Sunday, January 20, 2008

Religion: American Babylon

Yesterday I again picked up the Chris Hedges book, American Fascists, about which I wrote a couple of weeks ago, and began reading at the chapter entitled “The New Class.” In this chapter, Hedges tells of a visit to The National Religious Broadcasters convention in Anaheim, California. As an exemplar of the “new class” of the chapter’s title, he writes about his encounter with a woman who shall remain nameless here. This paragon is an entrepreneur, running her own company; the author of several self-improvement titles; and a regular guest on such Christian talk shows as Pat Robertson’s 700 Club. Hedges also mentions several other women, each of whom combines a form of evangelical Christianity with media celebrity, in a corporate context:

The women, minor celebrities in the world of Christian broadcasting, capture the strange fusion between this new, flamboyant gospel of prosperity and America’s celebrity-driven culture. …Wealth, fame and power are manifestations of God’s work, proof that God has a plan and design for believers. (American Fascists, pp.132-133)

The long excerpt which follows encapsulates the core of what I believe to be the great danger facing this nation—American Babylon--and the rest of the world, in the immediate future, and once again describes the symptoms of what I have diagnosed as the cognitive dissonance of the American far-right polity:

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 America 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. [Note: I think that Hedges is giving America the benefit of the doubt with those contentions!] But this new class seeks to reduce the American working class to the levels of this global serfdom. [Note: The Road to Serfdom redefined!] 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 has twisted Christian scripture to serve America’s god of capitalism and discredited the Enlightenment values we once prized. (Ibid., pp.133-134)

Anti-Christ: I have seen the Oligarch and his name is Legion:

A man and a woman
Are two.
A man and a woman and an oligarch
Are legion.

And the merchants of the earth shall weep and mourn over her; for no man buyeth their merchandise any more:
~ Rev.18:11


Kyle R. Cupp said...

So, will you be reading Jonah Goldberg's book? ;)

Rodak said...

Actually, yes, I intend to. Neither of the libraries to which I have access have it yet.
I fell asleep in front of the TV a few days ago and woke up to Jonah being interviewed about the book. I caught parts of the interview while drifting in and out of sleep, but he acquitted himself well in defense of his thesis--as near as I could tell under those circumstances.
Jonah and I go way back to the earliest days of The Corner, when we exchanged many e-mails. Although we seldom agreed on anything, I always respected Jonah's willingness to debate an issue.
He also earned my respect when I once made a disparaging (if funny) remark about Rich Lowry. Rather than getting mad, or not responding at all, Jonah wrote back and simply said, "Look, Rob--Rich is my friend."
So, despite getting nearly everythin completely wrong almost all of the time, Jonah is okay by me.

Kyle R. Cupp said...


"Although we seldom agreed on anything, I always respected Jonah's willingness to debate an issue."

I've noticed that willingness myself. Some (most?) pundits you just can't have a conversation with. Jonah doesn't seem to fall into that company.

Rodak said...

True. I always found him to be generous with his time, in terms of answering email. He also has a winning sense of humor.

An Interested Party said...

I wonder if the facts that Goldberg is willing to debate an issue, sticks by Rich Lowry, is generous with his time, and supposedly has a "winning" sense of humor, can all excuse the fact that he has written a book which basically argues that today's liberals are the ideological children of Fascism and that one of the primary reasons he came up with this theory is that he grew tired of said liberals constantly calling conservatives "fascists"...amazing how the simple act of "I know you are but what am I?" can turn into a 400+ page book...

Rodak said...

You can read some rather harsh criticism--from the right--of Goldberg's book here.
Apparently the actual fascists are more upset by Jonah's thesis than are his alleged "liberal" ones.
That said, I continue to maintain that if a guy--whether it's Goldberg or Derbyshire--takes you seriously enough to take the time to dialogue with you mano-a-mano, he can't be all bad.

An Interested Party said...

Well of course not, Rob, and I wouldn't claim that either person is "all bad", that would simply be a caricature...that being said, Goldberg himself has presented this image that this book is a "serious" piece of work that he has spent an enormous amount of time and effort on...but if the whole premise of his book is that liberals are fascists, then he is proceeding from a silly, laughable notion and can't really expect to be taken seriously...

Rodak said...

Yeah, he'd been working on this book for years and years. Jonah has a kind of Rush Limbaugh type of intelligence--generally functional (within a flawed ideological framework) but full of strange, anomalous, blind spots that don't work even within that right-wing context.
But, not having read the book, I'll withhold judgement on it.

An Interested Party said...

Do let us know your thoughts on "Liberal Fascism" after you've read it...

Rodak said...

I certainly will. My best hope is that it will be entertaining.
My guess is that any plausibility that Goldberg's thesis has is based on his definition, not of "fascist," but, rather of "liberal."
The crowd at What's Wrong With the World, for instance, on their masthead, nominates as the two enemies of civilization Jihad and Liberalism. Since the same kind of people also equate Islam with Fascism, they seem to be making a statement similar to Jonah's, even though they are trashing his book. Well, never look for fairness or intellectual integrity from the foot soldiers of the Thought Police. They wield ideas like truncheons.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Im from Melbourne Australia.

To me the fact that Goldberg's bok is even taken seriously, and glowingly advocated, by so called "conservatives" is indicative of how the "right" have both dumbed down and debased even the possibility of any serious discussion about anything and everything.

And prevented even the possibility of asking real questions.

Three second shouting soundbites rule OK!

What is fascism anyway. It is applied patriarchal politics--no sissies allowed.

The systematically applied politics of fear.

The kind of politics as practiced and promoted by the NRA, the various right wing militias (are there left wing militias?), and by outfits such as Blackwater etc etc.

And as manifested by the attempts of "evangelicals" to "christianise" the US military as part of (the entirely patriarchal) "gods plan" for the working out of his-story in the Middle East and Israel/Palestine---the inherently fascist politics of "armageddon".

And as manifested by the "privatisation" of the military in the past 7-8 years. The people and corporations involved in that "privatisation" project are all by self-definition on the right of the political spectrum. All of which would subscribe to the toxic "world" view promoted by the NR.

There are 2 chapters (14 & 15) in the Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein about how the inherently fascist politics of fear and never ending war has been a mega growth industry for right wing venture capitalists etc etc.

Frontier capitalism rules OK!
We generate our meaning and purpose by our opposition to and attempts to annilhate the barbarian other that is always threatening the boundaries of "civilization".

The injuns---the only good one was/is a dead one.
Then the "communists" or the "red" hoards.
Where do the USA "red" states fit in here.
Now the "jihadists"---the final "showdown" approaches.

Are we (and they) "man" enough to follow through this millenia long battle to its unspeakably dreadful conclusion.

Rodak said...

I agree with much of what you say. Yet, the problem remains that fear of the "other" is a natural phenomenon. Chimpanzees, so primatologists tells us, regularly conduct raids on chimps encroaching upon the boundaries of their territory and brutally kill them. Tribal humans are no different. Anthropology tells us that the name by which many tribal people refer to themselves translates as "the human beings." All other people, no matter how similar, fall outside that definitive category. To bring the same idea to a more "civilized" level, I was told when enrolled in an "Asian Studies" course in college, back in the day, that the Chinese term regularly employed to refer to the Japanese translated as "hairy dwarves."
While true religion--the core of truth in every religion as understood esoterically--has the potential to belay such fear of the other and allow for the unity of All to be perceived, exoteric religion normally only inforces the divisions.