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Millions of Americans live trapped in soulless exurbs ...
January 26, 2007 8:05 AM   Subscribe

The Radical Christian Right Is Built on Suburban Despair by the ubiquitous Chris Hedges. Previously.
posted by HerArchitectLover (109 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
Cool. I was considering posting this as well.
posted by fourcheesemac at 8:06 AM on January 26, 2007


An excerpt:

"Driving down a highway lined with gas stations, fast food restaurants and dollar stores I often got vertigo, forgetting for a moment if I was in Detroit or Kansas City or Cleveland. There are parts of the United States, including whole sections of former manufacturing centers such as Ohio, that resemble the developing world, with boarded up storefronts, dilapidated houses, pot-hole streets and crumbling schools. The end of the world is no longer an abstraction to many Americans."
posted by HerArchitectLover at 8:09 AM on January 26, 2007


It's exactly the same as punk rock's emergence among disaffected working-class youth in the UK and later among disaffected middle-class youth in California!! Seriously, just substitute the appropriate nouns and you'll see.
posted by scratch at 8:14 AM on January 26, 2007


the picture that accompanies this article is one of the scariest things I've seen in a long time. To quote Bowfinger: "Welcome to Mindhead"
posted by mcstayinskool at 8:14 AM on January 26, 2007


This despair crosses economic boundaries, of course, enveloping many in the middle class who live trapped in huge, soulless exurbs where, lacking any form of community rituals or centers, they also feel deeply isolated, vulnerable and lonely.

This story gave me an epiphany. Now I finally, finally understand what conservatives are talking about when they rant about disconnected urban elites.
posted by gurple at 8:15 AM on January 26, 2007 [6 favorites]


I agree, gurple, to an extent. Academics and "City People" (I have no idea where Chris Hedges lives - I live in NYC) often look at the suburbs through their own distorted perspective, to wit - OMG THERE'S NO FRENCH CINEMA AND I CAN'T GET GOOD SUSHI THIS PLACE SUXORSSS! When in reality, there are often very strong social connections - family, sports, craft groups, hunting/fishing, Kiwanis, VFW, neighborhood organizations, and yes, CHURCH, to keep these people's lives full. The fact that many choose to stay on the couch in front of American Idol rather than take advantage of what IS there is not a phenomenom isolated to the 'burbs.
posted by spicynuts at 8:23 AM on January 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


I'm trapped! Trapped in a soulless exurb! However shall I overcome my isolation, my vulnerability, my loneliness?!? If only I lived in The Big City, I'd have soul! I'd be making connections! I'd be talking to other people! This guy really knows me and my problems! Free me, Chris Hedges! Free me!

Give me a fucking break.
posted by pardonyou? at 8:27 AM on January 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


A stunningly lucid description of the US religious meme.
posted by gallois at 8:28 AM on January 26, 2007


[F]orgetting for a moment if I was in Detroit or Kansas City or Cleveland

Is this really different than it would've been in those cities 20 or 50 years ago? They are all midwestern, Detroit and Cleveland certainly are 'rust belt' and KC isn't too different. They have similar strata of housing stocks in similar rings around the urban core. You could have a similar vertigo in the downtowns of any of those cities, right?

And yeah, the TGI Fridays / BP / CVS / Target / Repeat main drags through suburbs are depressing, but that's coast-to-coast -- Stamford or Indianapolis or Northern California all look like that, with regional variations mostly owing to population density.

Maybe I'm not getting the point. Cleveland is depressing. Move.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 8:29 AM on January 26, 2007


The engine that drives the radical Christian Right in the United States, the most dangerous mass movement in American history, is not religiosity, but despair. It is a movement built on the growing personal and economic despair of tens of millions of Americans, who watched helplessly as their communities were plunged into poverty by the flight of manufacturing jobs, their families and neighborhoods torn apart by neglect and indifference, and who eventually lost hope that America was a place where they had a future.

1. C'mon. It's not a mass movement. These people are only dangerous because conservatives, desperate to gain power, threw away their principles and invited them in to their party. A mass movement would result in landslide elections, not in margins of victory of a few percent or less.

2. Despair? Poverty? The parking lots at those megachurches aren't filled with broken down Chevys coming from broken down neighborhoods. It seems to me that the association between affluence and the christian right is the defining feature of the movement.
posted by three blind mice at 8:33 AM on January 26, 2007 [3 favorites]


He was on Talk of the Nation yesterday.
posted by MarvinTheCat at 8:35 AM on January 26, 2007


Christ, what an asshole.
posted by Bookhouse at 8:38 AM on January 26, 2007


Funny, I just read this related quote by Walter Benjamin this morning:

"Capitalism is probably the first instance of a cult that creates guilt, not atonement... The nature of the religious movement which is capitalism entails the endurance right to the end, to the point where God, too, finally takes on the entire burden of guilt, to the point where the universe has been taken over by that despair which is actually its secret hope. Capitalism is entirely without precedent, in that it is a religion which offers not the reform of existence, but its complete destruction. It this the expansion of despair, until despair becomes a religious state of the world in the hope that this will lead to salvation."

It's hard to overlook the coincidence that the Republican party, who has afforded capitalism the greatest plunder of natural and human resources, is the one which the evangelical Christians have offered their undying allegiance to.
posted by hermitosis at 8:41 AM on January 26, 2007


"Christ, what an asshole."

Oh, OK. Well then, how do you feel about Vishnu?
posted by Mike D at 8:43 AM on January 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


hermitosis
I'm feeling stupid, but could you explain that quote? I'm not getting the capitalism-religion connection. Capitalism seems to lack the all-encompassing cosmology that other ideologies, like Communism with its framing of history as a vast series of class struggles, seem to have.
posted by Sangermaine at 8:49 AM on January 26, 2007


Maybe I'm not getting the point. Cleveland is depressing. Move.

I think the point is more like, "Cleveland is depressing. So why are we allowing the Cleveland experience to become the uniform American experience of every small, middling, or semi-large city in the entire country?"

Sure all of the cities mentioned have been nondescript urban centers for a long time. But that experience has spread wide beyond city borders, making it way harder to put distance between oneself and that way of life. Moving out of that requires a lot more of a person than it used to.

Where I grew up, the nearest real town was Mesa, AZ. Now the town I grew up in IS Mesa, AZ, for all intents and purposes. In another ten years, Gold Canyon, the next outpost over, will be Mesa, AZ.
posted by hermitosis at 8:50 AM on January 26, 2007


evangelical churches in America, just like extremist mosques in the middle east and central Asia, provide a social and support network for many who would lack one otherwise. evangelical churches in America, just like extremist mosques in the middle east and central Asia, provide education and entertainment centers for many kids whose parents couldn't otherwise afford one.

both institutions do provide an apocalyptic outlet for personal prejudices and frustrations and sentiments of anger and disenfranchisement.

attacking Hedges just because he correctly points that out seems a bit disingenous; not to mention attacking somebody who spent half of his career as a writer in the Middle East and various war zones -- not necessarily the best places for sashimi -- as a sushi fetishist and smalltown hater, well, seems to be particularly lame, even for the not exactly stellar intellectual standards of some of our friends here.
posted by matteo at 8:52 AM on January 26, 2007 [6 favorites]


>> who watched helplessly as their communities were plunged into poverty by the flight of manufacturing
>> jobs, their families and neighborhoods torn apart by neglect and indifference, and who eventually lost hope
>> that America was a place where they had a future.
>
> 2. Despair? Poverty? The parking lots at those megachurches aren't filled with broken down Chevys
> coming from broken down neighborhoods.

Shhhhh. As long as he believes premises that could be refuted by eyeball evidence, he'll be recommending responses that will be utterly ineffective and probably even counterproductive. Fine with me, it's what folks who swallow his line deserve.

