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This book has attempted to prove that the leadership of the mainline Christian church has established a Religious Left which it leads and finances. It has attempted to prove that the main tenets of the Religious Left are an irrational faith in disarmament, suspicion of American intentions and culture, disapproval of the free enterprise system, and a belief in the goodness of many Marxist-Leninist governments. If that premise is accepted, the question then becomes why the Religious Left chooses to believe these things.In attempting to examine this matter, several theories are presented. Each was chosen because it has something in it which seemed relevant to the authors. No one theory can hold the whole truth, and some presented here probably hold less than others. Humanity is complicated and answers are elusive, especially when the subject is motivation. "Why?" is the oldest question on earth, the most fascinating, and sometimes the least answerable. Humanity's curse and most distinguished characteristic is that it acts both from the basest and the most saintly of motives. Moreover, there are ten thousand motives for ten thousand persons, even if they are involved in the same political movement.
Nonetheless, it is essential to understand - or attempt to understand - the Religious Left's various motivations. It is useless and futile to merely disagree with this faction, or anyone for that matter, without understanding how they arrived at their conclusions. Argument without understanding tends to lead to stalemate or, worse, name-calling and misleading categorization; it rarely changes anyone's mind. Explanations are not excuses. But at the same time, an attempt at understanding and compassion are sometimes necessary to achieve real change. Unless those attempts are made, there can be no dialogue. Blind dislike also makes it difficult to counter opposing strategies. Labeling someone a Marxist, or other pejorative, rarely helps matters, especially when that person is operating from another premise altogether.
Finally, anything which adds to our knowledge of humanity is valuable, for we are all human. There is no possibility that exists in others, including the Religious Left, which does not exist in us all. It is possible to cry, "I beseech ye in the bowels of Christ, think that ye may be mistaken,"1 and still recognize our commonality.
This chapter, then, will first examine why a spiritual vacuum appeared in the Christian world, then examine possible motivations for the appearance of the Religious Left. These include the search for meaning, insecurity, alienation from American culture, the secularization of American society, personal instability, self-destructiveness, anger, a tendency for Americans to embark on idealistic crusades, and simple self-interest.
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In The Beginning
First, before mainline Christianity was diverted from its traditional course something happened - theologians discarded traditional Scriptural interpretation. Since Scripture is the foundation of Christianity (the primary way in which the will of God is revealed to humanity), a deep vacuum appeared in the Christian world. The initial process began with the appearance of German "higher criticism" of the nineteenth century - a method of studying Scripture which tends to deny the reality of the supernatural world and ends in rejecting (as unhistorical) miracles and many fundamental Scriptural events.
Author and sociologist Peter Berger explains the acceptance of this and similar liberal philosophies as the rise of a liberalism whose concern is the adjustment of Christianity to the modern world view. Its major result, he believes, has been the "progressive dismantling" of the supernatural foundations of the Christian tradition. Berger believes that liberal theology begs the respect of secular intellectuals whose ideas are accepted as binding. "In other words, Protestant theologians have been increasingly engaged in playing a game whose rules have been dictated by their cognitive antagonists." This has left Christian theology nothing but "hollow rhetoric."2
This theological vacuum soon spread to the seminaries - the very places in which Christian clergy learn the intellectual foundation of their faith. A United Methodist seminary, one graduate said in a recent interview, questions faith, questions "everything from the Virgin Birth to the Divinity of Christ." This method is used, he said, to force students to find out what they believe for themselves. The seminary, true to the traditions of the German theologians, does not encourage students to take Biblical events literally.
During his last semester, the student (now a minister,) said he and thirty of his fellow-students were asked to write a paper explaining what they believed as Christians. Each student wrote something different. The minister said the main thing he learned at seminary was liberal theologian Paul Tillich's main theme: "God forgive me, I'm a sinner, I could be wrong, I don't know all the answers."3
As a result of this method of teaching, one which encourages doubt and questioning, the clergy naturally questions. So much so that in many places in which traditional Christianity is still valued the clergyman has become the "spiritual and psychological outsider in the denomination."4 One young pastor recently explained that he does not dare tell his congregation what he really believes because they would assume he was guilty of heresy. In these circumstances it is not surprising that the denominations are fast losing membership. If the clergy do not adhere to their faith, it is unlikely their members will be fervent.
