What if I Was to Tell You…

kinnon —  January 20, 2007 — 3 Comments

UPDATE: ….that I was really grumpy (and under the weather) when I first wrote this post – so I’ve gone back and taken out a bunch of what I really should not have bothered to say. The original post lives on in RSS feeds and Google caches.

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know I’m greatly troubled by the marketing messages used to sell the Gospel. Messages that promise you can learn to “really live,” to have “your best life now,” find yourself “Enjoying Everyday Life®” or “Learn How to Live a Blessed Life“. I think Chris Hedges accurately describes the market for this nonsense – a people of “Suburban Despair.” (HT: Creativity Exchange)

This despair crosses economic boundaries, of course, enveloping many in the middle class who live trapped in huge, soulless exurbs where, lacking any form of community rituals or centers, they also feel deeply isolated, vulnerable and lonely. Those in despair are the most easily manipulated by demagogues, who promise a fantastic utopia, whether it is a worker’s paradise, fraternite-egalite-liberte, or the second coming of Jesus Christ. Those in despair search desperately for a solution, the warm embrace of a community to replace the one they lost, a sense of purpose and meaning in life, the assurance they are protected, loved and worthwhile.


The danger of this theology of despair is that it says that nothing in the world is worth saving. It rejoices in cataclysmic destruction. It welcomes the frightening advance of global warming, the spiraling wars and violence in the Middle East and the poverty and neglect that have blighted American urban and rural landscapes as encouraging signs that the end of the world is close at hand.

Believers, of course, clinging to this magical belief, which is a bizarre form of spiritual Darwinism, will be raptured upwards while the rest of us will be tormented with horrors by a warrior Christ and finally extinguished. This obsession with apocalyptic violence is an obsession with revenge. It is what the world, and we who still believe it is worth saving, deserve.

Those who lead the movement give their followers a moral license to direct this rage and yearning for violence against all those who refuse to submit to the movement, from liberals, to “secular humanists,” to “nominal Christians,” to intellectuals, to gays and lesbians, to Muslims. These radicals, from James Dobson to Pat Robertson, call for a theocratic state that will, if it comes to pass, bear within it many of the traits of classical fascism.

Read all of Hedges’ article, based on his book, American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America. There is a lot of hyperbole in what Hedges is saying and I struggle with seeing the Robertsons and Dobsons as particularly scary – as their influence is, thankfully, on the wane. And perhaps, Hedges rhetoric does require the invoking of Godwin’s Law. (HT: BHT)

I do, however, believe that he’s accurate in describing one of the emotions to which modern Western Christianity appeals – a suburban despair it pretends it can alleviate by unlocking the mythical promises of the scriptures. Embraced “because we offered them nothing else.” (Mythical in the sense that if you know the right ways to pray, you can unlock these promises.)

ASIDE: I read an interview yesterday with the bass player for Delirious? – a band for whom I had a certain fondness. They apparently will be spending a fair amount of time on the road with Joyce Meyer this year – perhaps hoping to be “Enjoying Everyday Life®.” I doubt I’ll be adding anymore of their music to my library. At least Joyce supports a Canadian company by flying in a $10 million Bombardier-built Challenger.

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A television editor, writer & director since 1978. A Christian since 1982. More than a little frustrated with the Church in the West since late in the last millennium.

3 responses to What if I Was to Tell You…

  1. I posted on this article as well. Perhaps I’m not thinking about it deeply enough, but I thought the Hedges piece was ridiculous. It wasn’t just a little bit over the top, it was one long string of hyperbole.

    I’m frankly a little baffled that Christians are touting this thing as something that needs to be read. First of all, he claims that “despair and revenge” is what drives evangelicalism. He supports this by painting a (very) false picture of our country as being in dire straits economically. That’s ridiculous (and I suspect he knows it). If anything, America is overly prosperous and probably not despairing enough about this present world. It’s just a big straw man.

    Secondly, he paints the message of “leaders” in the “radical Christian right movement” as an offer of a mythological escape from the present world. No time to unpack “radical Christian right” but my guess is it includes anyone who’s pro-life or votes Republican, but, um, isn’t the gospel a message that includes escape, salvation, and redemption by a supernatural God? This is what Hedges refers to as magical thinking. I can’t join with him in panning these beliefs (and don’t understand why others are). He wrote “Those in despair search desperately for a solution, the warm embrace of a community to replace the one they lost, a sense of purpose and meaning in life, the assurance they are protected, loved and worthwhile.”

    Well, yeah. And Jesus provides all that – community, sense of purpose and meaning, and assurance. I’m not sure I see the sinister nature of this message.

    Hedges uses scare words like “fascist” and “theocracy”. He hints that “radical right Christians” (including, no doubt, the homeschool moms buying veggie-tales tapes at the local Lifeway. To Hedges, they are part of the “most dangerous mass movement in American history”) are exhorted to violence by their leaders.

    And he says that people like that (and I’m sure he would include me in that mix, I actually voted for GWB in 2004) don’t think there’s anything in this world worth saving.

    As someone wise pointed out over at Thinklings – what about people? We believe they are worth saving . . .

    I asked in my post “where’s the ‘gold’ in this article that I’m to take with me?” I don’t see any. It’s just another scewed, hyperbolic anti-God screed that paints a caracature of “radical right Christians” (the local pro-life crisis pregnancy center) that doesn’t square with reality.

    And we can’t forget that the “them” talked about in this article is “us” – we aren’t given the option in Scripture to pick and choose which parts of the Body we will call “brother”.

    Does evangelicalism need reform? Absolutely. Can honest critiques be made? Yes, of course. But I’m baffled as to why this particular article was labelled a “must read” by iMonk and is being touted here as well.

  2. We are all blind pigs nuzzling in the ground for non-existent truffles. Hedges article merely asserts a point of view. It is a classic secular fundamentalist view that cannot abide people who may be motivated by religious values. I thought Freud and Marx were dead. If there is despair, it is the product of poor education and poor skills in managing social change. If there is despair, it can be found cities, suburbs and rural communities. I found Hedges “argument”/assertion as really vacuous, and emblematic of his own social and intellectual narrow-mindedness. Come on – American Facists? What is he an American Maoist cultural revolutionary purging the state of unwelcome influences? It is just this type of journalism that has created the divisive political culture that people on both the left and the right, and the middle hate.

  3. Joel at the BHT answers it better than I can/could.


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