Monday, 30 January 2017

Shia LaBeouf is a Christian worshipping in front of a camera

I

I don't think you can watch this video, or any of the strange live stream "art," without a nagging feeling of deja vu.

The suspicion is expected, but search deeper. I think you know why you are uncomfortable. After all, you were told a long time ago how "secular" Western countries are, and how the great struggles of our history unshackled everything from malicious religion. But you have been deceived, my friend.

Years ago I marvelled how the people in 1095 could agree sending hundreds of thousands of troops into the Near East to liberate the Holy Land from the Muslim occupiers was a good idea. Or in the 13th-century when clerics decided to purge European society of heresy. Or when Catholic Spanish missionaries sanctioned (and used) firearms to "cleanse" entire people groups in South America in the 15th-century.

I wondered how the folks could believe in something so demonstrably nasty and genocidal, and slaughter with smiling faces. They too had mantras recited for hours to reframe the mind in line with the crazy world they'd created around them. Everything they did was good and sweet and true.

Those young chanting progressives are performing the oldest ritual. They are doing so in an age with the smartphone, penicillin and the recent history of landing on the freaking moon. That camera isn't in some Congo jungle village where the moon might scare the sun away forever. This is New York. That faded sharpie heart drawn on the girl's hand may as well be a crucifix. What gives?

II

Have you ever considered the possibility that Jesus was a Marxist? Well, I suppose with the historical order of things, we'd kind of have to reverse this, wouldn't we? We'd have to say not that Jesus was a Marxist, but that Marx was a Christian. Or more correctly, that Marxism was a sect of Christianity.

Immediately, two groups will be horrified by this proposition: Christians and Marxists. By my count, this is, oh, pretty much, everybody.

On the other hand, why should we accept the word of either Christians or Marxists about this? Is Christianity a form of Judaism? Is Islam a form of either? Most people now would say no. But how can Islam be non-Christian while Mormonism is Christian? I mean, if you define Rousseau, Marx and Hitler as Christian reformers, differing only in doctrinal absurdities from Luther and Calvin, you get a very different picture of recent history. And, of course, those chanters start to make sense.

Is there any effective difference between "mainline" Protestantism as practised today, and Marxism? Can anyone describe an act, for example, that an orthodox Marxist would consider unethical and the church would consider ethical? Or vice versa?

I'm careful not to compare violent Marxists with pacifist Christians. The kulaks were liquidated by Lenin, not Marx. There's a reason they call it Marxist-Leninism. And no reason to think that Marx's reaction to Leninism would have been any different from that of Emma Goldman or Rosa Luxemburg.

You can certainly find the roots of violence in Marx's writing. And in Jesus': "Not peace, but a sword..." As for today's rainbow-huggy-touchy-feely left, the violent strain might be dormant but only because it has total power. Try organising a true reactionary or right-leaning opposition and you'll see its fangs. Those kids will calmly chant "he will not divide us" as they slice your head from its neck.

It's a matter of historical fact that the progressive left is the direct, uncontested, lineal descendant of Henry Ward Beecher, Horace Greeley, Julia Ward Howe, etc, etc, etc. These were folks who made Hamas look like Peewee. The only reason they didn't have suicide belts is that 19th-century explosives were expensive and unreliable. Al Qaeda and Osama pretty much ripped off their whole routine from John Brown.

III

So is it really surprising to learn that Marx had a column in Greeley's newspaper? It strikes me as self-evident that both "secular humanism" (ie, Marxism-Rousseauism) and "fundamentalism" are impossible to explain except as sects of Christianity.

The landscape has changed over the years, but not too much. Christians formed churches and continue to support churches more in service to the communal relationship with God, not for their individual relationship. Plenty of people work out their individual relationship with God without the need of any church and that makes perfect sense.

To enter into a church, however, means that while a person does work out his salvation with fear and trembling on the individual level, churches distinguish themselves from more individual relationships with God because the relationship is understood as communal, as a practice within a body. Niebuhr's concept of corporate sin addresses this. So, I think, do the prayers of confession. The church has sinned as a body. What does this mean politically? Church bodies try to work this out all the time, invoking the Holy Spirit for guidance and clarity. It's work that never ends and is prone to error as well as goodness.

In the US, the Civil Rights marches and non-violent demonstrations sprang from church services, prayer meetings and Bible studies. Judeo-Christian convictions of justice and the Christian idea of the word becoming flesh and the worldly act of putting oneself in harm's way drove the movement. It showed how the church can rise to courage and life-endangering deeds in service to eradicating injustice.

I suspect also the Civil Rights movement compares to the work of churches over the last 30 years practising the social gospel and opposing war. Church workers are killed often in Africa. They work on literacy projects, irrigation, crop management and other practical projects, in the name of the church. These people don't seem like naive do-gooders to me. They risk themselves to serve others within the framework of the church in ways I've never had the courage to do.

There are plenty of good examples along these lines. But I hate the smugness. Moreover, when it comes to liturgical language, prayers of confession are worse that flat tires. Sparks are flying off the rims. The Judeo-Christian tradition has a long history of social action and one of the church's most prickly and tricky challenges is how and where to respond to injustice.

IV

Since Christianity has been a religion of power for the last 1700 years, it seems naive to assume the structure just up and disappeared sometime last century because humans figured out how to fly planes or look at galaxies or some other such reasoning.

The people standing in front of the live stream want "social justice." Just meditate on that phrase for a second, isn't it fascinating? Since the concept of justice is intrinsically a social one, if you take the phrase literally it is a pleonasm.

In practice, what "social justice" seems to mean is any action which seems right to the actor as a Christian, but violates the codes of "formal justice." In other words, it could be plausibly argued that a non-euphemistic synonym for "social justice" is actually "political violence."

If we look for example at the role the World Council of Churches played in bringing Robert Mugabe to power, we can see that this is not academic hair-splitting. In fact, versions of the "social justice" concept, which directly contradicted the 19th-century ideal of the Rechtstaat or rule of law ("formal justice"), were central to both Nazism and Communism, and hence responsible for deaths well into the nine figures.

Of course, there was not the slightest spark of murderousness in almost all of the missionaries who went to Sudan to help with irrigation, etc. But their connection between political violence and the urge to improve the world is by no means remote or abstract - as those chanters seem to understand.

V

Some people might say it's simply a bunch of bored, over-excited and impressionable rich kids carrying out the same-old "the poor people are stupid" routine. I think we are observing the same events in pretty much the same way.

The reason I prefer to look at this progressive movement, whatever you want to call it, as a religion rather than as a class issue, is that the class-conflict approach is overexposed, and any illustration of history dependent on it is quickly confused with a zillion other illustrations that are similar, but different.

Whereas defining contemporary progressivism (or Unitarianism, secularism, political correctness, humanism, educationalism, etc, etc...) as a religion in general, and as a branch of Christianity in specific, takes almost no effort at all. And it fits all the facts.

All you have to observe is that its major beliefs (egalitarianism, pacifism, communitarianism) are straight out of the Gospels. And that the only doctrinal trait separating it from other branches of Christianity is that it does not assert the divinity of Jesus or claim supernatural forces operate in human affairs. Echoes of these views can be found in Arian, Arminian, Pelagian and many other heresies over the years.

It is unclear why, just because it incorporates Newtonian and Darwinian science, this new synthesis should suddenly be treated as the only categorical exception in Western history. Now, we see why you feel so suspicious watching that video.

If you look at the red-state versus blue-state conflict in the US as a classic religious conflict between two Christian sects, (the Roundheads versus the Cavaliers, dating all the way back to England) I think a lot of otherwise puzzling phenomena such as camera chanting snap into focus...

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