Many of the liberal clergy have subsequently become denominational bureaucrats. This is not to say that all denominational bureaucrats are dropout liberal clergy, not even a great percentage. But Christian clergy have set the tone and intellectual atmosphere for their bureaucracies. If the clergy does not believe in orthodox Christianity, it is unlikely that its officials will be any different. And because all faiths tend to enforce orthodoxy, even if at times it is the orthodoxy of unorthodoxy, people who believe differently are not welcomed into its ranks. Bureaucracies tend to hire people with like ideas, and pastors often insist their colleagues accept the liberal ideal.
A good example of this lies in the phenomenon of orthodox clergymen who are outsiders shunned among their peers.5 There are conferences within the United Methodist Church which are reluctant to take graduates of Asbury Theological Seminary, a conservative school. Moreover, many Protestant seminaries which have obviously taken sides are reluctant to hire professors who graduated from conservative schools, a practice which keeps most seminaries and serninarians on the liberal straight-and-narrow.
This tactic worked better in the past than it does today. although the church is still living with an antiorthodox mandate. Theology's liberal conformity is no longer accepted by dissidents. Instead of producing uniform views, it has created an open rift between liberals and conservatives which has divided both the mainline churches and Roman Catholicism.
The Vatican is highly conservative under the leadership of Pope John Paul II, but a majority of American leadership, including many priests and nuns, are extremely liberal. This situation has led to constant friction between local leadership and Rome. The Episcopal and Presbyterian churches have also seen strain. Some of their congregations have broken off and formed separate denominations.
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The Search For Meaning
If we assume that religious liberalism has taken its toll and some Christian leadership has lost its traditional faith, the question then becomes why it transferred its allegiance to another philosophy. Psychologist Viktor Frankl has provided a possible answer. He believes that humanity's greatest drive is its search for meaning, rather than the fulfillment of drives and instincts. When that will to meaning is frustrated, people experience "existential frustration," a "man's concern, even his despair, over the worthwhileness of life." When existential frustration occurs, Frankl points out, people often compensate by striving for power, material wealth, or pleasure.6
This is an easy theory to believe. If it were not so, the thousand different creeds and ideologies which mankind has fought over throughout recorded history would never have come into existence; food, sex, and social relationships would have sufficed.
It is also highly probable that persons who have sloughed off their previous, deeply held beliefs (their meaning) would transfer their allegiance to another philosophy instead of more transitory pleasures.
This is particularly true of idealistic and searching Americans, regardless of their religious persuasion. Alexis de Tocqueville, who saw deeper into the American soul in 1835 than anybody since, said that Americans display a "secret disquietude" and "restlessness" that is produced by a lack of boundaries. Everything is possible, thus everything must be tried; therefore content becomes much more difficult.7 It is reasonable to assume that this sort of institutional "disquietude" makes it more necessary for Americans to find something substantial on which to base a life.
Frankl cited a statistical survey conducted by Johns Hopkins University that proves this point. After forty-eight American colleges were studied, he said, the sociologists found that the goal of 78 percent of all surveyed students was "finding a purpose and a meaning to my life." A statistical survey among Frankl's European students demonstrated that 25 percent felt an "existential vacuum." Among his American students, however, it was 60 percent.8
Should Frankl's theory apply to America's Religious Left, however, it still does not explain why errant Christians turned to radical Politics to discover their meaning. What appealed? Why was it utopianism which in turn engendered sympathy for Marxist-Leninist societies? What determined that particular choice instead of, for instance, conservative politics or even a belief in science as savior, the secular faith of the nineteenth century?
