Chris Hedges, the former New York Times reporter whose career has devolved down into writing unhinged, vitriolic rants against conservative Christians, has a new screed out at far-left site TruthDig. That wouldn’t normally grab my attention, except for the fact that the PCUSA’s Presbyterian Voices for Justice (as the merger of the Witherspoon Society and Voices of Sophia styles itself) thinks the piece worthy of trumpeting:
Could we hear this as a passionate call for the church – like, maybe our PC(USA) – to care to stand up and do its job? Not to save the church, but to save the world.
So what is it that has PYJ thinks is so inspiring?
It is hard to muster much sympathy over the implosion of the Catholic Church, traditional Protestant denominations or Jewish synagogues. These institutions were passive as the Christian right, which peddles magical thinking and a Jesus-as-warrior philosophy, hijacked the language and iconography of traditional Christianity. They have busied themselves with the boutique activism of the culture wars. They have failed to unequivocally denounce unfettered capitalism, globalization and pre-emptive war. The obsession with personal piety and “How-is-it-with-me?” spirituality that permeates most congregations is narcissism. And while the Protestant church and reformed Judaism have not replicated the perfidiousness of the Catholic bishops, who protect child-molesting priests, they have little to say in an age when we desperately need moral guidance.
Right. There’s not nearly enough left-wing political activism in the mainline Protestant churches for Hedges. That’s not surprising, really, since they have no other purpose:
I grew up in the church and graduated from a seminary. It is an institution whose cruelty, inflicted on my father, who was a Presbyterian minister, I know intimately. I do not attend church. The cloying, feel-your-pain language of the average clergy member makes me run for the door. The debates in most churches—whether revolving around homosexuality or biblical interpretation—are a waste of energy. I have no desire to belong to any organization, religious or otherwise, which discriminates, nor will I spend my time trying to convince someone that the raw anti-Semitism in the Gospel of John might not be the word of God. It makes no difference to me if Jesus existed or not. There is no historical evidence that he did. Fairy tales about heaven and hell, angels, miracles, saints, divine intervention and God’s beneficent plan for us are repeatedly mocked in the brutality and indiscriminate killing in war zones, where I witnessed children murdered for sport and psychopathic gangsters elevated to demigods. The Bible works only as metaphor.
Actually, the Bible doesn’t work as metaphor. If that was all it was, I’d much rather join the Church of All Worlds. Hedonists have so much more fun, doncha know. The truth is, if what the Bible says is nothing but metaphor, and you simply want to use it to prop up your far-left politics, just chuck it and go straight to The Communist Manifesto. At least then you’d be honest.
The institutional church, when it does speak, mutters pious non-statements that mean nothing. “Given the complexity of factors involved, many of which understandably remain confidential, it is altogether appropriate for members of our armed forces to presume the integrity of our leadership and its judgments, and therefore to carry out their military duties in good conscience,” Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien, head of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, wrote about the Iraq war. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, on the eve of the invasion, told believers that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was a menace, and that reasonable people could disagree about the necessity of using force to overthrow him.
Apparently Hedges never saw “children murdered for sport” in Iraq, and thought Saddam, far from being a “psychopathic gangster elevated to demigod,” was a peachy guy who should have been allowed to stay in office and kill as many Iraqis as he thought necessary. The stuff that causes him to dismiss God only happens in Israel and the United States.
A Gallup poll in 2006 found that “the more frequently an American attends church, the less likely he or she is to say the war was a mistake.” Given that Jesus was a pacifist,
But didn’t actually exist, according to Hedges.
and given that all of us who graduated from seminary rigorously studied Just War doctrine, which was flagrantly violated by the invasion of Iraq, this is a rather startling statistic.
It isn’t actually a statistic, but never mind. That the Iraq war violated just war doctrine is a much debated question, except by people such as Hedges, for whom there is no need to debate what should be obvious to all sentient beings.
