A Book Instead of a Brain

October 31, 2011

In retrospect we see movements like the rise of the German Nazis of the 1930 as if looking through the wrong end of a telescope. The things we see are real enough alright, but they’re now so distant, small and emotionally removed they have the taint and feel of unreality. Trying to imagine the grotesque facing us squarely face to face is something we’re not willing to do. And yet this unwillingness is how the nightmare of Nazi Germany was able to find a foothold in the daily intellectual lives of  Germans. Absorbed in banality they refused to wrap their minds around the simple reality of looming evil.

Writer Chris Hedges does not have this problem.  His mind’s eye is acutely attuned to the growing influence of unreason and intolerance in the growing influence of the Christian right.

In an article at thechristianleft.com Hedges recalls a time at Harvard Divinity School when his ethics professor, Dr. James Luther Adams, “…told us that when we were his age, he was then close to 80, we would all be fighting the “Christian fascists.”

Hedges continues:

“The warning, given to me 25 years ago, came at the moment Pat Robertson and other radio and televangelists began speaking about a new political religion that would direct its efforts at taking control of all institutions, including mainstream denominations and the government. Its stated goal was to use the United States to create a global, Christian empire. It was hard, at the time, to take such fantastic rhetoric seriously, especially given the buffoonish quality of those who expounded it. But Adams warned us against the blindness caused by intellectual snobbery. The Nazis, he said, were not going to return with swastikas and brown shirts. Their ideological inheritors had found a mask for fascism in the pages of the Bible.”

Writer Sam Harris has observed in his book The End of Faith that uniquely among realms of human endeavor the only place that irrationality and unreason are tolerated —no, lauded and held in high esteem— is in religion.  In religion we’re not only permitted, but enthusiastically encouraged to believe anything we wish, no matter how off the wall, as long as we proclaim it to be revealed wisdom. In religion we may believe the most fantastic things without ridicule.

What makes Harris’ observation so troubling is that the segue from irrational belief in religion to irrationality in politics is just a short slide. In fact, with the grip of Christian fundamentalists on one of the only two political parties we have, Hedges is sending up the flare of his article to illuminate the fact that this segue is well under way in the USA. The cast-in-concrete nature of fundamentalist Christian thinking makes it impossible to conduct democracy because political compromise is bedrock to democratic government —you may even have noticed that democracy is in fact not being conducted in the United States these days. Nothing but posturing by the right is being conducted.  Theocracies, Monarchies, dictatorships, and fascist regimes are rooted in authoritarianism; democracy survives only through compromise. Once we set unchanging doctrine and dogma as the standards of the state democracy is, first, dead stuck and, finally, a dead duck.

Considering the evidence of the effectiveness of three years of the PONO (Party of No) in which nothing can be accomplished to move the American nation out if doldrums, it’s chilling to be reminded by Hedges that his professor “…saw in the Christian Right, long before we did, disturbing similarities with the German Christian Church and the Nazi Party, similarities that he said would, in the event of prolonged social instability or a national crisis, see American fascists, under the guise of religion, rise to dismantle the open society.”

We can see this very thing happening today in calls by the religious right for the United States to be governed by Biblical scriptures; to be declared a Christian Nation, thereby leading to a situation in which all Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, Mormons, agnostics and (especially) atheists shall be cast out of the main and instantly become second, if not third, forth, or fifth-class citizens. If you want to see the utter destruction of the idea of America simply acquiesce to go there.

Some do, and this is exactly the point of Hedges argument. The fight against fascism is not for the half-assed.  It’s not for somnambulists. The left must be militantly awake to counter the irrationality that fundamentalists peddle.

Chris Hedges remembering professor Adams again:

“He despaired of liberals, who he said, as in Nazi Germany, mouthed silly platitudes about dialogue and inclusiveness that made them ineffectual and impotent. Liberals, he said, did not understand the power and allure of evil nor the cold reality of how the world worked. The current hand wringing by Democrats in the wake of the election, with many asking how they can reach out to a movement whose leaders brand them “demonic” and “satanic,” would not have surprised Adams . Like Bonhoeffer, he did not believe that those who would fight effectively in coming times of turmoil, a fight that for him was an integral part of the Biblical message, would come from the church or the liberal, secular elite.”

I don’t know about you, but for the past three years I’ve been increasingly maddened by the chronic capitulation of Democrats and the president to the absolutely obvious reality that Republicans will never compromise on anything that does not meet their dogmatic rule —that they would in fact run the nation into the ground for the sake of their dogma.  It should have become clear to anyone with a shred of common sense that trying to negotiate with a Republican is as futile as negotiating with an Imam with a sacred book in his skull instead of a brain.

If Republicans (now thoroughly absorbed into the twin evils of corporate and religious fundamentalism) are able to convince Americans (or bludgeon them with the club of their wealth) to vote them into effective power    …. Jeez, I don’t even want to envision that grim possibility.

Really, please, I beg you, read Chris Hedges’ article and try not to dismiss it as impossible.  It’s not impossible, it’s historically relevant.  It actually happened not that long ago in another time and place.  It can happen again; we’re not that blessed or special.

Jim Culleny


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