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Insecurity And Isolation
One answer may be that the religious elite feels alienated and isolated, as apparently does much of the rest of Western civilization. The American founding fathers asserted that all men are born equal and the rights of humanity are given by God, not the state. Those ideas were the beginning of democracy as we know it, a freedom which encourages total individual decision-making. In Escape from Freedom, Erich Fromm asserted that this freedom allows individuals to shape their lives as they will, without limit. There are no authorities who force their belief system, their politics, or a preferred way of life on individuals. The same freedom which allows people to grow and choose their way of life, however, also means that many people feel isolated, insecure, powerless, and insignificant. They are swamped with doubts concerning the meaning of their lives."9
As a result of these feelings, Fromm said, many humans long to submit to an authority stronger than themselves. They feel the need for "relief from uncertainty, even if it deprives an individual of his (her) freedom."10
The need for authority was not always present in the West. Although the mercantile and feudal systems of the Middle Ages (many features of which persisted in some form until the end of the eighteenth century) did not provide even basic subsistence for much of the population of Europe, Fromm asserted, there were great compensations. Work was personal. The craftsman made products and sold them to people he or she knew. While guilds refused to allow their members to compete against each other for more profit, they also provided security for their members. While occupations were foreordained by the social order and family tradition, thus robbing the individual of freedom, there was never the anxiety of choosing what to do with one's life."11
Fromm believed that the West has allowed free enterprise to become an impersonal system. It uses individuals as cogs in its "vast machine of distribution," he believed, thus robbing them of a personal relationship to their work. He believed it also forces individuals to sell "themselves" in their work, a result of needing others for employment and profit. This has falsified humanity's relations with each other, he believed, producing alienation, unconscious hostility, anxiety, and the inability of people to understand their feelings.12
Some sectors of Christianity, Fromm thought, furthered the process of isolation. The Roman Catholic Church of the Middle Ages stressed the dignity of man, free will, the value of humanity's efforts, the resemblance between God and His creatures, and humanity's right "to be confident of God's love."13
But Protestantism, he believed, has forced humanity to face God alone. It can no longer depend on the intervention of the church. Protestantism freed humanity from its dependence on the church's authority and put the responsibility of spiritual welfare on the individual - principles which many believe encouraged the development of democratic capitalism. But Martin Luther and John Calvin, Fromm said, also stressed the powerlessness and personal insignificance of the individual. He believed this feeling has persisted in Western culture.14
It is worth mentioning here that the word heard most frequently uttered by both the Left and the Religious Left is "solidarity." It is a word that is used as a pledge to countries and organizations already ruled by Marxists-Leninists, such as "we must show our solidarity with Nicaragua, or Angola, or the African National Conference," and the most familiar word used to describe radical functions. There are solidarity conferences, solidarity marches, and solidarity groups.
Solidarity means, according to the dictionary, "a union of interests, purposes, or sympathies among members of a group; fellowship of responsibilities and interests."15 It is a word whose meaning and purpose has natural appeal for people who feel isolated.
Fromm did not advocate the destruction of capitalism or Protestantism. He admired the advances humanity made with the help of free enterprise. He saw it as an exchange. Free enterprise provides the way in which humanity can acquire the freedom it needs to develop into complete individuals. At the same time, it takes a security (solidarity) from those same individuals which many of them are still trying to regain. Fromm, who wrote Escape from Freedom in 1941, saw the resulting danger as allegiance to fascism, the power which would remove doubt and anxiety. In the latter part of the twentieth century, however, he would probably fear Marxism-Leninism.16
If we assume that Fromm is correct, much of Western society is doubtful, fearful, insecure, and hostile. If we assumed that humanity's (including the restless Americans) greatest driving force is to find a meaning which will explain its life, then those two theories correlate. One,explains the doubt. The other explains the drive that seeks the answer. Neither theory should be true, of course, of Christians, or other groups who have rooted their lives in a faith which explains the world for them and provides an answer to life's anxieties.
If those who have been securely rooted lose their faith, however, it is Psychologically necessary to take on another. This is particularly true when faced with the isolation which modern society imposes. A
traditionally faithful person is not prepared to live without belief and cannot live comfortably without the security which the faith has provided. It is difficult enough to live with the normal insecurity which accompanies modern existence - to have a measure of security through a religious creed, then lose it, is comparable to finding oneself orphaned.
The belief system of the Religious Left offers an ideal alternative to the traditional Christian belief system. Working for heaven on earth is similar to working for salvation in the life to come. Both belief systems are other-oriented, idealistic, and give meaning to life.
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Correlating with Fromm's theories are observations made by Paul Hollander, who in Political Pilgrims astutely documented the travels of Western intellectuals to Marxist-Leninist countries. The travelers, Hollander found, inevitably admired those societies despite having every rational reason to be horrified. They ignored the suppression of the population, the poverty, and the total lack of intellectual freedom. He attributed their will to believe to their corresponding alienation from Western culture.