Basically this dude is building himself a gig giving what-we-like-to-hear comfort talks to a particular type of audience. At least I admire his entrepreneurship--he's found a likely herd of suckers and he's playing them 'til his IRA is fully funded.


> It's hard to overlook the coincidence that the Republican party, who has afforded capitalism the
> greatest plunder of natural and human resources, is the one which the evangelical Christians have
> offered their undying allegiance to.

The Christian right is just another voting constituency. The Republicans have offered smiles and empty promises, though little performance. The Democrats have offered to spit in their eye. Given a Hobson's choice like that, which would you choose?
posted by jfuller at 8:54 AM on January 26, 2007 [2 favorites]


C'mon. It's not a mass movement.

Mass is relative. The self-proclaimed dominionist corner of the radical Christian Right is small. They probably make up less than 1% of the mostly megachurch population. Maybe even less than 0.01%. But that is no reason to discount them or ignore the influence that this little percentage can have over society. If you need proof, look at Left Behind.

Do you think that the Left Behind series of books remains on the bestseller lists because Tim LaHaye is such a master of imagination? He's a dominionist hack who turned to radical Christianity because astrology just wasn't paying the bills. And his writer, Jerry Jenkins, is a former sports writer, not a theologian. Together, they produce little more than Apocalyptic fan-fiction with all the depth of a C-level action flick. Out of context verses from the Book of Revelation strung together with burly heroes, big explosions and gore.

But the series sells because the provided imagery is satisfying some deep-seated vengeful need to revel in the suffering of heathens under the heel of a merciless God that is unquestioningly on the reader's side. Because more people than you might realize are reading Left Behind not as entertainment, but as prophecy.
posted by grabbingsand at 8:59 AM on January 26, 2007


Religion isn't driven by anything; it's a predisposed psychological disorder, aggravated by conditioning in early childhood.
posted by tehloki at 9:01 AM on January 26, 2007 [5 favorites]


Sangermaine, I posted it to illustrate why the Christians have a vested interest in a style of government that allows full-on capitalistic destruction of our natural and human resources. Because, as the linked article claims, their brand of religion thrives on the despair that results from excess, waste, and abandonment. The worse things get, the greater their pull to spiritual atonement, and the more people become desperate to find a glimmer of spiritual hope in the two-tone, degraded world they've inherited.

It's also convenient that this style of government allows them to experience (or at least strive to experience) excess and wastefulness all the way down.

The reason that they are terrified of liberal ideas is that suddenly the onus is on the individual. One must care what one consumes, and what happens to it after it is consumed. One must care about how it was produced, and who produced it. One must consider decisions such as abortion and homosexuality on a personal level, instead of having a clear inflexible law to cling to. One must trust that the higher taxes taken from each paycheck really will manifest as positive changes in one's community. For the soft-headed, ignorant, xenophobic, paranoid, and underexposed, pessimistic, and lazy that make up the bulk of these people (however nice some of them may be in other ways), all of these things sound like incredibly challenging and ill-conceived expectations.
posted by hermitosis at 9:01 AM on January 26, 2007 [2 favorites]


I remember a similar feeling of disenfranchisement (is that even a word?) leading to my fascination with the back-to-the-land movement back in the 70s. There seemed to be more of a hopeful than fatalist attitude among us self-sufficiency enthusiasts back then, but I'm sure most of us were driven by a certainty that the technological world would soon grind to a sudden halt and we would end up being the clever survivors.
posted by squalor at 9:03 AM on January 26, 2007


So, apparently The Radical Christian Right = Goth.
posted by JekPorkins at 9:04 AM on January 26, 2007


The Christian right is just another voting constituency. The Republicans have offered smiles and empty promises, though little performance. The Democrats have offered to spit in their eye. Given a Hobson's choice like that, which would you choose?

This is spot-on -- at least the Republicans sorta pretend to like middle America. Liberals don't bother to hide their contempt.

On preview, thanks for the example: the soft-headed, ignorant, xenophobic, paranoid, and underexposed, pessimistic, and lazy that make up the bulk of these people (however nice some of them may be in other ways)
posted by Bookhouse at 9:05 AM on January 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


There was an article in the Journal of American history sometime in the past couple of years which made a similar point, albeit in less judgmental and negative language. Essentially, what is argued is that Americans have become more religious as we've moved to suburbs, because we've started looking to churches to provide forms of community that used to be provided by small-town and neighborhood networks. And churches have stepped into the void by offering a whole array of community services.
posted by craichead at 9:14 AM on January 26, 2007



evangelical churches in America, just like extremist mosques in the middle east and central Asia, provide education and entertainment centers for many kids whose parents couldn't otherwise afford one.

attacking Hedges just because he correctly points that out seems a bit disingenous


Actually I'm attacking Hedges in spite of the fact that he's saying some things that I agree with completely. He paints the exurbs with too broad a brush, and he doesn't speak persuasively. His arguments appeal to no one but the choir... and this choir member is finding them a bit over-the-top.
posted by gurple at 9:14 AM on January 26, 2007


attacking Hedges just because he correctly points that out seems a bit disingenous...

Well, any disingenuousness assumes correctness. As a lifelong resident of "soulless exurbs" who is an agnostic/soft atheist, and personally knows nobody who belongs to a mass evangelical church, his conclusions seem laughably off base to me. The simple explanation that the type of person who is likely to gravitate towards an evangelical church is the same type of person who prefers to live in the suburbs seems far more plausible than Hedge's thesis that simply living in the suburbs creates some sort of existential crisis that causes one to seek out this type of community. Methinks he's confusing correlation with causation. But what do I know? I only live here.
posted by pardonyou? at 9:15 AM on January 26, 2007 [5 favorites]


If you can call your soulless existence "living".
posted by ND¢ at 9:19 AM on January 26, 2007 [3 favorites]


Just for some perspective, Michelle Goldberg has written on similar topics and, I think, does a much better job of providing both information and perspective, without overbearing assumptions. Her book Kingdom Coming is well worth a read.
posted by gurple at 9:19 AM on January 26, 2007


As a lifelong resident of "soulless exurbs" who is an agnostic/soft atheist ...

Wow. Umm, ditto? My experience/opinion EXACTLY.
posted by HerArchitectLover at 9:21 AM on January 26, 2007


My experience is that, sadly, Small-town can survive in big town. Big-city can survive in small town, has the education, skills, and competitive edge required. But when Small-town goes to the city, it is consumed.

What's ironic is that this consumption of Small-town is a consequence, a result, a verb of capitalism. No one ever every said capitalism was "kind" or "a good friend". There is no enduring Big-city without capitalism, and everything noble in human progress depends on it.

That's not to say there aren't other nobilities to man, some of which are Small-town in nature.
posted by ewkpates at 9:26 AM on January 26, 2007


Fundamentalists, those who go to "Bible" churches, Independent Baptist churches and the like do tend to come from the working classes.

Megachurch folk are "fundamentalist" in the sense of adhering to the peculiar forms of American biblical literalism, tend to be more affluent. Megachurches use business marketing models that seek to attract the middle class of the suburbs.

Many of the values of the Megachurch are organically derived (or distorted) from its roots in different forms of historic American Fundamentalism. Both groups tend to hold the mythology of America being a Christian nation and take their talking points from from Dobson, etc or their own local off-brands that spew basically the same message.

There is an inherent alienation and hostility to culture that is part of the narrative mythology F/fundamentalists find themselves in. They are reactiving to the modern, secular age. It is an angry nostalgia yearning for a age when faith trumped all comers, and the Ole Tyme Religion was unsullied by the aspersions of Science, Reason and Progressive Christianities. But to to do this, they must cling to the Bible in an irrational and unyielding manner, and then call it a virtue.

