Wednesday, December 25, 2019

When Christianity Embraces the Dark Side

When Vladimir Putin sought to put Russia in his authoritarian grip he had an ally, the Russian Orthodox Church. Liberated from the era of Soviet oppression, the Russian church wasted no time in signing on with the Putin regime. It was creepy but, well it was Russia, and they do things differently in the Rodina. The Russian church was just an outlier, surely.

What happened in Russia has now surfaced in other Christian churches in other nations - Christianity making common cause with authoritarian thugs. Christianity embracing the dark side.

Many of us remember the memorable line by Sinclair Lewis predicting that, when fascism comes to America, it will be "wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."

In its Christmas Day editorial, the Guardian explores how, in many nations, Christianity is in a struggle for its soul.
"There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” These words, written by Saint Paul 2,000 years ago, are central to the Christian faith. They speak of a vocation for the universal and point to an ethic of social justice and solidarity. The Christian tradition’s account of the humble circumstances of the birth of Jesus, represented in the nativity scene, is in the same spirit, identifying Christ with the marginal, the maligned and the poor.

It has therefore, for many Christians, been depressing to witness the faith of their churches being used to justify the abandonment of such principles in Europe, Donald Trump’s America and beyond. 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. Happily, there are signs that this may change in 2020. Some of the Democrat candidates in next year’s US presidential race are wearing their faith on their sleeve to an unusual extent.

The popularity of Donald Trump among American evangelical Christians is well known. In 2016, 81% of evangelicals and a large majority of US Catholics put Mr Trump’s flawed personal morals to one side, voting for a candidate who would fight their corner in culture wars over same-sex marriage and abortion, as well as on migration. The Pew Research Centre survey this year found that only 25% of evangelicals believe that the US has a responsibility to accept refugees. President Trump’s Catholic former adviser, Steve Bannon, has been a prominent promoter of the supposedly “Judaeo-Christian” values that inform Trumpian nationalism.
...For both secular liberals and Christians, there are lessons to be drawn from what might be seen as a prophetic alliance between Pope Francis and Greta Thunberg on the most urgent issue facing the world: the climate emergency. When Time magazine made Ms Thunberg its person of the year, the Vatican was quick to celebrate her as “a witness to what the church teaches on the care of the environment and the care of the person”. 
The pope has identified the protection of the Amazon rainforest, where this year the greatest levels of deforestation for a decade were recorded, as an environmental priority. But the culture wars being fought in the public square – which have seen Ms Thunberg become a target – are also being played out within the Christian churches. A three-week Rome synod on the Amazon in October was overshadowed by conservative criticism of the Pope’s decision to invite native peoples and welcome their religious symbols. Liberal democracies rightly prize the separation of church and state which emerged following the Enlightenment. But as the reactionary right denigrates ideas of human dignity and equality that can be traced back to the first formulations of early Christianity, liberals of goodwill need to unite across the religious/secular divide in 2020.
There is a civil war underway within Christianity. It's a war for the soul of the faith and right now the dark side is winning.

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."

Radical Christianity, like other forms of fundamentalism, is the grease that enables the slide from secular democracy into illiberal, authoritarian rule. It is not going away without a fight and until we perceive the threat it poses and defend the separation of church and state, it will surely win.  If we want to fend off the emergence of a state religion wedded to the political state we must never forget that there can be no freedom of religion without freedom from religion.


John B. said...

"Martin Luther steht mir bei."

What the heck were they arguing about during those ones and the ones the Calvinists got into with Mother Church? Let's ask Erik Prince. He seems confused enough that I'm sure he must have some bullshit answers that I'd find reassuring.

Best wishes and special thanks for the reminders.

Anonymous said...

Oh I see. You must prefer the "churches" who proudly fly the rainbow flag and support same-sex marriage.

the salamander said...

.. Pomp & Ceremony .. Dogma & Ritual .. Holier Than Thou .. Under The Banner Of Heaven .. Jesus Saves .. Please Pass The Collection Basket.. ergh, Mound.. but The Baby Jesus ! The Holy Bible ! Moses Parted The Sea ! The Burning Bush ! .. Verily I Say Unto You .. ergh !