A large part of that alienation, he wrote, has its roots in the demand by intellectuals that their culture fulfill their need for belonging and pervasive meaning. Much of the societal criticism which follows their subsequent discontent stems from the ability of intellectuals to openly criticize their culture and the prestige they gain when they do so.
Alienation is also due to the psychological difficulties of living in "complex, mobile, and bureaucratized urban societies" which produce isolation, impersonality, and weakened social ties. That was precisely Fromm's point.17
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But Hollander also attributed alienation to "the shattering effects of secularization," which have been manifested in the destruction of values which make life meaningful. Hollander quoted author Richard Lowenthal's statement that secularization produces anxiety which "is the direct root of the desperate readiness to look for the missing certainty in a doctrine that expresses a belief in secular salvation in a rationally disguised form. . . ."18
There is no doubt that this secularization has taken place in the United States. It is true that there seems to be a significant upswing in religious belief. At the same time, there is also a significant lack of religious observance in the public square. De Tocqueville observed in 1835 that on Sunday, everything in American stopped except church. ". . . on the seventh day of every week the trading and working life of the nation seems suspended; all noises cease."19 This is no longer the case.
If it is true that secularization is one reason that intellectuals have sought meaning in countries governed by Marxist-Leninist regimes, then we can assume that loss of faith in traditional Christianity by the very people who have chosen to live out its meaning would have doubly shattering effects.
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The Search For Certainty
In light of Fromm and Hollander's assertions, it is possible that under the overt assumptions of the Religious Left lie unconscious motives - an unexpressed belief that if its politics are successful, a great force will take control of mankind, eliminating the insecurity and doubt which have plagued it for so long.
Most Christian radicals deny working on behalf of Marxism or totalitarianism, and they are telling the truth. Most Christian radicals do not consciously desire totalitarianism to be visited upon themselves or the world. But after the acceptance by almost all of Western culture concerning the existence of the unconscious mind, it is unreasonable for any educated person to say, "I support this end with my actions, but my actions are not indicative of my meaning."
If church leadership weakens national defense by charging that the United States is at fault in the arms face, advocating unilateral disarmament in the face of a menacing enemy who would most certainly take full advantage of any such situation, then that leadership has worked against the nation's interests. If church leadership attacks a democracy's allies while ignoring or supporting its enemies, constantly attacks the integrity of the nation and its economic system, then that leadership has worked on behalf of that nation's enemies. To then protest its patriotism (or innocence of intent) gives lie to everything science knows about the human psyche.
This does not mean that radicals understand, even unconsciously, the true results of totalitarianism. As Fromm pointed out, humans sometimes see the all-knowing authority as a relief from uncertainty and the loss of freedom as a necessary sacrifice for this end. The unconscious is not aware that the relief from uncertainty will never make up for the loss of freedom.
Humans seem, Fromm asserts, to be in a difficult situation. They do not want uncertainty and isolation, but using an all-powerful authority to end that isolation does not work. human existence and freedom are from the beginning inseparable . . . for the fact of his (human) separateness cannot be reversed; it is an escape from an unbearable situation which would make life impossible if it were prolonged."20
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Carl Jung also had a theory which could apply to Christian radicals. In The Undiscovered Self he wrote that "Everywhere in the West" exist subversive minorities who are mentally unstable and, " sheltered by our humanitarianism and our sense of justice," are ready to light the "incendiary torches." The only thing that stops them, he said, is the reason of the stable portion of the population. Jung believed that the stable portion will not always prevail because most people are not knowledgeable enough about others, or their own state of mind and belief system, to deal with the situation.21
The "incendiaries," Jung said, are dangerous because their mental state is that of a "collectively excited group ruled by affective judgments and wish fantasies." Their ideas are dangerous to the general population because they appeal to the resentful and collectively irrational.22
It is certainly true that the ideas of the Religious Left appeal to the resentful because they are based in a have-have not mentality. According to the radical Christian, the poor are poor because no one will give them their human rights and the Third World nations are poor because the West has robbed them of their natural resources. As we have seen in previous chapters, these assertions are untrue. They can be characterized as affective judgments and wish fantasy in the sense that the radical's belief system is a result of their need for political ground on which to base a bid for power.
