Monday, June 04, 2007


Over on Truthdig, the insightful Chris Hedges has an article about why he doesn’t believe in atheists (“I Don’t Believe in Atheists”,’t_believe).

The article is comprised of remarks he made prior to his debate with one Sam Harris, a gentleman who has been making a name for himself as being ‘atheist’ and – as they would have said once – agin’ religion.

Hedges asserts clearly and calmly “the supreme importance of the monotheistic traditions in creating the concept of the individual”. After wayyyyy too much time having been spent in supporting – or at least allowing – the proposition that Hey Hey Ho Ho, Western Civ Has Got To Go, it’s about time to see what the structural and dynamic consequences of such deconstruction have been for the seaworthiness of the Vessel. Better late than never … We have to hope (and pray).

If there is no vital and palpable grasp of the value of ‘the individual’ as a concept and a reality, then Western Civilization’s very core collapses. Surely, the concept of ‘the individual’ underlies the Constitution’s concern for ‘rights’, especially against that ancient and monstrous predator, the government police power.

And if there is no ‘individual’ then there is no ‘individual responsibility’. And thus no sense of a self-governing Order among the members of a society, leaving it open to necessary (and inevitably excessive) ‘order’ being imposed upon the citizens from above (the hyperized police power).

And if there is no possibility of ‘the individual’ as a locus for constructive and efficacious contribution to the life of society, then there is no need for openness in society: why go to the trouble if there’s nothing worthwhile that openness might help to share? And maintaining openness can surely be a job of work and definitely results in some trouble. After all, human beings are not perfect (may even be tainted by a fundamental weakness for ‘evil’) and you can never be sure what sleaze or whackery such openness will wind up allowing into the public space of the society. Just look at the internet.

But even more, the concept of ‘the individual’ must point (and historically does) to some Beyond, some entity or realm outside of and above the things of this world: above governments and ‘feelings’ and fears and anxieties and preferences and prejudices and sciences and even laws. The only way to protect ‘the individual’ in this imperfect world is to anchor the authority and birthright of ‘the individual’ beyond (Beyond) this imperfect world. Thus, none of the world’s imperfections, “dress’t in a little brief authority”, can presume to engulf ‘the individual’.

And if there is no Beyond, then we lose not only ‘the individual’ but any secure concept of ‘the ideal’ toward which every individual should strive (and for glaring failures against which individual responsibility must be assumed).
Thus the utterly fatal dangers inherent in Flattening human existence by removing the Beyond from the realm of human experience.

Thus the dangers – far worse than in the ancient days of ‘pagan’ empires – when governments gather to themselves the Ultimate position in the lives of their citizens. For then the government is accountable to no power beyond or ‘above’ itself. Its status becomes merely a matter of maintaining physical power over its subjects and controlling them: their actions, their relationships, their very feelings and thoughts. This is more than a functional ‘paganism’ where the existence of a Beyond is acknowledged (even if the beings of that ‘Beyond’ do not respect or care for ‘the individual’). This is idolatry: a raising up of something of this world as an Ultimate power over the life of this world.

The Fundamentalists, though they will scream loudly that it is not so, wind up embracing idolatry by equating ‘government’ with the Ultimate, the Beyond, God – and they do this by claiming that their government is Deputized by the Beyond to wield Ultimate authority – authority that cannot be questioned without questioning the Beyond itself. An idol by any other name …

Back in their heyday the assorted Advocacies, drawing their justification from ‘Theory’ after the Europeans dropped it like a hot and poisoned potato, made fewer bones about what they were aiming for: there is no Ultimate – there is only political power now. And there is no Evil – there is only this-worldly oppression for which the only answer is government power wielded against every ‘oppression’ until all oppression is wiped out. And it-can-be-done. And it-must-be-started-now. And it-must-be-achieved-immediately. And nothing-can-be-allowed-to-stand-it-its-way. ‘Outrage’ and ‘emergency’ became the watchwords. And a state of permanent ‘war’ was declared – with all of the detriments to Truth and Liberty that a (usually time-limited) state of war entailed. And that ‘war’ would be permanent because victory would only come with total eradication of the ‘oppression’. And that ‘war’ would constantly expand because each Advocacy that came along had its own version of the ‘oppression’ that had to be thoroughly eradicated.

And it guaranteed the fatal fracturing of the structure of the host society because each ‘oppression’ had to have an ‘oppressor’ against whom the ‘war’ would be waged to total victory, and so each ‘war’ would further divide society as each ‘oppressor group’ had to be split-away so it could be warred-against. And because no member of the host society could be sure that he or she (so often ‘he’, interestingly) wouldn’t wind up on the enemies-list tomorrow.

Revolutions, like governments, allow no faith except in themselves (which is why the past few decades in this country have seen such a see-saw battle between the advocacy-revolutions and the government authority, each trying to control the other for its own purposes).

And they do not particularly appreciate Reason; instead of the free and unpredictable use of each individual’s reasoning capacity, they prefer the rote parroting of slogans (whether it be ‘they just don’t get it’ or ‘my country right or wrong’). And hence, the Democrats are now exposed as being Tweedle-dee to the Bushist Imperium’s Tweedle-dum.

And both governments and revolutions ‘externalize’ evil. The ‘bad’ is always somewhere else, in somebody else – and thus ‘war’ must be declared to totally wipe out that evil by wiping out that somewhere else or all those somebody else’s.

