Thursday, March 29, 2012

American Fascists

So I read this book in less than 24 hours.

“American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America”

It was a great and entertaining read. I certainly don’t agree with all of the author’s conclusions or presuppositions, but he makes some great points. One thing we would both agree upon, the methods and attitudes of the American Religious Right stands in stark opposition to the Kingdom of God as taught and modeled by Jesus. For a great treatise on how politics tend to subvert the Kingdom, read “The Myth of a Christian Nation” by Greg Boyd, still the most influential book I have ever read.

“America is a nation where we all have a voice in how we live and how we are governed. We have never fully adhered to these values – indeed, probably never will – but our health as a country is determined by our steadfastness in striving to attain them. And there are times when taking a moral stance, perhaps the highest form of patriotism, means facing down the community, even the nation. Our loyatly to our community and our nation, Reinhold Niebhur wrote, ‘is therefore morally tolerable only if it included values wider than those of the community.”

“Most revolutionary movements, from those in Latin America to those shaped by Islamic militancy in the Middle East, root their radical ideas in what they claim are older, purer traditions.”

“’Hope has two beautiful daughters,’ Augustine wrote. ‘Their names are anger and courage; anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are.’Anger, when directed against movements that would abuse the weak, preach bigotry and in justice, trample the poor, crush dissent and impose a religious tyranny, is a blessing. Read the biblical prophets in First and Second Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah and Amos. Liberal institutions seeing tolerance as the highest virtue, tolerate the intolerant. They swallow the hate talk that calls for the destruction of nonbelievers. Mainstream believers have often come to the comfortable concession that any form of announced religiosity is acceptable, that heretics do not exist.”

“The ecstatic expectation of the Rapture, in which the elect are raised up into heaven, while the damned suffer unspeakable torments below, creates, for the despairing, a dramatic and miraculous reversal of roles. This belief comforts those thrust aside in America, and in an age of greater and greater inequality, allows people to privatize their morality. They are told that people who suffer are responsible for their suffering; they must not be right with God. These believers can ignore their own social responsibility for inadequate inner-city schools, for the 18 percent of American children who don’t get enough to eat each day, for the homeless, for the mentally ill. They accept the curtailing of federal assistance programs and turn inward, assisting only those within their exclusive Christian community and damning the world outside. This social concern is replaced by tiny, more manageable acts of personal charity, such as giving food packages to a family in the church or teaching young girls about abstinence. [A lady being interviewed] like many in the movement, has little time for those who depend on the state . Goodness has become, in the new creed of the Christian Right, a question of judgment and carries with it condemnation. The movement allows marginalized people the pleasure of denouncing others, of condemning those they fear becoming. The condemnations give them the illusion of distance, as if by denouncing the indigent they are protected from becoming indigent. But this road also leads to a disastrous disengagement with the larger, more complicated systems and imbalances that fuels poverty and injustice.”

“’Freud had not compunction in calling the relationship that crowds forge with an absolute leader an erotic one,’ wrote Mark Edmundson. ‘In this [Freud] was seconded by Hitler, who suggested that in this speeches he made love to the German masses. What happens when members of the crowd are ‘hypnotized’ (that is the word Freud uses) by a tyrant? The tyrant takes the place of the over-I, and for a variety of reasons he stays there. What he offers to individual superego is inconsistent and often inaccessible because it is unconscious, the collective superego, the leader, is clear and absolute in his values. By promulgating one code – one fundamental way of being – he wipes away the differences between different people, with different codes and different values, which are a source of anxiety to the psyche.’”__

“Before they seize power and establish a world according to their doctrines, totalitarian movements conjure up a lying world of consistency which is more adequate to the needs of the human mind than reality itself; in which, through sheer imagination, uprooted masses can feel at home and are spared the never-ending shocks which real life and real experiences deal to human beings and their expectations. The force possessed by totalitarian propaganda – before the movements have the power to drop iron curtains to prevent anyone’s disturbing, by the slightest reality, the gruesome quiet of an entirely imaginary world – lies in its ability to shut the masses off from the real world.” – Hannah Arendt, in “The Origins of Totalitarianism”

[On the creation museum in Petersburg, KY] “When facts are treated as if they were opinions, when there is no universal standard by which to determine truth in law, in science, in scholarship, or in the reporting of the events of the day, the world becomes a place where lies become true, where people can believe what they want to believe, where there is no possibility of reaching any conclusion not predetermined by those who interpret the official, divinely inspired text.”

“This is the apotheosis of capitalism, the divine sanction of the free market, of unhindered profit and the most rapacious cruelties of globalization. Corporations, rapidly turning American into an oligarchy, have little interest in Christian ethics, or anybody’s ethics. They know what they have to do, as the titans of the industry remind us, for their stockholders. They are content to increase profit at the expense of those who demand fair wages, health benefits, safe working conditions and pensions. This new oligarchic class is creating a global marketplace where all workers, to compete, will have to become like workers in dictatorships such as China: denied rights, their wages dictated to them by the state, and forbidden from organizing or striking. America once attempted to pull workers abroad up to American levels, to foster the building of foreign labor unions, to challenge the abuse of workers in factories that flood the American market with cheap goods. But this new class seeks to reduce the American working class to the levels of this global serfdom. After all, anything that drains corporate coffers is a loss of freedom – the God-given American freedom to exploit other human beings to make money. The marriage of this gospel of prosperity with raw, global capitalism, and the flaunting of the wealth and privilege it brings, are supposedly blessed and championed by Jesus Christ. Compassion is relegated to private, individual acts of charity or left to churches. The callousness of the ideology, the notion that it in any way reflects the message of the gospels, which were preoccupied with the poor and the outcasts, illustrates how the new class [of certain groups of evangelicals] has twisted Christian scripture to serve America’s god of capitalism and discredited the Enlightenment values we once prized.”

