Monday, November 16, 2015

bell hooks on Worship of Death As Central Component of Patriarchal Thinking: The Events in Paris and Our Response to Them

On my retreat the last two weeks, I read bell hooks' book All About Love: New Visions (NY: William Morrow, 2000). The following passage has profound resonance for me now, after the events several days ago in Paris:

The worship of death is a central component of patriarchal thinking, whether expressed by women or men. Visionary theologians see the failure of religion as one reason our culture remains death centered. In his work Original Blessing, Matthew Fox explains: "Western civilization has preferred love of death to love of life to the very extent that its religious traditions have preferred redemption to creation, sin to ecstasy, and individual introspection to cosmic awareness and appreciation." Recently, there has been a turning away from these teachings toward a creation-grounded spirituality that is life-affirming. Fox calls this "the via positiva": "Without this solid grounding in creation's powers we become bored, violent people. We become necrophiliacs in love with the death and the powers and principalities of death." We move away from this worship of death by challenging patriarchy, creating peace, working for justice, and embracing a love ethic (pp. 192-3).

As I read this passage after the horrendous attacks in Paris, I think about how the very same people in my own country who now urge us to focus exclusively on horrendous deaths caused by murderous ISIS terrorists never tell us to focus in the same way on the numerous deaths caused each year by gun violence in our country. In fact, those very same people work as hard as they can to block attempts to address this gun violence.

I think, too, about how the very same people in my own country now seeking to profit politically from the deaths of innocent people in Paris have fought tooth and nail against a mild, patchwork extension of basic healthcare coverage to desperately struggling indigent citizens.

In what sense are these prophets of death and destruction, who are practically dancing with glee about what has just happened in Paris, really pro-life? In what sense are they not actually pro-death, especially when death comes for the weak, the thrown-away, for those on the margins of society — for someone different from themselves and those they love?

As Rachel Fitzgerald, an insightful reader of this blog who, with her husband Mark Shumway, maintains the evolving deep forms blog, has just reminded me, this past March The Atlantic published a thought-provoking essay by Graeme Wood about how ISIS is, at its heart, a theological movement: its goal is apocalpyse. It wants to provoke planetary apocalpyse to usher in what it believes will be a new golden age of Islamic theocratic control throughout the world. 

Think about this for a minute: many U.S. right wingers are themselves perfectly content with that apocalyptic goal. They themselves eat, breathe, and sleep apocalpyse. They talk about the apocalpytic destruction of the world by an angry Father God with undisguised hunger for this event in their voices. They salivate over the ISIS violence we just saw enacted in Paris.  

They, and right-wing political leaders in Europe, are perversely battening and growing fat by feeding off violence, fear, and ignorance. They are themselves like a deadly necrophiliac fungus that grows strong on the very violence, fear, and ignorance they're exploiting: the Islamic enemy they want to target, to make us hate, is the very precondition for their political success, and they are likely to be rewarded for their hate- and fear-mongering in the next election cycle in the U.S.

Such necrophiliac movements have never shown themselves as anything but destructive to societies in which they flourish — and they do, indeed, flourish in patriarchal Christian cultures and have long done so, every bit as much as in patriarchal fundamentalitst Islamic ones. If we are commited to the values of life, to a consistent ethic of life, we need to resist these anti-human ideologies very vociferously and very actively, whether they come from outside in the form of ISIS or from within our own borders, through a political right that, in order to bolster itself, ravens for ISIS violence while focusing on such violence as the single, exclusive threat to human values that should occupy our attention at present.

The photo of bell hooks by Alex Lozupone from her Wikipedia biography page was taken at the New School in October 2014, and has been uploaded to Wikimedia Commons for sharing.

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