Convicted by the Spirit of Chris Hedges
I have been listening to the audio book of Chris Hedges reading his own I Don’t Believe in Atheists where he challenges the likes of the so-called “New Atheists” such as Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens.
His words have opened my eyes to my own utopianism and intolerance, especially in the way I rant about Christians and Westerners. Both groups have been on my “hit list” due to what I perceive is their participation and condoning of genocide of indigenous peoples and non-Western ethnic and religious groups.
I still hold that Christians, especially my own past tribe of Evangelicals (a 30 year journey with them), and Westerners on the whole, have been following a dangerous and unethical course in the building of Empire on the backs of their own and especially other citizens. And they must do a 180 degree about-face in attitude and behaviour if they would like to join the trek on the road of Ethics.
Not that I am a role model of Ethics. I have failed and done my share of evil. I have offended, abused, ripped off, and condemned a great number of people throughout my life. I will not excuse myself.
Fundamentalism, Be It Christian, Islamic, New Atheist, or Dimitri-ism
Chris Hedges points out that, what he terms, “Fundamentalists”, whether the Christian Right, or the New Atheists, or fundies of other religions, hold to a view of Utopianism that foresees a glorious future if we could just get rid of groups of people who stand in the way of their version of “Progress”. The Fundies consider it morally justified to use violence to eradicate those who are not contributing to the forward momentum of the human race toward an enlightened goal of purified togetherness, or collective purity.
Christian Fundamentalists say that Jesus Christ will return and inaugurate a 1000 year kingdom where He will reign after defeating His enemies. The New Atheists say that science and rationalism will give way to a glorious future for the human race. Both groups have enemies who stand in the way of the onward march toward this Edenic Utopia.
Enemies of Utopia
Who are one of the biggest targets of both the North American Christian Right and the New Atheists? Muslims. They are Flavour of the Month. We pick new flavours every few years.
Indeed, despite their antagonism for one another, Christian Rightists and New Atheists both view Muslims as a suspicious and potentially dangerous group, who pose an imminent threat to Westerners. And, of course, the Utopia to both the Christoholics and Atheiholics is Western. After all, the West has been blessed by Destiny, God, or whatever you would like to call our Sheer Luck for making us Number One these past 500 years on the planet.
And why are Muslims the latest target of Western antagonism?
Morris Berman, the American writer, cultural historian and social critic who recently exiled himself to Mexico, commented [emphasis mine]:
If we turn to Islamic societies, on the other hand, we find something that truly is different, for they are predominantly traditional in nature.
Whatever one might think of Allah, in Islamic societies religion comes first, and it gives those societies a meaningful communal foundation.
Contrary to already faltering theories about “soft power,” the only way to force our notion of progress onto these cultures is war – which is precisely what the North did to the South [blogger’s note: in the U.S.] starting in 1861.
True, these societies are repressive, they treat women badly, and they tend to be intellectually static. But they also have gracious codes of hospitality, and put great emphasis on family, community, and loyalty.
And while the global economy has handed them extremes of wealth and poverty, hustling [the theme of Berman’s book] is not part of the Islamic ethos, and neither is technological innovation.
In the long run, and despite our best efforts, we shall not be able to dominate or defeat these traditional societies, such as in Iraq or Iran or Afghanistan; ans as for the purported “war on terror,” it is nothing more than a fool’s errand as anyone with half a brain knows. In a word, we shall not be able to do to Islam what the North did to the South in the Civil War, either culturally or militarily.
– p. xvi, Morris Berman, Why America Failed: The Roots of Imperial Decline, Hoboken, New Jersey, USA: John Wiley & Sons, 2012.
Now, from Berman’s comments in other parts of Why America Failed, I surmise that one of his thesis is as follows:
Whoever opposes our Western Utopianism is branded an enemy.
Any society who do not follow the Western march of progress toward our Utopia of Capitalistic/Technological/Industrial Development is an impediment. Whoever opposes this blocks the advancement of Civilisation (read: WESTERN Civilisation).
