Derrick Jensen on the jealousy of our culture’s gods

Derrick Jensen on the jealousy of our culture’s gods April 14, 2009

I’m currently devouring volume one of Derrick Jensen‘s two volume Endgame. Jensen is an anarcho-primitivist writer whose basic premise is that civilization itself is not sustainable and is inherently death-dealing. I don’t agree with every position Jensen takes. He’s no pacifist, and often seems to overemphasize his justifications of “counterviolence.” But the book has me hooked. I’m convinced that reading Jensen (like reading Ward Churchill) will make me a more honest pacifist. I’m also convinced that, despite his shortcomings, Jensen will help me to expand my awareness of what a “culture of life” truly is through his scathing, radical (i.e. going to the roots) unveiling of our “culture of death”: “The culture is driven by a death urge, an urge to destroy life” (xi).

Another aspect of Jensen’s writing that I find particularly appealing is that it seems to be rooted in a radical, and perhaps paradoxical, materialist spirituality. Not animism or pantheism, mind you. In another of Jensen’s books, he interviews a range of ecological thinkers, including theologians Thomas Berry and Catherine Keller. Aside from his obvious spirituality, Jensen shows an ability to make insightful critiques of our civilization’s theological dimension, or anti-theology perhaps, and the gods that we worship today. I’ve hinted at such critiques myself here before. Here’s an excerpt on the jealousy of the gods of the culture of death:

The God of this culture has always been jealous. Time and again in the Bible we read, “I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me,” or “Ye shall not go after other gods, of the gods of the people which are round about you; (for the LORD thy God is a jealous God among you) lest the anger of the LORD thy God be kindled against thee, and destroy thee from off the face of the earth.” God today is just as jealous, whether he goes by the name of Science, Capitalism, or Civilization. Science is as monotheistic as Christianity, moreso really, since Science doesn’t have to say it’s jealous: we’ve so internalized its hegemony that many of us believe the only way we can know anything about the world is through science: Science is Truth. Capitalism is so jealous it couldn’t even allow the existence of the Soviet version of itself (they’re both state-subsidized command economies, the biggest differences being a) the merging under the Soviet system of state and corporate bureaucracies into one huge bureaucracy that was even more inefficient and wasteful than the “capitalist” system of functionally separate bureaucracies working for the unified goal of production; and b) the Soviet Parliament was dominated by different factions of the Communist Party with more than 90 percent of the votes going to this party, while the American Congress is dominated by different factions of the Capitalist Party, with more than 90 percent of the votes going to this party). Civilization is just as jealous as science and capitalism, systematically disallowing anyone from perceiving the world in nonutilitarian terms, that is, perceiving the world not in terms of slavery, that is, not in terms of addiction, that is, perceiving the world relationally. Lots of so-called free thinkers like to comment on the tens of millions of people who have been killed because they refused to worship Christianity’s God of Love–because God is after all a jealous God–but even they rarely mention the hundreds of millions of (indigenous and other) people who have been killed because they refused to worship Civilization’s God of production, a God just as jealous as the Christian God, a God deeply devoted to the conversion of the living to the dead (160).

Derrick Jensen, Endgame, Vol. 1: The Problem of Civilization (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2006).

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