News+and+politics religion philosophy the cynic librarian: America, the New Israel?

Saturday, August 05, 2006

America, the New Israel?

The idea that America is a new Israel goes as far back as the Puritans and other religious expatriates evading religious persecution in their European homelands. The theme resonates deeply with many Americans, a large portion of whom still identify with the Judeo-Christian mythology. Recent surveys show that over 80 percent of Americans have theo-centric conception of religious life--and the Theos (god) in their conception most often is the God of Jews and Christians.

This identification itself translates into political effect. As a recent CNN poll shows, nearly 70 percent of Americans side with Israel in the present crisis created by Israel's invasion of Lebanon. Only 6 percent identify with the Islamic extremist group Hizbullah. ...

The history behind the presumptive identification with all things Israeli probably had much to do with the plethora of pro-Israeli media coverage and the films and scripts dramatizing important Jewish themes that make their way into movie theaters and on the TV screen.

Yet, again, not all of the emotional and intellectual bond felt for Israel can be ascribed to these films. They themselves build on the cultural background assumptions and narratives that have formed many Americans' consciousness for two hundred years.

In an online article, Erin Runions provides historical background on this subject, especially as it relates to a post-911 world. Writing from a feminist perspective, Runions explores the mythology of Holy War. In doing so, she provides some historical background:

As scholar of American literature Edward Ingebretsen has suggested - and his work is foundational to my argument here - the Puritan settlers' calling as a divinely favored nation was accompanied by an apocalyptic belief that evil might at any moment creep in, steal all the things held most dear, and destroy the nation.[13] Sin was warned against as that which might destroy not only the present communal life, but also the individual's afterlife. Early Americans were constantly reminded that hell and all forms of evil threatened to intrude at any moment, and of individual susceptibility to entertaining evil. For the Puritans and their successors, Ingebretsen argues, a most terrifying aspect of evil was its ability to creep into the lives of individuals or their neighbors; thus constant guard was kept against it. Interior scrutiny formed good citizens, whose good behavior banished evil and fear. He suggests that many times this scrutiny bled into real life, causing suspicion of anyone or anything different. Early preachers like Cotton Mather or Jonathan Edwards were instrumental in shaping consciousness of the invisible world and the ever-present threat of fire and brimstone. This threat of smoldering otherworldly punishment for moral corruption was even dramatized, in the case of the Salem witch hunts, in the burning of heretics.
Of course, much of this thinking is standard fare and perhaps a no-brainer for most readers. An aspect of this subject that is perhaps not as widely known is that this cultural narrative and its related bias is manipulated by US politicians to further less than honorable goals and agendas.

As the American philosopher Kenneth Burke wrote during WWII, the use of religion to promote political causes formed the core of Hitler's and Nazism's propaganda effort. Relating the current rhetoric from the Bush White House on the so-called "war on terror" to the Nazi propaganda effort from a Burkean standpoint, Robert L. Ivie writes the following:
Bush, ultimately, is a Christian man who remains rhetorically subordinated to the true God. He is a believer, not even a prophet, an ordinary, purified, and reborn man of the people, a leader of a worthy (even exceptional) nation, not a king or tyrant. He is firm in his faith and decisive in his decisions, proudly (even arrogantly) humble before God whom he worships along with his fellow citizens instead of expecting the people to worship him. He represents his people before their Lord and sends them on their holy mission. He is fallible but unbending in his basic purpose, always moving forward true to the cause, undistracted and undeterred by misguided criticism or other impediments, guided only by God, faith, and intuition. Bush’s rhetoric of evil, then, is a much purer rhetoric of religion than Hitler’s "Battle," and far more persuasive under present circumstances than any more authentic replica of Nazi rhetoric could have been. Thus, it does not quite ring true to label Bush as Hitler’s rhetorical heir, even though he qualifies as a Burkean devil. Analogies are never identities and can be misleading if they are taken as such. Bush like Hitler bends religion to rhetorical purposes but unlike Hitler never transcends religion, and thus one is ultimately shamed into silence. This is the hard lesson about Bush’s "war" on evil that Americans must somehow learn in order to recover their more nuanced democratic voice without losing their claim to faith.
While it is somewhat gratifying to think that Bush is sincere in his Christian belief--contra Hitler--it must be remembered that there's as much danger from a an unconscious demonic authenticity as there is from a more consciously demonic authenticity. Such innocence is what both Blake and Kierkegaard found to be at the heart of much Christianity--but it was an innocence that served as the basis for cruelty, death, and rapacious despair.

3 comments:

The Avid Reader said...

Interesting. Cynic, do you know anything about the identity of Joe Vialls? The contents of your article have been stipulated many times by this man. Try googling his name then have a look at the articles he's written. I initially thought conspiracy theorist, but i've since changed my mind. He's 'dead' now, but his writing is as recent as 2005.

the cynic librarian said...

Avid, I haven't heard of him before this. I tried google but have yet to find his original work. I will try a bit more, but then I need to get to this book I reading.

On conpsiracy theorists in general, I probably feel the same way you do, with the added feeling that "that way madness lies," as old Lear said. As I wrote earlier, I think the conspiracists are voicing things in a way that points to other problems that their theories tend to cover up. You might have noticed that I see many of these issues as being or an ethico-spiritual nature. That is, I think the underlying system of socio-economic realities is such in America today that so much is spectral and hidden and a thinking person is trying to make sense of all the illusions that are put up by those in power. Seeing through these illusions to something that might approach "the turth" is very very hard.

You also might have noticed that I am attracted to the apocalyptic, which one might charcaterize as conspiracist. Perhpas this reflects my anabaptist roots--who knows? As it is, I often will take time to listen to insane folks whereas others will just walk away in terror. I often find that talking with these folks gives a unique, albeit kaleidoscopic view of anxieties and despair that otherwise I might not wish to acknowledge in myself.

Czeslaw Milosz has a great series of essays called "Emperor of the Earth." In these essays he deals with some of the cranks and lunatics whose poetic and artistic work is otherwise acknowledged as great. Blake, Dostoevsky and Solvyov come most easily to mind.

As far as the religious genre of apocalyptic goes, you have to wonder how much of those wriers' were seen as conspiracist. Yet, the imagery they use is meaningful enough today to show how poerful the images they used and marshalled still can attract and affect so many people's lives.

Having said all this, I am quite skeptical of much conspiracist work. I fanything, I'd say that I try to skim edges of the great unknown that the conspiracists express so darkly and the radical epistemologies that call into question our much cherished valuation of reason.

The Avid Reader said...

Cynic, let me respond to the entirety of your post in a while. You bring an interesting perspective to the topic.

The reason i pointed out Vialls is that he is thought to have been a Mossad agent who was involved in many of the events which he covered in his books. I believe he also goes under the name of Ari Ben-Menashe, the Iranian Jewish arms dealer and Israeli agent. Anyway, trying to follow and uncover any more behind these people via the internet is often a futile exercise. But an interesting one at that.