Thus, anyone who resists the West is Evil, the opponent of Progress. This is a problem. To overcome this opposition, all means possible must be used. Including force.
In other words, to effectively respond to the challenge of traditional societies who stubbornly refuse to jump aboard our fast train toward Technological Paradise, we Westerners are justified in using violence, intimidation and genocide.
In other words, get them before they get you.
This is the justification for our Western concept of the First or Pre-Emptive Strike. We used this philosophy against the Soviet Union, now we use it against traditional Muslim societies and their so-called “Islamists”.
Any society that values Traditionalism above Modern Progress is a threat.
Berman develops this idea as he discusses Walter Hixson’s book, The Myth of American Diplomacy:
Hixson believes that the civilizational clash [between industrial/technological/scientific “progress” and traditional cultures such as in the pre-US Civil War South] we have been talking about is in fact much greater than one of modernization, which is a relatively recent phenomenon; that it can be traced to the emergence of modernity itself, a long-term pattern going back to early modern Europe . . .
In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Euro-American history developed within the framework of modernity. That is to say, these nations defined themselves as modern, in contrast to those they labelled “backward”; and colonialism and imperialism followed from a worldview that apotheosized the new mode of existence. On this schema, those peoples who lived in accordance with different realities were viewed as unenlightened, and thus fair game for Western (Occidental) control.
The United States, says Hixson, became the epitome of modernity, and central to this was Turner’s definition of the frontier as the “meeting point between savagery and civilization” . . .
“In here” is civilization; “out there” is savagery, which must be converted, subdued, or (typically) exterminated . . .
The result, says Hixson, is a continuous history of violent conflict, wherein, to quote the eminent Americanist scholar Sacvan Bercovitch, the United States engages in “a rhetoric of holy war against everything un-American.”
This is what happened in [my bullet points]:
– the “winning of the West” (the Indian genocide),
– the destruction of the American South (perceived by the North as backward and barbaric),
– the Cold War (think of the “gooks” and “slopes” of Vietnam),
– the so-called war on terrorism,
– and so on.
Starting with the Native Americans, these Other were not perceived as being fully human; they were merly obstacles in the way of modernist “progress.”
For deep psychological reasons I have explored elsewhere (the need to give yourself an identity through opposition), and which Hixson explores from a somewhat different angle (the psychoanalytic theory of Jacques Lacan), war is at the center of U.S. history and American identity.
There is simply no stopping the “beacon of liberty” concept, the “march of progress” concept, or the “triumph over savagery” concept.
These notions lie at the heart of the frontier encounter with the Other, which involves, says Hixson, “an especially violent form of identification.” This is why the Southern way of life had to go, and why our approach to our supposed enemies – then, before, and since – is always one of scorched earth and scorched soul. American military campaigns are incredibly violent; the enemy is always a collection of untermenschen [NOTE: a Nazi word for “subhuman”] and therefore must be completely destroyed . . .
. . . from an early point, America had no real content. Hustling [Berman’s word for America’s non-stop pursuit of gain at the expense of others], after all, hardly qualifies as content; indeed, it can only generate an anti-society, which we now see all around us. In addition, in breaking away from England and Continental Europe, America acquired what Hegel called a “negative identity,”one that was defined by what it was not, what it was opposed to.
Hixson, following Louis Hartz, argues that our belief that we are special came out of not having, in contrast to Europe, a long history of feudalism and religion to endow us with a solid identity. And without the sense of a long historical tradition, America became dependent on representation – on an image of itself to organize consent and coherence.
This is why the boundless expansion of the frontier and the ideology of progress (as against the “savage,” who is unprogressive) are so closely tied together and why our behaviour toward perceived enemies is so extreme – pathological, in a word.
It is also why there is so little tolerance for substantive dissent, or fundamental critique, in America. Since our identity is in fact quite brittle, we have to be constantly telling ourselves how fabulous we are. Thus Tocqueville wrote of America that “the least reproach offends it, and the slightest sting of truth turns it fierce; one must praise everything, from the turn of its phrases to its most robust virtues. . . . Hence the majority lives in a state of perpetual self-adoration.”
