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What God Are You On, Part I

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I’ve heard it said that the 20th century was the most violent century on record, and if you think about it, it’s entirely plausible—the World Wars, colonialism and the subsequent liberation movements, not to mention all the civil wars, the genocides and pograms, the revolutions, etc. The revolutions. On Strictly for My N.I.G.G.A.Z, Tupac repeats the old adage that if you can’t find something to live for, you best find something to die for. Then he did, though I don’t know if it was what he intended. Long before that, Hegel said the time would come in which man would be willing to die for a cause greater than life itself. Essential dogma? At the most basic level, this rationale has been the drum beat of modern history, much of which is forgotten.

How many remember or even know that in 1920 the Brits were the first to carry out intentional and systematic aerial bombing of civilians—in Somalia and Yemen. Or that before gassing the Jews, the Germans carried out mass gassings of Russian prisoners of war in the Ukraine. When Auschwitz was functional, they gassed Communists and Russian intellectuals before turning the showers on the Jews. The reaction to these and other events of the 100-year era has typically been “never again”—that is, until we forget they even happened in the first place.

As part of a generation that didn’t experience a world war and was too young to feel the impact of the Vietnam War or understand the Cold War, it’s the genocides and terrorist acts that hit closest to horrific home. Maybe it’s because when I think about Rwanda or the Holocaust or the Cambodian killing fields, I picture every day, ordinary people with targets on their chests. The same with terrorism. For that reason, I really can’t comprehend the other kind of killing, the kind where the various sides put on uniforms and only shoot at the opposing team. It’s like some weird athletic activity, except if you lose, you lose your life. Truthfully, it seems even more warped than random acts of violence because the random factor can be considered a glitch in the machine, but the rest of it is creepy and weird and now considered collateral.

What did those Royal Air Force pilots think about their entry into history? Did they feel proud? Would they be disappointed to have been replaced by smart bombs? Were the Communists and Russian intellectuals surprised to find themselves stall mates? Did they feel like Johns the Baptist, paving the way for the real martyrs? I turn it this way, I turn it that way, I sense some kind of apparatus that calls into play political vs. cultural identity, and then I get lost. In the U.S., since Reagan (our second born-again president, the first being Jimmy Carter), religious fundamentalism has emerged in the middle of the two identity axes, and certainly there are more than two. Plus identities shift.

* * *

Take Christianity. In 1920, Reverend Curtis Lee Laws coined the term “fundamentalism,” describing Presbyterian and Baptist allies in the battle for the fundamentals of the faith, including dogmatic belief in the infallibility of biblical scripture, the virgin birth of Christ, his subsequent atonement for our sins along with the resurrection, and, let’s not forget “the objective reality of his [Christ’s] miracles,” as noted by Karen Armstrong in Battle for God. In other words, fundamentalism grew out of tussles within a given religious community, not between or amongst different religions.

This is important because the religious conservatives who are the core of Christian fundamentalists are different from the evangelicals who had their genesis post-WWII. Douglas Linder writes: “The early 1920s found social patterns in chaos. Traditionalists, the older Victorians worried that everything valuable was ending. Younger modernists no longer asked whether society would approve of their behavior, only whether their behavior met the approval of their intellect. Intellectual experimentation flourished. Americans danced to the sound of the Jazz Age, showed their contempt for alcoholic prohibition, debated abstract art and Freudian theories. In a response to the new social patterns set in motion by modernism, a wave of revivalism developed, becoming especially strong in the American South. Who would dominate American culture—the modernists or the traditionalists?”

It’s 2005, and I think the question has yet to be answered. While it’s true that the fundamentalists were separatists, who, after losing the Scopes Monkey trial in 1925, kept a low profile, they’ve been raising a hoary head in recent decades.

