Hope. It is…simultaneously the source of your greatest strength, and your greatest weakness. —The Architect, from the film “Matrix Reloaded”
Do not condemn the evangelical Christians, my friends. Even as they pervert the very essence of liberty; even as they target and intimidate our citizens; even as they promote scientific ignorance among our populace; even as they corrupt the structural foundations of our democracy; even as they do all these, they are not to be condemned. Oh yes, all their actions must be thoroughly chastised and execrated–but as those in the evangelical communities might say (though they follow not their own teachings): hate the sin, but love the sinner.
Do not condemn them, for the evangelicals actually have the right idea. They get the message, though it is through entirely the wrong prism.
The true culprit to be taken to the woodshed here is, rather, the listless, lifeless, and utterly weak-kneed and incompetent Democratic Party–a Democratic Party which, since its capitulation to Reaganism in the 1980s and its white-flag kowtowing to neoliberal corporatism under the DLC banner starting in the 90’s, has utterly failed in its most important mission: providing hope for a better future to America’s downtrodden and hamstrung middle class, and its nickel-and-dimed, oppressed poor.
As perverted and sick as the evangelical message and the actions of its followers have been, theirs is not solely a message of hatred and injustice. That is, surely, the end result of their efforts–but it is not their root cause.
Indeed, Barack Obama is wrong. We don’t need to court evangelicals using their language; we need to address the reasons they became evangelicals in the first place. We may not be able to reach those who are already far gone down this road–but we can stem or even reverse the tide.
There is an important parallel to be drawn here between our evangelicals and Islamists in the Middle East. As liberals, we are intelligent enough to understand blowback, and far-sighted enough to understand the structural, root causes of problems.
We understand, alongside even neoliberal writers like Fareed Zakaria, that Islamism in the Middle East is due not to the inherent evil of the Islamists themselves, but rather to a deep-seated sense of economic despair. We understand how our addiction to petroleum energy has demanded that Western nations prop up friendly dictatorships willing to sell their natural resources at lesser cost. We see how these despotisms, dependent solely on oil wealth for their national income, eschew the difficult work of forming a vibrant economy and a tax base promoting job growth and general economic prosperity. We observe how an entire generation of unemployed or underemployed youth, angry at their corrupt leaders, have taken to an alternate vision of hope that places its trust in the afterlife–and to the glorious, pampered wealth that ill-meaning clerics preach awaits murderous “martyrs” in the bosom of Allah–rather than in the here and now.
It is in the attacks of 9/11 above all that we come understand how that eternal human optimism that believes in the possibility of a Better Life can be horribly manipulated to cause acts of unspeakable evil–in the absence of an alternative vision of hope for the future.
And thus it is with American evangelicals.
Most of the evangelicals who squeal with delight at the murders of innocent Muslims, abortion doctors and civil rights advocates do so because they believe that the Book of Revelations guarantees them victory against the forces of Satan and the Anti-Christ. They believe that the perpetual “War on Terror” that they wish to wage not only against all those not of their peculiar brand of religious creed, but also increasingly of their political creed (if indeed there is a difference in today’s GOP) is not something to be feared, but to be looked forward to as yet another sign of the march toward Armaggedon–a battle whose coming they relish as their salvation from their hopeless toils here on earth.
And their toils are indeed hopeless. These people–these residents of lower Delaware, of rural Tennessee, of Alabama and Mississippi and so many other states and places forgotten by the corporate-centered economy–these are America’s poor. Not all of them, but a great number of them. These are America’s nickel-and-dimed. These people are the health crisis in America, the ones without proper medical or dental insurance. These are the Wal-Mart workers, the men and women on minimum wage, the ones whose jobs the illegal immigrants really are taking, if there is such a thing. These are those who have been truly Left Behind by our corporatist economy: people for whom no one has spoken in the last twenty years, as our right wing has spoken for the rich and the corporate, and our supposedly left wing has spoken for, well, the rich and the corporate.
And so these our Left Behind have turned to Tim LaHaye and his evangelical ilk: people who promised them that, though they are left behind now, they would NOT be Left Behind when their promised rapture took place. In the absence of those who would give them hope today, they have turned their weary eyes to those who peddle despair today, but a bloody, execrable revenge tomorrow.
And why? Because no one else has been standing up. Just as the clerics and imams provide, falsely, seemingly the only hope of honorable escape from grueling poverty and shame in the Islamic world when those of a more worldly bent have been proved utterly venal, shameless and corrup–so too do Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and the Christinanist Right. These are our supposed “ministers of moral values” in an America filled with the shameless moral poverty of networks like Fox which peddle at one and the same time the mind-numbing pharisaical outrage of Bill O’Reilly, and the latest brainwasting, degenerate smut in the form of “Survivor” and celebrity news.
And who can blame them? That is, after all what FAITH is: as a Robert Browning once said, “But a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?” It is the belief in a better possibility for the future–especially when the present circumstances seem venal and corrupt beyond repair.
This, ultimately, is the greatest tragedy perpetrated by the despicable cowards who have surrendered our once-great Democratic Party: an absence of vision and hope that has allowed this viral infestation of false populism and jingoistic, bloodthirsty evangelism to run rampant and unchecked. Our great Party of the People was supposed to be the antibiotic–the vaccine providing America’s poor, its working and middle class, with a shot in the arm of hope and optimism for better future: a future unburdened by the oppressive stench of unjust inequality both economic and social.
In this our party has failed our people. No doctor to prevent the spread of this disease has been in the house for the last two and a half decades. And then we wonder why the people saw fit to demand a second opinion in the form of the Republican Party–even if that second opinion comes as a fire-breathing two-headed monster of corporatist greed and theocratic fascism, masked by a grandfatherly, earnest face and a calm bedside manner.
So reserve your judgment of the evangelicals: let he who is without sin cast the first stone.
In the Ancient Greek, the word for “Sin” is hamartia: the word literally means “missing the mark”, and was most commonly used in Epic Poetry for arrows that missed their intended targets. In New Testament Greek, to “sin” was literally “to err”–go to astray.
And the Democratic Party has sinned grievously: it has erred and gone terribly astray from the mission it was supposed to hold: to provide hope for the future for those who most needed that hope; to comfort our nation’s most deeply afflicted; to pull up those who have been Left Behind; and to chastise the wicked, the rich and hypocritical Pharisees who see fit to rob and oppress their people under the cloak of false righteousness.
This above all is why we must take our party back and return it to its roots. This infection is not of their doing; instead, it is the inevitable result of our own failure to act like DEMOCRATS. It is WE who have allowed that hope which has the capability of being these people’s greatest strength, to be corrupted into their greatest weakness–and a danger to our very nation.
This cure cannot come soon enough. It’s well past time to crash the gates: not just for our own sake, but also for the sake of those who have been left behind..well…by reading Left Behind.
[Cross-posted from My Left Wing]