There is a despair at the heart of Fundamentalism, but the way Hedges seems to have outlined it (at least in this essay, I haven't read the book) seems over simple and to ignore or confuse the complex relations between the different strands of conservative American Christianity.
posted by MasonDixon at 9:30 AM on January 26, 2007 [2 favorites]


Reactiving?? Um, make that reacting.
posted by MasonDixon at 9:33 AM on January 26, 2007


Is this really different than it would've been in those cities 20 or 50 years ago?

Yes. Yes, it is. Detroit in particular is one of the most denuded industrial cities on the planet. You can, I'm sure, point me to all manner of information and anecdotal evidence that it isn't completely bereft of civic life, but that's like showing me a guy on his death bed who can still wiggle his toes. Nothing like the abandonment of rust-belt cities for sun-belt exurbs has ever happened before. And beyond the social niceties, it is the least sustainable way of life on the planet as well - "the worst misallocation of resources in human history," to use James Howard Kunstler's phrase.

This doesn't make the people who live there wrong. People live in suburbs and exurbs because they are affordable, convenient in certain ways, and awash in a certain kind of material luxury. But joining a club or two isn't the same as participating in a functioning community, and the stresses of that erupt in everything from teenage suicide to megachurches to road rage to school shootings. Not one brush, many, but these are symptoms of the same kinds of virus.

Basically this dude is building himself a gig giving what-we-like-to-hear comfort talks to a particular type of audience. At least I admire his entrepreneurship--he's found a likely herd of suckers and he's playing them 'til his IRA is fully funded.

So, jfuller, did you have to go ad hominem because you couldn't actually support your counter-assertions with anything else? You are, first of all, under an enormous misapprehension about how well it pays to write books of serious cultural criticism. (Hint: Less than Ann Coulter makes.)

And you're way off on Hedges too. He is among the most principled war reporters in America. He's spent most of his adult life getting shot at and bearing witness to unspeakable horror in the name of his profession and the hunt for insight into the human condition. You want an ass-kissing opportunist who sucks up to the status quo for big bucks, you're looking for this guy. Wrote a thing about "Patio Man" you might like. Makes the argument - based on nothing but casual observation - that Patio Man stands without peer upon the pinnacle of human civilization or some such.
posted by gompa at 9:37 AM on January 26, 2007 [4 favorites]


I agree with Hedges, and I think it's possible to take it a lot farther: the Christian Right is a classical revitalization movement like Ghost Dance or a cargo cult. For me, the salient differences between it and more humane forms of Christianity are the overwhelming emphasis on prosperity, and a willingness to countenance violent acts against enemy non-believers, from Iraqis to gay people.

It also seems to have a cult leader, GWB, who quite literally can do no wrong, and whose pronouncements approach the status of Holy Writ. When these movements collapse, as they must because they are so out of touch with reality, they typically ruin the lives of most of their followers, and can implode violently. Jonestown is an extreme recent example, but is by no means historically unique.
posted by jamjam at 9:38 AM on January 26, 2007


I've lived in big cities, rural areas, college towns, and suburban areas. I prefer college towns now (I live in Boulder) but I can see that changing as I get older. I would much rather live in a clean and safe suburb than in freaking South Philly again, I can tell you that.

I used to hate suburbs as cultural wastelands. But the internet has made that passé. Even commerce has to an extent: The only bookstores in the suburb where I grew up in New Jersey were either in the mall or were used book stores that specialized in romance novels. The first time I visted a Barnes and Noble, a few suburbs away, I was amazed. Best store ever. Now my hometown has one.

Haters, I know that B&N is nothing compared to the Strand or Tattered Cover or Powell's or what have you. But it's like Starbucks: better than nothing when you live in nowheresville.

Anyway, living in a big city is miserable unless you have money. Life is more comfortable and healthier when you're young and poor in an exurb than in an urban core. You just feel less bohemian.
posted by yesno at 9:39 AM on January 26, 2007


But joining a club or two isn't the same as participating in a functioning community

I grew up in a bland, sprawly suburb (exurb? Not sure where on the map, exactly, that line would be). Most of the people I knew were participating actively in a highly-functioning community. Too highly-functioning, for my taste, since I wasn't part of their particular religious party. But definitely a vibrant, active community.

Now I live in a city. Plenty of people around me are active in community centers, volunteer organizations... city life. Plenty of people aren't connected to the community in any meaningful way whatsoever.

Same as anywhere. I don't think cities necessarily draw more of their residents into active community life than suburbs do. They just provide more opportunities for those who choose to participate.
posted by gurple at 9:45 AM on January 26, 2007


If it's just going to be Hedges' anecdotal evidence and experience versus my own anecdotal evidence and experience, I'm afraid I'm going to have to go with my own. If he has some sort of objective, scientific evidence that living in a suburb causes some sort of isolation, vulnerability, and loneliness that big cities don't, I'd be willing to hear it, but until then I'll just note that the people who make these claims are almost always from big cities (which, by the way, people in the suburbs tend to revile as being isolationist, vulnerable, lonely places to live), and therefore whose conclusions are as suspect as my own.
posted by Bugbread at 9:45 AM on January 26, 2007


Driving down a highway lined with gas stations, fast food restaurants and dollar stores I often got vertigo, forgetting for a moment if I was in Detroit or Kansas City or Cleveland.

oh, yeah, that's the REAL midwest right there

There are parts of the United States, including whole sections of former manufacturing centers such as Ohio, that resemble the developing world, with boarded up storefronts, dilapidated houses, pot-hole streets and crumbling schools

this has been going on for over 30 years ... where the fuck has he been?

The end of the world is no longer an abstraction to many Americans.

*snorts*

do the words "duck and cover" mean anything to him?

by the way, it's my experience and observation that in small towns/small cities churches are very much a part of the local networks and are not a "replacement" for them, but just another expression for them

it would be nice if someone who actually understood the midwest would write about it once in awhile

(and for those who might point out he's talking about suburbs, i might point out that in a lot of places the suburbs start about two miles from the bad part of town, if that far, and there's a lot more interaction between them)
posted by pyramid termite at 9:47 AM on January 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


hermitosis sez: I posted it to illustrate why the Christians have a vested interest in a style of government that allows full-on capitalistic destruction of our natural and human resources. Because, as the linked article claims, their brand of religion thrives on the despair that results from excess, waste, and abandonment. The worse things get, the greater their pull to spiritual atonement, and the more people become desperate to find a glimmer of spiritual hope in the two-tone, degraded world they've inherited.

There was an article in the NYTimes recently (that I can't find) that also illustrates this connection very well. It was about parents in Washington State protesting over the viewing of An Inconvenient Truth in the local school system. It doesn't take long for a parent to be quoted as saying something like, "I'm not having any of that Al Gore ideology in my schools, global warming is clearly a sign of the coming apocalypse." This parent objects to both the liberal boogieman he's made Al Gore into and the ideas of environmental stewardship in a way that hermitosis is picking up on: there seems to be this idea that it's all well and good to run this ship aground and we better back the team that knows how to ram into the shoals the fastest. For most of us, running aground means calamity, but for some it is a sign that salvation is around the corner.

And soulless suburbs are nothing new. See also Bowling Alone and The Middletown Studies. The Hedges article is interesting because it turns around the cause and effect; Bowling and Middletown both looked for the cause of looser social bonds and Hedges is looking for the effects of the social environment as he sees it.
posted by peeedro at 9:48 AM on January 26, 2007


gompa : "But joining a club or two isn't the same as participating in a functioning community"

Neither is living in a big city.