All power is based on some belief which will attract followers. The success of that power bid depends on how much the philosophy appeals to the culture. Radical philosophy does not appeal to most Americans. However, it does appeal to what Peter Berger has characterized as "The New Class" - which consists of those that derive their livelihood from the "knowledge industry." This includes the media, teachers, bureaucrats, and their "centers of power," the universities and foundations. With the help of those who approve and distribute Religious-Left ideas, it seems to have much more power than is based in reality.23
The Left does not seem to hold an incendiary torch for our culture - although it showers American society with its stern disapproval and works to weaken its defense structures - but it certainly seems to hold one for others. Violent struggle by Marxist-Leninist revolutionary armies, as we have seen, is inevitably supported by the American rnainline church. This support usually manifests itself as constant verbal tirades against whatever government the Marxists-Leninists are attempting to destroy. The most recent example of this has been the activism against the government of El Salvador and South Africa.
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Another possible answer lies with the urge toward self-destruction often felt by those who do not feel they can escape unhappiness or find their meaning. That theory could explain why church radicals spend as much time attacking their own culture and government as they do. If culture, or the nation, is the expression of the collective self, destroying either or both is one method for destruction of the individuals who live within.
Hollander gives a fine example of such self-destructive urges in the life of radical author Scott Nearing. Nearing rejected America (except to live here). He embraced nearly all Marxist-Leninist societies, going so far as to defend the Soviet invasion of Hungary by arguing that the rebels who had tried to free themselves from Soviet rule were really disgruntled ex-landowners. Nearing, however, must not have been the fool he seemed because he was quoted as explaining that "if the Communists took control in this country (he) would be one of the first to be executed."24
Many psychiatrists believe that humans have, to a greater or lesser degree, a death wish as well as an instinct for self-preservation. One instinct sometimes becomes predominant according to the circumstances of a person's life. If a personality has been disappointed and hurt in life, or is simply afraid of it, that person becomes self-destructive and destructive of others. In the extreme this attitude is quite repulsive, as exemplified by the Spanish General Millan Astray whose favorite motto was "Viva la muerte!" (Long live death).25
Attitudes toward others and attitudes towards self are parallel, Fromm believed. But he pointed out that while people are often conscious of their hostility against others, hostility against the self, except in "Pathological cases," is unconscious and is expressed in "indirect and rationalized forms."26
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A simpler explanation for religious radicalism could lie in simple human anger which has directed itself against the most convenient object. Hollander cites author David Potter's observation that anger is often emotionally generated and does not recognize its source. It is therefore not specifically directed toward an object. It is free-floating and ready to express itself aggressively against anything not protected by superior strength or taboos. Thus, ". . . the degree of discontent in any society is not necessarily correlated to the degree of injustice or evil in the institutions of the society. . . . "27
We have already established that the main assertions of the Religious Left are based on the struggle between the haves and have nots. The haves (the United States and Western society in general) are allegedly haves which have stolen the goods of the Third World and will not provide a decent living for the poor Of the First World due to greed and callousness.
Both of those messages are messages of anger, and are completely opposite of the whole thrust of Christianity. Christ said, "'Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul and with all thy mind.' This is the first commandment. And there is a second like it: 'Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.' The, whole of the Law and the Prophets depends on these two commandments."28
When Christ said these words He was quoting the Old Testament (Deuteronomy, chapter six, verse five and Leviticus, chapter 19, verse 18). Those verses state, in effect, that the old law and the new which Christ brought for humanity were both based on the same thing: love from which all other action should stem. Christ did not say the Poor are favored, or that resentment and anger toward the wealthy and powerful is justified.
It is possible to argue many things based on Biblical passages. But any argument that ignores the basic thrust of the Christian doctrine of love and forgiveness, or uses individual passages which are taken out of context to validate an attitude which is anti-Christian, is a false argument.
There are no such things as institutions apart from the people who compose them. If we accept that the bureaucracy and leadership of the church display angry attitudes, we must accept that those people are angry.
Hollander strengthened this argument when, citing one explanation of intellectual criticism of Western society, he said that the critics project their individual problems on society, seeking scapegoats for personal grievances, and "blur the boundaries between the personal and social spheres and problems."29 They vent their discontents and anger on society instead of facing the internal problem. That tendency is strengthened, Hollander suggested, by our society's urge to "politcize" what used to be considered personal problems. Two examples of this, he said, are sexism and homosexuality.30
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Childhood Anger as Political Influence
Human anger flows from many sources, but the most prevalent is childhood experience. The anger that begins in childhood is often unconsciously taken into adult life and shapes all attitudes, including those which are political. People who seem to have firm intellectual attitudes toward political questions are often motivated by unresolved childhood conflicts.
