Archive for the ‘neoliberalism’ Category

H/T: Lenin’s Tomb

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Both A.J. and Jeremy have written a few recent posts on the topic of evangelicalism and fundamentalism. In the various discussions, one point that has been raised (by me) is the ambiguity between the terms, and to what extent it’s fair to say that all evangelicals are fundamentalists. Further, one question that I had not voiced was to what extent labeling someone a fundamentalist is a move to simply silence them. While I don’t want to grant much validity to what comes out of many fundamentalist persons that I’ve seen/interacted with, I do think that the question of a power-move to silence-and-dismiss is worth pondering. Having said that, I don’t think that that’s what either Jeremy or A.J. is up to with their posts.

It might be because of my own position as a former insider to both the evangelical and fundamentalist camps, but I’m not sure that we’ll ever be able to get an unequivocal definition of either term. However, I’m not sure whether that’s really important, and at the risk of some hypostasizing, I’d like to alter the wind of the discussion towards political action and the potential for tangible, systemic change. I think that, for whatever kind of labels we are going to toss around, there has been a coalescing of conservative Christians over the past 40-50 years in America. I want to suggest that this movement is more powerful and more important than the particulars of theology. Granting that there are some differences between the two (ie, there are definitely evangelicals that are not reactionary/fundamentalist), what I’m suggesting is that these differences may work out to be more in degree than in kind.

Naming the political and cultural effects of this movement is one of the central aims of the excellent book The Sleeping Giant Has Awoken: The New Politics of Religion in the United States, edited by Jeffrey Robbins and Neal Magee. I found my copy of this book last night when I was doing some cleaning before the start of another new semester. I haven’t read all of the essays in the book, but those I’ve read have been insightful, and the book should be quite affordable used. Anyways, one of the most pointed essays in line with what I have been talking about is “The Cultural Logic of Evangelical Christianity” by Creston Davis and Christopher Haley.

Davis and Haley waste little words in getting to the point: both Evangelical Christianity and its self-invented Other, multiculturalism (i.e. American liberal pluralism) serve as distractions from the real; neither even account for the effects of late capitalism and the neoliberal revolution. Essentially, both offer millions a busy consumers an ideology that requires no thought, and thus is complicit with the neoliberal status quo. Instead of summarizing the entire essay, here are some especially good quotes:

In its latest manifestation, the rise of the evangelical Right in contemporary U.S. politics is described frequently as a backlash against the 1960s and its profound social and cultural changes. In actuality, the “1960s” has become the metaphor for a range of social movements that emerged in the period between the late 1950s (exemplified by the liberal Warren Supreme Court) and Ronald Reagan’s presidential election in 1981 (which was ironic in that it ousted a professed evangelical, Jimmy Carter, though Reagan was neither an evangelical nor a practicing Christian). These movements opened the possibility of new lifestyles and personal practices, critiqued American foreign and domestic policies, and examined the ways received categories of race, class, gender, and sexuality privilege certain individuals and groups while marginalizing others. These movements included civil rights, peace, feminism, gay and lesbian activism, environmentalism, anticapitalism, anti-imperialism/war, antisexism, and antiracism.

Davis and Haley, “The Cultural Logic …” New York: Continuum, 2008. pg. 69

Our use of the term “neoliberalism” to indicate the dominant logic of our age is a choice from several other related terms (“neoclassical economics,” “globalization,” “multinational capitalism”) frequently used to describe the same phenomenon. We find “neoliberalism” to be the most comprehensive term because in each case the other terms capture only certain aspects of the total socioeconomic revolution under way. … “Neoliberalism” has the benefit of capturing both the political and economic components of this global revolution while assuming neoclassical economic theory and presupposing both multinational capitalism and the determinations behind the elimination of spatial and temporal barriers that have brought about globalization.

Davis and Haly, pg. 71-72

…deep within the ideological structure of the evangelical worldview, free-market capitalism must be a part of God’s plan and cannot conflict with biblical teachings. In addition, what appears at the surface as the recent syncretism of evangelical doctrine and free-market ideology (now manifesting itself in a multination phase), is in fact a long-standing relationship of ideological support. This is the great irony of the evangelical Right that Slavoj Zizek puts forth in this book’s postface: “What moral conservatives fail to perceive is thus how, to put it in Hegelese, in fighting the dissolute liberal permissive culture, they are fighting the necessary ideological consequences of the unbridled economy that they themselves fully and passionately support: their struggle against the external enemy is the struggle against the obverse of their own position.”

Davis and Haley, pg. 73-74

The utopian ideal behind multiculturalism is simple: by leveling cultural differences on an equal playing field, society would be more tolerant and just in terms of access to political and economic resources – which is just what multiculturalism is all about: the distribution of power. Multiculturalism as a sociopolitical goal is in direct contrast to the melting-pot ideal… There is a deeper level, however, that exposes its surface truth: the inclusive logic of multiculturalism masks a power game that maintains a bourgeois, capitalist status quo.

Davis and Haley, pg. 78-79

To put it bluntly, the social and political judgment of both evangelicalism and multiculturalism must be that they are equally abject failures. Possibly worse than this, I think, is the fact that they serve as a nice, bitter bifurcation of the contemporary political landscape that isn’t helpful in regards to thinking towards alternatives. For our recent bashing of “third way” talk, it must be said that both of these options are pretty horrible, and thus we must invite a “third way forward,” although of course we could probably do well with a fourth and fifth way as well.

Roland Boer has recent made a few posts regarding more of an alliance of sorts between the religious and political Left. Towards the end of the essay, Davis and Haley allude to a materialist politics that involves mutual responsibilities in a shared community, including, ultimately, “political control of necessities of well-being mediated by an economy” (pg. 80). While I think that materialism is most likely the best common political ground for the religious and political Left, I’m not very confident that the evangelical machine is penetrable. I think what we need to see is voices within the mainstream evangelical community voice the systemic closeness of biblical justice and socialism/communism, because as metanarratives, they are much closer to each other than either is to neoliberalism. Unfortunately, it seems too pollyanna to expect such a movement to occur.

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