Participating in a functioning community is what is the same as participating in a functioning community. Some suburbs are functioning communities, some aren't. Some big city neighborhoods are functioning communities, some aren't.
posted by Bugbread at 9:50 AM on January 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


The reason that they are terrified of liberal ideas is that suddenly the onus is on the individual.

I think you’re oversimplifying it a bit (if I understand you correctly here). I find it hard to believe that the tenants of liberalism in its entirety can be boiled down to an “onus on the individual” – certainly, things like abortion and homosexuality are left with the individual deciding its ultimate outcome for themselves, yet the considerations of waste and conservation and the environment are inherently egalitarian, and almost always thought of in a communal sphere (re: what its effect produce for the world and those around us). Moreover, popular “liberalism” (at least in modern law) typically manifests itself in many of the “inflexible laws” you described, often as a means of keeping potentially corrupt people from taking advantage of others even if they haven’t done anything bad yet per se (the recent debate about a net neutrality amendment to the TelCom rewrites in Congress is a prime example of this). More often than not, much of the liberalism on the hill nowadays seems to work on the premise that people are inherently fucked are going to try to take advantage of others. And hey, I guess I’m inclined to agree.

I enjoyed reading the Hedges article, but I think he too really oversimplified the problems of Christianity in middle-America culture. As previously pointed out by someone here, it’s not like the majority of the people driving to these mega-Churches are arriving in broken-down pickup trucks. They aren’t. The standard Midwest megachurches (Columbus Ohio’s World Harvest being the absolute pinnacle of this model) consist mostly of families of upper-middle class to absolute affluence. In fact, Hedges’ description of the church-going Midwest and its demographical and economical breakdown are baseless and come off as just another attempt by an otherwise highly educated and intelligent east-coast scholar to deconstruct “the simple folk” yet he fails miserably in the process. As an NYC resident who moved here from Ohio (my family is very religious and my brother is even a preacher at a Church near Cleveland) I think I have a pretty good idea of the cultural terraforming religion does to middle America. Hedges is absolutely correct that many church goers are poor, depressed and looking for answers because it gives them the spiritual salve they need - and certainly, outsourcing, alcoholism and abuse play a large part of this. More often than not, however, there lies a much deeper pariah, a history and a culture of intolerance that has been seeded in the culture for centuries, and today’s manifestations can be seen in the megaplexes McChurches that reach deep into the Republican coffers. Hey, I moved away for a reason.
posted by tiger yang at 9:51 AM on January 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


Me, I just don't trust a few disconnected anecdotes to give an accurate picture of the genealogy of the beliefs of tens of millions of people.
posted by grobstein at 10:02 AM on January 26, 2007


I am definitely oversimplifying a bit. And my statement was not meant to encapsulate all liberal beliefs or even how they are perceived-- for truly, none of the Christians we are talking about would agree with what I said.

I'm just offering a look at what makes "liberal" ideas so unappealing to them on the surface-- which is generally the only level they are willing to consider them on.

There are far deeper and more accurate criticisms of liberalism that these churches could decry if they wanted to, but they don't need to-- because we're already murdering babies and washing the nation in a tide of obscenity and sexual deviance, and asking for handouts to boot.
posted by hermitosis at 10:08 AM on January 26, 2007


The reason that they are terrified of liberal ideas is that suddenly the onus is on the individual.

This is spot on. They are afraid of liberal ideas because MAN becomes responsible for his own fate instead of GOD, voting becomes more important than praying, and laws written by man make those (supposedly) written by God superfluous. Not that God was on the wrong track: I'd love to see the tax code reduced to ten commandments.
posted by three blind mice at 10:09 AM on January 26, 2007


three blind mice : "They are afraid of liberal ideas because MAN becomes responsible for his own fate instead of GOD, voting becomes more important than praying, and laws written by man make those (supposedly) written by God superfluous."

Well, if that's true, they'd be scared of any non-religious ideas, be they liberal or conservative. It's not like "liberal" is the direct antonym of "religious".
posted by Bugbread at 10:39 AM on January 26, 2007


MAN becomes responsible for his own fate instead of GOD, voting becomes more important than praying, and laws written by man make those (supposedly) written by God superfluous.

Isn't that called hubris?
posted by JekPorkins at 10:44 AM on January 26, 2007


He's probably right that christian fanatacism arises primarily out of despair. That's whence most religious fantacism springs, after all.

But exurban? I think that's a strange idea especially if he's trying to tie it in with a critique of capitalism. Capitalist ideology in America (and the modern west in general) is pervasive: Being "ex-urban"/"suburban" versus being "rural" or "urban" doesn't really have much significance anymore, I think, at least not for the purposes of this discussion.

And here's an interesting idea: "Capitalism is probably the first instance of a cult that creates guilt, not atonement..."

That seems to me so obviously false that I don't know where to begin. Christianity and Islam are driven by engines that run on guilt, after all. Sure, they promise atonement, but if you don't sin again there's no fuel, and the engine of the religion just stops turning.

Where capitalism might be new and original is that it has built in mechanisms for refreshing the supply of angst. As I write this, it strikes me that there might be a real difference between capitalism and earlier creeds, and that's that it runs not on guilt but on a more general source of energy: Angst. Guilt is specific; angst is generalized, and you can get it anywhere. You can relieve it by engaging in behaviors that we can map to hunting/gathering behaviors, like shopping and product acquisition. If the products fail to assuage the need that drove you to acquire them (which would hardly be surprising), then you are again in the place of needing to assuage that angst.
posted by lodurr at 10:45 AM on January 26, 2007


Well, if that's true, they'd be scared of any non-religious ideas,...

You get a lot of that in the Christian media complex. That's why so many of the "Christian Music" performers end up getting rejected by the "Christian Music Industry": They insist on writing songs that aren't directly and obviously about God and Jesus. It's got very little to do with lust or drug use -- you can be forgiven for those things, but you can't be forgiven for writing love songs that aren't love songs to Jesus.
posted by lodurr at 10:48 AM on January 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


The Christian right is just another voting constituency. The Republicans have offered smiles and empty promises, though little performance. The Democrats have offered to spit in their eye. Given a Hobson's choice like that, which would you choose?
posted by jfuller at 10:54 AM CST on January 26


jfuller is absolutely correct. And the "liberals" should be ashamed. Not long ago, the democrat/liberal/progressive movement was absolutely an "everyman" movement. Now, it is considered by many people the domain of the wealthy and academic elite. This is unfortunate, but also true to a degree. I mean, a lot of "middle america" and fundamentalist christians are, for lack of a better word, simply stupid. But this goes for everywhere. There are staggering numbers of profoundly stupid people in NYC, because there are just staggering numbers of people. As I've said many times before, your "fellow american" is an ignorant bigot. This uprising of fundamentalism is, as Hodges illuminates, is a byproduct of that fact. Basically simple/dumb people who have no reason to have any hope that things are gonna get better on this world. So, I'll start working towards my promised mansion in Glory.

I like this article, but I'm bristling at all of the "city vs the suburbs" talk above, because the issue is much more complex than that, as the article goes into after the opening paragraphs.

The definition of suburbs/exurbs is way too broad. Although many will scream to the contrary, there really is life, and happiness, outside of New York City.

THis is about being downtrodden and hopeless, not where you live. There are scores of downtrodden and hopeless in EVERY urban city. What, you think there are no bible beaters in NYC? Are you mad?

But Hodges has tapped into something I believe.

