Friday, 2 January 2009

Hedges' Warning

Chris Hedges is a graduate of a United States liberal seminary but who moved towards Socialism with a prophetic edge: his latest piece for Truthdig has a warning for 2009 and beyond:

If Barack Obama does not end the flagrant theft of taxpayer funds by corporate slugs and the disgraceful abandonment of our working class, especially as foreclosures and unemployment mount, many in the country will turn in desperation to the far right embodied by groups such as Christian radicals. The failure by the left to offer a democratic socialist alternative will mean there will be, in the eyes of many embittered and struggling working- and middle-class Americans, no alternative but a perverted Christian fascism. The inability to articulate a viable socialism has been our gravest mistake. It will ensure, if this does not soon change, a ruthless totalitarian capitalism.

It always amazes me that Americans cannot organise a free at the point of use health service: after all, the education of children is free at the point of use, and the military doesn't come with a set of charges for purchases last year.

Hedges left the liberal Church and toughened up his view of the world via reporting on central American conflicts. He opposed Bush's warmongering while the American mass media had forgotten its objectivity. He criticises the current batch of simplistic atheists as well as the far right Christians that he fears will be the last port of call of a desperate American nation.

As for the liberal Church, when he attends he dislikes:

the inanity of the sermons and the arrogance of many congregants, who appear to believe they are "honorary" sinners. The liberal church, attacked by atheists as an ineffectual "moderate" religion and by fundamentalists as a "nominal" form of Christianity, is as its critics point out, a largely vapid and irrelevant force… it does not understand how the world works or the seduction of evil. The liberal church is largely middle class, bourgeois phenomenon, filled with many people who have profited from industrialisation… and global capitalism. They often seem to think that if "we" can only be nice and inclusive, everything will work out. The liberal church also usually buys into the myth that we can morally progress as a species… [and has a] naive belief in our goodness and decency - this inability to face the dark reality of human nature, our capacity for evil and the morally neutral universe we inhabit…

…Religious institutions, however, should be separated from the religious values imparted to me by religious figures, including my father. Most of these men and women ran afoul of their own religious authorities. Religion, real religion, involved fighting for justice, standing up for the voiceless and the weak, reaching out in acts of kindness and compassion to the stranger and the outcast, living a life of simplicity, cultivating empathy and defying the powerful. It was a commitment to care for the other. Spirituality was defined not by "how it is with me," but rather by the tougher spirituality of resistance, the spirituality born of struggle, of the fight with the world's evils. This spirituality, vastly different from the narcissism of modern spirituality movements, was eloquently articulated by King and the Lutheran minister Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was imprisoned and put to death by the Nazis.

People who do impress Hedges include theologians like William Stringfellow, Karl Barth, Paul Tillich, Abraham Heschel, and Reinhold Niebuhr.

One of the rationales behind my own presentation of theologians locally is to face up to some of these issues (and indeed what happened to Germany): what the modernist theologians did to protect their christocentric theological schemes and how they put up resistance to Nazism or gave assistance to those who got out.

We've yet to do Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Reinhold Niebuhr before coming on to looking at Anglican controversies in the past decades and then moving on to some very contemporary theologians. I suggest that of the moderns Reinhold Niebuhr will become more relevant this coming year because of his theology based on resisting labour-dehumanising trends in corporate America and his understanding of collective sin and pragmatism. He tied his theology to economic and social realities. We've seen credit and asset bubbles, operator greed and collective fraud in a fast-moving worldwide computerised system that has broken down.

All these theologians were intended correctives to liberal theologians of the nineteenth century, and the one behind Niebuhr is Walter Rauschenbusch (1861-1917) of public sins in a society that organises itself (which all do) and the social responsibility to build up the Kingdom of God in a practical sense.

Historically in Britain liberal churches have been middle class (like so many denominations: they rarely penetrated the working class; the Anglican Church is establishment and so is feudal class derived) which meant that they came with respectable urban money and 'reached out' with educational and social provision; to some of the radicals of the later nineteenth century they were inadequate and failed to fully connect. An experiment with forming Labour Churches was unsuccessful. It seemed that organised religion had a class base that was its undermining.

My own view today is that theology, and even an open theology that brings back the relevance of other disciplines and cuts into all the artificial protection for christology, has to cease to be purely personal or story based - narratives and biographies and all that - and connect with the reality of economic and social life and has to be theoretical and anthropological (allowing the biographical back in). If it doesn't then it is in danger of being an irrelevant pasttime for those with secure pensions and stipends. Perhaps the rough economic situation in at least 2009 will encourage a move to a tougher and more realistic, more informed by economics and sociology, approach to doing theology.

Much theology tends to be an ecclesiastical dogfight, a battle over diminishing territory that keeps insiders happy and busy but is utterly irrelevant for a society in stress. Theologians need to address politics, economics and society more and their Churches somewhat less.


Anonymous said...

I am tempted to say Chris paints with one of the broadest brushes around. Like most critics of the church, he tends to deal not with the seismic issues underlying the church problem -- its creedal messianic base, etc. -- but with stereotypes that do not work, save to paint with a broad brush. My own congregation is the very reverse of the constituency he describes.

I think the efforts of Hedges to rally people to a semi-socialist solution is also a bit broad, in the sense that all past ideologies are hard to apply these days when the landscape is filled with transactions whose consequences cannot even be anticipated with accuracy by the best versed observers.

We are, I believe, condemned to failure if we talk in terms of ideologies which are themselves useless to describe attainable realities. My personal guess is that we will continue to have a mixed economy, that Barack will favor such, understanding that a profit motive is not all bad and that government operation of everything is an invitation to terminal stasis.

So I believe this is a tempest in a teapot. Better to focus on the actual details of what Obama has said he will do and contribute to the process of helping formulate the actual actions that will be forthcoming.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

How much does he deal with the ideological, and how much the applied practical: I think he comes across as fairly pragmatic and practical at base, with analysis, and derives his 'prediction' or prophetic utterances from these.

My criticism would be that a number of Unitarian Universalist churches might well be in agreement with him, and so might some Episcopalians. This deep recession needs some practical and far reaching solutions and dissatisfaction does have ideological consequences.

June Butler said...

Adrian, I hope you include Walter Bruggemann in your contemporaries when you jump the pond. We studied part of his "Countering Pharoah" series on DVD, which I thought was excellent, in our adult class at my church.

Then, we went back to N. T. Wright, and I dropped out of the class.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Well I ought to look: so far I haven't of the eight written so the later stuff is fluid.

June Butler said...

I didn't mean for it to sound like an order, Adrian. I meant to say that you should have a look.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

I was intending and am still intending to have a look... and may well include.

Fred Preuss said...

Hedges was born in 99.9% White Vermont, went to an expensive Connecticut prep school, expensive college, high paying jobs, nice suburban home.
If this man is 'prophetic', anyone can be. Just what the 'Left' needs-another Volvo voter.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Lots of people of socialist conviction come from a privileged background. Tony Benn in the UK is an example: makes no difference to his commitment.

Many socialists were middle class: they were the ones that received the abstract education that led them to an articulated socialist view.

June Butler said...

Fred is spreading cheer all around Blogland tonight. He let me know that I bore him.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

You are his mother? Can't you take Fred in hand then?

June Butler said...

I'm not his mother! I have no control over Fred.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

You bore him like Mary bore Jesus: at the wedding at Cana Jesus said, "Woman, you are boring me."

June Butler said...

You're too clever by half, young man. I missed that one completely. It's obvious that I'm not YOUR mother. I don't have the clever genes.