Browsing the blog archivesfor the day Saturday, September 22nd, 2007.


Un-atoned

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Religion

I’ve been reading Chris Hedges’s excellent book American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War On America. Hedges emphasizes the authoritarian nature of the Christian Right. For example:

The hypermasculinity of radical Christian conservatism, which crushes the independence and self-expression of women, is a way for men in the movement to compensate for the curtailing of their own independence, their object obedience to church authorities and the calls for sexual restraint. It is also a way to cope with fear. Those who lead these churches fear, perhaps most deeply, their own internal contradictions. They make war on the internal contradictions of others. Those who are not subdued, who do not bow before the church authorities, are seen as contaminants. Believers are driven into a primitive state, a prenatal existence, a return to the womb and a life of submission. [Chris Hedges, American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War On America (Free Press, 2006), pp. 78-79]

What’s messed up about this beside the obvious is that these people call themselves evangelicals. And evangelicalism started out as a non-authoritarian religious movement. Believe it or not, the original evangelicalism that formed in the 18th century emphasized freedom of conscience and individual conviction over church authority, and most early evanglicals fiercely supported separation of church and state.

The latter was true because evangelicals often were victims of church-state oppression. Bill Moyers said,

On another trip to New England I drove through Lynn, Massachusetts. There, in 1751, Obadiah Holmes was given thirty stripes with a three-corded whip after he violated the colonial law against taking communion with another Baptist. Baptists were only a “pitiful negligible minority” in Massachusetts but they were denounced as “the incendiaries of the Commonwealth and the infectors of persons in matter of religion.” For refusing to pay tribute to the official state religion they were fined, flogged, and exiled. Holmes refused the offer of friends to pay his fine so that he could be released. He refused the strong drink they said would anesthetize the pain. Sober, he endured the ordeal; sober still, he would one day write: “It is the love of liberty that must free the soul.”

But we have come full circle, and now much of American evangelicalism has been taken over by authoritarians who want to fine, flog, and exile everyone who disagrees with them. Indeed, the word evangelical has come to mean “intolerant and authoritarian right-wing religious whackjob” to many people.

Hedges is a Christian himself, which informs his observances. He writes (pp. 80-81),

The petrified, binary world of fixed, immutable roles is a world where people, many of them damaged by bouts with failure, despair and their own ambiguities, can bury their chaotic and fragmented personalities and live with the illusion that they are now strong, whole and protected. … By submitting to the Christian leader, and to a powerful male God who will destroy those who misbehave, followers avoid dealing with life. The movement seeks, above all, to banish mystery, the very essence of faith. Not only is the binary world knowable and predictable, but finally God is knowable and predictable.

Many people look at religious whackjobs and conclude that religion has made them fearful and corrupted their ability to think rationally. I think it’s close to the truth to say that whackjobs create God in their own image — Whackjob God.

Slate has been running a conversation between evangelical David Kuo and Hanna Rosin, author of God’s Harvard: A Christian College on a Mission To Save America. The book focuses on students of Patrick Henry College, who are mostly home-schooled Christians. Rosin wrote,

Who really is an evangelical, and is it fair to have a tiny—and some would say fringe—school stand in for an entire movement? Well, you and I both know that evangelical is a fairly meaningless term these days. Catholics use it. Democrats use it. In social science statistics on divorce, teenage sexuality, even abortion, people who call themselves “evangelical” look just like the rest of America.

When I say “evangelical,” I am thinking of that elite subgroup that goes to church at least once a week.

To which Kuo replied,

Virtually all surveys show that 30 percent to 40 percent of Americans go to church once a week. There are a lot of evangelicals out there even if, as you point out, they lead lives that are virtually indistinguishable from other Americans when it comes to divorce, abortion, and the like. I’ve argued that part of the reason for that is the political obsession of many evangelical leaders, which has in turn seduced so many evangelicals. It is that obsession and seduction that is so beautifully and horribly laid out in God’s Harvard. As you recounted over and over, there was no differentiation between Jesus and politics. There was the absolute understanding that to serve Jesus meant to grasp power and manipulate the political system for God’s gain. Sadly, this isn’t anything new. It is precisely the sort of thing that Jesus came to defeat.