Good examples of this on the American scene are black leaders who give vent to their hatred of America based on alleged political beliefs but are actually acting on (justified at the time) childhood feelings of rejection and persecution. When a black leader goes to Cuba and throws his arms around Fidel Castro, that leader is probably not saying he really approves of Castro or totalitarianism. He is saying that the enemy of his enemy is his friend. Or perhaps he is simply sending a message home: I will not forget . . . or forgive.
It makes little difference that the United States has changed drastically since that leader was a child and that no one in this country is proud of the historic repression of blacks. The emotional life of that leader has never recovered from his initial experiences, and it has shaped all of his subsequent attitudes.
A perfect example of anger expressed in the political arena is that of Commandante Tomás Borgé, Nicaragua's minister of the interior and the head of its secret police. Borgé's rebellion against Somoza and his subsequent Marxism-Leninism can be directly traced to his anger against his mother. He has described his mother as a "social climber," who tried to force him into becoming a priest in order to boost her standing in the community. She tried, be said, to control him to an unhealthy degree.31
Borgé said his mother did not allow him to indulge in activities in which other boys were allowed to participate, things as minor as going to the river to swim or going to the movies. "When I was 13, I rebelled Completely," he told one reporter. "From then on, I went against my mother's will."32 About the same time he became involved with anti-Somoza activities, which led to imprisonment at least twice. By the time he was sixteen he was "totally committed."
In an interview Borgé jointly gave with other Sandinistas, Borgé said, "It almost doesn't matter that I grew up in the kind of family where my another once told me, when I was just beginning to have my political awakening, 'The day you become a Communist, I will fall over dead."' Borgé said, "And I told her . . . well, I better not tell you what . . . 33
"FATHER CARDENAL: Go ahead - what did you tell her, Tomás?
"BORGÉ: I told her that I would not be blackmailed by her gentleness and her naiveté and that I was a Communist. Needless to say, she did not fall over dead."34
Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega is another such example. His father was the product of a liaison between his rich father and the housemaid. The illegitimate birth caused such a scandal in the family that the maid was forced to leave the household without her son. Daniel Sr. grew up an "outcast" who felt "rejected, discriminated against." Daniel Sr. eventually left his rich father's house to make his own life and during the same period began supporting Augusto Cesar Sandino - the Nicaraguan hero and rebel who fought to expel American Marines from Nicaragua. Ortega Sr. was subsequently jailed and tortured by Anastasio Somoza Garcia, the first Somoza in power.35
By the time Daniel Jr. was born, the family was in financial straits, Daniel Sr. having lost a job at the formerly U.S.-owned La Esmeralda gold mine. The family later became prosperous, but Ortega, encouraged by his father and brothers, joined the leftist movement. In the late 1960s Ortega went on to bank robbery and assassination.36 There were real and compelling reasons to rebel against Somoza. However, in this particular case, it is easy to trace the rebellion back to a family grievance which was passed on from father to son.
Ortega did not use the product of his anger, the success of the revolution, wisely. He now suppresses the same people he helped liberate. His grudge against the rich was also made evident in 1979, after the revolution was triumphant. A few days after Somoza was overthrown, Ortega appropriated the house of fellow Somoza opponent Jaime Morales (estimated cost, $300,000), as well as all its contents. When Morales's wife went to her former house to discuss the situation, Ortega's mistress answered the door wearing one of the Morales family's bathrobes.37
As Arthur Koestler put it: "A faith is not required; it grows like a tree. Its crown points to the sky; its roots grow downward into the past and are nourished by the dark sap of the ancestral humus. . . . The psychiatrist is apt to forget that smooth adjustment to a deformed society creates deformed individuals. The reformer is equally apt to forget that hated, even of the objectively hateful, does not produce that charity and justice on which a utopian society must be based."38
Koestler knew this personally as his affiliation with the Communist Party had roots which reached "back into childhood." Although his father failed at business, Koestler was still showered with gifts, which induced feelings of guilt. He developed a strong dislike for the rich because they were able to buy things without a guilty conscience. "Thus I projected a personal predicament onto the structure of society at large."39
Although there are valid reasons for political rebellion, many do begin in personal anger. It then follows that many supporters of revolution are similarly motivated.
