Still on politics (and the Church)

I’m not usually much of a political animal, but my last post has set me off on a track. I first encountered radical politics first hand when I saw this daubed over a shop front in my home town of Guildford, Surrey, probably in 1967:

“Long Live The Great Victory Of The People’s Glorious Proletarian Cultural Revolution!”

I was so impressed with its banality that I committed it to memory, along with jolly chants from TV news-films of student demos in London like “Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh” or “Free, free, LSE, Free it from the bourgeoisie.”

Now you have to understand that Guildford, then, was a sleepy middle-class commuter town, in which a non-white face would have stood out. In those days it didn’t even have a university. So this message of class struggle would have been painted by well-to-do white kids (in my experience usually better off than my own non-professional family), having fun with ideology.

The truth about the Cultural Revolution, like so much of Communist history, emerged only much later:

In the violent struggles that ensued across the country, millions of people were persecuted and suffered a wide range of abuses including public humiliation, arbitrary imprisonment, torture, hard labor, sustained harassment, seizure of property and sometimes execution. A large segment of the population was forcibly displaced, most notably the transfer of urban youth to rural regions during the Down to the Countryside Movement. Historical relics and artifacts were destroyed and cultural and religious sites were ransacked.

Meanwhile, I was at the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970, when it was terrorized by gangs of anarchists under lawyer’s son Danny Cohn-Bendit and art-critic’s son Jean-Jacques Lebel (both now Establishment figures), whose slogan “Free Music for the People” changed to “Free Food for the People” once they’d ransacked the catering franchises. You can still read their complaint, on Leftist websites, that the festival “ripped off” the poor (ie middle-class teenagers) by charging £3 for 3 days of the greatest line-up of acts ever assembled. Five days, actually, but the first two days were free, even though the Maoists hadn’t yet arrived.

My subsequent time at university was slightly disturbed by the (now-revived) habit of activists not only shouting down speakers they deemed “fascist”, but claiming to speak for all students by doing so. Even later, at Medical School, a clique of ideologically pure (and invariably privately educated) students planned the purging of the medical profession on the model of Mao’s barefoot doctors. Some have gone on to do good work – but they seem to turn up with professorships and OBEs (Order of the British Empire) rather than out in the countryside in bare feet.

So perhaps radicalism was a rite of passage for the great. But the ideology they supported has, in a century, killed and brutalized more innocent people than any other in history, bar none. We should not forget that Pol Pot, like Cohn-Bendit, learned his Marxism in Paris – as did Ho Chi Minh. It was only events like the publication of Alexandr Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago that finally blew the gaff on the horrors of Marxism-Leninism amongst Europe’s academic élite. It no longer seemed quite so plausible to divide the entire world into two mutually antagonistic classes, with the only path to progress being the abolition of the one deemed to be in charge. Anything lacking in Solzhenitsyn’s persuasion was soon remedied by the Killing Fields of Cambodia.

In some countries with genuine social grievances Marxism was translated into Christian form as Liberation Theology. But whilst there was no doubt leakage from other parts of academia into seminaries, the shortcomings of Communism had always been so apparent to churchgoers here through tales of mass-persecution in Russia and China, or books like Pastor Richard Wurmbrand’s Tortured for Christ (I believe written at the house of a friend of mine in Northern Ireland), that it had little, if any, traction on mainstream and Evangelical thinking.

At worst, the sheer malevolence of the system was severely underestimated. I remember, as late as the early 1980s, a deacon of our local Baptist Church saying that organisations like Open Doors should not be supported because they broke the laws of the Soviet Union by smuggling Bibles, when she had seen for herself how churches in Moscow were full. They were full, of course, because over 90% had been closed down. Such naivety in the face of unrestrained evil is surely culpable.

But what was this? With the class struggle tarnished by the demythologization of Soviet Russia, China, Cambodia, North Korea, Laos and so many other examples, French atheist Marxist philosophers like Michel Foucault simply applied the very same polarising “class warfare” idea to other areas such as race, sexuality and gender. And despite the fact that Foucault is even more unreadable than Marx, and even more provocative in claims such as that the Marquis de Sade is one of the two most important thinkers for our times, his ideas have, astonishingly, come to dominate in the West (though not in the lands where Communism once reigned).

Foucault took the Marxist doctrine that capitalist power is exploitative of labour and transformed it into a global theory – that all power is inherently oppressive. Furthermore, wherever a “binary” can be identified, one can easily identify an oppressor (to be abolished, like the older aristocracies or kulaks) and an oppressed, who must rise up to do the abolishing. The standard “binaries” are now becoming all too well-known: white-black; heterosexual-homosexual; male-female; Christian-atheist; God-man.

Woops – I let the last one slip in, but it is, of course, the most fundamental injustice of all that there should be a God who “calls all the shots” to tread down the rights of the people. Note it for later.

