Chris Hedges and the Ground Zero Mosque

Earlier in the summer, one of my favorite writers, Chris Hedges, offered an incisive and scathing critique of Anti-Enlightenment Christian nationalism in America. And, in light of the ground zero mosque controversy, it seems all the more timely:

Tens of millions of Americans, lumped into a diffuse and fractious movement known as the Christian right, have begun to dismantle the intellectual and scientific rigor of the Enlightenment. They are creating a theocratic state based on “biblical law,” and shutting out all those they define as the enemy. This movement, veering closer and closer to traditional fascism, seeks to force a recalcitrant world to submit before an imperial America. It champions the eradication of social deviants, beginning with homosexuals, and moving on to immigrants, secular humanists, feminists, Jews, Muslims and those they dismiss as “nominal Christians”—meaning Christians who do not embrace their perverted and heretical interpretation of the Bible. Those who defy the mass movement are condemned as posing a threat to the health and hygiene of the country and the family. All will be purged.

And Chris Hedges’s critique of the epistemology of this Anti-Enlightenment Herderian movement is spot on:

Reality is no longer based on the gathering of facts and evidence. It is based on ideology. Facts are altered. Lies become true. Hannah Arendt called it “nihilistic relativism,” although a better phrase might be collective insanity. . . .

The acceptance of mythology as a legitimate alternative to reality is a body blow to the rational, secular state. The destruction of rational and empirically based belief systems is fundamental to the creation of all totalitarian ideologies. Certitude, for those who could not cope with the uncertainty of life, is one of the most powerful appeals of the movement. Dispassionate intellectual inquiry, with its constant readjustments and demand for evidence, threatens certitude. For this reason incertitude must be abolished.

“What convinces masses are not facts,” Arendt wrote in “Origins of Totalitarianism,” “and not even invented facts, but only the consistency of the system which they are presumably part. Repetition, somewhat overrated in importance because of the common belief in the masses’ inferior capacity to grasp and remember, is important because it convinces them of consistency in time.”

Chris Hedges also sees the American Anti-Enlightenment right as poised, in a crisis, to seize broad political power:

The spark that could set this conflagration ablaze could be lying in the hands of a small Islamic terrorist cell. It could be in the hands of greedy Wall Street speculators who gamble with taxpayer money in the elaborate global system of casino capitalism. The next catastrophic attack, or the next economic meltdown, could be our Reichstag fire. It could be the excuse used by these totalitarian forces, this Christian fascism, to extinguish what remains of our open society.

I think that Chris Hedges has hit the nail on the head. We may be living in Weimar. This is why the Park 51 mosque near ground zero has to be built. Our country is at a crossroads: will we be a Jeffersonian nation grounded in Enlightenment individualism and reason, or a blood and soil Herderite nation led by authoritarian demagogues?

The terrorists who arranged for the smashing of those planes into the Twin Towers did more damage to the country than they perhaps knew, for, a decade out from the event, our country’s net of civil liberties has started to badly fray in response, and Herderite nationalists are jockying for power. From torture to religious freedom to the 14th amendment, suddenly everything is up for grabs.

Here’s the opening stanza to Yeats’s 1921 poem, ‘The Second Coming”:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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4 Responses to Chris Hedges and the Ground Zero Mosque

  1. Longtooth says:

    Chris Hedges article is indeed spot on and unfortunately so. The lions of the secular enlightenment should very well be distressed, because the religious zealots are both serious and in possession of considerable political and economic power. The two-term presidency of an incredible dolt like George Bush Jr. and the subsequent rise of Sara Palin and the tea baggers should be enough to convince anybody of reasonably sound mind.

    They have always been out to subtend our constitutionally guaranteed liberties in the service of their obsessed religious commission. However, the lowering of the Nations collective intelligence, which (I believe) was the result of the 1960’s social engineering movement in our public schools, and the cause of the extraordinary political leverage they currently enjoy. The 1960’s social engineering movement was perhaps justified at the time, but it was at great cultural cost.

    We people of the secular enlightenment are decidedly on the ropes. We need to get assiduously effectively activated in opposition. I wish I had the elegant and decisive answers as to what, how, where, and when, but alas I don’t. Hedges’ final paragraph solutions are laudable in the long term, but amount to broad generalizations with no articulation of strategy to bring them about. Hedges final comments nevertheless do provide a spark or two for a badly needed strategic dialogue within the concerned community.

    In the interim, we can no longer rely on the courts to protect our government from infestation by fundamentalist religious doctrine and agenda. Not with the likes of Iatola Scalia, no-standing Thomas, and other social conservative revisionists cluttering up the Supreme Court bench. For the past twenty years or so the Court’s track record regarding establishment clause law has been hideously pro biblical. And neither can we trust our legislators to honor their sworn obligation to uphold the Constitution, that is, not without bringing considerable counter pressure to bear. Regarding this, the well worn saying about “take care of the little things and the big things will take care of themselves” has some practical application. For example, (taken from an Americans United for Separation of Church and State action alert) Rrepresentative Eddie Johnson from Texas has introduced House Resolution 1593, which “supports standards that guide curriculum development, instruction, and assessment in classrooms that are developed by experts and not subject to political biases.” This is a critical long term culture war issue involving the integrity of education in our public schools, which the religious conservatives tirelessly work to compromise. Texas has lately been the prime battleground and the main incentive behind Resolution 1593. It may not seem like much, but the simple act of contacting one’s congressman and urging support for defensive measures like this or urging other legislation that will protect the integrity of government and its laws is one tangible tool we have at our immediate disposal. A link to the text of Resolution 1593 can be accessed at:

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