Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Rom 1 reply, 38d: But isn't talk about "reformation" just a cover-up for Christofascist conspiracies to push us into theocratic censorship and dictatorship? (A continued answer to Patrick White in the Gleaner, July 1, 2013)

That's one of the predictable responses to talk of gospel based reformation, these days (as we were doing last time).

How can we answer it?

Not simplistically, and not in absence of doing a lot of hard work to provide genuinely credible and public spirited community based leadership and service. (Perhaps, next time I want to take that point up a bit more.)

We do need to give a serious answer though.

But first, let us refresh memory on the series in response to Mr Patrick White so far, for we have:
1: Exposed and rebutted the agenda of willful defiance of God, his creation order for sexuality and consequential sound principles of morality under false colours of law and "rights."
2: Corrected the misleading historical myth that Christian sexual ethics are part of an inevitably losing war of irrational religion against science and reason.
3: Addressed the issue of grounding ethics and morality in the teeth of the rise of evolutionary materialist scientism, which cloaks atheism and amorality in the lab coat, demanding genuflection. 
4: Raised the question that the gospel naturally leads to reformation of lives, communities and nations.
A good place to begin our main answer, is with the same point where John Locke, setting out to ground what would become modern democratic liberty and self-government in his second essay on civil gov't, Ch 2 sect 5, found the ethical basis for rights balanced by duties. That is, "the judicious [Anglican Canon Richard] Hooker, " In his 1594+ Ecclesiastical Polity:

. . . if I cannot but wish to receive good, even as much at every man's hands, as any man can wish unto his own soul, how should I look to have any part of my desire herein satisfied, unless myself be careful to satisfy the like desire which is undoubtedly in other men . . . my desire, therefore, to be loved of my equals in Nature [--> at they are also created in God's image], as much as possible may be, imposeth upon me a natural duty of bearing to themward fully the like affection. From which relation of equality between ourselves and them that are as ourselves, what several rules and canons natural reason hath drawn for direction of life no man is ignorant [--> by light of conscience set in us as God's candle and as further reinforced by the word and teachings of authentic prophets, and apostles]. . . [[Hooker then continues, citing Aristotle in The Nicomachean Ethics, Bk 8:] as namely, That because we would take no harm, we must therefore do none; That since we would not be in any thing extremely dealt with, we must ourselves avoid all extremity in our dealings; That from all violence and wrong we are utterly to abstain, with such-like . . . ] [[Eccl. Polity,preface, Bk I, "ch." 8, p.80, cf. here. Emphasis added.]

In short, the Golden Rule of Moses, Jesus, and Paul, grounded in Creation,  is an excellent basis for grounding that balance of freedoms and responsibilities that gives us genuine liberty and not destructive, abusive, chaotic license by which every man, benumbed in conscience and endarkened in heart and mind, feels it his 'right' to do as he pleases without due regard to consequences. And, such men will abuse democracy by binding together to elect legislators and executives who will pander to their twisted desires and habits.

 So, while of course the American Founders were imperfect, flawed men and were forced to make compromises that we of a later time can easily use to deride, demonise and dismiss, we should respect the courage theyhad to put on paper as a birth certificate of the American Republic ideals that they knew they could not then meet and which would be a challenge for all times to come:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security . . .
Plainly, they meant the American experiment to always be being further reformed and renewed towards an ever more "perfect union" that used "just powers" to guard liberty and the civil peace of justice, securing "the blessings" of the Creator for each succeeding generation. (And how, in our time, in large part due to the rise of a rebellion against that Creator that comes straight out of Rom 1, those ideals are being perverted.)

In short, there is no good reason why Christians who respect the principles of ethics that are rooted in Creation, should not be supporters of democratic experiments in government, once these make due provisions for the protection of liberty, rights and justice. Indeed, historically, there is every reason to see that Christians can make good citizens and leaders in and of the community. yes, Christians, too have too often stumbled into folly, error and abuse, but that is not a peculiarity of being Christian, it is a reflection of our common moral hazard of being finite, fallible, morally fallen and struggling, too often ill-willed. Especially, when such is multiplied by a lack of reasonable balance of powers, and checks against abuses, in political systems of all stripes. Something that is unfortunately abundantly demonstrated by the history of all civilisations and times.

As for the notion that Christians are ever so tempted to become right wing, Christofascist theocrats who wish to impose a dark night of tyranny, this is largely over-wrought polarised and poisonous rhetoric, a rhetoric that is ignorant of some basic facts of the history of Fascism.

What do I mean?

Let's put it in a riddle: What were the ideological roots of fascism in Germany and in Italy in the past Century? ANS: The left, statist end of the political spectrum. Yes, the LEFT. For, probably the best in a nutshell on fascism is that it is statist, polarising political messianism that seeks to elevate a maximum leader (a Nietzschean Superman figure) as saviour for some mass-based victim group and in so doing becomes idolatrous and not surprisingly sacrifices the rule of law and restraints on injustice. As an earlier post at KF blog describes:

Right wing fanaticism!  
I hear someone: "Of course that is really dangerous, but we are not going to be taken in by such, especially those silly fundy TV preachers and their fleeced, mindless flocks! Not to mention the right-wing politicians who prey on them!"
That sentiment brings out my precise concern. 
First, are you aware that the founder figure of modern Fascism -- he was trying to become a modern Caesar -- was a leading socialist in Italy, who then took on the focus on nationalism that led to his identity politics? [Cf. Steele's summary here.] 
Are you aware of the statism -- utter dominance of the state in political and community life -- that is pivotal to fascism from its roots? 
Let me cite Mussolini's words:
"Everything in the State, nothing outside the State, nothing against the State."
And, let me add (April 28, 2013) this from Hitler in a May day Speech, May 1, 1927:

That is a part of why, yesterday, I noted on what Fascist political messianism is and how it works:
FASCISM: At heart, it is the notion that in a day of "unprecedented" crisis that targets a large -- locally dominant or pivotally influential -- perceived victim group or class or religious or racial/national body, a super-man figure emerges to rescue the victims; one who is beyond ordinary human powers and limits (including those of morality and just law). A political messiah who stands as champion for the identity group to save it, defending it from the various scapegoated out-groups who are held to be to blame for the victimisation of the in-group. That super-man political messiah then seizes power and is widely recognised as a man of "destiny." In an atmosphere of hysteria, slander and propagandistic deception that is usually multiplied by chaos and violence or at least riotous assemblies in the streets baying for blood, the power blocs, political, legal, military, corporate, religious, etc then align with him, giving him effectively unlimited power in the face of a crisis. We have now reached the threshold of tyranny. And because of the perceived unprecedented crisis, that super-man "people's champion" figure is cheered on and supported in taking extraordinary measures; measures that sacrifice liberty and justice for the sake of the promised utopian order. And so reigns of terror and aggressive wars naturally emerge. (Cf. here on the last couple of times around, with particular reference to arms races and where they often lead.)
[NB: Cf here for a good description in light of comparative studies. Enc Brit online, here on is good. Fascism is generally tagged as a "right wing" phenomenon, but this is actually misleading, as for instance the single most destructive fascist party ever was the National Socialist German Worker's Party, the Nazis.
Fascists generally are clever enough to strike deals with existing power blocs, and so establish a sort of state controlled cartel based economy. But the central pivot is the state and the politically messianic man who embodies the state.
Statism -- dominance of the society by the state in the name of the people -- is inherently of the left. For mind-blowing reading, cf. Daniel Pipes here. A clip is instructive:
Benito Mussolini was a leading Socialist figure who, during World War I, turned away from internationalism in favor of Italian nationalism and called the blend Fascism. Likewise, Adolf Hitler headed the National Socialist German Workers Party.
These facts jar because they contradict the political spectrum that has shaped our worldview since the late 1930s, the political spectrum which places Communism at the far Left, followed by Socialism, Liberalism in the Center, Conservatism, and then Fascism on the far Right. But this spectrum . . . reflects Joseph Stalin's use of the word "Fascist" as an epithet to discredit anyone he wished – Trotsky, Churchill, Russian peasants – and distorts reality. Already in 1946, George Orwell noted that Fascism had degenerated to signify "something not desirable."
Given what is happening again in our day, we need to re-think and more accurately understand Fascism and its poisonous spiritual root in political messianism. as well as in Nietzschean super-man nihilist amorality, and the onward roots of that in ideological evolutionary materialism as Plato highlighted in The Laws, Bk X, 360 BC.
All of which, of course, points ominously to the Christian eschatological expectation and warning against an ultimate false politico-religious messiah figure expected to dominate the world, known as The Anti-Christ or the Man of Sin or The Beast of 666 -- a veiled allusion to the demonically mad Roman Emperor who scapegoated and murdered many Christians to divert blame for the AD 64 fire in Rome, Nero Caesar.]
Boiling down: Fascism is an irrational -- hysterical and brainwashed -- cultic political reaction to difficult circumstances, manifested in worship of the state as saviour of the dominant "victim group", multiplied by blind loyalty to the projected political messiah and usually intensified by the focussing of "legitimised" hate, slander and blame on designated scapegoat groups and individuals.
If we look hard in the mirror, too often -- if we are honest, we will recognise ourselves in this summary. [ADDED: Cf further discussions here, here, here. (On the Hitler was a Christian talking point, cf. here. It is more accurate to say he sought to first get some agreement with then subvert the churches in Germany.)]
Indeed, I am going to suggest that the first step in a solution to this, first, is to identify political messianism as idolatry. Putting the state, glib-tongued politicians and their real or imagined powers in the place of loyalty and devotion that belong only to God.
Then, frankly, we need to repent.

And yes, I am saying that we of the Caribbean are particularly prone to the blandishments, media polished images, lies and frankly bribes of would be political messiahs.

In short, I am saying that the real problem is not so much with imagined theocratic would be tyrants (though some are out there and indeed IslamISM -- as opposed to ordinary non-radicalised people who have grown up in a Muslim tradition -- reminds us that this would not just come from any one religious tradition, but our proneness to the idolatry of political messianism and our refusal to take responsibility for setting out to build capacity and build our own nations through a lot of hard, patient, self-sacrificing study and work..
After we face and do something about that, we can set about truly sustainable development, in light of good and sound participative democratic and just government and sound community life, with an economy that is built on a solid education system and finding a way to compete effectively in targetted markets that suit our resources and capabilities.

And in that situation, as knowledgeable, public spirited, high integrity citizens engaged in the community, we will be much less vulnerable to fast talking political operatives with slick and deceptive promises and stories.

So, let's lay off the sort of scapegoating highlighted in the headline to this post, which simply plays into the hands of those who would cynically manipulate us as "sheeple" useful to their wolfish ends (at our expense). END