Foucault also toyed with other binaries, such as “sane-insane,” in the same terms – no doubt partly with reference to his hero de Sade, whose sexual obsessions led to 32 years in mental institutions. Unjustly, in Foucault’s opinion.

This is the “Queer Theory” that explains so much of current identity-politics, victim-mentality and issues of free speech and profound legal change. Yet it is not propounded openly as the philosophy that underpins all these social phenomena. Whilst most people during the Cold War had some reasonably accurate grasp of the basic tenets of Communism that prevailed in the Eastern Bloc and threatened world domination, most ordinary people in the West have not even heard of Queer Theory, or of Foucault, even though these have set much of the political agenda in their own countries.

Queer Theory has given rise directly to “Queer Theology,” which although influential in theological academia, and by trickle-down into churches, has not usually been openly promulgated as an improved basis for doctrine, still less overtly espoused as a fusion of the authority of the Christian Scriptures with that of a French Marxist sado-masochist (of whom Noam Chomsky, himself a Marxist, said he had “never met anyone who was so totally amoral”). In this pooling of theological authority Foucault is the senior partner.

Exaggeration? No. With the failure of scholars satisfactorily to re-interpret the Bible to endorse aberrant sexual activity (an important fact), the problem very quickly becomes the Bible itself, which when subjected to the authority of the theory, becomes itself clearly patriarchal, an instrument of oppression against whatever group you like, and therefore to be set aside. Or more commonly, in theological circles, to be radically bowdlerised and re-interpreted, usually by making Jesus the cheer leader for Foucault. That, of course, is easy to do once when is no longer bound by what the Bible actually says about Jesus. How could one expect the privileged male authors of the gospels to understand what Jesus is all about?

The extreme position, even calling itself “Evangelical,” lies in those theologies that shrink away from allowing God himself to be a source of power and authority. The catch-phrase here is “self-giving love,” which is roughly to be equated with the way that a white woman can become black by identifying with “the oppressed” to the point of denying reality. God, it is argued, would be oppressive to create the world unilaterally, so explanations have to be conjured up as to how he might invite things to come into existence, whilst he himself shrinks to make room for them. And so the Promethean hatred of God’s sovereignty is justified ostensibly in terms of love, but actually in terms of a Neo-Marxist theory of power.

We will not even have Jesus among us unless he first empties himself of divinity and becomes as fallible as us – Google “Foucault” + “kenosis” (and “micromanagement” if you like) and see how great an influence he has been even on christology.

No doubt one could have much scholarly discussion about the arguments surrounding Queer Theology. But the bottom line must be, why would any Christian defer to the authority of a man whom they wouldn’t any more invite to their pulpit that they would invite Pol Pot? Why should we even give house room to a theory that denies what the word of God plainly teaches? Apart, of course, from the fact that the rest of the world seems to have been carried away with it. But:

Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them; for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light (for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth), trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them; for it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret. But all things become visible when they are exposed by the light, for everything that becomes visible is light. For this reason it says,

“Awake, sleeper,
And arise from the dead,
And Christ will shine on you.”

Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil.

So says Paul in Ephesians. Around the same time he wrote to the Colossians:

See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority…

Well, I suppose in those days philosophy was empty and merely human. But now we have Marxist philosophy, the true doctrine, as Solzhenitsyn used to say ironically. Nowadays, we don’t get deceived – except by faulty apostolic doctrine. Convinced?  It seems many of our churches are – or maybe they just don’t enough to judge wisely. As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.

Meanwhile, back at the Isle of Wight Festival

Avatar photo

About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
This entry was posted in History, Politics and sociology, Theology. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Still on politics (and the Church)

  1. Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

    Just to keep the light shining in the darkness, I guess that in recent discussions on paedophilia, in which I cited the widespread liberal support for Britain’s Paedophile Information Exchange in the 70s, I should have checked out the role of Foucault, as the fount of all things foul.

    My bad. It was Foucault, who organised a petition to the French Government in 1977 to abolish altogether the age of sexual consent. From Wikipedia:

    In 1977, a petition was addressed to the French parliament calling for the abrogation of several articles of the age of consent law and the decriminalization of all consensual relations between adults and minors below the age of fifteen (the age of consent in France). A number of French intellectuals – including such prominent names as Aragon, Foucault, Sartre, Derrida, Althusser, Barthes, Klossowski, Beauvoir, Deleuze, Guattari, Leiris, Robbe-Grillet, Sollers, Rancière, Lyotard, Ponge, and various prominent doctors and psychologists – signed the petition.

    Just look at the luminaries on that list – so many are required reading in universities today. Quite what the links were with PIE I’m not sure – probably it was just a shared intellectual culture. But PIE began in 1974 – the intellectual vogue for the abuse of children under the banner of “protecting healthy sexuality” may have begun with Kinsey, but peaked in the seventies before the backlash (and the amnesia) began.

Leave a Reply