The evangelists, however, have always subscribed to what evangelist Bob Jones called “the duty of saving souls in this rotten civilization [which] demands some degree of cooperation with other Christians, whatever their beliefs.” First came the founding of a public lobby, the National Association of Evangelicals, in 1942. During the 1950s, televangelists of the Rex Humbard, Benny Hinn, and Oral Roberts ilk sprouted, not to mention Billy Graham—who provided spiritual counseling to many U.S. presidents. Jerry Falwell, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, and other movement leaders began forming politically motivated organizations in the 1970s, after Roe v. Wade got under their skin. Like the Biblical Jeremiah of the Old Testament, they were bound to foment moral reform in order to quell the anticipated cataclysmic consequences of such a morally bankrupt people as they judged us to be. These groups did well, scoring victories such as crushing the Equal Rights Amendment for women. They even held a “Washington for Jesus” rally in the Washington Mall during Reagan’s reign; hundreds of thousands turned out. It’s no coincidence that during Reagan’s reign “good vs. evil” became the markers of postwar politics, something that our third born-again president, Dubya, has co-opted in the war against so-called evil-doers.

The religious right continues to gain electoral power, perhaps making good on Pat Buchanan’s 1992 Republican national convention pronouncement of an impending religious war within the United States: “It is a cultural war, as critical to the kind of nation we shall be as the Cold War itself, for this war is for the soul of America.” Remember in Poltergeist when the little girl points to the tv and announces, “It’s heeere”? So too, political Christianity. What, me worry about radical Islam? No, it’s those shifting identities, under whose influence this century might surpass the last in violent history. It’s not a contest I want to handicap.

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About mpho

  • Maurice

    “It’s no coincidence that during Reagan’s reign “good vs. evil” became the markers of postwar politics, something that our third born-again president, Dubya, has co-opted in the war against so-called evil-doers”.

    Did congress declare war against so-called evil doers or real people doing real evil?

  • http://www.diablog.us Dave Nalle

    >>Remember in Poltergeist when the little girl points to the tv and announces, “It’s heeere”? <<

    Actually, she said “They’re Heeere”.

    Dave

  • Eric Olsen

    mpho, I understand and sympathize with the concern but there is simply no comparison between the positions of radical Islamists and those of fundamentalist Christians. There always be some loonies at the extreme end of every belief system, but radical Islamism is predicated on looniness.

    There simply is no political Christianity to compare with political Islam

  • http://w6daily.winn.com/ Phillip Winn

    Not in the 20th century, at least. :-)

  • http://adamantsun.blogspot.com Steve S

    Political Christianity might not be on the level of Political Islam, but when you mix any religion and government, you end up going down the same road.

    The problem with politicizing Christianity is that if you then criticize a person’s politics, you are then criticizing their religion. Debate and compromise in politics becomes impossible unless one is willing to debate and compromise his faith. This is why it will always go down the same road.

    Personally, I’ve always been adamant for the separation of church and state. When they become hopelessly intertwined and one falls, it will drag the other down with it.

    If people insist on politicizing their religion, they are going to have to expect their religion to go through the political shredder. This is when people find out that their religion can violate human rights and/or civil rights, etc. and of course people don’t like that thought, so it all becomes an attack on their religion foremost and a defense of the civil rights of others secondarily.

    So mixing the two opens up religion to political attack. To fix that, you need to reconstruct the judicial arena, which I can see is well underway.

  • http://cowbells.blogspot.com mpho

    Part of my belief is akin to Steve’s, i.e. when you mix any religion and government, you end up going down the same road. As for a direct comparision of political christianity and political islam–that wasn’t necessarily my intention but i do fear one more than the other. To say there simply is no political Christianity to compare with political Islam depends on where you sit, doesn’t it? I bet there are plenty of Arabs who would tell you that the christianity is the bigger terror in their lives. As for whether Dubya declared war on evildoers or people who’ve done evil. Well, I dunno. To alot of the world, we are the evildoers, and the regular joes getting their brains blown out and their houses ransacked and communities torn to shreds, aren’t the people who crashed planes into the Twin Towers. In the larger scheme of things, we’re not that innocent. If you think god or allah is on your side, then you’re bound to do things that you know in your heart are right but for the rest of us are questionable at best. *They’re* heeeere, fits even better. Thanks for the correction Dave.

