Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Rise of Religious Fascism and the Cool Pragmatism of Generation Jones: Three Perspectives on the Current Political Scene

Three recent articles catch my eye as as valuable contributions to dialogue about matters religious and political. I’m mentioning them in a single posting because, in key respects, their themes overlap.  The articles complement each other.

The first is Chris Hedges’ recent impassioned argument at Truth Dig that we need to pay close attention to the inroads the Christian right is now making in American politics.  Hedges warns us that we dismiss and ridicule this movement at our peril.  Its goal is a theocratic takeover of American government.  And it could easily effect that takeover soon, Hedges thinks.

Jayden Cameron has posted Hedges’ article to the Open Tabernacle site, and Alternet is carrying it today.  Because his thesis is deliberately provocative (and, for some readers, overstated), Hedges’ article will provoke much-needed discussion of the intersection of religion and politics in American culture, and of our obligation to keep monitoring the intrusion of theocratically-motivated religious groups into the public square. 

As my response to Hedges’ article at the Open Tabernacle site notes, I’m struck by Hedges’ critique of liberalism—of his critique of the short-sighted way in which liberals dismiss religion and its power in public discourse; and of his critique of the shallow way in which liberals seek to respond to the emotional appeal of right-wing religion through reason and recourse to hard facts.

The liberal utopia has, in Hedges’ view, failed, and this is precisely why the apocalyptic fantasies of the religious right appeal to so many angry, marginalized citizens.  Liberalism has failed to produce a good (inclusive, offering opportunity for all) society because it is, in Hedges’ view, “gutless.”  It’s devoid of the values and solidarity (and emotive-based language flowing from values and solidarity) required to heal the social wound from which the malignant growth of fascism is now rapidly growing.

Hedges calls liberals to accountability, in other words, for their complicity in fostering this malignant growth in our society—for a complicity they share with those on the right who are deliberately fostering this growth as a check to progressive political and religious movements.  As Hedges notes, the solution to the social problems created by the fragmentation of our social and economic systems, a solution to which liberals should have moved long since, is one of solidarity: one that recognizes that dispossessed fellow citizens are human like we’re human.

That they need jobs, education, the advantages others have, if we’re to build a healthy society.  As our social and economic systems have collapsed, we have offered no viable alternative to whole groups of citizens as they fall into a socioeconomic netherworld in which the hope for salvation appears to lie in lurid apocalyptic, anti-modern notions of Christianity.

And this problem (along with the concerns elicited by Christofascist forms of Christianity in political life) is not confined to the United States.  As Marci McDonald’s new book The Armageddon Factor notes, “the rhetoric and militancy of the religious right” has spilled over the U.S.-Canadian border into our neighbor to the north.  In an unprecedented way today, Canadians—who have generally been resistant to the intrusion of extremist religious views in their political life—are now coping, as their American cousins are coping, with the growing influence of the religious right in the political sphere.

McDonald notes that the goals of this movement in Canada are the same goals pursued by theocratic groups in the U.S.: the enactment of “biblical laws” that merge church and state and suppress dissent; the enshrinement of patriarchy as part of God’s plan for the human race; the “re-Christianization” of a nation that is increasingly secularized, etc.

When Canadians begin to head down the theocratic path, Americans ought to pay attention.  The political moderation of Canadians and the strong social security network our sister nation affords its citizens have, up to now, protected Canada from outbursts of the kind of theocratic religion on which some of us Americans thrive.  

If this is no longer the case in Canada, then we may have a larger problem on our hands, as a human community, than we are now recognizing: we may be on the verge of a round of fascistic appeals to “tradition” and “orthodoxy” in many cultures of the world, which will try to dismantle the Enlightment and the modern worldview that intellectual movement spawned, and replace it with pre-modern, patriarchal systems of power and control that will set religion against religion and people against people, will subjugate women to men, and will try to eliminate gays and lesbians from society altogether.

I won’t comment at length on the final article I’d like to mention in the context of this discussion.  This is Will Bunch’s “Along Came ‘Jones’: Why My Generation Isn’t Saving the World” at Huffington Post.  I’m not commenting at length here because I’m not a member of what Bunch calls “Generation Jones”—the generation that succeeded the wild baby boomers of the sixties, a generation that was in college in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Bunch argues that Generation Jones is now the generation holding the reins of political power around the world.  And he sees a problem with this development: his generation has, he argues, a keep-your-head-low, realist-pragmatist, careerist approach to both personal life and politics.  Don’t make waves.  Meet immoderate passion with cool reason.  And these attitudes are not capable of meeting the challenge of groups like the theocratic extremists which, in the view of Hedges and McDonald, are eager to seize power in the U.S. and Canada now.

In Bunch’s view, the stance adopted by his generation to cope with the rise of Reagan to power in the U.S., of Thatcher in England, etc., is hardly designed to save the world.  This stance exemplifies precisely the kind of “gutless” liberalism Hedges excoriates.  And so the generation now coming to leadership is, therefore, singularly ill-equipped, if Bunch’s analysis is correct, to cope with the emotional excess and impassioned religious views of the religious right studied by Hedges and McDonald.

Is Bunch correct?  I rely on readers who are part of Generation Jones to let me know what you think about his analysis.