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Tuesday, September 08, 2009

The Christian battle inside the Health Care Debates

How The implications of this debate strike to the core of modern Christianity




The recent delusion (“allusion is an 'indirect mention,' illusion is 'false impression,' and delusion is 'deception' which is much stronger than illusion. hallucination is from disturbed sensory perceptions; delusion is from disturbed thinking, an illusion is an image or conception of something actual or real that presents itself to the mind in an abnormal or distorted manner; a delusion is a false belief about oneself or other people that persists despite its being at variance with the facts.” Roget's Thesaurus) on the part of some in this country, that within six months Obama has somehow destroyed our nation, and that this health care debate is actually about his setting up a socialist or fascist (depending on who you talk to, and when) program for euthanasia, is not as surprising, though it is, in its severity and utter brashness, baffling.

Race is one of the factors, though, that is one which has been given much space in this debate, and not exactly where a lot of this is coming from. Sure, some people, including those in the government, have their world turned inside out by a black man being elected as president. But that more explains the “birther” movement, the hope that we didn't elect a black president, but that somehow some stranger from Kenya tricked us all.

Religion, is what informs the major impulses on the right, or convulsions might be the better word, concerning any sort of national health care. Though, for most, even those on the right, even those toting bibles along with weapons at Town Halls, probably wouldn't tell you it is because of religion, it is rather the mingling of political philosophies and the contemporary interpretations of scriptural and extra-biblical beliefs, which have, for nearly 60 years, been the perpetuating force behind the right wing.

There lie two major strands in Christianity in viewing the end of the world. This is a grand generalization, but there are the premillenialists who believe that Christ will come at the start of the prophesied millennium to judge and destroy the wicked and burn the earth, and the postmillenialists who believe that the millennium will be ushered in by Christ but will be a physical existence on earth for 1000 years before the wicked are judged and then the earth is renewed.

The postmillenialist impulse, when the dominating strand, informed abolitionism, worker's rights, child labour laws, women's suffrage, the very first stages of environmentalism and the temperance movement. It gives a religious imperative to social justice.

The premillenialist strand has been the dominant strand since World War 2, and has opposed such social reform. After all, if Christ is coming to fix everything and we all get raptured up, what's the point? At its worst, its informed the crusades and the modern version, George W. Bush's middle-east policy, and is the great reason why many on the far-right defend Israel (creating an awkward relationship between Jews and the Christian Right); to speed up Christ's coming to the earth.

The danger of the postmillenialist thinking is the over-reaching of others free will. The danger of the premillenialist thinking is the doomsday cult.

Paul Boyer, in his seminal work, When Time Shall Be No More, writes of the state of prophecy belief in Christianity after WWII: “Post-1945 prophecy popularizers addressed another level of modern reality; sweeping historical trends that pointed to a demonic order ahead...premillenialists, whose array of prophetic “signs” included social, economic, and technological processes so broad as to be almost coterminous with modernity itself... ( ),” and “Suspicion of government pervaded this literature. While deifying the Founding Fathers, these authors generally viewed...America's public officials (as) preparing the way for Anti-Christ.”

This has given us decades of politicians who don't believe in government as being a good thing. It seems odd to even have a government, if its the role of its leaders to make it impotent.

The postmillenialist will argue that Christ has left the bulk of the preparation for the creation of his earthly kingdom to us, and that whether or not that is a political or metaphorical kingdom, that places a responsibility on us to continue his work; his work being to feed the hungry, heal the sick, care for the poor, etc. This informs various government aid programs, as well as universal health care.

The simplified version of premillenialist view is that Christ will come and fix everything. That Christ's kingdom was most definitely not a physical one, but rather a metaphor for his elect, who would be lifted into his kingdom in heaven. The earth becomes the dump for the wicked, until it's eventually burned. Thus, saving souls and spreading the faith is given precedence over temporal issues.

Add to this the problem that our nation was first colonized by a good number of Calvinists. Over time, the idea of the elect has seeped into our very national identity. We have come to view our monetary state as a physical manifestation of God's grace. God gave me my six-figure blessing, so it's not right for an earthly institution to take any of it away from me, let alone take it and give it to the poor, who must not be elect, otherwise they'd have “grace” too. Here, race does enter in, as many in Christianity have inert beliefs that white people are specially blessed by God, and that White Americans are a new chosen people. And this, that God has found a new chosen people, of course leads to some foundational antisemitism in many of their worldviews.

Thomas Merton, in his masterful work The New Man, demonstrates one of the great instances where a philosophy of man has corrupted a doctrine of Christ. For western man, a Promethean Theology has corrupted his view of the great mystery of Grace. Merton uses the myth of Prometheus to describe many difficulties people inside Christianity have with grace. Prometheus, stole fire from the Gods, and was punished for it. For Merton, modern man is so insecure with his relationship with Christ, that even though he has given them everything through his grace, they hold onto what they have with a fear of losing it, like the servant burying his talent.

The premillenialist strand is mostly Protestant, ironic, since much of its Biblical basis lies in the Book of Revelation, a work that Martin Luther, the leader of the Reformation, placed as an appendix in his bible, and called “neither apostolic nor prophetic.” Calvin accepted the book as canon, but did not agree that it was as canonical as other biblical books, nor did he write about it in his Biblical commentaries. However, more correctly, prophecy belief has been embraced and perpetuated by evangelical strains of protestantism, and been popularized through extra-scriptural fictions which have built up an "end-times" mythology.

The Catholic reading of eschatoligical literature, and especially of the Book of Revelation, was informed by St. Augustine. Boyer notes that even as the Christianized Roman Empire fell, there has been found essentially no mention in any of the writings from that time, as to that event being part of end-time prophecy. Boyer suggests that this was because the most popular work at the time was St. Augustine's recently written City of God, one of the cornerstone works of postmillenialist thinking (even though Augustine seems to focus on a non-earthly kingdom), and said that John should be read only as allegory.

The great failure of the left has been that, in its attempt to be as charitable and inclusive as possible, it adopted not just a secularized view, but one often antagonistic toward religion being a part of government, even though religious impulses informed a great deal of their prior governmental policy. This meant, not only creating an even more fertile ground for the growth of the premillenialist strand, but also that their ideas were now isolated from their very foundations. Thus, the establishment left, did not do much at all to help out the civil rights movement, or the anti-war movements in the 60's. Rather, it was the Black postmillenialist churches which served as the central force behind the marches, boycotts, and protests which led to LBJ signing the Civil Rights Act.

While few may recognize it, Obama's presence represents a direct challenge to the premillenialist strand of Christianity and the moving of those postmillenialist traditions from the black churches, into the mainstream of American political discourse. In a similar manner, Al Gore, who also subscribes to a postmillenialist reading of the bible, has been demonized by the right for reviving a 200 year old Transcendentalist belief in the idea of environmental stewardship, and provided a challenge to the eschatological storyline, which was going so well for the premillenialist evangelicals.

It is ironic that what is considered Reagan's greatest achievement, of helping to bring an end to the Iron Curtain, also provided a blow to his strongest base. Reagan, who had successfully mingled his policy with that of the evangelical right, threw a monkey wrench into their narrative. The Soviet Union and America were supposed to be the great powers at war in Armageddon. With no Soviet Union, who's going to play Magog (or Gog) now? Suddenly the Islamic world seemed like a nice substitute, but the failure of the Bush doctrine in Iraq and Afghanistan disillusioned many on the right. Bush was supposed to be called of God (and implicitly that was why it was wrong to question anything he did; it was not just un-American but un-Christian) to bring about many of the prophesied events in the middle east previous to the second coming of Christ, but he failed. This is why, all of a sudden, its Obama and the democrats. And now that health care, one of the foundational postmillenialist policies, is the hot topic, this is an all out assault on their religious worldview.

In this sense, Obama is seen as a heretic. From decades of propaganda on the right and indoctrination both on the part of politicians and their ecclesiastical co-dependents, there has been a narrative established of what America really is. This is just a newer update on a narrative older than out nation itself. It's our founding myth, which is essentially that Jesus set up America, won the revolutionary war for us through his providence(providing a nice way to omit the role played by those secular French), wrote the constitution, and because of that, as many misinterpret that last verse of Revelation, the Constitution is the infallible word that is not to be changed or there will be curses. Washington often even stands in as Christ (check out the rotunda inside the Capital building). Other founding fathers, the libertinous Franklin, and the secularized Jefferson, are overlooked for their unbelief. And inconvenient facts, such as the putting down of the Whiskey rebellion to retain an aristocratic staus-quo, are brushed aside. Then again, Americans know less about their own national history than any modern people, and what they do know, are largely mythical or apocryphal anecdotes. The greatest politician who was able to use premillenialist allusions was George W Bush, who built off of the groundwork of Reagan. For those indoctrinated into that way of seeing the world when Obama uses postmillenialist allusions he must be the anti-Chirst. The idea of antichrist, in modern prophecy belief, is a strong charismatic leader who unites the world. This is perhaps an idea implanted, not so much by scripture, but rather as a self-defense mechanism to preserve premillenialist prophecy belief against a leader who might resurrect postmillenialist responsibility and stewardship.

1 comment:

Parker said...

Awesome, awesome, awesome. You my friend are awesome. This was awesome. Like, totally...