  • http://www.morethings.com/senate Al Barger

    Rand knows that I’m skeptical of religion mixing with politics, whether that’s through Jerry Falwell or Jesse Jackson.

    Still, it’s ridiculous to compare American evangelicals to thug Muslim mullahs, such as in Iran. Even if God somehow moved his hand such that Pat Robertson became president, he wouldn’t be having infidels imprisoned or killed. They’re just not comparable groups.

  • http://www.diablog.us Dave Nalle

    Well, I’m convinced that you’re all tools of The Druj and need to be exterminated so that this level of the hierarchy which leads to heaven can be purified, but the Amashpends keep whispering that I must spend all of my time in fasting and mortification of the flesh, so I don’t have time to actually exterminate you right now. I’ll pencil you in for next month.

    DAve

  • http://www.antequeravillarental.com alienboy

    and Hegel fits in to all this where?

  • http://www.antequeravillarental.com alienboy

    Nalle: very funny like it!

    Al B: of course, the time of violent Christian evangelicism has largely passed – though it was a huge feature of Western culture for rather a long time – and traces of its moral harshness and intolerance live on, yea, even in your American heartland.

    Maybe the extemeist-fundamentalist stage of a religion is an inherent stage of the evolution of the mindset..?

  • Eric Olsen

    Hegel always fits in: dude rocks

  • http://cowbells.blogspot.com mpho

    Al, you said “Still, it’s ridiculous to compare American evangelicals to thug Muslim mullahs, such as in Iran. Even if God somehow moved his hand such that Pat Robertson became president, he wouldn’t be having infidels imprisoned or killed. They’re just not comparable groups.”

    Try telling that to all the people who were arrested without charges after 9/11 and can be detained indefinitely without access to a court of law.

  • JR

    Al Barger: Even if God somehow moved his hand such that Pat Robertson became president, he wouldn’t be having infidels imprisoned or killed.

    Nah, he’d go straight for the nuclear option.

  • http://www.rodneywelch.blogspot.com/ Rodney Welch

    We all realize, of course, that the major evildoers of the 20th Century — Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot — were all perfectly secular, even downright atheistic, right?

  • http://www.morethings.com/senate Al Barger

    Jesus came as a man of peace to start with, as opposed to Mohammed the warrior. So Christians are just less inclined to brutality based on the basic teachings. Of course some Christians have historically done some very bad things anyway, but that’s mostly been long ago and far away. Speaking as a non-believer, I’d say that Christians were long ago largely housetrained to be fit for civilized society.

    MPHO, you’re just being plain silly here: Try telling that to all the people who were arrested without charges after 9/11 and can be detained indefinitely without access to a court of law. For starters, there haven’t been wholesale roundups of Arabs or anything like that. You’re talking about a 99% fictitious phenomenon. And in fact, those people are getting access to courts of law.

    As to the 1%, there may be some few and mostly relatively mild objectionable violations of US legal standards that need to be addressed- and they are. However, what do even those cases have to do with American mullahs repressing people? Being a little heavy handed in dealing with terrorist threats is not even vaguely comparable to a jihad holy war against infidels.

  • Shark

    Barger: …Christians are just less inclined to brutality based on the basic teachings.”

    This is a joke, right?

    Barger: “…if… Pat Robertson became president, he wouldn’t be having infidels imprisoned or killed.”

    Ah, but as the saying goes: “The day is young.”

    ===========

    Bottom line: Major religions, regardless of whether Christoid or ‘other’, are a plague upon the earth — and have done much more evil than good when one weighs their historical activities.

    I can prove it with a pencil and paper.

    ~Next!

    PS: (“Facts” and “truth”, Al; I thought you were ‘into’ those…?)

  • http://cowbells.blogspot.com mpho

    Thanks, Shark.

