the theological roots of that liberal vision in a Pauline notion of universality – “all are one in Christ” – is rarely examined by progressives. In an era when Christian ethics are being so brazenly twisted to serve nativism and attacks on minorities, that could be a mistake.
Hedges puts it more bluntly:
The greatest moral failing of the liberal Christian church was its refusal, justified in the name of tolerance and dialogue, to denounce the followers of the Christian right as heretics. By tolerating the intolerant it ceded religious legitimacy to an array of con artists, charlatans and demagogues and their cultish supporters. It stood by as the core Gospel message—concern for the poor and the oppressed—was perverted into a magical world where God and Jesus showered believers with material wealth and power. The white race, especially in the United States, became God’s chosen agent. Imperialism and war became divine instruments for purging the world of infidels and barbarians, evil itself. Capitalism, because God blessed the righteous with wealth and power and condemned the immoral to poverty and suffering, became shorn of its inherent cruelty and exploitation. The iconography and symbols of American nationalism became intertwined with the iconography and symbols of the Christian faith. The mega-pastors, narcissists who rule despotic, cult-like fiefdoms, make millions of dollars by using this heretical belief system to prey on the mounting despair and desperation of their congregations, victims of neoliberalism and deindustrialization. These believers find in Donald Trump a reflection of themselves, a champion of the unfettered greed, cult of masculinity, lust for violence, white supremacy, bigotry, American chauvinism, religious intolerance, anger, racism and conspiracy theories that define the central beliefs of the Christian right. When I wrote “American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America” I was deadly serious about the term “fascists.”
...Tens of millions of Americans live hermetically sealed inside the vast media and educational edifice controlled by Christian fascists. In this world, miracles are real, Satan, allied with secular humanists and Muslims, is seeking to destroy America, and Trump is God’s anointed vessel to build the Christian nation and cement into place a government that instills “biblical values.” These “biblical values” include banning abortion, protecting the traditional family, turning the Ten Commandments into secular law, crushing “infidels,” especially Muslims, indoctrinating children in schools with “biblical” teachings and thwarting sexual license, which includes any sexual relationship other than in a marriage between a man and a woman. Trump is routinely compared by evangelical leaders to the biblical king Cyrus, who rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem and restored the Jews to the city.
The corruption of Christianity, especially in the West, is something that has intrigued me for the past two decades or more.  What is underway has been well documented. Kevin Phillips 2005 book, "American Theocracy" examines the rise of radical religion in the waning years of a succession of once dominant Christian nations. Former US Army commander turned academic, Andrew Bacevich, has written "The New American Militarism" in which he reveals how what Eisenhower branded America's military-industrial complex has now metastasized into a military-industrial-neoconservative-Christian fundamentalist-corporate "for profit" warfighting complex. You can glean more details in Chris Hedges' "American Fascists" or Princeton historian Kevin Kruse's excellent new book, "One Nation Under God: How Corporate America invented Christian America."

Hedges attributes the rise of Christian fundamentalism to the failure of American liberals.
I studied ethics at Harvard Divinity School with James Luther Adams, who had been in Germany in 1935 and 1936. Adams witnessed the rise there of the so-called Christian Church, which was pro-Nazi. He warned us about the disturbing parallels between the German Christian Church and the Christian right. Adolf Hitler was in the eyes of the German Christian Church a volkmessiah and an instrument of God—a view similar to the one held today about Trump by many of his white evangelical supporters. Those demonized for Germany’s economic collapse, especially Jews and communists, were agents of Satan. Fascism, Adams told us, always cloaked itself in a nation’s most cherished symbols and rhetoric. Fascism would come to America not in the guise of stiff-armed, marching brownshirts and Nazi swastikas but in mass recitations of the Pledge of Allegiance, the biblical sanctification of the state and the sacralization of American militarism. Adams was the first person I heard label the extremists of the Christian right as fascists. Liberals, he warned, as in Nazi Germany, were blind to the tragic dimension of history and radical evil. They would not react until it was too late. 
Trump’s legacy will be the empowerment of the Christian fascists. They are what comes next. For decades they have been organizing to take power. They have built infrastructures and organizations, including lobbying groups, schools and universities as well as media platforms, to prepare. They have seeded their cadre into the political system. We on the left, meanwhile, have seen our institutions and organizations destroyed or corrupted by corporate power.
Suddenly, Islamists don't seem so radical after all.
The Christian fascists propagate their magical thinking through a selective literalism in addressing the Bible. They hold up as sacrosanct biblical passages that buttress their ideology and ignore, or grossly misinterpret, the ones that do not. They live in a binary universe. They see themselves as eternal victims, oppressed by dark and sinister groups seeking their annihilation. They alone know the will of God. They alone can fulfill God’s will. They seek total cultural and political domination. The secular, reality-based world, one where Satan, miracles, destiny, angels and magic do not exist, destroyed their lives and communities. That world took away their jobs and their futures. It ripped apart the social bonds that once gave them purpose, dignity and hope. In their despair they often struggled with alcohol, drug and gambling addictions. They endured familial breakdown, divorce, evictions, unemployment and domestic and sexual violence. The only thing that saved them was their conversion, the realization that God had a plan for them and would protect them. These believers were pushed by a callous, heartless corporate society and rapacious oligarchy into the arms of charlatans. All who speak to them in the calm, rational language of fact and evidence are hated and ultimately feared, for they seek to force believers back into “the culture of death” that nearly destroyed them.
...We can blunt the rise of this Christian fascism only by reintegrating exploited and abused Americans into society, giving them jobs with stable, sustainable incomes, relieving their crushing personal debts, rebuilding their communities and transforming our failed democracy into one in which everyone has agency and a voice. We must impart to them hope, not only for themselves but for their children.
Hedges sees but one hope - America itself must be transformed by embracing social democracy. That seems unimaginable, at this stage much too late. What then awaits?


