Friday, October 31, 2008

Spiritual Politics, Occidentalism and (Some) Modern Evangelicals


A few years ago, I read “Occidentalism: The West in the Eyes of Its Enemies” by Buruma and Margalit. Written in the wake of 9/11/01 and the start of the U.S. War with Iraq, and just as I completed a paper on totalitarian idealism in the church, I found the parallels staggering. I’d misplaced the book and just recently turned it up again. (I was amazed, because I did not remember the number of notes and red pen marks I’d made in the book on my first time through it four years ago.)

Though the book discusses how the Middle Eastern and Asian Peoples view the people of the West, the patterns of idealogical totalism always seem to hold true, no matter what the application. (“The dehumanizing picture of the West painted by its enemies is what we have called Occidentalism,” pg 5.) Robert Lifton defined many of these same trends in occidentalism when he wrote the gold standard of the patterns our idealism falls into the trappings of uniformity, even within the Christian Faith. Just as the works of the flesh which war against the Spirit of God manifest the same way in the human heart, so the patterns of our human drive for uniformity pulls us into these same common patterns that manifest as thought reform. Some have referred to many different types of political groups and groups of intolerant Christians as the “Christian Taliban,” and they are not far off. Though the Taliban follows Islam which is much opposed to the Christian faith, astute people readily identify the similar patterns of control and coerced uniformity demanded by the followers of both groups.



The last time that I read this book, I did not fully appreciate the high level of hatred that the patriocentrist/patriarchy movement within the Evangelical Christian Church holds towards the Enlightenment. As I studied this movement in greater depth, I read the writings of many from the Confederate South and the modern neoconfederates within this modern movement that is so popular among homeschoolers. The earlier groups of Christian Reconstructionists (which contains this subgroup of neoconfederates) did not express the vehement opposition to Enlightenment thinkers that men like Dabney penned in his "Defense of Virginia and the South." With this consideration, I recognized even more parallels between the patterns of intolerant religious fundamentalism in the East and those among some groups of American Evangelicals, those whom the Late John Robbins called “ersatz evangelicals.” In addition to the hatred of cities and industrialization, there is also the dehumanization and exclusionary thought that many of those who call themselves Calvinists profess wherein they exploit and abuse election as a means of rejecting both sinner and fellow Christian as damned by God and worthy of suffering, exploitation and even death in some cases. (They will have it in the life to come for God hates them, so why prolong their living?) Rather than blessing our enemies and giving an account of our faith in meekness and patience, they call for imprecatory personal prayer (against specific people and not principalities or spiritual forces) rejoicing in the eternal damnation of those whom they perceive fall outside of their privileged group.

Here are a few selected quotes from the first chapter of the book that caught my attention, showing the common themes within Eastern and Middle Eastern Thought and the Christian Agrarian Movement:

[Concerning the Japanese intellectuals circa 1942] Westernization, one opined, was like a disease that had infected the Japanese spirit...There was much talk about unhealthy specialization in knowledge, which had splintered the wholeness of Oriental spiritual culture. Science was to blame. And so were capitialism, and the absorption into Japanese society of modern technology, and notions of individual freedoms and democracy. All these had to be “overcome..."

Japan’s industrial revolution, which came not long after Germany’s, had equally dislocating effects. Large numbers of impoverished country people moved into the cities... It was as though Japan suffered from intellectual indigestion. Western civilization had been swallowed too fast. And this is partly why that group of literati gathered in Kyoto to discus ways of reversing history, overcoming the West, and being modern while at the same time returning to an idealized spiritual past...

The philosopher Nishitani Keiji blamed the religious Reformation, the Renaissance, and the emergence of natural science for the destruction of a unified spiritual culture in Europe. This gets to the core of Occidentalism. It is often said that one of the basic distinctions between the modern West and the Islamic world is the separation of church and state. The church, a s a distinct institution, did not exist in Islam. To a devout Muslim, politics, economics, science, and religion cannot be split into separate categories. But the professor in Kyoto was not a Muslim, and his ideal was also to build a state in which politics and religion formed a seamless whole, and the church as it were, merged with the state. That church in wartime Japan was State Shinto, a modern invention, based less on ancient Japanese tradition than on a peculiar interpretation of the pre-modern West. The Japanese tried to reinvent a distorted idea of medieval Christian Europe by turning Shinto into a politicized church. This type of spiritual politics is to be found in all forms of Occidentalism, from Kyoto in the 1930s to Tehran in the 1970s. It is also an essential component of totalitarianism. Every institution in Hitler’s Third Reich, from the churches to the science departments of universities, had to be made to conform with a totalist vision. The same was true of the Soviet Union under Stalin and of Mao’s China...

Other participants in the Kyoto meeting did not go so far back as the Reformation or the Enlightenment, but pointed to the rise of industrialization, capitalism and economic liberalism in the nineteenth century as the root of modern evil. They spoke in dire terms of “machine civilization” and “Americanism...”

This is not about policies, but about an idea, almost a vision, of a machinelike society without a human soul...

The view of the West in Occidentalism is like the worst aspects of its counterpart, Orientalism, which strips its human targets of their humanity. Some Orientalist prejudices made non-Western people seem less than fully adult human beings; they had the minds of children, and could thus be treated as lesser breeds. Occidentalism is at least as reductive; its bigotry simply turns the Orientalist view upside down. To diminish an entire society or a civilization to a mass of soulless, decadent, money-grubbing, rootless, faithless, unfeeling parasites is a form of intellectual destruction. Once again, if this were merely a matter of distaste of prejudice, it would not be of great interest. Prejudices are part of the human condition. But when the idea of others as less than human gathers revolutionary force, it leads to the destruction of human beings...

One way of describing Occidentalism would be to trace the history of all its links and overlaps from the Counter-Reformation to the Counter-Enlightenment in Europe, to the many varieties of fascism and national socialism in East and West, to anticapitalism and antiglobalization, and finally to the religious extremism that rages in so many places today...

These strands are linked, of course, to form a chain of hostility – hostility to the City, with its image of rootless, arrogant, greedy, decadent, frivolous cosmopolitanism; to the mind of the West, manifested in science and reason; to the settled bourgeois, whose existence is the antithesis of the self-sacrificing hero; and to the infidel, who must be crushed to make way for a world of pure faith...

[T]oday’s... holy warriors don’t suffer from some unique pathology but are fired by ideas that have a history....To understand is not to excuse, just as to forgive is not to forget, but without understanding those who hate..., we cannot hope to stop them from destroying....