    I would add that this similarly rings false with me:

    “Of course some Christians have historically done some very bad things anyway, but that’s mostly been long ago and far away. Speaking as a non-believer, I’d say that Christians were long ago largely housetrained to be fit for civilized society.”

    Who’s to say what civilized society is? And I really don’t think that only the Christians of yore have done bad things. You’re speaking as if these are absolutes when these indicators are relative. Even if you’re not a Muslim, if you’re gay or support a woman’s right to choose, you might think Christians are pretty horrendous. You might even lump all Christians together, failing to discern that there are differences within the huge umbrella of Christianity. The same is true of Islam. Bush and company act like there are good muslims and bad muslims and that they’re easily discernable, and yet most Americans who probably never even thought about the Islamic relgion probably lump them all together now. In fact, you’ve done it Al; when you say this “jihad holy war against infidels”–which jihad are you speaking of? Even within Islam, the term “jihad” isn’t so clear cut, split into al-jihad al-asghar (the lesser jihad) and al-jihad al akbar (the greater jihad). The greater jihad is actually about the self–the daily struggle to become a better person. The radical “lesser” jihad that you’re referring to, which essentially began in Afghanistan in the 1980s, was actually fueled to some degree by the CIA in order, according to scholar Mahmood Mamdani, “to unite a billion Muslims worldwide into a holy war, a crusade, against the Soviet Union, on the soil of Afghanistan…. A secondary objective was to turn a doctrinal difference between two Islamic sects . . . into a political divide and thereby to contain the influence if the Iranian Revolution. . . . The Afghan jihad was in reality an American jihad….” All that training and the battlefield we provided is what’s come back to haunt us. The Los Angeles Times ran a series in the mid-90s about how the key leaders of almost every major terrorist attack around the globe, since the Eighties had, to that date, been carried out by veterans of the Afghan war. But I’m digressing. All I’m saying is that it’s really easy to cast aspersions but try putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. It’s true, you don’t see many Christians beheading people, but my country hasn’t been invaded. In the meantime, my personal worry on a day-to-day basis is less about so radical shi’ite on a rampage and more about the jerry falwells of the world. You may think call the latter house-trained, but I’d think twice before letting the Christian army into my house.

  • http://www.morethings.com/senate Al Barger

    MPHO, it is true that if you’re gay or support a woman’s right to choose, you might think Christians are pretty horrendous. It would also then be true that you’re wrong, and lacking in perspective.

    You may think that Christians are wrong to believe that homosexuality is a sin against God. I would pretty much agree with you in that judgment. That does not, however, make anyone with a different upbringing or belief evil or horrendous.

    Even more so, being concerned with protecting the unborn does not make you horrendous or evil. I am (reluctantly) pro-choice, but there still looks to me like there’d be much more reason for pro-life Christians to think that abortionists are horrendous or evil than the other way around.

  • http://adamantsun.blogspot.com Steve S

    You may think that Christians are wrong to believe that homosexuality is a sin against God. I would pretty much agree with you in that judgment. That does not, however, make anyone with a different upbringing or belief evil or horrendous.

    Al, I have never heard a gay person say that they think Christians are evil because the Christian thinks homosexuality is a sin.

    It is their actions and the lies they speak that cause many people to become disillusioned with the church and for many others to become intolerant, hateful or even fearful of the Church, not their beliefs.

    By ‘lies they speak’, I am referring to the lies that the religious leaders tell their followers. Lies about behaviours, proclivities, tendencies, predatory instincts, etc. the list is endless portraying us as demons, predators and evil.

    By actions, I would be referring to actions, not only political but moreso on a social level, of fostering an environment of ostracization, condemnation and prejudice which has an indirect result of increased violent crimes against us, or increased drug use, depression, alcoholism, etc… this list is also endless and ends up costing society heavily in so many ways.

    So I’m referring more to the lies and actions of the Church than the actions of a Christian.

