March 17, 2008

The Bland, Meaningless and Unthreatening Religion of the Ruling Class

I'll have a lengthier consideration of certain issues arising out of the Obama-Jeremiah Wright fracas very soon. For the moment, I'd like to focus on one particular aspect of this faux-controversy.

I'm listening to Rush Limbaugh on the general topic. Limbaugh, of course, is delighted by anything at all that causes disarray and distress for and among the Democrats, thus perhaps accruing to the Republicans' advantage. I'm delighted by it too, but for rather different reasons. My fervent desire is that most Americans are so disgusted by everything about the ruling class that they abstain from voting altogether in the fall. Call it the Silber version of the withering state, if you will. But many of you will ruin my fantasy, and insist on participating in The Glorious Democratic Process. Such participation is the cornerstone of our civic religion, without which many of you fear your lives in any significant social-political sense will vanish. You need to get over that. Permanent revolution in every aspect of one's existence (non-violent, I add) has much to recommend it. You might come to view it as the only genuinely meaningful way to live. Don't just think outside the box: throw the box away, and don't ever pick up another one. More about all that some other time.

But speaking of permanent revolution and religion, let's consider Limbaugh's perspective on "proper" religious views. Limbaugh, like many commentators, is horrified by Wright's pronouncements. For Limbaughian Americans, Wright's attacks on the white ruling class are hateful and hate-filled, and loathsome in the extreme. (I have written about the death grip exerted by the ruling class in many essays. See for example, "The Elites Who Rule Us," "It's Called the Ruling Class Because It Rules," and, with regard to racial-gender-sexual hegemony, "Racist Nation," "We Are Not Freaks" and "Living on the Inside -- and Living on the Outside.") According to Limbaugh, Wright's condemnation of the white ruling class's numerous, brutal and unending sins and oppressions has nothing to do with "true" religion.

For "true" religion, according to Limbaugh, is all about love, and sweetness, and making goo-goo eyes at everyone. "True" religion is nice, and bland to a degree that renders religion offensive to precisely no one. "True" religion is utterly unthreatening. It shouldn't upset anyone, but offer only comfort and succor.

I would suggest that all this would come as a considerable shock to one Jesus Christ. I don't care in the least whether you think Jesus was the Son of God, or the weird guy from that little village over there, or an actual historical figure. I'm talking about the actual essence of the story of Jesus as that story has come down to us. In fact, the Jesus of that story challenged every aspect of the behavior and thought of the ruling class of his time. He condemned that ruling class in stark and notably unforgiving terms. He was threatening to the powerful of his time to a degree that the powerful found intolerable.

You might recall that the threat Jesus represented to the powerful elites of his time was so extreme that they killed him because of it. But in a pattern that is repeated over and over again throughout history, the ruling class found a very clever way to disembowel the threat Jesus represented, once they had disemboweled the individual in question. The ruling class appropriated the religion he had preached, purged it of each and every element that criticized them, and repackaged it as a bland, easily digestible pablum. They then pretended this tasteless, empty, sentimentalized religion was what Jesus had offered all along. And many people fell for it. (I note that the identical appropriation occurred with Martin Luther King, who also had been a dangerously threatening revolutionary figure. But for us today, King has been mainstreamed in a manner that I think King himself would have condemned in terms that most Americans would find as upsetting as Wright's statements. The King who is regularly appealed to by every mainstream commentator, of right and left, bears not a single significant point of correspondence to the statements and actions of the King who actually lived, until he too was eliminated because he was too profoundly threatening to the ruling class. For another example of this kind of appropriation by the powerful, see the general discussion of the profound changes in Christianity itself and of Augustine's role in that transformation, in "Of Abortion, and Women as the Ultimate Source of Evil.")

In brief: Jesus would recognize Wright (and certainly King), and see them as fighting the same battles that he himself fought. Jesus would also see Limbaugh very clearly, just as he would take the measure of many liberals who are running away from the full import of Wright's views as fast as their little accommodationist legs will carry them. I don't imagine that Jesus would offer much in the way of sweetness and succor to the Limbaughs of our time, just as I find it difficult to see Jesus exchanging mash notes with today's Vichy liberals and making goo-goo eyes at them.

And we will crucify Jeremiah Wright, won't we? I suppose it's a marginal improvement that we only do it figuratively now -- except, to be sure, when we destroy entire nations and peoples in the pursuit of our fundamentalist religion of state. In any case, Wright is about to retire, so it doesn't matter all that much -- right, Senator Obama? Moral cowardice, endless oppression of the weak and comparatively powerless, and brutal violence unleashed against those who are disfavored are the constants of humanity's history, stretching back through the blood-soaked centuries. These are our specialties, and we will not surrender them.

So we conclude our short sermon. I do hope it contained enough sweetness to sustain you until dinner. And I surely would not wish to offend anyone at all.

Surely not.