Friday, September 10, 2004

Culture of Fear
Part 1: Christianity

This country, the United States, is controlled by fear. Stephen King is one of our best selling writers and the underlying theme of his books is fear. We tote guns out of fear. Americans demand the "right" to keep guns in their homes to shoot criminals that just might happen by, and those same criminals often carry guns because they are afraid of being shot by homeowners who keep guns because of criminals. What is interesting about that situation is that more children, the very ones we are trying to protect from the criminals who might have guns, are killed by those guns we use for their very protection than are actual criminals! Everybody is armed. It is some kind of pistol packing mutually assured destruction - just like MAD from the cold war days. More on guns at a future date.

Then there is Christianity. But, not just any kind of Christianity because Christianity as a whole is really a pretty good religion. I admire it a lot. Who on earth could argue with the Golden Rule or the Sermon on the Mount! Unfortunately here in the U. S. we have a special kind of Christianity that scares the bejesus out of the rest of the world that sees us as a nation populated by trained marksman (remember we have to have guns at home to protect our children from the possibility of criminals who are armed because we are ... anyway), and we have a born again president in the form of a rather dull witted George Bush Jr, who is not shy about bitch slapping whatever country gets in our way. You see, George had kind of a substance abuse problem awhile back. Instead of AA he went to Jesus because he was afraid of his own out of control behavior (Jesus is a whole lot easier than AA which requires reading and regular ongoing attendance at meetings). He was also motivated by fear of going to hell. You see, George Bush is an Evangelical Christian. Let us take a look at Evangelical Christianity.

Evangelical Christianity is the dominant religious bent, besides indifference, in the United States and it has a peculiarity about it that is not characteristic of Christianity in the rest of the world. Our homegrown flavor of evangelical Christianity is full of apocalypse, hell, and visions of doom unless you accept Jesus as your Saviour. We are all going to hell because we can not meet God's standards. Think about this sequence:

1. You are a sinner and deserve to go to hell for breaking the rules even if you were never told what the rules actually are.
2. Even if you tried like heck to be good and made up all kinds of rules (like Jews and Muslims) to govern your behavior it is a vain attempt to please G-d because we can never be good enough. And my kids think I am hard to please.
2. People go to hell for eternity. So, there is NO end to their punishment no matter how short their life was on earth.
3. G-d came down here to earth in the form of Jesus who was really G-d (evidently there are three versions of G-d but there is really one - you figure it out but this drives Muslims to distraction as they trip over the logic while Jews just try to ignore the shennanegans of those wacky goyim who have always been so well armed, and Buddhist just smile politely as they walk quickly away).
4. Jesus died and Mel Gibson made a documentary of G-d's death. There is something fundamental to our nature in that scary film.
5. Jesus died so you do not have to go to hell but there is a catch.
6. The fine print, the catch, is that you have to believe and accept that Jesus died for you. If you do not accept it then the whole deal is null and void and you go straight to hell because you are a sinner no matter what you do or do not do.

That is kind of how it works. Now, what is the net effect of this form of Christianity? What effect does it have when the emphasis is on avoiding hell rather than being a decent neighbor, an honest person, and a competant person? Pardon the sexist language but it is kind of an "every man for themself" type of thing. You gotta grab onto Jesus first and hold tight before anything else.

The first effect is that this creates the illusion of their being only ONE path to heaven and you are either on that path or not. Buddhist, Jews, Muslim, Hindus, and folks too confused or hungry to declare an official religion are all going to hell. You are either with us or against us. Now, you tell me. How far does this type of thinking go into creating a tolerant, diverse world? I think not very far. Maybe that is why we are so dogmatic about everything else. America is the best, democracy is the best, our way is the best (no matter what others say or what kind of logic you may try to trick us with). Everybody else is going to hell anyway so how could they possibly offer us anything culturally, politically, or especially on a spiritual level. Oh, they may have oil, gold, aluminum, uranium, or some other natural resource that we need. They may have lots of cheap labor, poor souls going to hell anyway, that we can exploit, but we really must not take them seriously as people. We are willing to do business with them but we can not leave it at that because fundamentally we are missionairies spreading the gospel of Jesus and market capitalism (market capitalism is sort of tangled up in all of the relegious stuff in a way that is hard to sort through). We are obligated to correct their misguided behavior, and particularly their misguided beliefs.

Don't believe me? Why is the rest of the world so pissed off at us? It is not because we bought their oil or whatever they had to sell. Nobody had an argument with that. It was because we could not stay out of their business, we were arrogant, and we tried to tell everybody else what to do. Not only that, we had the will, resources, and skill (remember we are a nation of excellent marksman) to try to make others into our own image. In other words, the proselytizing we learned in church, saving sinners from hell, carried over into our diplomacy, foreign trade, and world view.

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