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Bush the Gnostic

Bush the Gnostic April 17, 2009

Larison has an interesting restrospective on the so-called “conservative Christians” who hopped on Bush’s bandwagon:

“It makes no sense to blame Christian orthodoxy or traditional Christianity for the religiously-tinged ideology of the Bush administration and the resulting failures of this ideology’s optimistic and hubristic approach to the world. It is no accident that the most strident and early critics of the Bush administration hailed from traditionalist Catholic and Orthodox circles that make Linker’s bete noire of First Thingslook like the relatively liberal, ecumenist forum that it is. Mr. Bush espoused a horrifyingly heterodox religious vision, one far more akin to the messianic Americanism … than it is to anything that could fairly be called orthodoxy. To the extent that … the so-called “theocons,” were more or less entirely on board with what Mr. Bush was doing, even if they felt compelled to use their own teachings in distorted form to do it, they were not championing orthodoxy at all. One might go so far to say that as they became stronger supporters of Mr. Bush, the less orthodox they tended to become, because the arguments they had to employ to defend Mr. Bush’s outrageous actions and gnostic impulses necessarily ate away at orthodox teachings.”

There is much wisdom in this, and it gels with one of themes I’ve been pushing a lot here– that American Christians (including Catholics) are overly-influenced by American forms of religion. After all, as Harold Bloom said long ago, Gnosticism is the quintessential American religion, and all religions invented in the United States (from Christian Science to Mormonism to Scientology) are derivatively Gnostic.

Another reason I admire Larison’s writing is that he is one of the few commentators who does not mis-use the term “conservative”. For if its religious tradition is Gnostic, America’s political tradition is liberal, often in more undiluted forms that seen elsewhere. Thus debates are framed — on all sides of the political debate — by individual rights and the goals of satisfying individual wants and needs ahead of broader conceptions of the common good. And here we can get a “social contract” that deviates greatly from the common good — from the deification of free markets to writing the unborn out of the equation, from a glorification of gun ownership to a sexual free-for-all, from the mockery of global warming concerns to a redefinition of marriage. And of course, let’s not forget the division of the world into light and darkness, a metaphysical dualism that has the “good guys” locked into a permanent war with the “bad guys”, defined as terrorists, communists, liberals, conservatives, socialists– whoever is the latest enemy of the day. This affects American Catholics too, to the puzzlement of the rest of the world.


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