Monday, February 19, 2007

A Nation of Eichmanns: Revisting Hitler, Arendt, and Ward Churchill

A new book, "Hitler's Beneficiaries", by German scholar Gotz Aly, argues that part of the popularity and stability of the Nazi government was that it provided generous benefits for its ordinary middle and lower middle class non-Jewish citizens. However, it was able to do this with the wealth stolen from Jews throughout Europe. Perhaps most Germans didn't realize from where their new homes, clothes, food, and personal items were coming. Perhaps they did. Aly's book raises more questions about the moral culpability of ordinary, everyday people in the evils committed by their governments.

It reminds me also of Ward Churchill's argument after September 11, 2001--that perhaps we should examine the terrorist attacks on America as an instance of "blowback", of getting what you put out in the world. His controversial statement was that the people in the twin towers might be described as a set of "little Eichmanns"-- a technocratic corp of people, making a living, doing their jobs, but at the same time, helping to further an imperialist war machine that perpetuates injustice in most of the developing world.

How morally responsible were the ordinary non-Jewish German citizens for the Holocaust? How responsible are ordinary, everyday Americans for the troubles that lie at the heart of the "war on terrorism"? Do we benefit from 'stolen' wealth in a world driven by neoliberal globalization?


Monday, February 12, 2007

Does America Need Quotable Atheists?

In "The Quotable Atheist", Jack Huberman tries to provide ammunition with which atheists and other secularly minded people can go about attacking the faithful in America. Part of this is a political strategy to counter to rise of Christo-fascism and the power of the religious right within the Republican party.

However, cathartic it might be to criticize religious people as medieval holdovers and fascists, one has to wonder whether this kind of discourse contributes to a better understanding of the problems in our public life. Mark Taylor writes, in this thoughtful piece, that teaching religious studies has never been as important to do--or as hard to do, either. He mentions a phenomenon that I find in philosophy classes all the time: to raise critical questions about a person's beliefs is sometimes taken by students as a personal attack. I've heard students say they feel "unsafe" if a professor questions the support (or lack of) for their opinions.

Of course, raising critical questions about public life has made the lives of many philosophers uncomfortable. Just ask Socrates! But is a political strategy to paint some people as religious buffoons really a way to encourage progressive action toward justice and democracy? Socrates certainly didn't set off to paint Euthyphro as a buffoon (he did this to himself). Is there room for a Socratic dialogue on the nature of religioin in contemporary America?

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Christian fascism: New Developments in the Theology of Empire?

In this review of Chris Hedges's new book, Carolyn Baker outlines what she considers to be the principles of a rising new "Christian Fascism" or "Christo-fascism" in the United States including:

1) A belief in the goodness and necessity of apocalytic violence to cleanse the world of evil and sin;

2) A belief in the necessity of a theocratic government in the United States

3) A possible belief in maintaining the purity of an all white society

4) A commitment to the notion of "a culture of life" that opposes abortion rights

5) The need to maintain Christian para military, or security, forces to protect the righteous.

In this interview, Hedges depicts the growing movement of so called "Christian Fascism" in terms very similar to what Marcus Borg, in our interview, called idolatry--taking articles of faith and objectifying them. In the case of the radical right, according to Hedges, the idea is to build a "creation state" that would unify different Christain groups against secular decadence.

It seems clear that the prominence of the Christian right in politics over the last 20 years has spawned a backlash among humanists. Several new books by Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Daniel Dennett describe what they see as the fundamental irrationality of religion in the modern world. Jack Huberman talks about the media strategy needed for this humanist group: ridicule the believers into submission by comparing belief in God to belief, for instance, in Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy.

Is there such a thing as Christian Fascism? Is there a way to talk about the sacred that is not tainted by empire or dismissed as irrationality?

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