    I would be willing to bet that in 99% of the cases, where a gay person is disillusioned, intolerant of, hateful or even fearful of Christians, they are referring to the denomination or the organization rather than the individual.

    In terms of it’s treatment of us as human beings, the Church does have a horrendous and evil record.

  • http://www.morethings.com/senate Al Barger

    Ostracism isn’t very nice. Some people are mean. Not liking you and not wanting anything to do with you, however, is not that “horrendous” nor does it begin to compare with mullahs- who would simply frickin’ kill you.

    I can understand you having some beef with mean people, you need some perspective.

  • http://adamantsun.blogspot.com Steve S

    I did not compare it to mullahs, in fact the first thing I said in comment 5 indicates the opposite.

    All that the church has done to gay people over the centuries is not done because the church wants nothing to do with us. Your pat dismissal of the situation doesn’t change anything.

    Just to clarify, I am not getting in the conversation of equating Christianity with Islam, when in fact, I said otherwise. I was simply commenting on your statement of people having a belief not being automatically evil. I agree with that, and was trying to give you perspective as to where the anger/fear/intolerance is usually directed and it’s not at the individual.

  • http://cowbells.blogspot.com mpho

    I never intended to directly, blow-by-blow compare Islam and Christianity, but I did want to address the facts that 1) just like how one person’s garbage is another person’s treasure, whenever religion and politics mix, you’re bound to have the adherents of that particular religion feel righteous about the political decisions made and those who don’t feel bound by the relgion to perhaps feel targeted. 2)Islam and Christianity aren’t concise little terms. Muslims and Christians come in all flavors, but the activities and belief systems of some Muslims and some Christians tend to inform the reputation of these individuals as a whole and once you buy into that it’s hard to separate. For example, I consider myself a Christian because I believe in Jesus. I can’t tell you the number of times that people–even good friends of mine–have tripped out to hear me describe myself as a Christian because all they can picture is the domination of the fundamentalist or extremist Christian right. These are educated people, these are people who grew up in this country, these are people of all stripes, some of whom even grew up in the church–some Catholic, some other things.

    And for me, like I said, on a daily basis I am affected more by the Christian umbrella than the Islamic umbrella. I might feel different if I lived near ground zero in New York or if I lived abroad.

    As for this secondary debate about gays and tolerance, etc., what a lot of straight people still fail to understand is that it’s not intolerance. There are a lot of Christians who are rabid, would strip gays of any and all rights guaranteed to the rest of humanity, and that does make those particular Christian horrendous. Fuck, you don’t even want us to get married. Go to a gay rally of any sort where the “Christian” contingent turns out and see if you still believe that it’s mere “ostracisim.” Some of those freaks would exterminate gay people if they could get away with it.

    Anyway, the second part of my piece is posted–What God Are You On, Part II.

    Enjoy or foam at the mouth. Whichever suits you best.

  • http://gratefuldread.net Natalie Davis

    “By actions, I would be referring to actions, not only political but moreso on a social level, of fostering an environment of ostracization, condemnation and prejudice which has an indirect result of increased violent crimes against us

    Indeed, but we needn’t go that far. The fundies want queers punished under law for not following fundie beliefs. THAT is evil.Anyone who doesn’t grok that has the warped pespective.

  • http://blogcritics.org ML

    “Jesus came as a man of peace to start with, as opposed to Mohammed the warrior. Speaking as a non-believer, I’d say that Christians were long ago largely housetrained to be fit for civilized society.”

    I am not qualified, nor do I wish to venture into the Prophet’s psycho-sexual issues.

    All I will say is this: an emerging Western option is that, should another attack on American soil take place, you can kiss Medina goodbye. Any subsequent attacks will result in Mecca being reduced to a radioactive rubble that will be unvisitable for thousands of years. Wake up dudes. This has always been your Achilles’ heel. America has the ability, and the increasingly growing will and determination to make this so. Get over yourselves or face the unconditional and certain wrath that will render your religious beliefs moot.