29 April 2008

It's called a "Jeremiad." Now get over it.

I'm absolutely sickened by the idiocy that rears its head in the United States with every election cycle, but the whole Rev. Jeremiah Wright story is so overblown and beside the point that I'm left utterly unconvinced that the U.S. any longer has the intelligence to continue as a democracy, given that the basis of a functioning democracy is a well-informed, educated electorate.

Preachers in the U.S. have a long history of using the Jeremiad form. It used to be and perhaps still is standard practice to have students in high school read Jonathan Edwards' "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," which dates all the way back to 1741 (and technically is a colonial rather than U.S. text, but generally it's taught in American literature). More recently, it's popped up most frequently from right-wing politico-preachers like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, the latter of whom actually made a run at the Republican presidential nomination back in 1988.

While Wright argued that the September 11, 2001, attacks on the U.S. were an example of the "chickens coming home to roost," a riff no doubt inspired by Malcolm X's very accurate description of the social unrest prevalent in U.S. cities in the 1960's, Robertson -- on his wildly popular cult television broadcast -- agreed with fellow moron Falwell that 9/11 was the result of America's moral decay. In other words, God allowed the attack to punish a society that accepted the ACLU, abortionists, feminists, gays, and the People For the American Way. Not nearly as logical as Wright's argument that U.S. foreign policy caused blowback, but in the same sense a Jeremiad.

However, it would be no balm to Wright to be excused simply on the grounds that mean-spirited, hate-mongering wack-jobs like Falwell and Robertson also harshly criticize the United States. The media has been pouncing on the catchphrase, "God damn America," and has been ignoring or casting into the shadows the rhetorical contrast he was making between the jingoistic "God Bless America" with its assumption of holy approval for the nation's actions and the nation's actual actions as regards race relations. Anyone with half an ounce of honesty would have to admit that the promises of the Civil Rights era have not been completely fulfilled, what with police commanders in Washington, DC, in 2006 arguing that Georgetown and Blacks don't mix (or more recently, last year the Washington Post found evidence of racial profiling in Georgetown and Adams Morgan...the reader comments are actually more revealing than the article).

Media outlets are too self-centered and sensationalist to treat sermons for what they are: rhetoric aimed to excite and exhort the audience to probe their situations in life. I'm not much of a defender of religion, since it is primarily used as a tool of control, but even the master's tools can be turned against the system on occasion, as with Liberation Theology and Martin Luther King's appeals to the same religious tradition that one hundred years earlier was being used to justify slavery as a "christianizing influence on the heathens."

Bottom line: all I see in Wright's sermons is basic fire-and-brimstone modern-society-is-corrupt rhetoric, and I can't figure out why the hell this story has legs, except for the very cynical explanation that the media, as Don Henley once sang, "they love dirty laundry."

9 comments:

Lonnie Bruner said...

Do you think it's going to destroy Obama's chances?

cuff said...

No...and after a short time of making hay with it, it'll look like a broken record for the Republicans in the general election. What may destroy Obama's chances (or Hillary's) is that he's not a white male. If Obama's the nominee, then I expect a Republican campaign that highlights his exotic names (esp. Hussein), his partial upbringing in SE Asia, his early drug stuff, the fact that he's Black, etc. In other words, nothing about issues and everything about character assassination playing to racists and other xenophobes.

Lonnie Bruner said...

I'm worried about McCain's idea about cutting gas taxes. Considering that most people's political philosphy simply is whether they gain or lose money, that may just give him the presidency.

Foilwoman said...

I put a link to this on DC Blogs for tomorrow. Nice post.

cuff said...

FW: Thanks. Now my dreams of media domination will soon come to fruition...

LB: Democracy founded on finance capital! Who needs rights when we have money!

Foilwoman said...

Cuff: You think you'll get a chance at global domination of any sort? Let me remind you, DestructoGirl and TigerGrrl have a lock on the dictatorship of the future, thank you very much.

cuff said...

All I know is that EJ Dionne just stole my story and printed it under his own name...
Dionne's column

sean bean said...

too bad you, EJ Dionne and the rest of the leftblogosphere are so clueless...

Falwell and Robertson and Hagee... weren't personally selected pastors of any current or previous candidate...

since NObama has NOrecord.. the rest of us can only ascertain his character by the company he keeps... Rev. Wright isn't good company...

cuff said...

Sean, Yawn. I don't give a rat's ass if Wright were still Obama's pastor...I don't think there's anything wrong with what Wright said (though he has some other strange ideas about AIDS that belong in sci-fi thrillers) -- it's perfectly within the long-standing tradition of Jeremiads in American liturgical practice.

Speaking of record, I'm wondering why no one is really talking about McCain's involvement in the Keating Five...I guess it's because our culture is pretty damn amnesiac.