“I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong.” –
“Be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves.” – Jesus
“[To] conspire – combine privily for unlawful purpose, especially treason, murder, sedition…plot…” – The Concise Oxford Dictionary, 1964
“The garb of religion is the best cloak for power.” – William Hazlitt, English journalist, 1819.
(Photo credit: Quotefancy)
For years now, we have been witnessing the growing the gullible credulousness of many millions in believing and accepting as “cash” the most egregious falsehoods. E-media and its social (anti-social?) counterpoint have greatly exacerbated and accelerated this unfortunate side of human nature. It has manifested itself via the “grapevine” and “rumor-mill” since time immemorial.
Even sadder is the tendency of professing and practicing religious people (no particular religion holds a monopoly on this) to engage in these tales and even commit themselves to propagating them and, to some degree, acting on them.
No more blatant illustration of this can be found than the recent events in the USA surrounding the defeat of Mr. Trump and the election of Mr. Biden. Substantial evidence has come to light that probably 50% of those engaged in the pre-inaugural assault on Capitol Hill were “good folks” of Evangelical persuasion and regular Sunday Church attendance. On a personal note, I find this very sad and disturbing, but not too surprising.
Violent phenomena have recently occurred in a series of religiously motivated murders and attacks on strangers and tourists in India based on wild rumors. Islamists have long used the same methods to generate ferment and outbreaks against “infidels” in areas of Pakistan, Indonesia, Malaysia, and African states.
As to “true believers of whatever persuasion convinced of the rightness of their extreme behaviour, I am certain that nothing I can say will change the minds of those deeply steeped in what has actually become (for Christians) a false gospel, so interwoven with the Bible and a certain strain of triumphalist theology that they cannot separate them. For them, the religion of Christ has become (or maybe always was) the religion of a certain conception of national and political righteousness, committed to preserving, restoring, or (re)creating a lost dream of what the USA was founded for back in its early years when the Pilgrims and other idealist pioneers sought to create the “City on the Hill” in the “New World” because hope for its coming in the old (Europe) had faded.
As we are leaving Black History month, it is an appropriate moment to let a great Black and Civil Rights pioneer, speaking as a Christian, be heard on this subject. These words were penned 160-170 years ago and are still frighteningly relevant:
“Between the Christianity of this land [the United States], and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference – so wide, that to receive the one as good, pure, and holy is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt, and wicked. I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ; I therefore hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land. Indeed, I can see no reason, but the most deceitful one, for calling the religion of this land Christianity.” – Frederick Douglass – Autobiography…, quoted in Common Prayer, a Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals. Zondervan, 2010, p.153.
As a Canadian, I cannot be smug about my own country’s participation in deceiving itself about its Eurocentric concept of “civilizing the savages [the indigenous peoples]” – i.e. assimilating them to be “good Christians like the rest of us”. And our history of welcoming and including Afro-Canadians and other minorities is not much more (it at all) distinguished.
Point of fact, there are no cultures or societies on the planet which have any reason to believe themselves more righteous in this sort of history than any other. Indigenous enslaved and oppressed other indigenous –even before the coming of those devilish Europeans. Ancients enslaved other ancients in the millions. Muslims perpetrated (and some still do) all the same sorts of evils on peoples they conquered and forced to assimilate or face all the usual sorts of consequences for not doing so. Let us put aside the legends of Islamic toleration and magnanimity in comparison to the “Crusader States”. The Jews and Christians they overran, raped, pillaged, and slaughtered to “serve as examples”, or the Parsees of Persia, or the idolatrous Hindus, etc., would beg to differ.
No one anywhere has lived up to what most “progressive” people will at least publicly profess as the “proper, correct” way to respect differences and build a truly pluralistic, inclusive society.
What is most interesting about where such modern progressive ideas are most deeply implanted is that they are found in the self-same nations that were most guilty (at least as the “official” versions of history now dominant in Academia have it) of perpetrating the most horrible historical crimes, sins, wrongs (or whatever term you prefer). It is a striking paradox.