Anyway, living in a big city is miserable unless you have money

Bingo.
posted by Ynoxas at 10:50 AM on January 26, 2007


It's funny, I was just sitting in a car on a garbage strewn street lined with abandoned houses in North Philly waiting for one of my clients and found myself formulating a similar conclusion as to why there's so much deep Baptist/Pentecostal type Jesus in the 'hood. People who live in those places don't have much else by way of distraction or possibility for communing with humanity in such impovershed and hostile environments. They're generally isolated from the rest of the city and many of them haven't been downtown in years. So the church fills a lot of holes, it gives them substantial ideas to think about and discuss, gives them a ready-made culture rich with history and tradition, gives them a social and emotional support network and even gives them the kind of egoistic satisfaction wealthier secularists might get from a challenging job or conspicious consumption (there's a deep sense of pride in belonging to certain churches, who has the best message, most electrifying preacher, etc.). The church (or mosque) in the 'hood is the be all end all, really, because beyond dope and crack there's not much else around and I can see how Hedges would come to the same conclusion in the Rust Belt.
posted by The Straightener at 10:51 AM on January 26, 2007


His basic premise is right on the mark. The whole ball of wax is connected, alienation, poverty, sexual abuse, shit jobs, fast food franchises, endless TV, shopping malls and McJesus. It's like a fetid ecosystem that breeds like a gangrenous wound and the spiritual pus it produces is FEAR.

Funny to put it that way as it’s standard practice for the slimy predatory McJesus spiritual vampires (Pat Robertson, James Falwell, James Dobson) who exploit fear to describe the godless cities as "swamps".

My problem with his essay is that it's easy to get shrill about fundamentalism. I do it all the time. (A different fear driving that). The people drawn to it don't need to be propped up like Jesus zombies. They need alternatives.

It seems that after Welfare was curtailed by Clinton things gradually became better for those in the cities where work could be found (like NYC), but got worse for people almost everywhere else, where suddenly a giant pool of workers was available to be exploited with minimum wage salaries and no healthcare (look a the rise of Wal-Mart, another element in the aforementioned fetid McJesus ecosystem). Especially after Bush got into power. Same thing with NAFTA, I may (admittedly) be wrong, but it seems like there were controls (or at least an approach) under Clinton that made that treaty less destructive to the American working class.

We probably are one catastrophe away from swinging back to the far right, but for now everyone, including the Christian right (except for the diehards) is disillusioned with the Bush revolution. Some on the Christian right feel downright used and betrayed.

So these folks need to be understood and not painted as end of the world zombies. I'm sure for most it's something to do, like going to the movies and a lot probably take the fundy shit with a big grain of salt so they can socialize a bit and get away from the deadening cycle of work, TV, Sleep etc...

I'm not sure exactly what the answer is other than pumping massive amounts of Iraq war sized money into libraries, the arts (museums), free to all medical centers and education (from elementary to college level) and attracting good people to teach by offering them $80,000 Salaries. Expanding on the foundation of secular schools (from grads K through College), the places where the community can meet and not feel alone and alienated. Containing commercialism and the media.

...but where will the people in the cities work if they can’t put together commercials so people spend money they they don't have and buy shit food and products and drugs and money deals and insipid TV shows and movies and porn and retarded books about Paris Hilton and the coming apocalypse…


I think I'm turnig in to a Socialist.
posted by Skygazer at 10:54 AM on January 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


Where capitalism might be new and original is that it has built in mechanisms for refreshing the supply of angst.

Good point-- and in all fairness that quote is excerpted from writing from the early 20th century, so his word choice may not be ideal for this discussion.
posted by hermitosis at 11:02 AM on January 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


When will people learn that devotion to God can never provide the true enduring happiness that is only possible through material wealth?
posted by JekPorkins at 11:12 AM on January 26, 2007 [3 favorites]


Anyway, living in a big city is miserable unless you have money. Life is more comfortable and healthier when you're young and poor in an exurb than in an urban core. You just feel less bohemian.

Untrue. Urban centers are oftentimes ripe with infrastructure that's in place precisely to make living there less miserable for those without money. Have you ever tried to get to a job miles away while living in a suburb without a car? It has nothing to do with feeling "bohemian" and much more to do with proximity and concentration of resources for those who need them.

Speaking of "healthier", try walking or biking anywhere in a suburb. You'll be overwhelmed with how car-centric they are.
posted by hollisimo at 11:12 AM on January 26, 2007


See also Eric Hoffer's The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements.
posted by russilwvong at 11:36 AM on January 26, 2007


When will people learn that devotion to God can never provide the true enduring happiness that is only possible through material wealth?

The wealthiest people are often the most "devout" and "conservative."
posted by maxwelton at 11:42 AM on January 26, 2007


I forgot to add, I grew up in an isolated sub/exurb, that was solidly (even aggressively), Catholic, but as of late has experienced a strong fundy movement amongst the working class and I suspect an Opus Die movement as well.
posted by Skygazer at 11:48 AM on January 26, 2007


The wealthiest people are often the most "devout" and "conservative."

Maybe they're just using feigned devotion as a tool in their wealth acquisition program. After all, the only true path to happiness and peace is to amass great stores of personal wealth. Or at least I think that's what the Buddha was starting to tell me when I killed him.
posted by JekPorkins at 11:55 AM on January 26, 2007


See also Eric Hoffer's The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements.

Yes.

Also see SAHARASIA: The 4000 BCE Origins of Child Abuse, Sex-Repression, Warfare and Social Violence, In the Deserts of the Old World
by James DeMeo for insight into the origins of the big three hate religions, judaism, christianity and islam.
posted by telstar at 12:01 PM on January 26, 2007


gompa: Hedges .... is among the most principled war reporters in America. He's spent most of his adult life getting shot at and bearing witness to unspeakable horror in the name of his profession and the hunt for insight into the human condition.

Interesting. Maybe that's what skews his perspective. Maybe it's not the cosmopolitan versus the podunk, but the war zone versus the cosmopolitan versus the "normal."
posted by lodurr at 12:28 PM on January 26, 2007


For what it's worth, Hedges himself has said that he wrote the book out of concern for what he saw as eerie parallels between contemporary America and the civil societies on the verge of collapse he reported on in places like the Balkans.
posted by gompa at 12:32 PM on January 26, 2007


People who live in [places like North Philly] don't have much else by way of distraction or possibility for communing with humanity in such impovershed and hostile environments.

Here's a though: What do the demographics actually say?

That would kind of answer this question, without us sitting around and wanking about it. If the "Religious Right" is centered in places like North Philly, then there's a case; if not, then this theory is not correct.

Pretty simple.

Anybody got access to the demographics data on this?
posted by lodurr at 12:33 PM on January 26, 2007 [2 favorites]


The Republicans have offered smiles and empty promises, though little performance.

yeah, little besides a solid stream of anti-Roe SCOTUS Justices (poor Poppy-Bush-appointed Justice Souter being the exception among them), little besides faith-based science (no stem cell research, creationism in public schools), little besides a big fat religious war against Islam (America follows the Christian God's plan, instead), little besides that mountain of cash coming from faith-based social services (the perfect way to bribe churches as payback for their electoral support and campaign-time legwork), little besides the dismantling of the Clinton-era Justice Department task force to prevent violence against abortion clinics, etc, etc etc

the Republican party was the best thing ever to happen to America's religious, apocalyptic fundamentalist Chrsitian nuts, to deny that is simply dishonest. and the said thing is that unlike most of your Klavern social club members you're too smart to believe your own oh-so-easy-to-disprove bullshit, jfuller.
posted by matteo at 12:40 PM on January 26, 2007 [3 favorites]


Wow. Easy there, matteo. Let's, you know, stay civil.

The Republicans have given the fundies a lot, granted. But they've promised them much, much more. The faith-based funds are flowing a lot faster than I'm comfortable with, but not nearly as fast as Dobson and company were promised. Granted, Dobson is a whiny little money-grubber who would be bitching about anything this side of a government-mandated Second Coming. But it's true, the politicians promise more than they deliver. Thank goodness they don't deliver it all.