– pp. 153-155, Morris Berman, Why America Failed: The Roots of Imperial Decline, Hoboken, New Jersey, USA: John Wiley & Sons, 2012.
Who can challenge the West? Anyone who does is labelled a fool. A madman. A terrorist.
Is this fair? Perhaps we are the fools, the madmen, the terrorists!
MY CONFESSION – BECOMING MORE AND MORE LIKE YOUR ENEMIES:
In Chris Hedges’ I Don’t Believe in Atheists, he states that the New Atheists are actually becoming the violent, pathological people they hate: the Christian Right. Why? Because both groups are intolerant of all others. And both hate Muslims.
In opposition to the New Atheists and Christian Right, I have a profound respect for Muslims. I have spent a fair deal of time with them. I have studied the Koran, read Islamic history, travelled to Muslim areas, befriended Muslims, studied, worked and socialised with them. My conclusion: I think they’re normal people just like you and me: they want to live freely, raise families in peace, build their careers, get educated, enjoy community, and leave a legacy of goodwill. Most Muslims.
The point is: the more you rant and rave, the more you appear like the very opponents you rage against. This is my problem.
In rampaging against the Utopianism of the Other, you prove that you are just as intolerant, just as bigoted, just as fundamentalist, as your enemy.
You become the Monster you hate. And you swap his version of Paradise for your own.
I think that I am, like the New Atheists and Christian Right, guilty of Utopianism: I have been conjuring up and promoting a Utopian belief that enlightened people will read my blogs and then join me in my Crusade of publicly condemning social injustice. They will follow me in promoting more equitable and neighbour-loving ways of engaging society. They will become anti-Western and anti-Christian Right.
In my mind, other Utopias are doomed: Western society, or Babylon as I call it, and all its supporters, will eventually collapse.
The wise minority who pursues truth, justice and freedom may be persecuted, but will eventually win out. The Messiah, Yeshua, will return and vindicate those who condemn the unjust, typically seen as the Money-Worshipping Warmongers, the leaders of an oppressive global capitalist System, the Matrix.
Those who love their neighbours, who care for the poor, will be pulled up from the ash heap and honoured. They will rule with the Messiah.
The enemies, those who continue to deceive the majority with “Bread and Circuses” or harass them with violence or threats thereof, will be defeated. They will self-destruct, sinking into oblivion by the sheer weight of their own evil and destructiveness.
Chris Hedges does a lot to puncture the balloon of this somewhat naive thinking. There is no Utopia that justifies hating the Other, whether it is the “Islamist”, the socialist, the environmentalist, the activist, the Western corporate overlord, the New Atheist, or the Christian Rightist.
Intolerance is intolerance.
Hedges himself eloquently condemns the Christian Right as well as the New Atheists. But rather than using blustering threats, or mocking bravado, he uses what the Protestant Reformation theologian Sebastian Castellio called “reasonings and writings”.
Servitus had commited the worst of sins in the eyes of Calvin: he denied the Christian concept of the Trinity, that God consists of the co-equal Father, Son and Holy Spirit. As such, Calvin supported the tribunal that condemned Servitus to an excruciatingly painful death of being burnt alive over green, slow-burning firewood.
Castellio commented [emphasis mine]:
To kill a man is not to protect a doctrine, but it is to kill a man. When the Genevans killed Servetus, they did not defend a doctrine, they killed a man. To protect a doctrine is not the magistrate’s affair (what has the sword to do with doctrine?) but the teacher’s. But it is the magistrate’s affair to protect the teacher, as it is to protect the farmer and the smith, and the physician and others against injury. Thus if Servetus had wished to kill Calvin, the magistrate would properly have defended Calvin. But when Servetus fought with reasons and writings, he should have been repulsed by reasons and writings.
Thus, violence is never a means of dealing with those who disagree with us. “Reasons and writings” are the proper way to “repulse” our ideological enemies.
So I must admit that my condemnation of Westerners and especially Christians and their most prominent North American manifestation in the Evangelicals and the Christian Right sounds bombastic and even intolerant. I blame them of bigotry, but in the process, I myself sound like a bigot.