When really, evil is in us. Each of us. And each of us is enjoined to cast out the beam in our own eye first, rather than going after anybody else’s eye.

Are we authorized to take up the sword? Certainly, Jesus said that He (Himself) had come to bring a sword, yet when His disciple tried to draw a sword, Jesus forbade it and warned that those who lived by the sword would die by it. Which is a pretty ominous warning; kinda ‘harsh’ and ‘cold’ as would be said these days. You would think that if anybody would be Deputized, it would be Saint Peter … but no.

God did some serious authorizing in the Old Testament, but then Jesus came with a New Commandment; the Resurrection – to borrow a phrase – changed everything. And even in the Old Testament, God didn’t Deputize anybody so that He in effect gave them Goering’s guarantee to the German police: “whenever you feel you should shoot, then a bullet from your gun is a bullet from my gun”. Let alone giving anybody back then such authorization as would justify present Fundy claims that they are “the vice-regents of Christ”. Oy! Not even Hitler had the clams to claim that. Stalin didn’t allow that there was a God, and Idi Amin thought that he was God.

But to have a government-worshipping bunch like the Fundys claim that their gummint is possessed of the vice-regal authority from God Himself … I can’t see the Founders agreeing to the proposition. Surely not Lincoln (but then where most Fundys come from, Lincoln isn’t considered a really impressive example).

So atheism is profoundly dangerous to the Republic. Yes, everybody might agree to just-get-along, but there’s nothing that requires it, that justifies it, that grounds it, that Justifies and Grounds it. And the functional worse-than-Pharaonic idolatry of the Fundys – leaving aside its Confederate-worshipping elements – is hardly a less toxic option. And the Advocacy-revolutionism’s reduction of this life to political-power in the service of the vanguard’s particular agenda is equally lethal. And all are far-advanced.

The night is indeed far advanced. It remains to be seen whether the day is at hand.

We can only walk becomingly, as in the day. And “seek a just and a lasting peace among ourselves and with all peoples”. And soon.

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Blogger David said...

The organic metaphor for society (ie. that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts) has its uses - in Plato as well as in the epistles of St. Paul. As you point out, it is a double-edged sword.

Like all mental images of imagined communities (clan, tribe, ethnicity, race, nation etc.)the organic metaphor is, in the end, merely a literary confection, a trope based ultimately in myth.

It is possible to swing too far toward the primacy of the individual as well. I'm thinking of the libertarian position on deregulation which is an ideological stalking horse for the unrestricted power of mega-corporations in a 'small government' laissez faire political environment supposedly favoring 'the individual' but really screwing him instead.

Ron Paul, for example, can sound good on certain issues until you trace his opposition to the iRak war back to 'America First' Isolationism and other assorted right wing lunacies like return to the gold standard, abolition of income tax and social security etc. Bush carried Paul's district by 67% in the last presidential election so Paul has long known, re: the bread and butter issues, on what side his bread is buttered.

Focus on the individual is often a trap. In psychotherapy, it leads to a medical model which discounts the role of environmental stressors on intrapsychic systems.

In politics and religion, focus on intrapsychic issues leads to pietism and approaches to, for example, racism which exalt reform of individual sentiments rather than address social, economic and political stuctures which privilege white experience.

Imagery has changing rhetorical significance depending on its context. It has no independent existence which would could justify making it an absolute value to die for.

8:19 AM  
Blogger publion said...

When I use the word ‘individual’ I am using it in the context of the formed Christian individual: even as developed to the advanced levels of self-awareness and self-mastery, such an individual is simultaneously and proportionately developed into a vital relationship with God and through God with the rest of the human community. This, vae et eheu, is far more of an ideal than an actuality these days, although that is not a coded nostalgic appeal to return to the days of beer-swilling fraternities at erstwhile Catholic colleges.

The ‘modern’ use of the term, of course, has chopped off ‘God’ and ‘others’ and so the vital strategic triad of the individual is effectively robbed of its ability to exist efficaciously.

In ‘modern’ and – worse – ‘postmodern’ usage the three vitally connected realities are not only severed one from the other but are actually set against each other, when they are not simply airbrushed – in Theory, anyway – out of existence. To which the only reasonable response can be: Phooey!

Like the dynamic balance of the three-legged stool, existence too must constantly correct for leaning too far in any one direction and placing too much weight on any one of its legs. That would constitute the adventure of the maturely-aimed world, and an efficacious adventure it would be, but the world is not only not-mature but it is not even seeking to be maturely-aimed.

Roz Russell’s ‘Auntie Mame’ once opined famously that “Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving”. This was catchy, but I always felt that something was off with it. I’d say: Life is a symphony and most poor suckers are deaf. Although, again, the analogy only takes one so far; unlike physical deafness, spiritual deafness can be tackled through the concentrated application of will under guidance. But again, far too often these days such a deficit cannot even be noted. It is the key deficit.

9:44 AM  
Blogger David said...

Your understanding of 'individual' comes trailing clouds of glory. No self-respecting Theorist would let *that* nose under his tent wall. :~)))

'Natural law' still offers us possibilities in this age of the science of consciousness. It has impeccable multi-cultural credentials going back through the Stoics to Persia and need not be identified solely with the line which goes from Aristotle through Islam and Aquinas to modern reactionary canon lawyers with Ivory Tower lodgings in the Vatican.

10:18 AM  

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