Also, calling the Iraq war a sop to the religious right is way too simple. Possibly it couldn't have happened if the religious right weren't happy about it, but we're not there solely, or even mainly, because of religion.
posted by gurple at 12:46 PM on January 26, 2007


When in reality, there are often very strong social connections [in the suburbs]- family, sports, craft groups, hunting/fishing, Kiwanis, VFW, neighborhood organizations, and yes, CHURCH, to keep these people's lives full.

However, keep in mind these institutions are in decline -- we no longer live near our extended family (my cousins lived 70 miles away from me growing up, and compared to most Americans, that's considered extremely closeby), membership in Kiwanis, the VFW, and the Junior League isn't exactly attracting a lot of young people, and the small, mainline neighborhood Protestant churches have had declining membership for decades. Who comes in to fill the void? The evangelical megachurches, which by all accounts have been increasing in membership.
posted by deanc at 12:47 PM on January 26, 2007


Two questions:

Where's this despair that's at the heart of fundamentalism? At least, at the heart of fundamentalist Xtianity, and Lubavitcher Judaism (if that qualifies as "fundamentalist"), I've seen joy, or at least a sense of relief and of purpose, and more contentment and less angst and anger than among quite a few agnostic/atheistic/non-fundie Xtian types I’ve known. I guess there may be some despairing individuals in any group, but didn't see any particular prevalence.

Admitting I've read this thread but not TFA: Where does the LDS Church (the Mormons) fit into this -- should they be lumped in, for all practical purposes, with the fundies? The LDS, from what little I've seen, have run the gamut from some fairly properous folks through solid middle class down to some rather down-at-the-heels folks.
posted by pax digita at 12:55 PM on January 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


Where does the LDS Church (the Mormons) fit into this -- should they be lumped in, for all practical purposes, with the fundies?

Please, no.
posted by JekPorkins at 1:01 PM on January 26, 2007


From my experience looking in from the outside (I grew up in Utah), the LDS are one group that has changed relatively little in this megachurch age. Their game plan is the same as always -- when they move into a new area, they build a church, and when they can they build a "stake center" (bigger, central church) and more churches. When there are enough of them in a place, they build a temple. The same pattern you see all across Utah.

Politically, too, I don't think the Mormons have changed much recently. But they have become a lot more accepted. Ten years ago you'd never have evangelical Baptists making political alliances with Mormons. But now, if Mitt Romney emerges as a viable candidate, he's going to have a lot of fundy support.
posted by gurple at 1:02 PM on January 26, 2007


Would it be that despair is "at the heart of", or "at the root of"?

That is: There may well be joy, there, and the joy may well be real. That doesn't mean they weren't driven there by something that could be called "despair."
posted by lodurr at 1:05 PM on January 26, 2007


I was just in Cleveland. I had a good time. Folks there were nice.
posted by MarshallPoe at 1:14 PM on January 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


I grew up fundie. My father was deeply into eschatology, and spent many nights poring over the seven seals, the scrolls, the judgements, the many-headed creatures, and the Son of God whose eyes were like lightning and feet like fire, as told in Revelations.

My dad was an electrician, raised dirt poor by parents who quit school at 15 to marry and raise 6 kids. He wanted to go to college but never had the money. He was a smart man who gave me my love of books, but his world was a small place and as the union jobs dried up and opportunity blew away, it wasn't hard to convince him something was wrong with America, and that it was the hippies'/yuppies/liberals' fault. Church made him feel at home, gave him a framework to put on a bewildering world that was nothing like what he'd been raised in, and gave him a chance to teach classes on Revelations and lead others that he'd never get without the college degree he couldn't afford.

I still know lots of people like him, and Hedges nails it when he says they're lost. Whatever you think of Hedges as "elitist" I think he's one of the only commenters on fundamentalism that has managed to be both completely opposed and to treat them as humans deserving of compassion. I think he would have understood my dad.
posted by emjaybee at 1:15 PM on January 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


That would kind of answer this question, without us sitting around and wanking about it. If the "Religious Right" is centered in places like North Philly, then there's a case; if not, then this theory is not correct.

I'm not even sure what you're post says, to be honest. However, the "Religous Right" very much is a presence in North Philly, as Reverend Lusk who owns the entire block my work is located on and has had GWB making speeches from his fronts steps testifies to. He is one of many, here and in black neighborhoods in major cities all over the country. Did you think urban Baptist and Pentecostals were somehow politically aligned differently than their rural counterparts?
posted by The Straightener at 1:24 PM on January 26, 2007


Did you think urban Baptist and Pentecostals were somehow politically aligned differently than their rural counterparts?

Non-snarky reply: yes? Really, don't most "conservative" black churches in urban areas still vote differently than white rural conservative churches? Jesse Jackson is a Baptist, right? So is Al Sharpton, right?

It seems to me, given the overwhelming Democratic nature of urban centers, either you are wrong about these churches being a force or you are wrong about how they vote. Or am I missing something?
posted by Bookhouse at 1:41 PM on January 26, 2007


See also, The Gospel of Bling (Sojourners, free registration required). Not surprisingly, the fundie off shoot "prosperity gospel" goes over real big in the ghetto, as well.
posted by The Straightener at 1:43 PM on January 26, 2007


Or am I missing something?

It's an emerging movement just like the rural megachurch movement has been. It's a growing force that may very well develop the capacity to move urban elections depending on how much the momentum behind religous fundamentalism continues to build.
posted by The Straightener at 1:51 PM on January 26, 2007


Okay, despair as the motivation to find something to help deal with it...that makes sense.
posted by pax digita at 2:28 PM on January 26, 2007


This great comment bears repeating:

pax digita: "Where's this despair that's at the heart of fundamentalism? At least, at the heart of fundamentalist Xtianity, and Lubavitcher Judaism (if that qualifies as "fundamentalist"), I've seen joy, or at least a sense of relief and of purpose, and more contentment and less angst and anger than among quite a few agnostic/atheistic/non-fundie Xtian types I’ve known. I guess there may be some despairing individuals in any group, but didn't see any particular prevalence."

These little "investigative reporter penetrates the seedy depths of xianity to bring you a look at their strange ways and a psychoanalysis of their beliefs" articles seem very silly to me. This one is better than the last one that was posted-- it's shorter on angry epithets-- but it's just as silly. First of all, you shouldn't need to read an article by a guy who wrote a book called "American Fascists" to figure out what american christians think. In fact, I'd say that he'd be about as qualified to talk about what they think as one of the christians who think "islam is devil-worship" would be qualified to tell us all about what muslims are like.
posted by koeselitz at 2:30 PM on January 26, 2007


lodurr: "There may well be joy, there, and the joy may well be real. That doesn't mean they weren't driven there by something that could be called "despair.""

The thing that struck me about this article: Mr Hedges never once explains why that despair is irrational or illogical. He says several times that he thinks that christianity is "mythological," but he never justifies that statement.

One comes out feeling as though christians are the only sane ones in society; they are, unlike everyone else, perceptive of and victorious over a certain despair that infects everything.
posted by koeselitz at 2:33 PM on January 26, 2007


One comes out feeling as though christians are the only sane ones in society; they are, unlike everyone else, perceptive of and victorious over a certain despair that infects everything.

What the hell are you talking about?

As for who's most qualified to do a taxonomy of the religious right, I think the answer is, anyone without a glaring agenda who's done their homework. Hedges has done his homework, he's just reached some strange and broad conclusions.
posted by gurple at 2:58 PM on January 26, 2007


koeselitz: Mr Hedges never once explains why that despair is irrational or illogical.

Whether irrational or not, it's dangerous. Hoffer describes how despair can lead to fanatical mass movements, submerging the individual in the safety of the group, and these fanatical mass movements in turn threaten the stability of society.

