Saturday, March 22, 2008

Class, nation and covenant

"Against this background, the outrage of the right at the prophetic denunciations of the Reverend Wright suddenly appears in a new light. Recall the words that have received the most airtime and sparked the great outrage: “The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes three-strike laws and wants them to sing God Bless America. No! No No! God damn America … for killing innocent people. God damn America for threatening citizens as less than humans. God damn America as long as she tries to act like she is God and supreme.” As many of his defenders have noted, this and other statements by Wright statements are wholly within the covenant logic. When the Chosen people violate the covenant, God will punish them. But right-wing patriotism, in its pseudo-Christian and secular variants, does not allow for this possibility. It assumes that America has been chosen once and for all, and that it has a monopoly on God’s blessings.

As E.J. Dionne Jr. notes in a recent editorial in the Washington Post, the rhetoric of Martin Luther King - one of America’s secular saints and its only black one - could be every bit as prophetic in tone as Wright’s. Consider what “King said about the Vietnam War at his own Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta on Feb. 4, 1968: ‘God didn’t call America to engage in a senseless, unjust war. … And we are criminals in that war. We’ve committed more war crimes almost than any nation in the world, and I’m going to continue to say it. And we won’t stop it because of our pride and our arrogance as a nation. But God has a way of even putting nations in their place.’ King then predicted this response from the Almighty: ‘And if you don’t stop your reckless course, I’ll rise up and break the backbone of your power.’”

This is not to imply that all conservative Christians who have allied themselves with the pseudo-Christians and Captain Americas have completely sloughed off the two-way logic of the covenant. None other than Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson (in)famously claimed that 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina were divine punishment for Roe v. Wade. However, those who still see the covenant as a two-way transaction, implying both blessings and sufferings, operate with a minimalistic and individualistic version of Christian ethics focused solely on pelvic issues and bereft of prophetic calls for social justice.

The comparison with Falwell and Robertson also reveals another important aspect of crusader nationalism: its Faustian pact with racial divisiveness. Why do conservatives not hold the Falwells and Robertsons and Dobsons of the world to the same standard? Clearly, there is a double standard at work here. It is acceptable for a white preacher to speak in the angry voice of a prophet; it is not acceptable for black preacher to do so. Indeed, this is now the central tactic in the campaign of personal destruction being waged against Barack Obama by the right-wing noise machine: to make him into an “angry, black man.” It’s been road-tested by Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh. It will be part of the endless loop of the fall campaign."

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