Holy Ghost Power

Almost persuaded. But not quite.

In a post about the Christian right, DougJ at Balloon Juiceposes an interesting question:

I don’t understand modern Christianity. As I’ve said before, Jesus has
always seemed like a hippie to me, and I don’t think there’s so much in
the New Testament that resemblesMein Kampf. So, seriously, what is up with so many Christian leaders wanting to emulate Hitler, Stalin, Lenin Mao, Genghis Kahn, etc? Is there a simple explanation for this?

Well, there’s no easy answer. A lot of his commenters go for the “power” answer, but it’s not that simple. Evangelical Christianity is a complicated thing. I know I often mock, deride, and otherwise laugh at this phenomenon, but I’ve had lots of experience with it, and while I hesitate to say that I understand that way of thinking, I do believe I have some insight into it.*

It’s not just about power. It’s about what they believe is the power to do good. They don’t admire Hitler and Mao and Lenin for their achievements; they admire them for their ability to motivate people. They dream of motivating Christians to do extraordinary things, like Lenin and Mao did. They have no conception that they could abuse their power (then again, true believers never do); they think that if they could set the world on fire for Jesus, then paradise would ensue.

You can argue about how fucked up that vision is, but you can’t say that the people who believe in it are cynical exploiters; they really do think that they have the ultimate answer, and that the world would be better off if their vision prevailed.

Naturally, the problem with that is as follows: That’s what every would-be autocrat thinks. There’s no significant difference between what the hard-core Christianists think and what, say, people who dream of a restored Caliphate think. The only distinction is in what they call their god and in what prayers they say. The same general pattern applied at Nuremburg in the early 1930’s, or in any other mass rally.

The above photo is of an old-time tent meeting. If you aren’t aware of that phenomenon, you really can’t understand modern evangelical Christianity. The revival meeting is a large gathering of people who, by and large, agree with what the speaker is saying, and make commitments to do what the speaker says. Just like any mass rally, it’s a way to get group objectives accomplished. The evangelicals, looking as they always do to the (largely imagined) past for inspiration, see the old-time tent revival as a model for what to do. They ignore the uncomfortable fact that those meetings didn’t result in the new kingdom of Jesus being at hand (or they rail about the will of god being sidetracked by [insert bogeyman here]).

I’d be clearer about this, but this wine is fucking with me, for true. I guess the point is that, as easy as it would be to demonize evangelical Christians for being mindless drones, shit isn’t that simple. The leaders and the followers have a sincere vision for what they think would be a perfect world. That many of the rest of us find their perfection to be completely fucked doesn’t mean that they’re evil. Wrong, sure. Evil, no. Persuadable? Probably not. Which means that we just have to out-vote them.

Anyway, this is one of the perils of drinking and blogging.

*I’m aware of the irony of saying that a movement is complex, then making broad generalizations about that movement. So there’s no need to point that out.

6 thoughts on “Holy Ghost Power

  1. I don’t understand why you (and so many Americans) are so quick to exonerate these people, unless it’s the product of our general sentimental fondness for ‘old time religion’ – for others. You say:
    “You can argue about how fucked up that vision is, but you can’t say that the people who believe in it are cynical exploiters; they really do think that they have the ultimate answer, and that the world would be better off if their vision prevailed… Wrong, sure. Evil, no.”
    But I think this is flat wrong, and its error is based in a common misunderstanding of evil. Evil is not a some conscious Hannibal Lecteresque delectation of malice, not cynical or demoniac machinations. Evil is much more universal and banal than that, more a matter of criminal negligence, of failure in due moral diligence, and eschewal of the examined life, and especially the cumulative, collective, synergistic effect of these among masses of people.
    Sure, many fundamentalists of all stripe are sincere. But Hitler was sincere. Many of his followers sincerely thought the world would be better without Jews. And many today think the world would be best rid of blacks, Tutsis, Moslems, queers, abortionists what have you. But their sincerity does not exonerate the evil of their views or their actions, just as it doesn’t exonerate the Nazis or slaver owners or Inquisitionists, few of whom, in point of hard fact, were monsters. They were just plain old, tacky, home-made evil. They couldn’t be bothered to reflect on the moral dimensions of their acts.
    Most evangelicals and/or fundamentalists are similarly (if not so dramatically) evil it seems, too bone-ignorant to realize that their program has been tried often in the past and invariably has led to atrocity, or so flawed as to be almost incapable of questioning their own premises or motives, and in either case in denial about how the absolute power they crave – the power to make others “do right” in their most private lives – fundamentally corrupts those who even seek it.
    All of us make leaps of faith (even if it is faith in empiricism and logic) and mine is this: I think that real moral progress can be made, and in fact was made, when the world’s first explicitly secular nation was declared in America. To the degree that we regress into religiosity we undo that progress and turn away from the project of freedom.
    People who worship a king in Heaven will be invariably eager to see his authoritarian proxy here on Earth. Do not underestimate the evil that this does, and do not shrug off hatred just because it’s sincere. Recall Sinclair Lewis: “When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.” Read Harper’s Jeff Sharlet on the topic of evangelicals in the government, military, and Blackwater. And then think about whether evil is afoot here.

  2. Bravo Kalkaino! That so perfectly expresses my opinions that I might as well retire my keyboard. Thank you!

  3. If one looks from the bottom up at the evangelical movement, yes, I think one can see it as more or less benign.
    From the top down, however, it’s dangerous to ignore the presence of a healthy dollop of creeps, crazies, crooks, cynics, demagogues and manipulators, all of whom, in the last thirty years, have discovered that they command political power, and are just itching to exercise it.
    Any doubt of that, just wander around in the writings of the Dominionists and the Christian Reconstructionists. These crackpots want a theocracy because they get to be in charge, and their ideas are much more pervasive than one might imagine.
    Forty years ago, it would have been instant political suicide for a Presidential candidate to say that he thought God’s law ought to be incorporated into the Constitution, and yet, now the notion is close enough to mainstream that Huckabee can say exactly that without much notice (or opprobrium) from the mainstream press.

  4. like cafeteria catholics, evangelicals have become wallstreet jeebus followers + fetus fetishists. or is it women sex BAD! punish! except quiver wombs.

  5. I’m sorry, but they are evil. Morality requires a search for truth and a willingness to accept it. Basing morality strictly on belief is fundamentally immoral.

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