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You write that “mortal existence is intolerable without the promise of immortality” and that “capitalism destroys this hope and replaces it with guaranteed short-term transcendence.” Given these two contentions, is there not a deep contradiction in the promotion by American Christians of capitalism, the very engine of green-haired modernity? How can one be opposed to the fruits of capitalism, yet favor its spread and growth? Is this not a case of having and eating one and the same cake?
The first phrase in quotation marks I have stated often, the second never, and I am at a loss to find anything like it on the Asia Times Online site. Your question nonetheless goes to the heart of the matter. “Creative destruction” is the soul of capitalism, and Joseph Schumpeter’s phrase derives in turn from Mephistopheles’ famous jibe, “Everything that arises goes rightly to its ruin.” What truck does Christianity have with the devil?
American Christians seek refuge in tradition from the septic tide of popular culture made cheaply available by electronic media. That is not a recent phenomenon, for capitalism arose from the exchange of South American gold mined by slaves for silks and spices during the 16th century, tobacco and rum raised by slaves during the 17th and 18th centuries, and opium during the 19th century (What if Internet stocks aren’t a bubble?, January 28, 2000). This exaggerates the point, but not too much, for capitalism promoted luxury and vice as much as it did things of actual use, such as cheap cotton underwear. That does not preclude the possibility of a moralizing sort of capitalism, in which the state by popular agreement suppressed pornography on the Internet, for example.
Christianity offers a response to the dissolution of the bonds of traditional society (Islam: Religion or political ideology?, August 10). The pagan who performs the rites of his ancestors and teaches them to his children is no easy convert to a religion promising peace beyond the grave, for the pagan lives his immortality in the lifeblood of his people. Mass conversion of African animists to Christianity is under way precisely because no pagan in the 21st century can doubt that his tribe, language, religion and culture will erode under the ceaseless battering of creative destruction. It is a bit fanciful, but one might say that globalization promotes Christianity today much as did the barbarian migrations of the 3rd and 4th centuries.
American Protestants, for their part, suffer from no contradiction in this matter. Christianity promotes capitalism insofar as it promotes freedom, which is a consequence in the modern world of the Christian doctrine (adapted from the Hebrews) of God’s love for each individual, and in particular from the Protestant notion that grace is an individual matter, such that all men have the right and need to read Scripture for themselves. With freedom comes abuse, but rarely so much abuse as self-appointed autocrats are likely to inflict.
The Israel-centric Judeophilia that has come to dominate American religion and politics is a relatively recent phenomenon. It drove the US into the war against Iraq, Israel’s biggest enemy in the region, at the expense of the real war against terror. It may yet drive it into war against Syria and Iran, also Israel’s’ enemies. Will it hurt America in the long run? Only time will tell. I think it will, simply because this obsession with Israel is so irrational and so asinine.
The Hebrew god is a god that plays favorites. He commands his “chosen race” to steal land from others, to slaughter them en masse as in: “Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass” (I Samuel 15:3).
The Hebrew Bible is chock full of such insanities. No one who uses common sense would believe in such an insanely vicious deity.
Let us examine your two issues, namely what you perceive to be America’s sudden leap into Judeophilia, and your dislike for the Hebrew god.
On the first point you are poorly informed. Judeophilia characterized America from its founding; for extensive quotations and source references, I recommend Michael Novak’s book On Two Wings (Encounter Books: San Francisco, 2002), whose first chapter is titled “Hebrew Metaphysics at the Founding” (of the United States). Novak, a Catholic (ie, neither Jewish nor Evangelical) scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, quotes an 1809 letter from the United States of America’s second president, John Adams:
I will insist that the Hebrews have done more to civilize men then any other nation. If I were an atheist, and believed in blind eternal fate, I should still believe that fate had ordained the Jews to be the most essential instrument for civilizing the nations. If I were an atheist … I should believe that chance had ordered the Jews to preserve and propagate to all mankind the doctrine of a supreme, intelligent, wise almighty sovereign of the universe, which I believe to be the great essential principle of all morality, and consequently of all civilization.
During the first half of the 20th century, to be sure, the universal popularity of racialist theories did not leave the United States unaffected, and reverberations of European Jew-hatred influenced Americans. These attenuated gradually after the destruction of National Socialism. Evangelical Protestantism always had an affinity for the Jews, and its growth during the past 20 years surely made the US more Judeophilic, but that only took the country closer to its own origins.
On the other matter, you are not alone in your discomfort with the Hebrew god who wiped out the tribe of Amelek. Whether you acknowledge the existence of the Hebrew or Christian god, or Allah, or karma, or blind chance, one cannot help be struck by the unspeakable unfairness of life. Six thousand languages are spoken in the world today, of which two become extinct every week – which means not merely the lives of those who become extinct, but of all the members of the entire preceding culture, retroactively become meaningless. Most of them will not merit so much as a doctoral dissertation. If there is a god of any sort, he not merely wiped out Amelek, but thousands of cultures of which we know nothing, because nary a shard of pottery survives of them. At the present rate he will eradicate another 1,000 cultures in the next decade. If present trends continue, French and German will be spoken only in hell 200 years from now.