According to Hedges, this despair is rooted in economic conditions. And these aren't the result of acts of God or nature; they're the result of political choices.

Hedges:
In the United States we have turned our backs on the working class, with much of the worst assaults, such as NAFTA and welfare reform, pushed though during President Clinton’s Democratic administration. We stand passively and watch an equally pernicious assault on the middle class. Anything that can be put on software, from architecture to engineering to finance, will soon be handed to workers overseas who will be paid a third what their American counterparts receive and who will, like some 45 million Americans, have no access to health insurance or benefits.

There has been, along with the creation of an American oligarchy, a steady Weimarization of the American working class. The top one percent of American households have more wealth than the bottom 90 percent combined. This figure alone should terrify all who care about our democracy. As Plutarch reminded us “an imbalance between the rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics.”
posted by russilwvong at 3:01 PM on January 26, 2007


russilwvong: The bit you skipped over is the bit where I asserted that christians in America feel, not more despair than anyone else here, but less.
posted by koeselitz at 3:36 PM on January 26, 2007


And I should note that, as far as pre-loaded words that ought not to be used, "Weimarization" is right near the top.
posted by koeselitz at 3:38 PM on January 26, 2007


russilwvong: The bit you skipped over is the bit where I asserted that christians in America feel, not more despair than anyone else here, but less.

You indicated that the Hedges article made you think that way, but we already know how you feel about that article. Do you have any other reason to believe that? All the research I've seen on a link between religiosity and happiness has either had an agenda or been pretty inconclusive.

Anecdotally, I can't really identify a tight correlation in either direction, among my religious and secular friends and family. I'm one of the happier and fulfilled people I know, and I'm 100% deity-free.
posted by gurple at 3:49 PM on January 26, 2007


> Wow. Easy there, matteo. Let's, you know, stay civil.

Oh no no no, let matteo let his true self shine through. Maybe it'll, y'know, drive me to suburban despair or something. Help me, Søren-Wan, you're my only hope.
posted by jfuller at 3:51 PM on January 26, 2007


koeselitz: The bit you skipped over is the bit where I asserted that Christians in America feel, not more despair than anyone else here, but less.

No, I understood that. That's the nature of mass movements: joining the movement relieves one's despair. You're no longer a powerless individual in a meaningless world; you're part of a large and powerful group.

See also: nationalism.

Hoffer quotes Pascal: [Man] wants to be great, and he sees himself small. He wants to be happy, and he sees himself miserable. He wants to be perfect, and he sees himself full of imperfections. He wants to be the object of love and esteem among men, and he sees that his faults merit only their hatred and contempt. This embarrassment in which he finds himself produces in him the most unrighteous and criminal passion that can be imagined; for he conceives a mortal enmity against that truth which reproves him and which convinces him of his faults.

And I should note that, as far as pre-loaded words that ought not to be used, "Weimarization" is right near the top.

Yeah, that caught my attention too.
posted by russilwvong at 4:20 PM on January 26, 2007


The Christian right is just another voting constituency. The Republicans have offered smiles and empty promises, though little performance. The Democrats have offered to spit in their eye. Given a Hobson's choice like that, which would you choose?

Oh, this is such bullshit. The Democrats never turned their back on religion, as a whole, and you'll find more than a few Democrats in the clergy and the churches and synagogues. You'll also find more than a few Democrats in Middle America. It's the Christian right who is doing the spitting. All of their demands are impositions on others -- imposing their religious viewpoints on the world around them. They are the ones who declared war -- on modernity, on liberalism, on science, and on democracy. Because Conservativism embraced a movement that is, at its heart, a betrayal of the American ideal of pluralism and democracy does not speak well of Conservativism, and because the Democratic Party has not capitulated to the demands of this growing group of hostiles does not mean the Democratic Party spits in it's eye.
posted by Astro Zombie at 4:25 PM on January 26, 2007 [2 favorites]


The Democratic Party as a whole, and most of its elected officials in specific, don't do a very good job of countering the charge that they are anti-religion. I agree with you that the Democratic Party hasn't turned its back on religion, but they are successfully cast as having done so.

Folks like Barack Obama -- hell, maybe just him -- have a knack for walking the thin line that allows them to appear religious but not to alienate the parts of their constituency (like me) that don't want their leaders kowtowing to the Religious Right.

Even Obama sometimes pisses me off, when I look at his words closely.
posted by gurple at 4:33 PM on January 26, 2007


As long as the American economy is doing well, this does not concern me.

If we go into a depression, watch out. These will be the people who are sure of themselves and what it all means.
posted by cell divide at 4:37 PM on January 26, 2007


I'm one of the happier and fulfilled people I know, and I'm 100% deity-free.

Because you're rich, right? See, it's the whole money thing. When will they ever learn? Money buys happiness. Religion is just a poor man's substitute for wealth.

As long as the American economy is doing well, this does not concern me.

See, this is what I'm talking about. Rich = happy.

If we go into a depression, watch out. These will be the people who are sure of themselves and what it all means.

So true. When economic troubles come along, watch out for those delusional religious people -- first they find happiness in spite of existential despair, then next thing you know they're pretending they're happy even though they're not rich. Bastards!
posted by JekPorkins at 4:43 PM on January 26, 2007


Anyway, living in a big city is miserable unless you have money

I'd say it's the exact opposite. Living in the exurbs is miserable unless you're rich. Look at the rate of school shootings/suicides. You have to drive everywhere (gas prices, auto insurance, and car bills) and pay for all of your entertainment.

There's plenty of free entertainment in the city, not to mention public transportation and much more attractive women. ;)

What can I do for free in New York, Chicago, or San Francisco? Certainly more than I could do in Terre Haute. Heck, I found a fun craps game with some lovely fellows on the street last night. We played for bottle caps.

(Whoever posted that David Brooks' crap owes me something. That was more painful that I could have imagined.)

on preview: I'm happy, atheist, and have *way* less than the suggested 3 months of salary saved. But at least I'm out of debt now!
posted by mrgrimm at 4:45 PM on January 26, 2007


Terre Haute is not a suburb.

And if you're a happy, poor atheist, you're totally ruining Hedges' thesis. Quit it! You're supposed to be driven to religion by your poverty-induced despair.
posted by JekPorkins at 4:48 PM on January 26, 2007


Perhaps more related to the last post on Hedges: Our Mercenaries in Iraq: Blackwater Inc and Bush's Undeclared Surge
posted by homunculus at 4:49 PM on January 26, 2007


As long as the American economy is doing well, this does not concern me.

It should. Fundamentalists have very extreme positions on a number of hot-button political issues that are in play right now, and they are powerful and becoming more so.
posted by gurple at 4:52 PM on January 26, 2007


Forgive me for using Terre Haute. I know and love Terre Haute (and the fine gentlemen at Rose Hulman University). I meant to say "Auburn, Michigan." If you can't afford Pistons seats, you're fucked for entertainment.

And if you're a happy, poor atheist, you're totally ruining Hedges' thesis. Quit it!

Well, I'm not that poor. I do have a job and a reasonable salary that pays the rent plus a bit extra. I suppose I could understand turning to the church if I was alone and destitute.

But the natural human condition (you know, the suffering bit) did drive me to various Eastern religious texts that I feel have helped me quite a bit.

Centering is probably my favorite so far.
posted by mrgrimm at 5:10 PM on January 26, 2007


> They are the ones who declared war -- on modernity, on liberalism, on science, and on democracy.

Well, you'll be needing to leave some room for people like that to have their share the public space. If you really believe in your ideal of pluralism and democracy, that is. Oh, the terrible dilemma of the tolerant faced with the intolerable. Fuller plays smallish violin.
posted by jfuller at 5:36 PM on January 26, 2007


So, apparently The Radical Christian Right = Goth.

