Friday, November 12, 2010

American fascists - Chris Hedges (2007)

Hedges, C. (2007). American fascists : the Christian Right and the war on America. New York: Free Press.

There are three shocks after reading this book. First, the arguments generated by so-called Christian fundamentals (evangelists) are much more serious than I expected and am heard from other sources. Second, the author got an academic degree (MA) from Divinity at Princeton University. In other words, this is a criticism from a person who has strong Christian backgrounds. Third, the problems (in a secular person’s eyes) are similarly or virtually the same observed in my home country, South Korea.

Recent interest in the relationship between religion and politics, actually, starts with my interest in so-called identity politics and new social phenomena that cannot be easily reduced to rational utility theory in political science. Previous books, in general, have to deal with very abstract arguments over the virtues or vices of the politics, and the potential influences of religious conservatives on political process does not seem so serious. However, this book starts and introduces with very vivid story which is based on personal narrative and specific arguments, and thus I think very readable and concretized and solid. Probably the reason may be found that the author is a journalist whose writings target at ordinary readers without having special backgrounds over expertise.

The conclusion is clear: Do not tolerate those who do not show any tolerance.

While very persuasive arguments, I have several questions. First, the relationship between poverty and religion. While I agree with the author’s analysis (see chapter 2. The culture of despair), the question is that how the poor can be delivered from the abject poverty? The author implicitly argues that saving the poor (precisely working poor, or people having no secure jobs) should be done by public sector or nation. However, the policy decision has to be based on so-called majority rule (at least in the US), and therefore it takes time to be effective. While I am less favorable towards ‘too much intervention of the church saving the poor,’ I have to think that the poor should be helped from anyone including the church (regardless their sections or denominations), if the nation does not help. If the salvation comes from intolerant religious conservatives, the first job for a society is ‘not to be starved to death.’

Second, how can normal Christians read Bible? The first chapter (faith) clarifies that the Christian Bible (including both Old Testaments and New Testaments) has very mixed messages. One page, it teaches people self-sacrifice, love, share, and others. But on the different page, it justifies killing, genocide, theft, or others (e.g., Holy Termination). So-called Holy City Plan – probably suggested by John Calvin and his followers in other places in the world – actually and literally ask pastors and believers to kill others in the name of God. How can ordinary people read the Bible and understand it? Too much ambivalence coexists, as the author admits. He points out this potential aggressiveness and intolerances taught by the Bible, but does not provide any solutions or recommendations. Of course, it is not an easy job and the author may have no obligation to do that. However, without this one, Christian religions (regardless of any sections or denominations) and Islam, and even Buddhists in many cases have to be given up because they are intolerant in some sense.

Third, what is the limit of religious conscience? This is somewhat dangerous, if the author is correct. The Rosa Parker case, or Martin Luther King, Jr case strongly showed that religious conscience helps society and democracy building. For example, in the war, how can we see a person who voluntarily rejects the gun in order to protect own religious conscience? I think this kind of religious conscience should be protected, even if the religion is conservative, Satanic, or highly intolerant towards other minorities. Probably, I assume that the author warns the danger of expansive or aggressive use of religious conscience, rather than a tool to protect a person’s world from external or secular politics or demands.

Anyway interesting book and thoughtful!

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