Religion Is The New Politic .. Politics Is The New Religion.. its the reversible raincoat.. just turn it inside out defending or depending on your mood or the weather.. Its 'any port in a storm' has devolved to Any Port .. Who needs a storm anyway ? Organized Religion is the new moral & ethical koolaid, the magic elexir & zipperless fluck of the political grifters, parasites and their travelling medicine show.

We got Jason Kenney, Donald Trump, Matt Wolf, Huckabee Sanders, Andrew Scheer, Mitch McConnell, Preston Manning.. Hell, Mound.. we got Alex Jones preaching his fundamentalist conspiracies.. and making millions doing so.. Hannity, Ezra Levant.. Its the 'New Order'. Does anyone really believe such ethical cripples would miss a trick by not attending church ? Hell, Jason Kenney promotes 'prayer breakfasts' in Alberta .. Oh WoW .. The pretension levels are turned to full stun..

Its like some sort of performance schtick to WoW diseased thinking dullards. Of course there are decent adherents to every religious belief under the sun.. and my tiny blessing to & unto them. That's OK.. But keep it private unto yourself & yours.. don't feel the urge to promote it unto, into or all over me.. and as per the Golden Rule.. I won't pimp my Mumbo Jumbo superstition on anybody.. not family, friend, passers by, strangers in the night.. Like nobody needs or deserves my vague, blanched out religious jaundice. I aint converting or salvaging a single soul today. I mean hell, its Boxing Day ! Who could care about gawd when the Huwei cel phones are being given away for a mere tithe.. ? Givenchy ladies purses at 1/2 price ! Axe men's deoderant, 50 cents ! C'mon eh !! I'm pro Blasphemy.. a retired altar boy, long since 'saved' multiple times

Today I shalt kneel before and adore .. the holy turkey.. dark or white meat, all please me mightily, please pass the gravy. The Boss's mom is the high priestess, and sun goddess of the almighty free range (pass the salt n pepper wouldya ?) She will be adorned in her holy apron.. and I shalt do the dishes afterward of the holy turkey grail unveiling.. Its pagan as hell.. Is it a sin to have two helpings ? Three ? (pass the dressing thanks..)

thwap said...


Organized religion doesn't seem to have ever strayed too far from the Dark Side. The Catholic Church (besides that pedophilia business) lined up behind the most repressive elements in 20th Century Latin America and against Liberation Theology.

Martin Luther called for violence against the German Peasant's Revolt.

I'm reading E.P. Thompson on the impact of Methodism and "Church and King" Anglicanism.

I'll leave you to deal with the anonymous dimwit.

rumleyfips said...

In Russia, USA and Canada you see the same theme emerge: power hungry authoritarians using fundamentalist support for their own political ends. The Russian orthodox, American evangelicals and Canad's Opus Die will support anyone with an anti-abortion , anti same sex marriage anti freedom of choice agenda. Men of weak character but overwhelming ambition like, Putin, Trump and Sheer are all to eager to exploit the character flaws of these religious extremists.

In Canada, the Sheer racist , misogenous, homophobic crew has been handled for a while. I the US we will find out next November. Russia's future remains a mystery inside an enigma inside a riddle.

The Disaffected Lib said...

Anon, if I could be said to "prefer" any church that would be churches that stay clear of politics. It's that separation that is the foundation for politics to also steer clear of religion.

You strike me as someone who could benefit enormously from reading any of the four books I have mentioned. Reading them all would be vastly better. Yet, for some reason, I have the impression that you might find reading, enlightenment, burdensome.

The Disaffected Lib said...

John, the struggle between two proximate power structures, in this case religious and political, is bound to be eternal. That's okay. One arises out of scripture, the other from the enlightenment. It's when elements of them make common cause that we're at risk.

America's vaunted Founding Fathers were adamant on separation. One of their first acts was to abolish the Church of England of America, their original state religion, after which it became the Episcopalian church. Phillips has a helpful discussion on how the Methodists and Baptists took hold and spread through America, especially the ante bellum South.

The Disaffected Lib said...

Sal, Rumley - I agree. Does it make any difference if you call a Mullah "pastor"? Once you are drawn like a moth to the religious flame of fundamentalism all the rules become scriptural.

Hedges illustrates the inconsistency, contradiction and, ultimately, hypocrisy of the Old Testament. What that does is create passages that are cherry picked as the supposed Word of Gawd, ignoring any concern about reconciling them with contradictory passages. The business about biblical inerrancy is a scam.