The “official” progressive version of this apparently amazing turn-around in a culture so steeped in subduing the rest of the world to exploit as its mass-market and resource-base is that the Enlightenment broke the millennial spell of religious quackery over the minds of the leading thinkers, who then gradually disseminated the new truth of “liberty, fraternity, equality” (the French Revolution’s toxin-cry) or “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” (the USA Declaration of Independence toxin-cry) among the populace.
Apparently, nobody before Rousseau, Jefferson, and Tom Paine ever thought or wrote about such things! Apparently, their “new” wisdom was so electrifying that it galvanized all right-thinking people into action to overthrow the moribund Christ-religion’s hold and awaken the West to surge into a new age when, at last, Utopia was within reach!
The biggest problem with this version of history is its patent lack of support in how and why the “turnaround”, as imperfect as it was and still is, actually occurred.
Not that Rousseau, Jefferson, Paine and other salient thinkers like Voltaire did not play a role and say and write some stimulating stuff to get some people thinking and talking and even willing to act. To attribute to the Enlightenment and the new “Religion of Progress” (!) – and yes, the French “progressives” even invented such a thing to replace the Roman Catholic Church in France as the (First among several) Revolution got into full swing – all that changed was and is simply a new mythology, a very selective and very truncated account of what actually transpired and who was responsible for most of it.
We hardly have time to do more than offer a snippet of that story today. Let us take Mr. Hazlitt’s cogent aphorism (see above) as a starting point. Mr. Hazlitt, as well as William Cobbet, another well-known journalist-pundit of that time in England, was criticizing William Wilberforce and “the Saints”, an Evangelical faction in Parliament, for justifying a series of repressive measures aimed at suppressing the early efforts to give labourers the right to organize. On this occasion, the “Saints” did merit some hard criticism. In fact, some of them also criticized Mr. Wilberforce, without the acid sarcasm. (Now there’s mindless religion for you- disagreeing with your mentor and leader!) Effectively, Hazlitt, Cobbet and others saw only hypocrisy in professing religious convictions while actively engaging in the dirty world of politics on the “wrong” side – the one you don’t like!
The exercise of power in the hurly-burly world of politics, business, and commerce is always messy. Even within the confines of religious institutions, where one might expect (hope, anyway) them to be minimal, they can be vicious and devastating. It is not unfair to be more acerbic and bitter against open professors of high moral principles who fail to measure up to their own expectations. But to accuse them of being villains because they do not live up to their critics’ expectations is another thing. (People who live in glass houses and all that…) The details of the affair in question in this instance are not important for our point. The issue is whether it is always hypocritical and false to put on a “garb of religion [a]s the best cloak for power”. Using religion as a “put-on”, as we ex-wanna-be hippies “put” it? Definitely not cool!
But what if the “religion” in question is not a mere “garb”, not a “put-on”? That is the falsehood on the other side. So let’s ditch the pejorative term “religion” and say “conviction” or “worldview”. You can fake “conviction” and even a “worldview” up to a point. Today religion is seen as an outward performance more than anything else – a “mere garb”. In the post-modern West it has virtually no status as a sincere set of life-principles.
But no one who does not really and truly hold a conviction and worldview in their soul can fake it for a lifetime. It is not a garb. It is who they are.
Wilberforce (the architect of the abolition of the slave-trade and ultimately of full emancipation in the British Empire), was no faker or fakir. He was a Christian through and through, as were most of his closest collaborators (the “Saints”) both in Parliament and beyond. Like anyone else, he made mistakes of judgment and action. But his historical record large-writ speaks for itself.
That is the precisely the kind of fallacy about what really happened in the attainment of our modern-post-modern progressive Western society we have to debunk. Its roots were not miraculously planted by a gaggle of Enlightenment philosophes who suddenly discovered the truth about basic human rights and amazingly seeded and then brought them to fruition in the rocky soul of a religiously purblind society. But that is the standard caricature that has bemused our intellectual and educational establishment for the last 160 years at the least.
We will suspend this tale here for this week and pick it up next time.