About halfway through the book, something struck me. Not a single student quoted Jesus’ sayings to you in justifying their politics. Their justification came from Old Testament admonitions about power. They didn’t quote Jesus—at least as related in the book.

Why? It is because it would be impossible to quote Jesus urging young Christian men and women to tackle the political battlefield as if going unto war. It is because Jesus’ commands have everything to do with sacrificially loving others and nothing to do with influencing the makeup of the U.S. Supreme Court.

I am not saying that Christians shouldn’t have a political voice. They should. But they should do it as citizens with opinions in public policy and not as “Christians” presuming they have Jesus’ answer to problems—because on virtually every position, they do not. It is perfectly possible to be a Bible-believing, Jesus-loving, born-again Christian and have different perspectives on everything from abortion to Iraq. And that perspective is what is missing from Patrick Henry.

My understanding is that the word evangelical comes from the same root Greek word as gospel, which loosely translates as “good news.” An evangelicalism that de-emphasizes the Gospels has been pulled pretty far from its roots.

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The Boogeyman

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blogging

The Right is still trying to whip up hysteria over Moveon.org. Now they’re dredging up association with The Boogeyman — George Soros. Investors Business Daily is running an article called “George Soros: The Man, The Mind And The Money Behind MoveOn.” Folks, this is a textbook example of first-rate propaganda.

One paragraph popped out at me:

Best known among these groups is MoveOn.org, a previously small fringe-left group to which Soros has given $5 million since 2004. Bulked up by cash, the group now uses professional public relations tactics to undercut the Iraq War effort, with its latest a full-page New York Times ad that branded Gen. Petraeus “General Betray Us.”

First: The truth is that Soros gave Moveon.org $5 million IN 2004, and as near as I can tell from googling he’s not given them a penny since. Soros threw a lot of money around in 2003 and 2004 to try to defeat George Bush, but he was MIA in 2006 and I haven’t heard that he has any plans regarding next year’s elections. Yet the Right continues to evoke the name of the evil Soros as if he were the mastermind behind all their opposition.

The consensus among lefties of my acquaintance, btw, is that Soros spent his money in stupid ways, and if he really wanted to help us he would bankroll leftie media infrastructure. But as far as U.S. politics is concerned he seems to have taken his wallet and gone home.

Also, before Soros gave them money Moveon had already moved on from “small fringe-left group” status. “By early 2003, MoveOn boasted more than 750,000 members in the United States and hundreds of thousands more overseas,” it says here.

But I have to hand it to the IBD editorialists — this is how propaganda is written. They juxtapose the names of Soros and Moveon in paragraph after paragraph to make it appear there’s actually a connection. They patch together some semi-true statements — Soros did give Moveon $5 million — in a way that conveys an impression of wrongdoing without making explicit accusations. And Captain Ed fell for it, hook, line, and sinker.

And, frankly, it wouldn’t bother me if there were an ongoing relationship between Soros and Moveon, but I am reasonably certain the only real connection was the $5 million Soros gave Moveon in 2004.

Toward the bottom of the IBD editorial:

Soros usually doesn’t offer up or endorse specific candidates for office. His chief aim seems to be tearing down Bush, driving the Democrats to the far left and enforcing party discipline through fear. In fact, he seems to like keeping Democrats guessing whether or not he’s offended.

The strategy seems to be working. No Democrat had the courage to cross MoveOn.org after its libelous Petraeus ad. On Thursday, a symbolic vote in Congress censuring MoveOn.org for the Petraeus ad passed, but with the notable absence of both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Election looming, neither wants to cross Soros’ MoveOn.org.

I know for a fact that Soros had absolutely nothing to do with the “betrayus” ad. And it’s us liberal bloggers the Dems are afraid of, not Soros. Not yet afraid enough, but we’ve made some progress since 2004.

Update: I see that several of Captain Ed’s commenters are repeating the old lie (perpetrated by Bill O’Reilly) that Media Matters is also funded by Soros. Media Matters says it “has never received funding from Soros, either directly or indirectly.”

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