John B. said...

A good start would be that everybody stop listening to people who claim that they've been having conversations with God. Some of us are just plain nuts.


I'm glad that Hedges wasn't the vice-principal when I was screwing up in grade twelve.

Anonymous said...

“But one hope - America itself must be transformed by embracing social democracy”. Well, folks, there is one hope.....goes by the name Bernie Sanders. A candidate, depending on who you might believe, that is doing fairly well in the opinion of many voters and, if not stopped, could actually win the Democratic nomination. An outcome even too horrible to contemplate for the 1%. So the establishment powers, even the Democrat ones, will stop at nothing to ensure that one hope is destroyed. Dems (Wasserman-Shultz et al) managed it nicely in 2016. This time around? Wall St. Dem. muck-a-mucks have already warned they will support Trump if Dems. dare nominate even E. Warren, aka ‘Sanders lite’. 2020 looks like it’s gonna be an interesting year! Mac

the salamander said...

.. 'to be or not to be, that is the question' ..

Its now 2020 Mound.. highly symbolic date eh ?
High hopes down here in the flatlands by a great lake.. that we all have a very decent year. That many of us can see a way forward, kick at the darkness (Bruce Cockburn), be kind, wise, generous, adaptive, strong.. even real loud ! Brave ! Win more than we lose & never say never. That's it .. my first post or comment of the day, of the year. We will do an instant replay of our marine theme Christmas dinner with sinful Zinfandel, read lots, write lots, catch some college football.. hear great music, walk the dawgs.

To you & yours and all your exemplary compadres
of the Order of Indie Blogging.. we will raise a toast !
To the Wits of Twitter aussi ! Slainte !!

The Disaffected Lib said...

Happy New Year, Sal, and may all your optimism be fulfilled. 2020 indeed.

Hey, what I don't get is why we celebrate the New Year at the end of December rather than on the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, that begets steadily longer days, the emergence from winter, and heralds the certain approach of Spring followed by Summer?

Trailblazer said...

I am not optimistic about the new year that as of now could see Donald Trump re elected.
We live in a world highly influenced by the USA a country that exports it's dubious standards to a world that welcomes them with evangelical passion .
As we, the world, enter 2020 our vision, no pun intended, should not be clouded by easy pickings .
Perhaps a little George Orwell could clarify the situation?


Anonymous said...

Good for Hedges ...he calls it the way it is. All the best in 2020. Anyong

The Disaffected Lib said...

TB, I'm living in a mild state of trepidation these days. The picture I gleaned from reading research studies, reports (mainly peer-reviewed stuff), analysis stuff and media summaries over the past decade does not foster optimism for this coming decade.

I see that Monbiot is now calling for a rewilding of the oceans, a measure that would involve beaching much of the world's industrial fishing fleet. I can't say he's wrong but it sounds like a pipe dream. He did mention he's also battling the same cancer that laid him low two years back.

Looking back on the 2010s what I found most inspiring was when a few climate scientists found their voice and warned that fighting climate change will probably be futile unless we also tackle its companion threats - overpopulation and excessive consumption. University of Hawaii climate prof, Camilo Mora, was one of the first to point out the obvious. He said that his colleagues privately praised his article but refused to stand with him fearing that it might trigger pushback that could threaten their climate research. Imagine, the overwhelming majority of the scientific community so utterly cowed.

I have been convinced for many years that our only hope is for mankind to learn to live in harmony with the environment, our biosphere, Spaceship Earth, because it's all we've got. Among them is the need to get the human population down to around two billion. There are ways to do that without violence but none that seem remotely acceptable to our power structures, economic and political, or, for that matter, the people of the developed nations.

I suppose it's the knowledge that we're not really prepared to make the sacrifices essential for our own survival that leaves me with a dismal outlook on the 2020s. Damn but I hope I'm wrong.

The Disaffected Lib said...

Happy New Year to you as well, Anyong.

e.a.f said...

What we see in the U.S.A. p-- evangelical Christianity is just like the Taliban and their religious beliefs. We have extreme Muslims and we have extreme Christians. Neither group keeps to its faith, its all about power, control and subjugating others. They can all go to hell.

As to the coming year, I was feeling O.K. about it and then dtrump had Suleimani murdered. I'd feel better if the arrested dtrump for murder.