I simply exchange their Utopia for my own version of a perfect ideal society where everyone loves their neighbour and treats each other with respect.
Thus, some people can read my blogs and assume that I myself am guilty of persecuting both Westerners and Christians.
This is a fair assessment.
Perhaps as a Westerner myself, a follower of Yeshua the Messiah, and a former member of the Evangelical tribe for 30 years, I felt that I had a special privilege to criticise my own kind. Having spent from 1983 until now mostly hanging out with non-Westerners – Chinese, Vietnamese, First Nations, Muslims, South Asians, etc – gives me what I believed is a unique ability to view our culture and religion from an Outside Perspective, being Insider and an Outsider at the same time.
No wonder I have offended a few people. Not everyone has had a bad experience with Westerners. Not everyone has had bad encounters with Christians. From their point of view, Westerners and Christians are simply nice people. They are tolerant, respectful and open to learning about other cultures. They would like to share what they have learned from their own cultural and Biblical background, and much of what they have to say is helpful.
Yes, no doubt there are many, many kind and knowledgeable Westerners and Christians. And I have unfortunately grouped them altogether into one mass of demons. To me, they are the dangerous Other, and they must be rooted out and dealt with. They are the main force behind the destruction of our world, and must be stopped.
I am just as bad as the Christian Right, with their diatribes against secularists, gays, Climate Change proponents, evolutionists, pro-choicers, Muslims, traditional indigenous societies, feminists, socialists, etc.
My brush paints broad strokes.
I forget that many Christians are progressive, kindly, pro-environment, friendly to First Nations, Muslims and people of other ethnicities and religions. Many Evangelicals in particular are simply excellent, bright, dedicated, caring and wise people. Yes, yes, yes.
My ranting is often deprived of logic. I come across as a Sam Harris, an Ann Coulter, a Tea Partier, a raving lunatic. People turn to my blogs more to copy my photos than to bother reading the ideas I post here.
Thus, my writing has been a form of violence in itself. Bigoted. Intolerant. Mean-spirited. Moronic. Shallow. Bombastic. Blustery. Childish. Comedic. Cartoonish.
Yes, I’ll admit to it all.
And I want to improve.
Do I believe that Westerners are generally on a Fast Track to Oblivion? Yes.
Do I think that they are guilty of genocide against many indigenous peoples throughout the world, including in the Americans, Australia, New Zealand, Africa, South Asia, etc?
Do I believe that the West has also committed atrocities against the Koreans, the Chinese, the Iraqis, the Afghanis, the Libyans, the Egyptians, the Iranians, the Latin Americans, the Caribbeans, etc.? Yes.
Do I think that Christians are especially to blame for joining with Atheists, Agnostics, Deists, Masons, etc. in the oppression of many non-Westerners? Yes. And they even twisted the words of the Sacred Scriptures to accomplish their imperialistic aims? Yes.
Do I claim that there is a Better Way? Yes.
I believe that the Sacred Scriptures, the Holy Bible, points the way toward loving the Creator rather than cherishing the idols of selfishness, greed, militarism, violence, power-grabbing, expansionism, theft, corruption, fame, etc. The words of Yahweh also show us how to love our neighbours properly, seeing that we all are created in God’s image, bear His likeness, and share in His pursuit of high ethical, aesthetic and relational standards, despite our propensity toward evil. Yes, yes, yes, I believe all this.
So where does my contradiction life? Is it simply found in my methodology, or is my content somehow off-base?
Self-awareness. Self-critique. Self-reform. I believe that these are all healthy. Necessary. Indispensable.
Stay tuned for how this plays out over the coming months and years.
And thank you for your continued support.
We are all in the same boat. Let’s paddle in the right direction. And let’s paddle with gusto.
And thank you, Chris Hedges, for your convicting, kick-ass words. My butt’s sore, but hey, I needed that. Aching buttocks can lead to drastic, ongoing changes for the better.
All my relations,
Contact me at dimitri.pravdin(*a*)mail.ru