Thursday, April 3, 2008

Chris Hedges & left theocrats today

American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America, Chris Hedges, New York: The Free Press, 2006.
Reviewed by Gregory Zucker
Logos 7.1 - winter 2008

Note some telling statements from this review:
"While providing a few insights and interesting anecdotes, he never moves beyond description into the realm of solid analysis."

"Each chapter begins with a tone-setting quote from a political thinker on the appeal of fascism or else from a theologian espousing the Christian beliefs that Hedges argues represent the true essence of Christianity in contrast to its widespread right-wing perversion."

"Hedges’ treatment would have benefited greatly by bringing in Marx, Durkheim, Weber, or Freud, to name only a few preceding analysts of this sort of angst or anomie. These thinker understood that modernity decimates religion’s capacity to explain or ‘enchant’ the world. At the same time, modernity increases religion’s appeal as a shield should society fail to shield people from harmful repercussions. Unrestrained capitalism, social fragmentation, and bureaucratization are only a few of modernity’s products that, in the absence of social forces buffering their effects, might drive people back into the eager arms of the priest, rabbi, or mullah."

"Rather than undertake a critique of religion, Hedges compares the religious right to non-religious movements."

"Ironically, Hedges does argue for upholding the Enlightenment values that engendered modernity, but is unclear exactly what aspects of the Enlightenment need to be upheld. The religious right’s success is due in no small way to the fact that it embraced two legacies of the Enlightenment: capitalism and liberalism. It aligned itself with capital and used liberal language to defend the right of its flock to doctrinaire belief. What it vehemently opposes is the Enlightenment’s ethical vision and devotion, if that’s the word, to reason. These legacies are problematic for Hedges too since part of his program for confronting the religious right is a renewal of progressive Christianity. The rub is that the Enlightenment, and the modernity it helped usher in, poses a challenge to faith in general, not just to one specific politicized manifestation of it."

"Hedges is not only a journalist, but a graduate of Harvard Divinity School. So perhaps the book might offer an immanent critique of the movement. There is an argument to be made that modernity and faith can be reconciled, that is, if Hedges had given progressive theologians like Niebuhr more attention. But Hedges doesn’t bother to expose internal contradictions in evangelical arguments. Instead, he tells readers to accept that “God is inscrutable, mysterious and unknowable.” (p. 8) Recommended is the Christianity that Hedges’ says informed his father, a progressive pastor, in support of the Civil Rights Movement, homosexuals, and opposition to the Vietnam War. "

"Hedges is correct to fear the threat that the movement poses to democracy. But, sharing anecdotes and describing a few features of the movement does little to help. The real task is to provide viable solutions for confronting the movement, which Hedges fails to do. This cannot be done without more studies that explain why this socio-historical moment has produced a successful Christian fundamentalism and requires a multi-leveled analysis that engages the history, sociology, politics, and ideology of the movement. Of course, the most difficult part is providing reasons for why these faithful should embrace a progressive political alternative instead."
This is a rather polite critique of Hedges' faulty perspective. I attended here in DC Hedges' book talk on American Fascists. He conspicuously omitted any mention of secular humanists and atheists as part of an anti-fascist coalition. He's making the rounds again with his new book I Don't Believe in Atheists, basically a defamatory assault on the "new atheists" such as Dawkins, Hitchens, etc., labelling them "fundamentalists" as others are now doing.

Here's a slightly edited piece I wrote on his crowd in the wee hours this morning:

In re:
"God's Politics?" by Katha Pollitt

The religious leftists of today are quite different from their forbears: today's crop consists of frightened, opportunistic theocrats exploiting the collapse of liberalism and radicalism and attempting to capitalize on the hegemony of theocratic discourse instead of contenting themselves with adding a religious voice to a secular conversation as happened in yesteryear. I will have more to say about other such ideological charlatans as Chris Hedges. It is important to understand the distinction I've made as we approach the 40th anniversary of the heartbreaking assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4, a man of quite a different caliber than the characters prancing around today.

Pollitt points out the lapses in Wallis' argument. It is also important to note the authoritarianism of Wallis' politics. There is, for example, a difference between MLK who injected religious metaphors and imagery into secular arguments in the public sphere and today's religious left who arrogate to themselves the right to order us around based on their version of scriptural authority, telling us what God commands, and predicating public policy and governmental action on a theological basis.

I should add that as obnoxious as devotees of other religions are, such as the Jewish liberal blowhard Michael Lerner, minorities are not majorities. Many Jews retain the psychology of a persecuted minority, while these Christian "progressive" ideologues embody all the arrogance of a majority assuming the right to cow everyone else. But all these m-f's deserve to be put in their place.

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