The Disaffected Lib said...

Thwap, I am the poorest of theologians yet I think you use too broad a brush in your criticisms. Yes, some religions, especially the most dominant, do tend to abuse the clerical privilege but others are less prone to this.

The point on which we agree isn't about theology but theocracy. That's what is at stake isn't it?

Trailblazer said...

As I have often suggested fundamentalist Christians have had a huge influence upon a more or less don't give a damn electorate.
This goes back to before this..
They; the fundamentalists, cry out that OUR democratically made laws are superseded by the law of god , wherever he/she is?

This gives them carte blanche to deny the basics of democracy ( for what it's worth) and impose their version of the world which inevitably is winner takes all, the lord helps those that help themselves!!


The Disaffected Lib said...

Hi, TB.

Your comment reminds me of an eccentric old barrister, an ex-pat Brit. The fellow was a thoroughly cultivated iconoclast/narcissist who achieved a reasonable degree of prominence. For most of his life he was an impassioned atheist. Very hard core.

I had not heard from him in many years when he contacted me for help. It turns out he'd abandoned atheism for a radical rightwing form of Catholicism. He asked me to review a manuscript he'd written making the case, as he saw it, for a Canadian theocracy.

It turned out that this fellow had cherry picked from a variety of statutes and judgments to build his argument. He knew I was not religious but wanted me to critique it nonetheless.

I did as he asked and spent quite a bit of time on the project largely because of the insights it provided into the narrow thinking of religious extremists. The first thing people such as this fellow would do is to scrap the Charter of Rights and Freedoms as being afoul of their Christian dogma.

I handed the fellow my critique of his manuscript and we never spoke again.

Trailblazer said...

The church has always been about power.
As they say 'absolute power corrupts".
Our modern leaders ,tongue in cheek, take to religion as a fish takes to water.
My goodness, why can't we see passed the mirage of faith, corruption ,power and its influence in attaining votes to further a cause that is quite contrary to most religions?
Perhaps its because that religion has become a scapegoat for absolute greed and intolerance?


Anonymous said...

Martin Luther didn't like Jews either and Hitler used that as well. Religion the proper farce from 2000 years ago. Jesus may have lived and been put to death but it is men 30 years after his death that made Jesus into what he has become today as in the Knight's Templar to begin with.

e.a.f. said...

I refer to the "Christian wing nuts" as the Christian version of the Taliban. They use religion to suppress people and ideas. We have seen in over the centuries when governments/politicians wanted to force people to "obey" the state, the frequently used "the church". "the church" has changed in many countries and the new Pope has taken "the church" into a new direction. Protestants, well we have what I refer to as the "holy rollers" or evanglicals and then the more main stream Protestant churches. Politicians have always been quick to grab religion to further their own ends. that is why the communists always out lawed religion.

I don't believe things will change much because churches, religion is controlled by humans and many of them are deeply flawed. that is what attracted them to religion.

Religion has over the centuries been used to keep the peasants in their place. Not much as changed with extremists in religion, and boy do we have extremists in religion. they use it as a crutch.

The Disaffected Lib said...

EAF, TB - I am concerned that, as we embark on hard times, with all the uncertainty that the climate emergency brings, radical religion will move to assert itself as an instrument of coercive governance. Freedom from religion will become increasingly hard to find, perhaps even crushed. We may succumb to a Christian form of Sharia law. That, I think, is what we must guard against.

e.a.f. said...

Yes, that is my worry, that religion will dictate the law in many countries, especially the U.S.A. where the fanatics of 'christianity' are far more prevalent than we think. The current pres. and his followers are big on smearing Muslims as terrorists, but the real terrorists in the U.S.A. are the religious protestant white 'holy roller' types. They have made huge in roads when it comes to health care, education, etc. We've seen in it Russia with the Russian orthodox church, in some former eastern block countries, religion also plays too much of a role in government. So far in Canada the ideology of Kenney hasn't moved too far. lets hope it dies in Alberta. We had enough with Harper and his cons. He belonged to a religion which believed the bible was inerrant and the end of days was imment. when you have that sort of belief, why care about climate change. Kenny as I understand it is a 'holy roller' version within the Catholic Church.