justice, then peace (II)

~ or back to part one ~

Radiant In Joy by Paul Gilk
Quaker Universalist Fellowship


With the rise in the U.S. of the Christian Right, the cleavage between those who live by Christian myth and those who at least attempt to live by gospel has grown wider and deeper and has reached the point of radically distinct spiritualities. When myth achieves the power by which to function independently of gospel, those who struggle for gospel become the enemies of myth. Within the overarching mythology camp there are many Christians whose personal lives and behavior are exemplary. It is also true that the articulation of the social, economic, and political implications of gospel often tends to be both heady and strident, more given to image-breaking than to creative culture reinvention. The frequent stridency, however, of the civil rights, women's, environmental, and same-sex movements has resulted from the huge resistance— even demonization— that they have faced from the myth camp.

- - - - -

We may well ask why complacency is so widespread among mainstream "liberal" Protestants, especially those who are lineal descendants of the Puritan tradition. In the words of Bacevich [Andrew Bacevich: The New American Militarism] they are "inclusive, proudly heterodox, dwindling in overall numbers, and politically anemic." Why have they "vacated the public square" while right-wing evangelical Protestantism has taken their place?

The most concise answer is that by the 1960s Christian mythology had been so largely discredited by the discoveries of science that huge portions of the Christian mainstream entered into a troubled, difficult re-evaluation of what the Christian religion was all about. Because of uncertainty and deference to the "conservatives," this spiritual struggle was mostly hidden from view, not openly discussed with or among the laity. So the churches tended in the direction of mildly abstract piety, neither facing up to the end of mythology nor engaging the radical challenges now lying more fully exposed in the Gospels.

Sensing uncertainty in the opposing camp, right-wing Christians smelled opportunity. They mistook this "dark night of the soul" for fatal weakness, and this produced in them a kind of victors' exultation. Such uncertainty, they said, "proved" who was right and who was wrong. In some places this had real institutional consequences. At the Missouri Synod Lutheran seminary in St. Louis, for instance, the "liberal" professors were removed in a reactionary take-over in the mid-1970s.

To say that the direct heirs to the Puritan tradition have become inclusive, heterodox, and anemic is also to say a similar thing of American liberalism and therefore of the Democratic Party. The dark night of the soul generated by liberalism's acceptance of the demythologizing critique has profoundly affected the previous presumption of superiority which was (and is) deeply ingrained in the mythology of manifest destiny and American exceptionalism. Thus forty years ago liberalism entered a period of troubled soul-searching, which conservatism insisted was a liberal pathology, a neurosis, a breach of faith with the obvious truth of biblical revelation and the status of American superiority.

Inclusiveness for liberals has meant reaching out to those whom the mythology previously kept in their places: racial minorities, indigenous cultures, women, and homosexuals. Embracing the heterodox has meant distancing from the assertive, arrogant superiority of mythological victory and taking seriously, in a new and truly attentive way, other religions and even the rejection of religion. It may not be exactly true to say, as Bacevich does, that these lineal descendants have vacated the public square. It's not that simple. To move in the direction of heterodox inclusiveness requires a kind and depth of self-critical thought that, especially in its early stages, involves psychological conflict and suffering. In the past forty years the movements for civil rights, feminism, and the environment have challenged, explicitly or implicitly, all the privileges and prerogatives of the dominant white male society.

Meanwhile the public square has, in a certain sense, abandoned the lineal descendants. As a result of embracing the inclusionary and heterodox, liberals were deserted by a huge proportion of white society. A major example occurred in the aftermath of civil rights legislation in the 1960s. The white South, previously aligned with the Democratic Party, switched to the Republicans, a shift in party loyalty which is at least as strong a factor in the rise of the Christian Right as the Vietnam defeat.

The current strength of the Christian Right is based on a messy mix of anxiety, suspicion, resentment, and reaction. These feelings are attached to ongoing uneasiness regarding the complaints of minorities, from the consequences of slavery to the extermination of self-sufficient Native American cultures to the immigration of peoples like the Hmong, whose lives were disrupted by U.S. intervention and war. Racial prejudice has not gone away. Resentment toward women still deeply infiltrates male consciousness. To take the environmental critique seriously is to foster an awareness of ecological limitation which has pervasive economic and public policy ramifications in the direction of frugality.

Bacevich essentially perpetuates the notion that liberalism has devolved into a peculiar elite snobbism and is composed of a self-selected group of wealthy bleeding-hearts hopelessly bogged down politically by all the needy, whining tails that wag the dog— minorities, women, tree-huggers, peaceniks, animal-rights enthusiasts, vegetarians, gun-controllers, homosexual sissies, and so on and on. Opposed to this pathetic grab-bag are the real Americans who work for a living and don't complain, who go to church and pay taxes, who are patriotic and think global warming, like evolution, is a stupid liberal theory.

Yet for all its flaws and floundering, this liberalism of heterodox inclusion represents a serious attempt to grapple with real and pressing issues. It is terribly constrained by the righteous judgmentalism of the so-called conservatives as well as by its own accrued habits of affluence and comfort. Maintenance of the economic status quo has a wide array of self-interested advocates, from huge corporations to the relatively poor shopper who loves Wal-Mart for its made-in-China bargains. Only Green politics is bold enough to call for a serious pruning of overdevelopment and lifestyles.

The wealthy, as always, have the money by which political candidates are made or unmade. The big media are owned by the same economic class. The capitalist ideology of perpetual economic growth, of continuous affluence, represents a big hunk of our secular mythology, our unacknowledged linkage to the privileged "American dream." The Christian Right provides cover for the evasion of self-examination and repentance. It keeps uneasy feelings at bay and gives comfort to the comfortable with teachings about how God wants Christians to prosper and how (as Bill Moyers has shown) pollution and resource exhaustion don't matter, because the end of the world will soon be upon us.

The Christian Right is the Anti-Jesus. For centuries Christian mythology slept in the same bed with gospel. When those lucid scientific discoveries shattered the historical veracity of Christian mythology, gospel realized with a shock that it was the only adult in that bed. It therefore sought to explain to mythology (no doubt rather condescendingly) that it needed to grow up. Mythology, governed internally by fear, responded by turning the political tables. And, as gospel invariably learns, the real path of the adult is crooked, narrow, rocky, and hard. Relatively few people tough it out.

Mythology meanwhile builds mega-churches on the broad highway, floods the airwaves, and gives confident reassurance to presidents, generals, and CEOs. It aligns itself with empire and turns its wrath on Gospel. This is the program of the Christian Right. If it succeeds, it will crumble and collapse. And the wailing of the deceived will be pitiful to hear.

complete text from Quaker Universalist Fellowship
(even more than is excerpted in these two posts!)

No comments:

Post a Comment