On this Easter Sunday, I reflect that among the followers of Jesus were sex workers. In the Gospel of Matthew, an particularly telling exchange takes place between Chief Priests and Elders who have questioned Jesus’ very authority. In response, he tells a parable, which concludes, “I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.” Though much has changed between now and then, this statement still has the power to shock and offend.
Tag: American culture
Apr 24 2011
Dec 15 2009
In Empire of Illusion, Chris Hedges examines the pervasive ways in which Americans are separated from the complexities of reality and become trapped in a mind-killing, reality-destroying, one-dimensional existence. For most of them, there is no way out of this corporate capitalist prison; for most of them, there is no escape; they can’t even try to escape because they don’t even know they’ve been locked up. They don’t see the guard towers, they don’t see the walls, they don’t even saw the bars of their own cells.
Chris Hedges . . .
We consume countless lies daily, false promises that if we spend more money, if we buy this brand or that product, if we vote for this candidate, we will be respected, envied, powerful, loved, and protected. Reality is dismissed and shunned as an impediment to success, a form of negativity, it is condemned as defeatist. Those who question, those who doubt, those who are critical, those who are able to confront reality and who grasp the hollowness of this culture, are shunned and condemned for their pessimism.
Human beings have become a commodity. They are objects, like consumer products. They have no intrinsic value. Life is a brutal world of unadulterated competition. Life is about the personal humiliation of those who oppose us. Those who win are the best. Those who lose deserve to be erased. Compassion, competence, intelligence, and solidarity with others are forms of weakness.
In accordance with these lethal illusions, progressives are weak and deserve to be erased. Conservatives are strong and deserve to rule. Capitalism is sacred. Conformity is sanctified. Dissent is condemned. The corporate media pounds this narrative into the public consciousness every hour of every day, in every conceivable way, through every visual, aural, emotional, and psychological form of communication ever devised. The consequences have been devastating.
Jul 17 2009
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about what (from my rabid-atheist perspective) appears to be a firm grip by the churches of America on those who attend church. I’m beginning to understand something: it isn’t that the church has a grip on the parishioners, it’s that the parishioners have a grip on the church. See, down here in the US South, “church” isn’t just a building you go to one hour a week, it’s the centerpiece of the local people’s entire culture. It’s where you see your friends and neighbors, it’s where your kids go when they’re Cub Scouts and Girl Scouts (you’d be amazed how many Scout troops are hosted in church basements), it’s where at least two people I know met and wooed their spouses (and where at least one person I know met the person he cheated on his wife with), and at the end of it all, it’s where the living go to bury their dead, knowing with certainty that they too will someday be buried there next to generations of their own people. Vacation trips, charity drives, study groups, knitting circles, art classes, the church is at the center of all of it for the majority of Americans, and not just down here in the South.
What do we secularists have to offer in place of this richness? The sad, barren truth, without even the dubious comfort of an uppercase “T” on the word? The truth that there is no God and when you’re dead, you’re dead and you’ll never see your loved ones again? And we wonder why we have, shall we say, a bit of a “PR problem”.
Secular humanism will overcome “church” the day that secular humanism offers something better. And to be perfectly blunt, “the truth about how the world is” just isn’t perceived by most people as “better”. We need more than just “the truth”, much more. I’m not sure that secularism as currently constituted even has the potential to replace “church”, if for no other reason than the fact that it simply isn’t set up structurally to answer the same set of human needs that “church” answers.
Mar 31 2009
Every time the French get a little irked, they shout “To The Barricades!” and do stuff like this, while we get whipped and snivel “Oh please sir, might I have just a bit more gruel?” And that, my friend, is why the frenchies have a 38-hour work week and get to spend the whole month of August lying on the Med beaches, while we have whatever the heck it is we have ….
Hundreds of French workers, angry about proposed layoffs at a Caterpillar office, were holding executives of the company hostage Tuesday, a spokesman for the workers said.
Oct 22 2008
Crossposted to The Crusty Polemicist
“Two thousand years of Judeo-Christianity have not obscured the fact that pagan thought has not yet disappeared, even though it has often been blurred, stifled or persecuted by monotheistic religions and their secular offshoots.”
Alain De Benoist
People here in the US don’t speak much about “culture” anymore, not in any real sense. To speak these days about things like “a culture” or “a people,” and to demand that such things be taken seriously, is to invite smirks at best, anxious frowns at worst. I believe that the new century will contain certain centrifugal forces that will enable us – force us – to take these things seriously again.
