Archive for October 21st, 2008

Escape To Victoria

A while back in a meeting about the Irish Left Review I was discussing with a few other bloggers -ones who have actually, like, written stuff on it- how to get more people to read it. I made a light-hearted suggestion about harvesting e-mail addresses which was rightly shot down as rather unethical.

And then I get this in my spam filter and think: comrades, capitalism is giving up the ghost before our very eyes. People are willing to listen to what you have to say without resorting to the likes of this.

Sinful Thought For The Day

Geoffrey Wheatcroft has a thought-provoking piece on religion in American politics.

Nearly half a century later there has been a complete change. Palin’s convention speech was held for a time to be the height of feisty wit; but much more revealing is what she and her pastor have said about “the end of days”, an idea in which millions of American evangelical Christians sincerely believe. According to Kalnins, the Jewish people must be gathered into the Land of Israel as a preliminary to Armageddon. When that vast conflict comes the Jews will be converted, or possibly annihilated, and it will be followed by the Rapture.

Already Kalnins sees “the storm clouds are gathering” through conflict in the Middle East: “Scripture specifically mentions oil instability as a sign of the Rapture. We’re seeing more and more oil wars. The contractions of the fulfilment of prophecies are getting tighter and tighter.” And he hopes to witness the Rapture soon. “I’m just looking at the turmoil of the world, Iraq, other places – everywhere people are fighting against Christ,” he says. Since Palin is one of his flock, she presumably believes this too. She certainly believes that Jesus told us to invade Iraq: she said so from the pulpit.

I think there needs to be some interrogation of the nature of religious belief as expressed by the likes of Sarah Palin. It is a hunch on my part, but I don’t believe Sarah Palin believes in the Rapture in the same way that, for instance, I believe that drinking bleach will make you sick. I’m more inclined to think that she and people like her both believe it and don’t believe it at the same time.

It’s the expression of the belief that seems the important part, to my mind: what it means in terms of the structure of the society in which you exist. If these people’s belief that ‘the earth is 5000 years old’ were really of the same kind of belief as ‘drinking bleach will make you sick’, then they wouldn’t feel the need to building ‘museums’ and promote the likes of ‘intelligent design’ as a means of justifying it. It is precisely the fact that the belief is plainly absurd, in light of what we know these days, that demands these people attest to it. When they say that it’s a ‘test of their faith’, what they really mean is it’s a test of their discipline. This is a discipline defined not by God, but by men and women.

In religious terms, what these people are up to is sinful. The unshaking belief that they, as sinners, know precisely what is intended by scripture and that it relates personally to their own predicament, is not something of which the God of the Ten Commandments would approve. The first couple of commandments are quite resounding on this: 1. I am God: not you. 2. No false idols, and that means, among other things, no making fetishes out of words.

So when Wheatcroft characterises this activity as the ‘resurgence of religion’, he’s right in one way, but it is a particular form of religion that isn’t so much based on spiritual enlightenment but submission to authority. And the question arises: is it religion in se that gives rise to authoritarian submission, or is it authoritarian submission that acquires particular form in religion? The point being that there are material conditions that bear directly on religious behaviour. One example is the nature of work in a corporate organization. In this, ‘our people are our most important asset’, ‘we value all our people’, and so on, yet there is a clear hierarchy, and the people at the top exercise tyrannical power. It’s easy to see how this structure can end up being reflected in religious practice.

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October 2008
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