That's not clear? When I'm among either crowd, I get the same very distinctive feeling of being with a much higher than usual proportion of people who ended up in the scene largely because other groups wouldn't take them or were closed to them, while this group is more accepting of people who are like this or that. Embracing even; so long as you accept its code of conduct, all mannor of other quirks and more can be overlooked that would result in ostracising in many other social groups.

I think it's great that these groups aren't so snobby, but as you know if you've been in them, they're not really better so much as just snobby in different ways and different directions. I guess if a social group contains people, it usually contains some snobby too :-/
posted by -harlequin- at 6:01 PM on January 26, 2007


Wait, so people become fundamentalist evangelical conservative christians because they had abortions and live in the suburbs?
posted by kyleg at 6:34 PM on January 26, 2007


mrgrimm : "There's plenty of free entertainment in the city, not to mention public transportation and much more attractive women. ;)"

And plenty of rent.

mrgrimm : "What can I do for free in New York, Chicago, or San Francisco? Certainly more than I could do in Terre Haute."

When I lived in LA, there was significantly less. No free space means you end up limiting your entertainment options or relying on other folks who provide entertainment. I certainly entertained myself more in the suburbs of Houston, with all the open space, than in LA, where anything you do has to fit your living room or be copiously scrutinized to make sure you don't bump into people, or scratch a car, or annoy a cop.

Now, once you have money? Big cities are great. I'm not knocking them. But when you're broke in a big city, you're kinda fucked.
posted by Bugbread at 7:12 PM on January 26, 2007


Where's this despair that's at the heart of fundamentalism?

well, people have been misspeaking themselves ... what they really mean is that as good liberal atheists, they would have to be full of despair to ever buy into such a worldview ... and then they blindly assume that's why everyone else buys into it, too
posted by pyramid termite at 8:36 PM on January 26, 2007


Well, you'll be needing to leave some room for people like that to have their share the public space. If you really believe in your ideal of pluralism and democracy, that is. Oh, the terrible dilemma of the tolerant faced with the intolerable. Fuller plays smallish violin.

I assume you are deliberately being obtuse. My issue is not with them. They are free to worship and live however they please. Their issue is with me. They are looking to create a Christian theocracy in this country, and are quite candid about the fact. They wish to have prayer in school. They wish to teach the Bible as fact in schools. They wish to outlaw abortion. If you cannot see that every single one of these desires in an infringement on someone else, then, yes, you're right, we're pitting in the face of the religious right. They are so goddamn oppressed, because, jeez, they should be able to force their theology on the rest of the world.
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:55 PM on January 26, 2007


For most of us, running aground means calamity, but for some it is a sign that salvation is around the corner.

Not my favorite fiction by a stretch, but were the Rapture to happen tomorrow, I'd enjoy seeing all these "good Christians" reactions when they finally realize that their lives have followed the teachings of their supposed savior not at all.
posted by dreamsign at 11:33 PM on January 26, 2007


who watched helplessly as their communities were plunged into poverty by the flight of manufacturing jobs, their families and neighborhoods torn apart by neglect and indifference, and who eventually lost hope that America was a place where they had a future.

Isn't this taken from Howl?
posted by oaf at 11:34 PM on January 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


This is a very well written piece that complements this other thread very well.

All radical movements need a crisis or a prolonged period of instability to achieve power. And we are not in a period of crisis now. But another catastrophic terrorist attack on American soil, a series of huge environmental disasters or an economic meltdown will hand to these radicals the opening they seek. Manipulating our fear and anxiety, promising to make us safe and secure, giving us the assurance that they can vanquish the forces that mean to do us harm, these radicals, many of whom have achieved powerful positions in the Executive and legislative branches of government, as well as the military, will ask us only to surrender our rights, to pass them the unlimited power they need to battle the forces of darkness.

They will have behind them tens of millions of angry, disenfranchised Americans longing for revenge and yearning for a mythical utopia, Americans who embraced a theology of despair because we offered them nothing else.


In the Harris-Sullivan debate, Harris brought up the danger of about 40% of Americans believing that Christ will return in the next fifty years. I didn't think it was compelling. But Hedges does a good job of painting this as a viable threat by way of abrupt social change.

As far as the main subject, I tend to agree with him. I've always thought that the most vocal opponents to a thing are the most conflicted about it, and similarly, those who pine most for paradise are those most mired in hell.

The pendulum swing from drug-addled chaos to fundy born-again faith is a familiar overcompensation. It might be the lack of rational models of compensation in the community, it might be the person's propensity to go overboard with whatever they do. Whatever way they get there, it always seems to involve demonstrating that change, their belief.

To me this betrays the unrepentant primacy of the ego. That anyone might feel that their suffering is some clue to their purpose in the machinations of the universe. That anyone might think they have such a purpose to begin with. That their persona is so important that it should live forever, in either state, saved or damned. That what they do in this atom of time will have eternal consequences. And as bright as that ego shines in their own head, it only maximizes its sense of contrast to the outside world and how important it is to maintain appearances in that world (since they are such a focus of attention).

As Hedges says, in times of prosperity, these folks are marginal but in desperate times when more people are looking for answers and they are so willing and certain to give them, they have great opportunity. It only makes sense that they thrive on despair.

Whether that despair is rooted in exurbia, I like what Skygazer said here: The whole ball of wax is connected, alienation, poverty, sexual abuse, shit jobs, fast food franchises, endless TV, shopping malls and McJesus. It's like a fetid ecosystem that breeds like a gangrenous wound and the spiritual pus it produces is FEAR.
posted by effwerd at 9:03 AM on January 27, 2007


To me this betrays the unrepentant primacy of the ego. That anyone might feel that their suffering is some clue to their purpose in the machinations of the universe. That anyone might think they have such a purpose to begin with.

the problem with arguing this is that one can turn around and say that this leaves you with no objection you can make if they decide to shove their religion down your throat, or violate your rights, or hang you from the nearest tree, because, after all, it's not like you have a purpose or that your life has meaning to anyone but you

they're arguing "god's will" and "ultimate meaning" and all you're offering as an alternative is nihilism and futility ... and yet you accuse them of thriving on despair

you're not going to convince many people with that argument
posted by pyramid termite at 9:19 AM on January 27, 2007


pyramid termite,

the problem with arguing this is that one can turn around and say that this leaves you with no objection you can make if they decide to shove their religion down your throat, or violate your rights, or hang you from the nearest tree, because, after all, it's not like you have a purpose or that your life has meaning to anyone but you

Hmn, that doesn't follow for me. Purpose is not required for value to exist. Eternal meaning is not required to have a reason to promote temporal decency.

they're arguing "god's will" and "ultimate meaning" and all you're offering as an alternative is nihilism and futility ... and yet you accuse them of thriving on despair

Similar to above, I don't think higher purpose is needed to avoid despair. If life is a gift because some god bestowed it upon us then, for me, it's much more precious if it just happened out of chance. Nihilism and futility are not inevitable to the ideology.
posted by effwerd at 8:08 AM on January 28, 2007


effwerd, all i'm really suggesting is that you emphasize positives such as "value", "decency", instead of saying things like "no purpose" ... i can respect an atheist/secular humanist point of view, but something that sounds like an argument that life is meaningless is a turn off for me and a lot of people
posted by pyramid termite at 11:15 AM on January 28, 2007


"A stunningly lucid description" .... I wasnt stunned ...It's just OK. theres a lot of sensationalism, cliche's and it doesnt really hang together as tight writing. Its OK, he is no Orwell.
posted by celerystick at 10:42 PM on January 28, 2007


Chris Hedges on Stephen Colbert
posted by homunculus at 12:23 AM on February 14, 2007


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