on white christendom

White Jesus.jpg‘White Christendom in America survives pathetically.

The traditions and ethics of the inherited, white denominations – as their adherents sense privately, and everyone else acknowledges openly – are moribund, nostalgic for a legendary past, extravagantly irrelevant to virtually anything to which one might attempt to relate them. White Christendom’s institutions are truly secular, that is, utterly preoccupied with their own survival, and hence dissipated in anxiety. Their human constituency is being visibly depleted by dropouts, deaths, and other departures. The people of these churches have been stunned by the renunciation voiced by their own offspring, bewildered by the long overdue rejection of their paternalism by the blacks, and so traumatized by their guilt that their conscience has been both perverted and paralyzed. They have feted a doctrine of achievement in work and in charity that is bereft of biblical authority and that now turns out not even to have the illusion of efficacy. After seeking a justification that proved futile, they grow frantic and afraid, increasingly tempted to an anger that only a false righteousness can spawn.

The condition of white Christendom is pathological; it is, I suggest, the state designated in the Bible as “hardness of heart.”

The reason for this bitter ailment is that the white churches in America have long doubted the very existence, much less the vitality, of the Holy Spirit. In these denominations, on the whole, it has never been seriously granted that God has freedom and discretion in being present and active in this world; it has never been conceded that God is not dependent upon human beings and, specifically, upon the white, American bourgeois. It has been presumed instead that God needs these churches, that God’s integrity requires their effort, that God’s existence in history is verified by their prosperity, popularity, and power. Today, with the legitimacy of their wealth under challenge, their reputation the butt of ridicule, and their power ineffectual, it becomes clear that their god is indeed dead and, even more threatening, that their god is not and never was God’.

Mr Stringfellow
St James’ Day, 1969
Block Island, Rhode Island

Some Recent Watering Holes

croft-shutmouthscream-detail-2016

Brenda L. Croft, ‘shut/mouth/scream’ (detail), 2016. Source

 

I haven’t posted one of these for a while. Here are a number of pages I’ve appreciated visiting this past week or so:

And this:

On the American presidency

Vote Mad (1)

Ah, 2007; the good ol’ days:

‘The current politics of popularity, and the reality show atmosphere that surrounds presidential elections, have not held the nation in good stead. We labor under the myth of our own goodness and believe that it doesn’t matter who runs the nation, since the balance of power between the branches of government, and a free activist press will protect us from our own bad choices. Recent history proves that we must pay more attention to the criteria by which individuals are selected, because twenty-first-century high stakes political strategies can neutralize even the best laid plans of the nation’s founders … The next President of the United States should be a twenty-first-century thinker and visionary, a woman or man whose sense of responsibility includes a personal and political identity that is deeply connected to the lives of others in the world. An American presidency is never confined to the political interests of the electing nation; this is an office that influences the world and accordingly requires a leadership model predicated on integrity and vision’.

– Barbara Holmes, ‘The Politics of Vision: Transforming the Presidency’, Political Theology 8, no. 4 (2007), 417, 418.

‘Americans do not have to believe in God, because they believe that it is a good thing simply to believe’

Saturday’s Guardian ran this perceptive comment on the religiousity of Brits and United Statesians by Stanley Hauerwas:

‘The British, I have discovered, assume that Americans are more religious than they are. That presumption seems justified in the light of Ed Miliband’s declared atheism. As yet no one running for high political office in the US has been willing so to identify themselves. Indeed, it seems to be a requirement of political office in America that you believe in God. Americans seem to think those who rule us must believe in God because, if they do not, they cannot be “moral”– which means they will cheat on their spouses, thus destroying the family, which will bring civilisation to an end.

Yet I remain unconvinced that the difference between Britain and the US, when it comes to religion, can be determined by the faith or lack of it of those in public office. In fact, I am not convinced that the US is more religious than Britain. Even if more people go to church in America, I think the US is a much more secular country than Britain. In Britain, when someone says they do not believe in God, they stop going to church. In the US, many who may have doubts about Christian orthodoxy may continue to go to church. They do so because they assume that a vague god vaguely prayed to is the god that is needed to support family and nation.

Americans do not have to believe in God, because they believe that it is a good thing simply to believe: all they need is a general belief in belief. That is why we have never been able to produce interesting atheists in the US. The god most Americans say they believe in is not interesting enough to deny, because it is only the god that has given them a country that ensures that they have the right to choose to believe in the god of their choosing, Accordingly, the only kind of atheism that counts in the US is that which calls into question the proposition that everyone has a right to life, liberty, and happiness.

America is the exemplification of what I call the project of modernity. That project is the attempt to produce a people that believes it should have no story except the story it chose when it had no story. That is what Americans mean by freedom.

The problem with that story is its central paradox: you did not choose the story that you should have no story except the story you chose when you had no story. Americans, however, are unable to acknowledge that they have been fated to be “free”, which makes them all the more adamant that they have a right to choose the god that underwrites their “freedom.”

A people so constituted will ask questions such as “Why does a good god let bad things happen to good people?” It is as if the Psalms never existed. The story that you should have no story except the story you chose when you had no story produces a people who say: “I believe that Jesus is Lord – but that is just my personal opinion.”

I hope that makes it understandable that Americans expect their presidents to believe in god. They do so because they are confident that the god presidents believe in is not a god that can call into question the American project. This is why President Obama had to leave his church when his pastor suggested that God might stand in judgment on the US.

Of course George W Bush was and is a sincere Christian. But that is just an indication of how little being a Christian has to do with sincerity. That is why I find Miliband’s atheism more interesting than the “faith” of the American presidents’.

– Stanley Hauerwas, ‘How real is America’s faith?’ Guardian, 16 October 2010, 45.

[Images: Rodney Dunning & Art Flutter]

Thinking with Updike about America

‘America is a vast conspiracy to make you happy’.

– John Updike, ‘How to Love America and Leave it at the Same Time’, The New Yorker, 19 August 1972, 25.