Vinoth Ramachandra

Archive for October 26th, 2012

I am sorry for my American friends. They deserve a better choice when it come to electing their president. And, given that this is the most powerful political position in the world, we non-Americans feel cheated too.

But, as I pointed out in my last post, an electoral system appropriated by the super-rich is not likely to deliver the best candidates for public office. While waging wars in the name of “promoting democracy” abroad, the US is increasingly shackled by a political system that is converging towards that of many Third World countries. (Voter turn-out is usually much higher in the latter, though).

Neither Obama nor Romney offer anything that addresses the problems that global society faces, or even the American public. But the latter should not forget that, in the eight years preceding Obama’s presidency, government greatly expanded its reach into individuals’ lives, constitutional safeguards against executive power were shredded, the deficit ballooned, the economy was wrecked, corporate reform shelved, and American soldiers sent abroad to fight two unpopular wars. There is thus a huge gulf between Republican principles and the Republican track record. That is why I said that anybody who votes for Romney/Ryan has taken leave of reality.

But, more tragic than U.S  politics is the sorry state of those sections of the American Church that proclaim themselves “Bible-believing”. Wealth not only corrupts politics, it dulls vision and kills prophetic speech. It turns the Church into a cultural ghetto. It has no voice in the public square, except for the shrill voices within it that regularly denounce abortion and homosexuality. One shudders at the call by Franklin Graham (son of Billy) for a new “moral majority” that will only elect politicians who promote “the sanctity of marriage” and “protection for God’s beloved nation, Israel.” (Decision magazine) Such pious nonsense is exported to the rest of the world by Americans who do not care to learn from the global Church.  Vociferous “Bible-believing” Americans like Graham have simply lost the (Biblical) plot.

Since Rheinhold Niebuhr and Martin Luther King, Jr., no Christian public intellectual has emerged in the US. Yes, there are outstanding Christian theologians and philosophers; but most of them seem to talk only among themselves. Younger Christian scholars in major secular universities are too busy securing an elusive tenure to stick their necks out and expose the public myths that sanction injustice. And by the time they get tenure, they have nothing substantial to say.

The late William Stuntz, a law professor at  Harvard, was an exception. Just before his death last year he published a masterly work detailing the collapse of the American criminal justice system, a work that is unlikely to be read in any white-dominated Christian college or seminary. (There is a plethora of Christian colleges and Bible seminaries in the U.S- probably more than the rest of the world combined. Outsiders marvel at what effective brainwashing techniques they use to turn out so many ill-informed and chauvinistic alumni).

A typical refrain from the subculture that is misleadingly called “evangelical” in the US is that to be “pro-life” means always voting Republican. The politically naive vote for Republican candidates in the hope that they will repeal the abortion law. They are constantly fooled. They voted for Reagan in 1980, and Reagan cynically used them and let them down. Indeed his divisive economic policies forced more women into poverty and increased abortions and children born out of wedlock. On the foreign policy front, he armed and trained death squads all over the Americas, and brutal dictators all over the Middle East and Asia. No “pro-life” evangelical church leader ever raised his voice against these policies. If “pro-life” is taken to mean that American foetuses are more valuable in the eyes of God that Palestinian babies or Iranian and Pakistani children dying because of American governmental actions, then that is not the God of the Bible.

Unlike many evangelical church leaders who are blatantly and cynically one-sided in their “pro-life” rhetoric,  the US Catholic Bishops Conference tends to be much wiser and more comprehensive in their ethical stances. Roman Catholics also run many adoption agencies and counselling centres in poor neighbourhoods, thus offering mothers an alternative to abortion, something that the vociferous evangelicals seem not to do.

Then there are those who attack Obama for having “divided America”. They cannot have read much of American history. When was the US ever united? Obviously no black will make such a comment. Nor will anybody who lived through the 1960s as an adult, or the 1980s under Reagan. Bush’s controversial “war on terror”, with its shredding of constitutional safeguards for Americans with Arab names, seems to have faded from memory. And the substance of my post was about the Great Divide between the 1 per cent and the rest of the US, a divide that one cannot blame on Obama.

Isn’t the moral outrage of the rich a wonder to behold? In the Republican lexicon, when governments take from the poor it is “efficiency”, but when they take from the rich it is “theft”! Those poor, persecuted billionaires.

What the US needs for its cultural renewal and political transformation is not more single-issue crusaders; but, rather, for more “Bible-believing” Christians to become “Bible-reading” and “Bible-obeying” Christians instead. Or, better still, for them to leave their Bibles, read their “secular prophets”- the Chomskys, Stiglitzes, Ehrenreichs, bell hookses- and then return to their Bibles. They will be surprised by what they will discover there.

[No new Blog posts in November as I am on a speaking tour in Western Europe]


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