With all of this extinction going on, does it not seem woefully unfair to you that the descendants of a tribe of shepherds speaking a minor West Semitic dialect are the only people left whose ancestors walked the green earth 3,500 years ago, and the only people who still speak the same language their ancestors spoke? The Indians and Chinese, whose languages also are very ancient, do not make much of this.
Many Evangelicals consider this a miracle. When Friedrich II (“the Great”) of Prussia asked his court chaplain for a proof of God’s existence, the cleric replied, “Your Majesty, the Jews!” US televangelists routinely preach that if God so visibly fulfilled his promise to the Old Israel, adherents of the New Israel have some assurance that he will keep faith with them as well.
Others grind their teeth in resentment. Why should my people not be the chosen people? That is the source of Jew-hatred (What the Jews won’t tell you, November 4, 2003).
To the Editor:
In his “replies to readers” [letter, Oct 6], Spengler writes: “… America remains profoundly Christian … America is by its nature Christian…” As I’ve noted before, Spengler mistakes his fantasy of “America” for that which is actually America. His notion that the US is “profoundly Christian” is as profoundly superficial as the “Christianity” to which he refers. I’ve detailed elsewhere that the US is not in any sense “Christian” where it most matters; its system of laws – as exemplified in its constitution – is based upon individual freedom of conscience, thought, belief and expression – which includes the right to believe and espouse views “Christians” oppose and hate. But let’s examine his latest claim as it compares with the facts:
1. The “Bible” was written in the Middle East, not America. It was assembled by an anti-democratic “religious” hierarchy in Rome, not America.
2. The “Old Testament” is pre-Christian. Its theme is “eye for an eye,” and depicts a vengeful, totalitarian “God” that acts on whim without regard for reason or justice.
3. “Christianity” begins with Christ, and the “New Testament.” The “New Testament” supersedes the “Old,” and changed the theme from “eye for an eye” to “turn the other cheek.” The latter is why Christ is called “Prince of Peace.”
4. The rules required of Christians are the Ten Commandments. As “faith without works” is false faith, saying one thing while doing another is not an allowed option. The word for the latter is hypocrisy, which Christians view as sin, a “Christian principle” Mark Twain defined as “Nothing needs reforming so much as other people’s habits.”
5. The overwhelming history and image of “Christianity” in the US is of a profoundly corrupt rationalization for actions which Christianity condemns. Christianity condemns, as example, lying and killing.
Joseph J Nagarya
Dear Mr Nagarya:
No Christian denomination of consequence still believes that the New Testament supersedes the Hebrew Scriptures. The Catholic Church formally eschewed this doctrine at the Second Vatican Council and forbade Catholics from presenting the Old Testament god as a “vengeful” god as opposed to a god of love. Christian scholars no longer equate the law of “an eye for an eye” (Exodus 21:23 etc) with vengefulness. On the contrary, in the ancient Hebrew legal code the provision constituted a prohibition against excessive vengeance. Jewish law is the first ever to apply both to homeborn and stranger, the first to insist that the creator of the universe harkens to the cry of the widow and orphan, and surely the first to portray a universal god who loves all peoples: “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples, saith the Lord,” wrote Isaiah (56:7). For additional reading, I recommend Harvard Professor James L Kugel’s 2003 book The God of Old (The Free Press: New York 2003). Go back to Sunday school, Mr Nagarya, and learn the ABCs of the matter.
You write frequently that “Europe chooses extinction.” While I agree with your reasoning (especially vis-a-vis the US or the Mormons, for example), perhaps you can answer a similar question: Why do the Chinese choose death?
In China, the fertility rate is well below replacement … and in rich centers like Hong Kong is below 1, ie, less than one child per woman. What’s your take on that? Is this merely an exaggeration of the worldwide drop in fertility rates, or is something else going on?
I truly do not believe that the Chinese have considered the full implications of the one-child policy that drove down their fertility rate. With 1.3 billion people, China is centuries away from the demographic fragility of a Japan, even in the worst-case scenario. The present generation of Chinese has dedicated itself to amassing wealth. The next generation will have to consider the existential question. It is too early to tell, or I should say, far too early for me to tell. I would be eager to know what Henry C K Liu makes of this.
You make a mistake in your column on Frits Bolkestein [When you forget why you hanged yourself, Oct 5. He is Dutch, not German, and his speech in Leiden was of course in Dutch, not German. If you quoted from his “German text” you did not quote from the original.
Incidentally, did you know that Bolkestein spent a decade as leader of the right-wing VVD [Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie, or People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy] in the Netherlands, where he was the first politician, in the early 1990s, to break the taboo on mass immigration, specifically singling out the Muslims as causing very big problems? Mr Bolkestein, who is a prolific author (more than a dozen books), and holds university degrees in classics, mathematics, law and economics, was in this and many other regards the direct predecessor to Pim Fortuyn, for whom he helped prepared the opinion climate. Mr Bolkestein is much more interesting that you make him out to be.
Dear Mr Visser:
For some reason the European Commission website provided Bolkestein’s text in German; I am well aware that he is Dutch. In any event, don’t you think it is high time that the minor Teutonic tribes learned proper High German?