The US has always comforted itself with the myth of the “melting pot.” What we actually have – what we have always had, if the truth is to be told – is more like the southern French dish called “Cassoulet.” A large, bubbling pot full of chunks of disparate, bizarrely matched ingredients. When people speak of “an” American culture, they are willfully insisting on the myth of the smoothly mixed “melting pot” rather than the uncomfortable reality of the American cassoulet. American culture as such does not exist. In place of the culture is the shared assertion that “We are all Americans!” From the perspective of authentic cultures, this is a non-statement. It simply says, “We believe in the same ideas.” So saying, “I am an American” means nothing more than “I accept the same propositions that you do.” In a nation where even the illusion of such unity of beliefs and values lies shattered on the ground, this entire model collapses – and the US has nothing authentic with which to replace it.
Once the chimera of “shared ideas and values” is seen for what it is, we are confronted with a Bizarro World free-jazz interpretation of an authentic culture. By the time Americans’ ancestral cultures have been fed into the maw of the great American degradation machine and shat out the other end, they are nothing more than a collection of Disney Land “small world” artifacts bearing no more resemblance to authentic cultures than “Saint Patty’s Day” bears a resemblance to my ancestral Gaelic culture that it purports to “celebrate.” The idea that a nation can simply manufacture a culture at will is not only the height of hubris, it also misses the point.
With the idea of “an” American culture exposed for the myth that it has always been, perhaps it is time to rediscover and renew our faith in the authentic cultures of the ancestors we left behind. Not so that we can “celebrate our heritage” in some typically shallow, mercantile little ritual of consumption. But rather so that we can have a true understanding of who we are and where we are from. As the “American idea” vanishes into smoke and faerie dust, this may be the only thing we have to hang on to, the only firm ground on which we can stand.
When I drive along the shore of the Mediterranean from Barolo to Monaco to Nice to Provence to the scrublands of Languedoc to the small rocky beach at Banyuls-sur-Mer, regions where the locals are once again demanding that their homelands be called by their true names – Catalonia, Occitania, Savoy – I rejoice in the multitude of alive, vital, authentic cultures. When I drive from mad King Ludwig’s castle across the Rhine and into the heart of wine country in regions that the locals are once again proud to call Bayern and Alsace and Bourgogne, I rejoice. Any place where an authentic culture grounded in an authentic people survives and even occasionally thrives in this flat, dull, monotonous, pasteurized, globalized, Disneyfied world, I rejoice in them. And I salute them.
Sep 04 2008
Piety and Politics: The Right-Wing Assault on Religious Freedom, by Rev. Barry W. Lynn, New York: Harmony, 2007 , 270 pp. hardcover
Barry Lynn is angry. Furious, in fact. And the object of the man’s fury is the politicized, evangelical religious fanaticism that has seized control of America’s moral discourse. As a minister in the United Church of Christ and executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Lynn is an unlikely figure to be standing in the front ranks against the tide of militant Christianity that threatens the United States. Unlikely or not, Lynn seems to be hitting the right keys and pressing the right buttons: he has incurred the wrath of right-wingers like Jerry Falwell and Patrick Buchanan, and Lynn has the distinction of having once been described by Pat Robertson as “lower than a child molester.” If one can be known by one’s enemies, then I like the guy already.
Lynn does not waste any time, wading right into the middle of the battle almost from the first page. He takes an almost boyish delight in going toe-to-toe with the Religious Right on some of their favorite obsessions: public education, religious symbols, the church in politics, censorship and sexual politics. Lynn believes that the Religious Right has it all wrong, that their Bible-based worldview is an unacceptable basis for approaching the question of how America should be run. He demands that American politicians stop their pandering attempts to use the Bible to justify their actions and instead put their faith in the document that they are all sworn to defend: the U.S. Constitution. But Lynn is no wide-eyed naïf; he knows the history of his country, and he understand how tenuous the separation of Church and State is, especially now.
“When, in the history of the world, has a union of church and state ever been a good thing?” With these words, Lynn attempts to reason with the fundamentalists, posing a question that they are unwilling to consider and ill equipped to answer. Unlike the Religious Right, Lynn knows the true history of his country, and is able to describe religion’s long struggle to usurp America’s secular system of government. Those Americans who believe that the current spasm of fundamentalism is something new, or even exceptional, will perhaps take comfort from Lynn’s insightful analysis of the history of a fanaticism that has always been embedded in the fabric of American culture, and his explanation of how America has (so far) survived the ill effects of this fanaticism.
Quite simply, there was never a time when some form of struggle between secularism and fanaticism was not taking place. We must remember that the first colonists in New England came to the New World seeking religious freedom because their fanatical brand of religiosity was too radical for the Europe of the time. Mind you, we are talking about a Europe riddled with religious wars, a Europe where witches were burned along side heretics who dared to claim the Earth was not the center of the universe. And yet America’s “Puritan forefathers” were too radical to be tolerated in that environment. If we keep this thought at hand, we have no problem understanding the eruptions of bizarre religiosity that litter American history with almost monotonous regularity.
In the 19th century, “tensions over religion in public school rode so high … that in 1844 a riot erupted after rumors circulated that schools were going to remove Protestant religious exercises.” An organization called the National Reform Association (the Moral Majority of its time) engaged in a protracted campaign to have an amendment to the Constitution declare that America was “a Christian nation,” and propagandized at the local level to write into law the idea that commerce and revelry should be curtailed on “The Lord’s Day” (an idea that continues to enjoy wide support throughout many areas of the U. S. to this day).
Very little changed in the 20th century, except that the Religious Right became more sophisticated and clever as they struggled to infect the Constitution with the virus of religiosity. Lynn reminds us that the seemingly immutable slogans “one nation, under God” and “In God We Trust” are relatively recent innovations, driven by the decision in the 1950s to recruit God “in the battle against juvenile delinquency and communism.” The propaganda campaign to portray secularism as “some amoral, libertine perspective on life” also gained enormous traction in the second half of the 20th century, and not just among those who were obvious fringe cases. One cannot help but think of Joe Lieberman during the 2000 presidential campaign, making the truly alarming claim in his stump speech that “faith is necessary for good behavior.”
Lynn oscillates between sadness and ill-concealed amusement when he discusses the fact that, in the United States, “secularism is mandated by the government, but religion still pervades the culture with a strong and vibrant voice. In much of Europe, there is no government mandate of secularism, but the cultures are effectively secular.” This is no exaggeration: I have driven through much of Europe, from the Spanish border to Bavaria, and it is only in Italy that one sees even a faint echo of the old religious madness. For the most part, the old churches of Europe, from the grand cathedrals to the most humble village church, are now nothing more than museums. As Lynn observes, the churches of Europe “lack for only one thing: congregants.”
Lynn seems to recognize, at least implicitly, that America’s tribal and atavistic religiosity will never wither away the way it did in Europe. There is something unique about the tightening grip that religion has on America, something toxic and not a little bit mad. Yet even within this historical context, Lynn is forced to admit, “I’ve never seen the situation this bad.” The disease of religious fanaticism has mutated, growing ever more dangerous as it turns the tools of modernity against modernity itself in a struggle to undermine America’s secular foundations.
Lynn has no illusions about the nature and ambitions of America’s new crop of fundamentalists. “I’ve studies the tactics of these groups for more than thirty years. I know what they want. They want to run your life, mine, and everyone else’s as much as they possibly can.” While these Christian zealots always portray themselves as oppressed and marginalized, “members of the clergy walk the halls of Congress … pressing their views and often being warmly received. You see them in the senators’ dining room. I’ve been there myself.” These influential members of the clergy – effectively, lobbyists for the Christian fundamentalist worldview – have admirable persistence and remarkable message discipline. Everything wrong in this country, without exception, can be laid at the feet of the godless and dubious plot by secularists and their lackeys to promulgate the separation of Church and State. Whether it is rampant immorality, plunging SAT scores, the epidemic of unwed motherhood, gay marriage, or the scourge of drugs in our urban ghettoes, all of it is the fault of the separation of Church and State. If only America could go back to those halcyon days when religion was the basis of every aspect of American life, all would be well.
This is a seductive message, perhaps because of its simplicity, perhaps because it appeals to the seemingly universal yearning for a Golden Age that never was. America’s Golden Age was brought to ruin when “that mean old Supreme Court, prodded by an atheist, intervened and threw prayer out” of the public schools. Within this context, an “activist judge” is “simply a judge who writes an opinion the Religious Right doesn’t like.” As a proudly “God-centered” Bush administration loaded the American judicial system with judges who held the “correct views,” the leaders of the fundamentalist movement, never noted for their timidity, shook off the last of their inhibitions and began to speak more openly about their grand vision of what a God-besotted American future would look like. Lynn cleverly allows fundamentalists such as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson to reveal themselves – and betray themselves – with their own words. They really do make it almost too easy for Lynn to mock them and then dispose of them.
We are dealing, after all, with men who genuinely believe that “God punishes communities that displease him with hurricanes, floods, and meteors; who assert that demons control major U.S. cities and who think Harry Potter books lure children into practicing witchcraft.” As he offers us up a seemingly endless smorgasbord of choice tidbits from the mouthpieces of the Religious Right, Lynn gives us a feel for the deeply strange beliefs of America’s fundamentalists, an archaic, tribal view of the world that would seem more at home being articulated by some shaman crouched around a Neolithic campfire, or by a priest standing atop an Aztec sacrificial pyramid. The fact that this deeply uncivilized way of understanding the world finds millions of adherents in the world’s sole remaining superpower should do more than give us pause – it should scare the hell out of us.
What Lynn gives us along with his analysis of the thinking of the Religious Right is a deep and disturbing sense of how radically opposed to America’s freedoms these people really are. They want to control what all citizens do, and they are perfectly willing to enlist the government, the courts and law-enforcement if that is what it takes to rid themselves of the burden of a freedom that they are unwilling to embrace. Lynn, to his credit, continues to believe that the American people are too smart to stand for this, and that most Americans want a government that is free of religious dicta. Those of us who share his deep concern for the influence of the Religious Right in American life can only hope that he is right. I for one do not share his optimism.
Lynn tells us that “a get-along philosophy … will increasingly prove disastrous” and that we will end up “whistling past the graveyard of our Bill of Rights and religious freedom if we take that road.” Yet, having said this, Lynn continues to preach restraint and an insistence on “sweet reason” as the best approach for dealing with the predations of the fundamentalists. Relating an anecdote about a televised confrontation with a member of the Religious Right, Lynn recalls that the host told him off-camera, “your side isn’t as passionate as his side.” Therein lies an enormous problem, and therein lies the reason that in America today, the Religious Right marches on, rampant though not (yet) completely triumphant. The forces of common sense and reason continue to lose ground to the forces of religious bigotry and intolerance. And in a country where every candidate for public office feels compelled to outdo the others with ever more over-the-top proclamations of personal religiosity, the problem is not going to go away when a new tenant moves into the White House.
While Lynn remains a strong proponent of a rational, even-handed approach, one occasionally gets an exciting sense of the rhetorical power that Lynn must deploy when he is in the pulpit and the spirit moves him. I found myself wishing for more of the sort of fire that Lynn displays when he shouts – and though they are only words on the page, I had no problem imaging him shouting them — “I am weary of their gay bashing. I am weary of their crude attacks on nonbelievers. I am weary of their constant effort to sneak their bogus “creation science” into our schools. I am weary of their meddling in the most intimate areas of our private lives. I am weary of their attempts to politicize houses of worship. I am weary of all that they do.”
Preach on, Reverend.
Dec 31 2007
I just have to share this:
Here’s a little sample:
10. Alberto Gonzales
Crimes: The most truckling, amoral flunky to ever serve as Attorney General. A jurisprudent organelle, he manifests no concept of the law independent of its expediency to the president. Would smilingly accuse himself of providing material support to al Qaeda at President Bush’s request, hurriedly plead guilty, sign his own death warrant and flip the switch himself. His testimony before congressional committees is to public service what cholera is to the small intestine. As first Hispanic Attorney General, Gonzo typifies the self-betrayal and ethical compromise necessary for minorities to become successful Republicans. Been felching sweet approval from Bush’s lily-white ass since Texas. A conscienceless, memo-drafting, loophole-crafting liar for hire, pushing for all the worst administration policies, including nixing habeas corpus, denying and then defending rendition, torture, political firings, and a ton of other evil stuff. He even visited a seriously ill and disoriented John Ashcroft at the hospital, attempting to coax him into reauthorizing a clearly illegal wiretapping program. The only Attorney General who ever could have made John Ashcroft a sympathetic character by contrast.
Exhibit A: “The fact that the Constitution — again, there is no express grant of habeas in the Constitution. There is a prohibition against taking it away.”
Sentence: Death by dull guillotine, head bent by Beckham.
Nobody gets off the hook here. If you’re a Hillary Clinton supporter, you might want to skip this one: