Sunday, September 6, 2015

One Nation Under John (Frum, That Is)

In a previous post I described American evangelicalism as a patriotic cargo cult. As such, it has become a key component of the dysfunctional and harmful response of a people who are stressed by the emergence of a world they can no longer control to their liking. Therefore, in order to understand the ways in which many elements of mainstream white American society are responding to the changes now descending upon that society, one must understand mainstream American evangelicalism. To help further that understanding, I think it is good to examine the “cargo cult” characteristics of modern American evangelicalism.

What then is a cargo cult? According to Wikipedia, it is “a Melanesian millenarian movement encompassing a diverse range of practices and occurring in the wake of contact with the commercial networks of colonizing societies. The name derives from the belief that various ritualistic acts will lead to a bestowing of material wealth (“cargo”).” (Emphasis mine.) The story from several sources is that cargo cults arise among indigenous populations when those populations come under stress due to the arrival of members of a colonizing nation which possesses superior technology. This arrival results in a loss of local control of the distribution of resources among the indigenous peoples, with a corresponding loss of status of those members of indigenous societies who controlled the flow of wealth in their societies. The response of the indigenous peoples, and especially of their leaders, is to enact rituals designed to invoke the aid of the supernatural as they understand it, in order to regain access to control of resources and to gain control of access to the goods – the “cargo” – which the colonizers had brought.

Examples of this sort of ritual sprang up in Vanuatu and other South Pacific islands during and after World War 2, when the locals observed the arrival of U.S. military forces replete with cargoes of canned foods, medicines, clothing, metal tools, radios, airplanes, large ships, other assorted military hardware, and the like. After the war ended, the servicemen left, taking their “cargo” with them, and the natives, who had grown used to benefiting from some of the crumbs of that “cargo”, began to enact various rituals designed to mimic the things which they believed the Americans had done to bring that cargo to the islands in the first place. Such rituals included (links to images) villagers marching in drills with American flags and wooden replicas of rifles while building dirt airstrips and wooden replicas of control towers and radios in order to attract the “cargo” back to their islands. Some went so far as to build life-sized wooden replicas of cargo airplanes.

Control of the flows of material resources had been the foundation of the identity and prestige of the “big men” who ruled indigenous South Pacific societies before their contact with First World colonialists. Therefore also, the regaining of control of flows of material resources and of access to advanced “cargo” was the center and foundation of the indigenous cargo cults. To put it baldly, the cargo cults and the society from which they sprang were thoroughly materialist. However, the cargo cult practitioners enacted their rituals in almost complete ignorance of the true nature of the cargo they sought, or of the means by which it was actually delivered, being acquainted only with the outward “rituals” (talking on a radio, filling out paperwork, etc.) by which the foreigners obtained their “cargo.”

Mainstream American evangelicalism shares a large number of characteristics with the Melanesian cargo cults. First, it is dominated and ruled by “big men” (and a few “big women”) for whom the ability to rule groups of people, and to control the flows of material resources among those groups of people, is a foundational part of their identity. Second, it depends on certain rituals which are performed in order to invoke continued access to material wealth – that is, “cargo.” Third, it is both ignorant and willfully blind – ignorant of the God Whom it claims to worship, and of the true nature of supernatural realities; and willfully blind to the true nature of the means by which it has obtained its cargo.

To understand this, we must first look at the creed of modern mainstream white American evangelicalism. As I stated in a previous post, the majority of White American evangelicals believe that the United States is a nation chosen and founded directly by God, who, according to them, has decreed that the United States of America is specially chosen to rule the entire earth and all of its peoples. Therefore, God has condoned whatever means and methods the people of the United States have used in order to assert, expand and maintain that rule. This is why the hymns of Francis Scott Key are such a favorite among many American evangelicals. This is why they not only give thanks for the founding of the nation every Thanksgiving, but they expect everyone else to be just as appreciative of the nation's founding – including the surviving members of the Native American peoples they exterminated and the descendants of African slaves who are now being oppressed, imprisoned, and in many cases killed without just cause by the dominant members of American society.

Because of their strong materialism, most of them believe strongly that material prosperity is one of the surest signs of God's blessing upon the nation. As I have already said, they therefore engage in various rituals in order to secure that continued “blessing.” For the majority of American evangelicals, the rituals consist of public verbal opposition to certain sexual sins (although what these people do behind closed doors often belies their public verbal opposition), public proclamation of patriotism, public proclamation of “faith” in Jesus Christ, voting for the "right" political agenda, and public proclamation of faith in capitalism, the “free market,” and American exceptionalism. Note that the public proclamation of faith in Jesus Christ usually does not come with any attempt, public or private, to actually do what He has commanded. Nevertheless, most White American evangelicals believe that if the majority of the nation follows this simple ritual, God will continue to bless America with an abundance of “cargo.” Some American evangelicals try to add to the ritual, such as the "Christian Reconstructionists" who are trying to impose the Old Testament law on the United States. Their reasoning is that because God promised to bless Israel with material abundance if they kept the Law perfectly, the way to secure an endless supply of “cargo” for the United States is for this nation to keep the Law perfectly – and to avoid intermarrying with “inferior races,” by the way. 

Perceptive individuals can see the problems with this approach. The first problem is the assumption that one can secure material blessings by keeping the Law perfectly. It is true that in the Old Testament, God promised material abundance to Israel if only they kept the whole Law. But Israel didn't keep the Law – indeed, they couldn't, because they were sinners, as are we all. And that points out the second problem, namely, the mistake people make when they associate wholeness of life solely with having lots of material possessions. The truth is that people who have an abundance of possessions, yet are not whole on the inside, always make a mess out of their abundance. This is why it is impossible for mortal, fallen human beings to make a Heaven on earth. Thus the definition of blessedness changes in the New Testament, from “Blessed are those with lots of cargo,” to “Blessed are those who learn to be Christ-like and love their neighbors, even though they themselves are poor and afflicted.” (Matthew 5:1-12; Luke 6:20-26; Acts 14:22) Our present earthly lives are thus transformed from an opportunity to acquire lots of cargo to an opportunity to allow God to make us whole on the inside – even in the midst of deeply contrary circumstances.

This is the spiritual, supernatural reality that mainstream American evangelicals refuse to understand. And they are willfully blind to the true nature of the means by which they have obtained and continue to obtain their cargo. The Good Book calls those means evil. Evil can be viewed as a rejection of wholeness and an embracing of inner spiritual disease. And both the Old and New Testaments teach that there are consequences for evil. But just as the Melanesian cargo cultists did not understand the true nature of the realities they were trying to invoke, so American evangelicals are, by and large, willfully ignorant of the reality of the consequences which their actions have begun to invoke.  Because these actions are the result of a choice to do evil, those who have chosen them have chosen to be evil. 

As I have previously written, the beginnings of damnation almost always start with the manifestation of the earthly, natural consequences of choosing to do evil. As the evil continues, those natural consequences propagate and expand throughout the entire lives of those who have chosen to be evil. Consider a crystal subjected to mechanical stress.

Misfit dislocations in a silicon crystal under stress.  Image courtesy of

In response to the stress, the crystal will exhibit strain, defined by the people who work for Noah Webster as “deformation of a material body under the action of applied forces.” That strain will usually manifest itself as microscopic and submicroscopic dislocations which propagate throughout the crystal as the stress placed on it increases. The propagation is usually nonlinear and often seemingly stochastic – that is, it cannot be traced out in advance. Yet from the beginning of strain to the point of ultimate fracture, the propagation of dislocations in the crystal can be traced to a single root cause – namely, the application of a mechanical stress.

So it is with the propagation of the earthly, natural consequences of evil. The propagation is usually nonlinear and often seemingly stochastic, yet it can be accurately traced to root causes by those who are willing to look at things honestly. (However, magical thinking blinds people so that they do not see the root causes.) Over the last year, we have begun to see a few examples of the propagation of those consequences in mainstream America, and in mainstream American evangelicalism.

That propagation is first intrapersonal. We are now seeing the culmination of a long American tradition of viewing freedom as the ability to do whatever one wants without regard to how one's actions affect others. One of the ways that “freedom” is being manifested is in an explosion of addictions of various kinds. White America has lost its ability to self-regulate, to delay gratification, to say no to unhealthy cravings. This nation is having to face the fact of its addictions to mind-altering substances such as prescription painkillers, prescription psychiatric drugs, alcohol, and homemade psychotropics such as crystal meth. Indeed, the protagonist in a recent very popular TV series is a “meth-maker.” In the religious realm, the addiction to, ahem, “chemicals”, has included Rush Limbaugh, a man who frequently and loudly proclaimed his belief in God. But it goes beyond addiction to drugs to include addiction to sex. Here we enter a “target-rich environment” when discussing famous evangelicals who have recently fallen from grace.   (Here's a link to information about a former pastor who dabbled in both drugs and sexual sin.)

And there is the ever-increasing addiction to violence. According to a recent study, there are over 300 million guns of various kinds in the hands of private citizens in the United States. (See this also.)  The vast majority of those guns have been bought and are owned by White citizens. (However, the vast majority of people convicted for gun crimes in this country are Black. How can that be? Methinks more than a few police departments, prosecutors and district attorneys in this country are guilty of scapegoating.)

Which brings us to the second realm of propagation, namely, the interpersonal. It is because mainstream American society has lost its ability to self-regulate that we are witnessing an explosion of violence – especially gun-related violence. The gun-related violence is especially prevalent in cases of domestic or intimate partner abuse. (See this also.)  But it is also a factor in the many suicides which take place in this country. And it is a factor in the increasingly violent adolescent real-life “games” which grown men are playing with each other in this country. For instance, most may not know this, but in May of this year, there was a massive shootout between two rival White biker gangs in Texas. I believe at least nine people died, and a number were injured, including a few cops. This is just one of the many shooting sprees which have taken place in this country over the last two or three decades. Yet one of the things most dear to mainstream American evangelicals is “the right to keep and bear arms.” (Look up “Christian militia” sometime and see where that takes you.) And we haven't even scratched the surface of the violence which this nation has inflicted on other nations, or the alienation which has resulted from this violence.

Violence is also being done to relationships, even where the violence is not physical. For the consequence of choosing to do evil is that the evil person becomes injurious and repulsive to those who know him. This is the reason for the absolutely horrible rate of transmission of evangelical values from one generation to the next among White evangelicals, many of whose children are now choosing to identify themselves as "spiritual, but not religious." But this is no surprise, because many American evangelicals have made themselves so nasty that increasingly, no one wants to be like them. In fact, in 19 states, white American evangelicals are now no longer a majority of the population.  Some of these states are among the most populous states in the Union.

Lastly, there is the third realm of propagation, namely, the nonhuman. By this I mean especially the world in which we live, including the atmosphere we breathe and the biosphere which sustains our earthly lives. American evangelicals (along with the rest of the world) are about to receive in full the consequences of the magical thinking in which they indulged in order to justify trying to get an ever-expanding, never-ending stream of “cargo” out of a finite planet. Case in point: regarding climate change, Americans, including evangelicals are about to suffer the consequences which they had been able until now to inflict solely on other nations. This year – so far, the hottest year globally on record – has seen heat waves in India and Pakistan which killed over 4,000 people. Agencies such as the NOAA are predicting that due to the storage of heat in the Earth's oceans from this year's excessive temperatures, next year is likely to be moderately to significantly hotter. That means that many people in the United States may be subjected to killing temperatures next summer. These phenomena, along with other phenomena predicted by the Limits to Growth studies of the 1970's, are not the supernatural, “black-swan” judgments of a “cargo-cult” god whom we cannot hope to understand, but the natural consequences this nation has brought on itslf – consequences allowed by a God who wants to use these consequences to teach us that, “not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions.” (Luke 12:15)

No comments: