Friday, August 19, 2016

The Secular Church of Politics

from Patheos
I write about politics again not because I have any hopes (nor fears) about what the results of the 2016 election will bring; I write only because the language the Clinton Consensus is using has theological significance.

The hell-language of the consensus tells an important story of changes in modernity that every believer should understand. They also conceal some very interesting things about the same.

Followers of Clinton are using scare tactics (finger on nuke button, negotiating with Iran, foreign policy disaster–whole world going to hell scenarios) that would’ve made Father Arnal from Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, who said the following, jealous:
The horror of this strait and dark prison is increased by its awful stench. All the filth of the world, all the offal and scum of the world, we are told, shall run there as to a vast reeking sewer when the terrible conflagration of the last day has purged the world. The brimstone, too, which burns there in such prodigious quantity fills all hell with its intolerable stench; and the bodies of the damned themselves exhale such a pestilential odour that, as saint Bonaventure says, one of them alone would suffice to infect the whole world. The very air of this world, that pure element, becomes foul and unbreathable when it has been long enclosed. Consider then what must be the foulness of the air of hell. Imagine some foul and putrid corpse that has lain rotting and decomposing in the grave, a jelly-like mass of liquid corruption. Imagine such a corpse a prey to flames, devoured by the fire of burning brimstone and giving off dense choking fumes of nauseous loathsome decomposition. And then imagine this sickening stench, multiplied a millionfold and a millionfold again from the millions upon millions of fetid carcasses massed together in the reeking darkness, a huge and rotting human fungus. Imagine all this, and you will have some idea of the horror of the stench of hell.
The imagery is shocking, yet it should be recognizable to those who’ve been exposed to the demonic-Trump-trope used by Hillary and her followers. You might not have noticed it because you here such scare tactics in politics all the time, especially among supposedly secular Democrats–some of whom have admitted to helping create the Trump-monster by consistently vilifying moderate Republicans over the years. these sorts of use of it is all the more shocking because, in a typically Irish Jansenist way (cry not for the collapse of the Irish church!), it goes against the Church’s tacit agreement with the modern world. The agreement goes something like this…

The Church overused hellfire language during the medieval period. Delumeau’s Sin and Fear: The Emergence of the Western Guilt Culture 13th to 18th Century documents this overuse in its full gory. In our late modern period the pendulum has swung the other way. In many ways, this is a necessary corrective. You’d be hard-pressed to hear a hellfire sermon in a Catholic church on any given Sunday. Hell has gone into remission for theology.

However, as William T. Cavanaugh argues persuasively in his Migrations of the Holy: God, State, and the Political Meaning of the Church, this does not mean that hellfire has disappeared from the face of the earth. It has migrated to another sphere: secular politics. Mark Lilla’s The Stillborn God: Religion, Politics, and the Modern West, a recent bestseller, is an important account of how the threat of “religious violence” has been used by the modern nation-state in order to scare its citizens to accept the nation-state’s monopoly on violence. Lilla, as a secular intellectual with an interest in politics, actually believes in the story that there is no salvation outside the state. As you can see, hellfire hasn’t disappeared, instead the threat of hellfire is reserved only for the state, which is capable of real salvation (from the Original Sin of religious violence). This tactic of harnessing only the negativity of the doctrine of Original Sin shall fail as it did for the Church. It’s only a matter of time….

For example, the dissatisfaction around the American elections, the EU democracy deficit, and protests following the 2008 crash bailouts are but a few of the many signs of the Western nation-state leaking legitimacy. The sea of faith in the state is receding.

Slavoj Žižek, author of The Puppet and the Dwarf: The Perverse Core of Christ has taken a deep dive into the hellish scenarios presented by the Clinton Consensus with an article entitled “The Hillary Clinton Consensus is Hurting Democracy” in Newsweek of all places. He recognizes how much Trump has been painted as a demonic villain by the coalition of Clinton supporters who have very little in common with each other, have no constructive program, other than the consuming desire to scapegoat Trump:
Alfred Hitchcock [a Roman Catholic, by the way] once said that a film is as good as its villain—does this mean that the forthcoming U.S. elections will be good since the “bad guy” (Donald Trump) is an almost ideal villain? Yes, but in a very problematic sense. For the liberal majority, the 2016 elections represent a clear-cut choice: the figure of Trump is a ridiculous excess, vulgar and exploiting our worst racist and sexist prejudices, a male chauvinist so lacking in decency so that even Republican big names are abandoning him in droves. If Trump remains the Republican candidate, we will get a true “feelgood election”—in spite of all our problems and petty squabbles, when there is a real threat we can all come together in defence of our basic democratic values, like France did after the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January 2015.
But then he sneakily deflects the infernal language back at the Clintonites:
This same stance was brought to the extreme with the U.S.’s first female secretary of state Madeleine Albright, a big Clinton supporter who served in her husband’s administration from 1997 to 2001. On CBS’s 60 Minutes (May 12, 1996), Albright was asked about that year’s cruise missile strikes on Iraq known as Operation Desert Strike: “We have heard that half a million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?” Albright calmly replied: “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price—we think the price is worth it.” Let’s ignore all the questions that this reply raises and focus on one aspect: can we imagine all the hell that would break out if the same answer would be given by somebody like Putin or the Chinese President Xi? Would they not be immediately denounced in western newspapers as cold and ruthless barbarians? Campaigning for Hillary, Albright said: “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other!” (Meaning: who will vote for Sanders instead of Clinton.) Maybe we should amend this statement: there is a special place in hell for women (and men) who think half a million dead children is an affordable price for a military intervention that ruins a country, while wholeheartedly supporting women’s and gay rights at home.
Then he finally goes into what’s really being protected by these distractions:
Trump is not the dirty water that should be thrown out to keep safe the healthy baby of U.S. democracy, he is himself the dirty baby who should be thrown out in order to shine a light on the uneasy nature of the Hillary consensus. The message of this consensus to the Leftists is: you can get everything, we just want to keep the essentials, the unencumbered functioning of the global capital. President Obama’s “Yes, we can!” acquires now a new meaning: yes, we can concede to all your cultural demands without endangering the global market economy—so there is no need for radical economic measures. Or, as Todd McGowan, professor of film theory and history at the University of Vermont, put it (in a private communication): “The consensus of ‘right-thinking people’ opposed to Trump is frightening. It is as if his excess licenses the real global capitalist consensus to emerge and to congratulate themselves on their openness.”
This is the real hell hiding behind it all. It is a hell produced by those who take huge solace in thinking that for our betrayals, greed, cowardice, murders we are not going to be judged. Unwittingly, their actions give the Church back a field for employing hell-language legitimately in a late modern context.

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