But I cannot rejoice in the collapse of these institutions. We are not going to be saved by faith in reason, science and technology, which the dead zone of oil forming in the Gulf of Mexico and our production of costly and redundant weapons systems illustrate. Frederick Nietzsche’s Übermensch, or “Superman”—our secular religion—is as fantasy-driven as religious magical thinking.
He’s certainly right about Nietzsche. The idea that he puts the German philosopher whose ideas formed the foundation for National Socialism on a par with Christianity, on the other hand, says a great deal more about Hedges than about the subject at hand.
We are rapidly losing the capacity for the moral life. We reject the anxiety of individual responsibility that laid the foundations for the open society. We are enjoined, after all, to love our neighbor, not our tribe. This empowerment of individual conscience was the starting point of the great ethical systems of all civilizations. Those who championed this radical individualism, from Confucius to Socrates to Jesus,
Who didn’t actually exist, according to Hedges, which if true means that it is the Church that goes by His name, and that Hedges so vociferously condemns, that actually taught in such a way as to “empower the individual conscience.”
fostered not obedience and conformity, but dissent and self-criticism. They taught that culture and society were not the sole prerogative of the powerful, that freedom and indeed the religious and moral life required us to often oppose and challenge those in authority, even at great personal cost.
Again, this isn’t actually what concerns Hedges. From the standpoint of the reigning cultural liberalism of the 21st century West, there’s a great deal of dissent among conservative Christians, and far more reflective self-criticism than Hedges has ever shown himself to be aware of. What he’s actually looking for, of course, is for the churches’ to buy into the left-wing political agenda for which he stands. Anything that might help further that goal, including churning out mush like this, is worth the effort.
The great religions set free the critical powers of humankind….They challenged the power of the tribe, the closed society. They offered up the possibility that human beings, although limited by circumstance and human weakness, could shape and give direction to society and their own lives.These religious thinkers were our first ethicists. And it is perhaps not accidental that the current pope, as well as the last one, drove out of the Catholic Church thousands of clergy and religious leaders who embodied these qualities, elevating the dregs to positions of leadership and leaving the pedophiles to run the Sunday schools.
By this rhetorical standard, pedophiles are running American public schools, since hundreds of public school teachers have sexual relations with their students every year (that’s just the ones who are caught and charged). But again, the facts don’t matter here. To someone like Hedges, what the rest of us call “facts” are just reactionary constructs designed to foil the development of revolutionary consciousness on the part of the masses, or something like that. The fact that the vast majority of priests and bishops are faithful, moral servants of their parishioners is of no consequence. If it’s necessary to libel them in order to undermine their authority, so be it.
These religious institutions are in irreversible decline. They are ruled by moral and intellectual trolls. They have become arrogant and self-absorbed. Their sins are many. They protected criminals. They pandered to the lowest common denominator and illusions of personal fulfillment and surrendered their moral authority. They did not fight the corporate tyrants who have impoverished us. They refused to denounce a caste of Christian heretics embodied by the Christian right and have, for their cowardice, been usurped by bizarre proto-fascists clutching the Christian cross. They have nothing left to say. And their aging congregants, who are fleeing the church in droves, know it. But don’t think the world will be a better place for their demise.
Isn’t that sweet? “They’re pond scum, but maybe they can be useful idiots for our agenda, so let’s not throw them completely overboard yet.” And the spectacle of an apostate who thinks Jesus never existed using a term like “heretic” as a swear word is so delicious that it is a virtual lock to win this year’s “‘Look On the Bright Side of Life’ Award for Industrial-Strength Irony”:
And this is the kind of guy with which the PVJ wants to identify? Even if you aren’t acquainted with the organization, that probably tells you all you need to know to wonder why anyone in the PCUSA would ever listen to them.
UPDATE: I’ve updated the title of the post, which was stupid, to something more descriptive. I’ve left the permalink as it was, however, in case anyone had already linked to it, so as not to mess them up.