“I don’t think it is wrong to want to see political change, especially in places like Latin America. Something has to happen in politics. But it has to be based on convictions. We have to overcome the sense of despair. I worked in Latin America in the days when almost every country had a dictator. I dreamed, especially as a kid, of change, of freedom and justice. But I believe that change comes from personal conviction, from leading a more biblical lifestyle, not by Christianizing a nation. If we become called to Christ, we will build an effective nation through personal ethics. When you lead a life of purity, when you respect your wife and are good to your family, when you don’t waste money gambling and womanizing [I would add on other things, too], you begin to work for better schools, for more protection and safety for your community. All change, historically, comes from the bottom up. And this means changing the masses from within.” – Luis Palau

“One of the most striking traits of the inner life of a crowd is the feeling of being persecuted, a peculiar angry sensitiveness and irritability directed against those it has once and forever nominated as enemies. These can behave in any manner, harsh or conciliatory, cold or sympathetic, sever or mild – whatever they do will be interpreted as springing from an unshakable malevolence, a premeditated intention to destroy the crowd, openly or by stealth.” – Elias Canetti, in “Crowds and Power”

In rallies like those of [Russel] Johnson’s Ohio tour, friends, neighbors, colleagues and family members who do not conform to the ideology are gradually dehumanized. They are tained with the despised characteristics inherent in the godless. This attack is waged in highly abstract terms, to negate the reality of concrete, specific and unique human characteristics, to deny the polsiliby of goodness in those who do not conform. Some human beings, the message goes, are no longer human beings. They are types. This new, exclusive community fosters rigidity, conformity and intolerance. In this new binary world segments of the human race are disqualified from moral and ethical consideration. And because fundamentalist followers live in a binary universe, they are incapable of seeing others as anything more than inverted reflections of themselves. If they seek to destroy nonbelievers to create a Christian America, then nonbelievers must be seeking to destroy them. This belief system negates the possibilitiy of theethical life. It fails to grasp that goodness must be sought outside the self and that the best defense against evil is to seek it within. When people come to believe that they are immune from evil, that there is no semblance between themselves and those they define as the enemy, they will inevitably grow to embody the evil they claim to fight. It is only by grasping our own capacity for evil, our own darkness, that we hold our own capacity for evil at bay. When evil is always external, then moral purification always entails the eradication of others.”

“[Tim] LaHaye and [Jerry] Jenkins had to distort the Bible to make all this [the events of their “Left Behind” series] fit – the Rapture, along with the graphic details of the end of the world and the fantastic time line, is never articulated in the Bible = but all this is solved by picking out obscure and highly figurative passages and turning them into fuzzy allegory to fit the apocalyptic vision. This stygian nightmare is, rather, a visceral and disturbing expression of how believers feel about themselves and the world. The horror of apocalyptic violence – the final aesthetic of the movement – at once frightens and thrills followers. It feeds fantasies of revenge and empowerment. It is an ominous reminder that failing to follow God’s commands will ensure their own eternal damnation. LaHaye has a checkered past that includes years of working for the John Birch Society and many more peddling quack theories such as ‘temperment analysis,’ which purports to be a system to identify predominant characteristics, strengths and weaknesses to help people make vocational, personal and marital decisions… In short, before becoming the champion of a Christian America and the apocalypse he madehis living as a fortune-teller. LaHaye has helped found and lead numerous right-wing groups, including the Council for National Policy, and he is not only the nation’s best-selling author, but also one of the dominionists’ most powerful propagandists.”

“Cardinal Roger Mahony, the head of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, the nation’s largest, has called on Catholics to be prepared to defy the laws now being considered in Congress and backed by the Christian Right that make it a felony to shield or protect or offer support to illegal immigrants. Such civil disobedience would be an act of faith… Programs to protest or establish community, to direct federal and state assistance to those truly left behind, those trapped in America’s urban ghettos and blighted former manufacturing towns, are acts of faith.”

“I have seen that it is not man who is impotent in the struggle against evil, but the power of evil that is impotent in the struggle against man. The powerlessness of kindness, of senseless kindness is the secret of its immortality. It can never be conquered. The more stupid, the more senseless, the more helpless it may seem, the vaster it is. Evil is impotent before it. The prophets, religious teachers, reformers, social and political leaders are impotent before it. This dumb, blind love is man’s meaning.

Human history is not the battle of good struggling to overcome evil. It is a battle fought by a great evil struggling to crush a small kernel of human kindness. But if what is human in human beings has not been destroyed even now, then evil will never conquer.” – Russian novelist Vasily Grossman in “Life and Fate.”

“There can be no liberty for a community which lacks the means by which to detect lies.” – Walter Lippmann

Chris Hedges also goes after the other side in his book, “When Atheism Becomes Religion: America’s New Fundamentalists”

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