Tuesday, January 30, 2024

cell913blog.com #19

 In his book, A Terrible Love of War (1976), James Hillman writes:

One sentence in one scene from one film, Patton, sums up what this book tried to understand. The general walks the field after a battle. Churned earth, burned tanks, dead men. He takes up a dying officer, kisses him, surveys the havoc and says: ‘I love it. God help me, I do love it so. I love it more than my life.

We can never prevent war or speak sensibly of peace and disarmament unless we enter this love of war. Unless we move our imagination into the martial state of soul, we cannot comprehend its pull. This means ‘going to war,’ and this book aims to induct our minds into military service. We are not going to war in the name of peace, as deceitful rhetoric so often declares, but rather for war’s own sake: to understand the madness of its love.

Our civilian disdain and pacifist horror—all the legitimate and deep-felt aversion to everything to do with the military—must be set aside. Thid because the first principle of psychological method holds that any phenomenon to be understood must be sympathetically imagined. No syndrome can be truly dislodged from its cursed condition unless we first move imagination into its heart.

War is first of all a psychological task perhaps the first of all psychological tasks because it directly threatens your life and mine, and the existence of all living things. The bell tolls for thee, and all. Nothing can escape thermonuclear rage, and if the burning and its aftermath are unimaginable, their cause, war, is not.

War is also a psychological task because philosophy and theology, the fields supposed to do the heavy thinking for our species, have neglected war’s overriding importance. ‘War is the father of all,’ said Heraclitus at the beginnings of Western thought. If it is a primordial component of Being, then war fathers the very structure of existence and out thinking about it: our ideas of the universe, of God, of ethics; war determines the thought patterns of Aristotle’s logic of opposites. Kant’s antimonies, Darwin’s natural selection, Marx’s struggle of classes and even Freud’s repression of the id by the ego and super-ego. We think in warlike terms, feel ourselves at war with ourselves and unknowingly believe predation, territorial defense, conquest, and the interminable battle of opposing forces are the ground rules of existence.

War is becoming more normalized every day. Trade war, gender war, net war, information war.  But war against cancer, war against crime, against drugs, against poverty and other ills of society has nothing to do with the actualities of war. These civil wars, wars within civilian society, mobilize resources in the name of a heroic victory over an insidious enemy, These wars are noble good guys against bad guys and no one gets hurt. This way of normalizing war has whitewashed the word and brainwashed us so that we forget its terrible images. Then whenever the possibility of actual war approaches with its reality of violent death-dealing combat, the idea of was has been normalized into nothing more than putting more cops on the street, more rats in the labs and passing tax rebates for urban renewal. I base the statement ‘war is normal’ on two factors we have already seen; its constancy throughout history and its ubiquity over the globe. These two factors require another more basic one: acceptability. (penguinrandomhouse.ca)

Chris Hedges, in his book, American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America (2007) Hedges insists that today’s evangelical Christians are good old-fashioned fascists and Nazis reborn. (Ryan T. Anderson, firstthings.com 3/7/07 in a piece entitled, Christianity is an Enemy that Gives Hedges Meaning) (Now) in American Fascists, he offers a critique of contemporary Christianity, drawing, he tells the reader many times, on his own experience as a Christian and the son of a Presbyterian minister. In fact, he writes, it was while studying at Harvard Divinity School that he first learned American Christians are the Nazis’ modern ‘ideological inheritors.’ Bearing not ‘swastikas and brown shirts’ but ‘patriotism and the pages of the Bible,’ these new fascists are led by a ‘theocratic sect’ of Calvinism called Dominionism….The Dominionist movement ‘shares prominent features with classical fascist movements, a belief in magic along with leadership adoration and a strident call for moral and physical supremacy of a master race. If Christian fascists win, then ‘labor unions civil-rights laws and public schools will be abolished. Women will be removed from the workforce to stay at home, and all those deemed insufficiently Christian will be denied citizenship. The key, Hedges claims, is he certainty of evangelical faith. Confidence, we are told, is a fascist ploy, while real Christians accept that we ‘do not understand what life is about…Faith presupposes that we cannot know. We can never know.’ Those who take comfort in evangelical dogmas are fleeing what Hedges calls our ‘Culture of Despair’ the social and economic conditions of modern industrialized America.

Certainty, absolute certainty, the notion that only ‘my’ or ‘our’ view, belief, morality, ethics, perception and ‘right’ to such exclusivity, while perhaps even seeded in the evangelical movement of the Christian religion, is not exclusive to that demographic. A similar notion is inscribed in such religious attitudes and beliefs in insignia that read, with regard to any specific faith group, “this is the right (and only) religion”. The nexus of a faith position with a deity that purportedly represents that faith, gives those who espouse that faith a kind of ‘divine right’ to that belief. In Britain’s history, the ‘divine right of kings’ was elevated to a justification that God had somehow ordained that person “X” was ordained by God to occupy the throne and with that authority came the divine right to rule however the king saw fit. In another life, I encountered a ‘Sunday School’ curriculum that proudly displayed, as a first directive for teachers, “This is how to speak to a five-year-old who has been saved, and this is how you speak to a five-year-old who has not been saved.” Imagine such a preposterous and onerous responsibility to even presume to ‘know’ which young boy or girl has been saved. The David C. Cook curriculum, however, was unabashed in its pedagogical, evangelical tutorial.

Indeed, only this morning, I listened to a similar degree of certainty from Steve Forbes, in a replayed television interview, in which he called ‘ridiculous’ the conventional designation of government spending as part of the country’s GDP (Gross Domestic Profit). His certainty, coming as it does from the certainty of the economic conservative mother-lode of beliefs, that by definition government spending cannot and must not be included in any calculation of a country’s GDP.

I spent the first decade-plus attending another of those Presbyterian churches, of which Hedges is so familiar. Adored by his sycophantic born-again members of the church Session, the clergy, a transplant from Ballymena Northern Ireland, and effectively a clone for the Reverend Iain Paisley, pontificated his own brand of religious, and yes, Christian ‘certainty’ on a Sunday morning in 1958. (Repeatedly reported in this space, in different contexts), the core of his sermon on the last Sunday I agreed to attend ‘his church’, went something like this:

If you are a Roman Catholic, you are going to Hell.

If you go to dances, ‘you are going to Hell.

If you wear make-up, you are going to Hell.

If you go to the movie theatre, you are going to Hell.

If you prepare meals in Sunday, you are going to Hell.

Something inside of me snapped. I heard myself saying, “Bullshit!….that message has no place in this church, nor does it have any resonance with anything one might find in the New Testament.” I had read that scripture, and while I had not ‘got’ all of its meaning and import, something told me that such judgement was unwarranted. I never did go back, except in a weak moment when I agreed to that man’s participation in a first marriage. Decades later, in a conversation with another Irish clergy, after hearing my story about the “Ballymena bigot,’ he commented, “I once heard Rev. Paisley speak and he was just as frightening as the Fuhrer whom I also had heard speaking,”

Hillman’s notion of the ubiquity and penetration of the war image, the war archetype, has clearly been one of the most deeply wedded archetypes for the evangelism movement of whatever religion. Competition among religions has even reached into the pulpit’s (clergy) telling parishioners to have more children in order to ‘grow the faith community’ as if one’s family size were one of the instruments available to the church’s hierarchy, to demonstrate growth. Indeed, the adoption and absorption of the corporate model of organizational leadership and development by the ecclesial institution(s) is one of the more glaring and toxic of the self-promoting, and at the same time self-sabotaging, features of the church(es). The legacy of the mentality of the ‘poor church mouse,’ that infected hundreds of parishes for centuries, inculcating both parsimoniousness in all of its darkness and the power of the purse into the religion of thousands, if not millions of church treasurers. Indeed, from an abbreviated stint as a parish clergy, in each of the several churches in which I served, the treasurer had adopted, the role of ‘controller’ of all the thinking, talking and dreaming of the parish membership. Budget size was the determining factor for whatever might be considered. “We cannot afford that!” was (and no doubt is in many quarters) the most repeated chant in the life of the parish. Hopes, aspirations, ‘strategic planning’ and everything related to church operations were (and too often are) rooted in the current size and projected size of the bank account. At the same time, often hundreds of thousands, even millions, in some cases, have been socked away in trust accounts, as a matter of protecting and preserving the ‘legacy’ of the business.

Certainty, then, is not merely a matter of certainty of religious belief. It comes to dominate much of the attitude, the perceptions and the modus operandi of the ecclesial institutions. However, that depth and fixity and absolute conviction of one’s dogmatic attitude and perception, can legitimately be laid at the feet of the most addicted and obsessed group of evangelicals. In a church history class, after asking a question of the professor, I heard these words from a classmate: “Never mind all these questions; just tell us what we need to know so we can get out there and save the world!” And in the same first-year class, during field education, when a non-evangelical (we were dubbed the ‘liberals’ then), announced, “I am confident that Hitler will be in Heaven!” not only did bedlam erupt, but another class member retorted, “That is not true, and the Bible says so!”

This scribe has never been certain whether or not Hitler is in heaven, irrespective of whether the statement is taken literally, metaphorically or philosophically. As a concept that raises to the ‘outer limits’ of the imagination, however, it is completely in accord with our most elastic and vibrant imagination and creativity, as well as congruent with the omnipotence, omniscience and omnipresence of God. Nevertheless, it surfaced the deep divide within that class, as well the divide which Hedges dubs as ‘war’.

For our purposes in this moment in history, however, war on the battlefields proliferates in Gaza, Ukraine, the Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan, Nigeria, Myanmar and elsewhere. Not all of them warrant ‘coverage’ in the mind and eyes of news agencies in the West…We are addicted to the headline version of the news. And, to contemplate any kind of amelioration in the number or severity of conflict, we will, as Hillman advises, be more effective if we ‘go to the core of our ‘love of war’ and what it offers, with all of the bloodshed, rape, pillage, lies, manipulation and devastation, in order to see ourselves for ‘who’ we are and for which voices (think Mars/Ares) that ‘have us’ in their clutches.

On reflection, that kind of exercise was absent from the several years of ‘formation’ for Christian ministry, in the 80’s and 90’s in Canada. And yet, two weeks of formal instruction with rigorous oversight and discipline was required, in what we then dubbed ‘holy hand-waving’ over the sacraments in order to ‘sanctify’ those elements prior to the Eucharist. Co-ordinating with the priest’s script for the celebration of the Mass, those hand movements were to be ‘modest’ and gently flowing and not ostentatious or melo-dramatic. And in order to be ‘perfected’ they required rehearsal in a manner similar to the young piano student’s learning to master the arpeggio or the four-note broken chord. Not only was there not a deep dive into the human psychological ‘love of war,’ there was not a single course in parish conflict and the various options for addressing (even if not fully resolving) it.

While it is quite obvious that ‘war’ from ‘certainty of belief in dogma is an inherent component of evangelical churches and their adherents, such certainty and conviction (morphed into obsessive-compulsion of the group) infects many other churches, faiths, and quite recently, political leaders, and their organizations (hardly worthy of the name, governments). The conventional “either-or,” along with the plethora of binary oppositions/conflicts/debates/perceptions/convictions/truths haunts us all every day everywhere.

Mandela is turning in his grave, in despair!


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