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Eugene McCarraher at TOJ

Chris at The Other Journal has recently posted part 1 of a three-part interview with Eugene McCarraher that is definitely worth the read. So far there’s been some fascinating commentary on things ranging from evaluating the aughts to the presidency of Barack Obama and the Tiger Woods scandal.

Here’s just one quote, on conservative Christianity in the 2000s:

The 2000s was, sadly, the heyday of faith-based everything: faith-based wars (Iraq), faith-based science (“intelligent design” and global-warming denial), faith-based economics (the financial and housing bubbles, the extraordinary trust placed in a gnomic mediocrity like Alan Greenspan). And let’s be honest here: conservative Christianity, Protestant and Catholic, remains one of the leading service providers of credulity. You just can’t escape the fact that conservative religious culture leavened almost every instance of faith-based bunkum that characterized the last decade. Anyone who studies the events leading up to the invasion of Iraq knows that one of the reasons George W. Bush went to war was his belief—encouraged by neoconservatives who don’t give a damn about Christian or any other faith—that God wanted him to be some righteous warrior. Churches and synagogues around the nation sounded their tocsins for war, but the invasion received the most enthusiastic benedictions from conservative churches, all resounding with hosannahs and praise for God’s President. Even churches like the one I attend, which isn’t especially conservative, started draping the Stars and Stripes from their choir balconies. When I objected strongly to this, I was told that parishioners were demanding it. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson drooled with anticipation at the prospect of vengeance and assassination; John Hagee, Rod Parsley, and others reveled in blood-soaked eschatological visions; the Left Behind books sold millions of copies, filling the minds of readers with hateful, sanguinary orgasms of violence; theo-con journals like First Things, the religion supplement for the Wall Street Journal, ran articles about America’s providential mission in the world. Add to that the cavalier hostility to science that now makes a cretin like James Inhofe into a major player on climate policy. Very large swaths of American Christianity now compose a potent culture of resentment, bigotry, and militarism. Where, oh where, is H. L. Mencken when you need him? You can’t even begin to understand someone like Bush—or Sarah Palin, the true heir to this maelstrom of nuttery—without attending to this stew.


  1. Brad A. wrote:

    Nice. My favorite quotes: the “hateful, sanguinary orgasms of violence” in the Left Behind series, and “First Things, the religion supplement for the Wall Street Journal…”

    Tuesday, January 12, 2010 at 2:36 pm | Permalink
  2. Halden wrote:

    Read the whole interview (if you haven’t). Gene McCarraher is nothing if not a wordsmith.

    Tuesday, January 12, 2010 at 2:41 pm | Permalink
  3. JA Tyson wrote:

    “His very question indicated to me that, for a large cohort of this college generation, truth, falsehood, and evidence just don’t mean very much. “Whatever.””

    While I think this interview is spectacular and the criticism damning, to dismiss out-of-hand my generation is puzzling. I’m wondering where those ‘college generations’ who supposedly cared so much for ‘truth, falsehood, and evidence’ went?

    So, now, not only will my generation have to be custodians for Professor McCarraher’s own apparently enlightened generations disaster, we’ve already been written off as failures. Here’s one reason to be more hopeful for the coming generation than any that we have seen in a long time: we’re coming of age at a time when the logic of capital, liberalism, and the American strands of Empire have been squarely revealed as mythology. And, maybe, when our most articulate are raking leaves to pay rent instead of reading Hegel and Aquinas, we’ll happen upon some fucking truth.

    Tuesday, January 12, 2010 at 6:38 pm | Permalink
  4. Dave Mesing wrote:

    I’m not sure this is a very fair characterization of McCarraher. Granted, he ends the paragraph you quote with a sweeping generalization, but as a member of the current college generation, I don’t think he’s very far off. Do you?

    For balance, I think it’s worth noting that he handles the disappointment of some of his “brighter students” over the failed promises of president Obama with more care. With that in mind, I just don’t read him as dismissing the entire college generation out of hand. It’s something of an ass-kicking, but in my experience with several Christian college settings, I’d say it’s probably a voice that needs to be heard.

    Tuesday, January 12, 2010 at 9:13 pm | Permalink
  5. JA Tyson wrote:

    It may or may not be far off, but what does saying this accomplish? I think this college generation will find themselves in much different world than many that have come before them, and for this reason, I think his negative attitude towards this generation is unneccesary. Why shouldn’t someone as radical and eschatological as McCarraher have the hope and patience to encourage the next generation? Especially in light of the reality that this generation will likely not be the privileged global servants of liberal capitalism that his generation is. To be a Christian and a radical one at that is, to some large extent, to believe that there are possible futures that we do not see right now, that the accepted discourse and modes of action/living that dominate our society and our politics are not permanent.

    Wednesday, January 13, 2010 at 6:26 am | Permalink
  6. Gene McCarraher wrote:

    As the proud author of the remarks being maligned by JA, let me defend myself. I don’t “dismiss” the current student generation “out of hand.” Look, I teach them almost every day — they’re civil, polite, intelligent, well-intentioned people. They go on “service trips,” they attend church, they want to have happy marriages and families. But they’re also absorbed in pursuing professional success, and most of them, in my view, do exhibit what verges on a metaphysical indifference to anything unrelated to their narrowly-defined goals. I don’t “blame” them for this, exactly; that’s silly. In fact, I think many of my academic generation (I’m 50, by the way) are in large measure responsible for this, obssessed as so many have been with identity politics, postmodern exoticism, and other navel-gzing discourses. While descanting on the varieties of Otherness, they neglected to educate students in the long and stirring history of modern political hope — part of which I mentioned in the interview. My generation is indeed culpable; but that doesn’t change the fact that many of the current student generation display an almost willful dearth of political imagination that does indeed both paralyze them and open them to credulity. (It also opens them up to celebrity activism a la Bono and other shills.) I’m reporting the news as I see it; if JA differs — and I’m not sure he does all that much — then he or others in his generation have to demonstrate that they’re not as politically or imaginatively disabled as I fear they are. Believe me, I’d love to be proven wrong on this point.

