Tuesday, May 03, 2011

basic contradiction

On my walk home, contemplating Manuel Castells' brilliant analysis of al-Qaeda in The Power of Identity, I started thinking about basic contradictions in cultures, and the way they instigate crises. Al-Qaeda's main ideological origin is the contradictions in Middle East political and cultural life - the accumulation of wealth and power by those who own the means to access petroleum reserves, versus the essential piety and humility of Islam.

We have a very similar contradiction in the US, and it's odd that hardly anyone seems to notice. The majority of Americans regard themselves as Christian, and yet do not see that our society's official reverence for market capitalism is totally at odds with the values of the teachings of Jesus. It's pretty plain, though, it seems to me: "love your neighbor" is really contrary to "screw your neighbor," the official competitive motto of capitalist economies. Jesus taught that the poor are blessed and shall inherit the earth; the capitalist faith claims the poor deserve to be poor because they're lazy or talentless.

And yes, I know there are evangelical contortionists who twist the beatitudes into knots in order to rationalize the view that the poor have earned their poverty as punishment for their sins. I just don't see how that could be truly compelling in the face of the Gospels. (Then again, I'm neither a student of the Bible nor a Christian, so this is all external critique, natch.)

I mean, you could at least prettify the situation by saying that capitalism is a kind of unfortunate state of nature - original sin as economic reality. That would at least save some of the fundamental tenets of Medieval Christianity. Then Christian faith could take the role of how one cleanses oneself from the wages of sin (pun intended).

Another interpretation would be that either the faith in capital or the faith in Christ are hypocritical or cynical. In that case, the faithful would use their expressions of faith to assuage their consciences (assuming), their god (assuming), or their bankers (well, those, at least, do exist). I'm less inclined to this view, mainly because it's less kinky, and I do like kink in my theology.

Anyway, one might wonder whether, or when, this basic contradiction in American social and cultural life might express itself in violence. If so, one would obviously have missed the past 20 years or so of domestic terrorism, the rise of the militia/patriot/tea party movement, and, not to put to fine a point on it, the Bushes.

You know that old saying, "There are no atheists in foxholes"? I always want to know if there are any Christians in potholes.

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