    As for hope and patience, I can assure JA that I’ve got plenty of it. But hope and patience don’t preclude calling things by their names. What my intervention “accomplishes,” I think, is to, as Dave puts it, kick the ass of the coming generation. (To every thing there is a season: a time to gently encourage, and a time to kick ass.) I should also remind JA that later in the first part of the interview I say exactly what he says in his first post: that the demise of the Empire and its mythologies is an extraordinarily hopeful moment. I’m perfectly willing to see what this generation can do. I just have to say that I’m not impressed — so far.

    I certainly don’t claim any superior moral or intellectual valor for my own generation, many of whom, as JA points out, have been responsible for the mess his generation is inheriting. But while I take his point, I also think it’s limited and ultimately irrelevant. Some of us — yours truly included — aren’t “privileged global servants of liberal capitalism.” I’m a college professor, which has the one privilege of tenure — a very real and important one, to be sure, but one that I can assure JA isn’t making me rich. But I unashamedly use that privilege to undermine confidence in the system. I have no doubt that there are at least some in JA’s generation who are doing similar kinds of things — I just haven’t seen a critical mass. (To pile it on, I’m saddened and appalled by the professional obsessions of the rising academic cohort. Again, I understand it — the academic job market is awful and competitive — but the fact remains.) And besides, what previous generations did or didn’t do isn’t the issue. What is this generation going to do? One thing I can advise them — kick their asses — not to do is to think that voting for the likes of Barack Obama is going to constitute “change.”

    In the third part of the interview, I talk a lot about Fr. Herbert McCabe, the wonderful Dominican and socialists whose work I often mention to students. If JA wants some encouragement rather than ass-kicking, I recommend that he stay tuned for further epidoses.

    Wednesday, January 13, 2010 at 9:02 am | Permalink
  7. Halden wrote:

    Personally, I find the impulse to react negatively to any sort of ass-kicking to be symptomatic of the whole problem.

    Doesn’t a visceral aversion to critique kind of, you know, confirm it?

    Wednesday, January 13, 2010 at 9:14 am | Permalink
  8. JA Tyson wrote:

    Gene, thanks for the ass-kicking. It is much appreciated, we have much to learn from you.

    I also admit that my case is weakened by the fact that more remains in your interview. I look forward to reading it. I’m presently seeking to aquire more of your work.

    My frustration, or visceral aversion as Halden wants to call it, is with your tendency to ultimately construe this generation as having no rigor nor intellectual curiosity due to your interaction with some jackass, and your continual reference to this generation as responsible for producing and being solely seduced by Barack Obama. As someone who reports the news better than most, does this really tell the whole story?

    I grew up 5 minutes from Nova, I know that the type of people you and I run with are few and far between on the Main Line, I know what kind of students you interact with day to day, and I know imagining (let alone constituting) a different world is probably low on the to-do list. But, it isn’t everywhere. I’d suggest getting a bit more underground next time you give us a report.

    I’m looking forward to your comments on McCabe. Would he prefer to kick this generations ass? Or would he have the prophetic capacity to see that patience is a far more revolutionary way to engage this generation, to stoke its creative impulses, and stir it from sleep? There is a time for both, and a way to merge both at the same time. I hope the rest of your interview does that work.

    Wednesday, January 13, 2010 at 10:21 am | Permalink
  9. Halden wrote:

    JA, I hope my comment above wasn’t too dismissive. I did not intend it as such. I think, though that Gene is pointing to a very real and very broad trend among people of “this generation.” I think you’re trying to say that there are important exceptions to this trend. I’m sure Gene (and I) agree with that, though perhaps the two of you would differ as to how wide spread this identified trend of credulity and its exceptions are.

    Having said that, I guess I would just like to suggest that ass-kicking is not necessarily opposed to patience. In fact, to turn a Yoderian phrase here (via Rom Coles), I think ass-kicking is perhaps a vital form of “wild patience.” After all, ass-kicking is not assault or murder, its a form of rebuke, of chastening, of discipline. Certainly ass-kicking can reach a point where it is excessive and sadistic. But, just from my own impressions of the phenomenon under discussion, I don’t think we’re there yet.

    Wednesday, January 13, 2010 at 11:03 am | Permalink
  10. JA Tyson wrote:

    Halden, your second paragraph says in a much more sophisticated and intelligent way what I was getting at by suggest that ass-kicking and ‘wild patience’ can be merged and done at the same time. I give Gene the benefit of the doubt that that is what he really up to, I was just put off by the, as I perceived it, all too easy dismissal of ‘this generation’ as incapable of becoming something his generation failed to be.

    Wednesday, January 13, 2010 at 11:33 am | Permalink
  11. Susanna Branyon wrote:

    Who do you think is the contemporary H.L. Mencken?

    Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 5:10 am | Permalink

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