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A much more innocent explanation ties within the American character. we as people have always been idealistic crusaders. Anyone who doubts this should meditate on the abolitionist movement, the Civil War, the prohibitionist movement, the civil rights movement, the anti-Vietnam War movement, the (active) antiapartheid movement.
All of these movements were based on the highest of ideals; but most of them were carried out by people who only examined one side of the question and did not have the patience to plot a strategy of gradual change. American zealots not only want change, they want it right now - even when immediate change brings more problems than it solves. The lone exception was the civil rights movement, which was an idea whose time was long overdue.
Yuji Aida, a professor at Kyota University in Japan, has explained how the Japanese view Americans. They are a "strange, inexplicable" people, he wrote, citing what he sees as "naive sanctimoniousness," the tendency to look at issues only in shades of black and white, a "tunnel vision" which is forced on others. "Once Americans get a bee in their bonnet, they are convinced they are absolutely right." Aida cited the drive for a Equal Rights Amendment, the movement for racial equality, amnesty for illegal aliens, and the fight against whaling as "hysterical."40
Aida's choice of movements to characterize the hysteria he perceives is debatable, but his view of the American character is insightful. He was just as insightful about the Japanese character. His countrymen are skeptical and opportunistic, he said, American's opposite. "We know all about ideals, but to us they are merely the face we show others, We have no intention of defending them to the end. And we do not become missionaries. We leave that to young hotheads, eccentrics and fanatics." Aida also added hypocrisy to his list of Japanese characteristics.
As Aida inadvertently pointed out, all nationalities are not similarly idealistic and prone to crusades. But Americans are, and we do frequently indulge ourselves. Many American Christians undoubtedly turn to radical politics for this reason. Clark Pinnock, one such idealist who became involved in the Sojourners movement, later explained his turn toward radicalism as having had a dream, "a utopian dream for a society of brotherhood and peace; a society with equality and justice for all. . . . We believed that corrupt capitalistic society had to be totally dismantled, and replaced by a more humane order based on love and simple living."41
Because America seemed to represent the world's violence, racism, and materialism, Pinnock said, America became "our nightmare." Pinnock said he did not realize at the time how much the revolt against American values was a revolt against his, and his Political ally's, position in the advantaged class. Since the system was evil, they hated those who were successful. Since they were successful, they hated themselves. "Radicalism served to take away the guilt I felt for being born into a secure and comfortable middle class home and nation."42
Thereafter, socialism was "embraced," Pinnock said, and corporate America, Washington foreign policy, and industrialization were attacked. Marxist-Leninist societies were also praised, and all blame for the world's ills was placed on the United States.
The radical evangelicals accepted an Anabaptist theology to help them justify this stance, Pinnock said. It taught that America was "a fallen order" with which Christians could not compromise. One of its firmest beliefs was that violence was wrong at any time, and it emphasized the necessity for utopian communities. Pinnock said he did not believe, at the time, that his viewpoints were political, but theological.
Pinnock said he renounced radical politics after having noticed that there were things in democracies that are positive and worthy of support. "Gradually it dawned on me," Pinnock wrote, "that I had been misperceiving the world. . . ."43
It is probable that many people now involved in radical politics have also accepted an Anabaptist theology and misperceive the world. Many of Pinnock's former beliefs sound very much like the attitudes espoused by the current Religious Left, and many of them may be based on similar misperceptions.
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Hypocrisy And Self-Interest
It is possible, when searching for truth, to look too deeply into the human psyche. Sometimes the answer is on the surface, or is entwined with things we already know about human nature. For instance, many people hold untrue or illusionary beliefs about themselves because it is easier and more comfortable for them to do so than face the truth.
There are Christians who cheat on their business partners during the week and the Internal Revenue Service on April 15, but choose to believe themselves righteous because they piously attend church every Sunday. On the same note, it was once fashionable for members of the political Left to work in Cuba's sugar cane fields at harvest - a gesture which undoubtedly made the two-week peasant feel self-sacrificing, revolutionary, and part of a greater whole.
The Rev. Isaac Rottenberg was on the staff of the National Council of Churches in the 1960s and 1970s. He has accused the National and World Council of Churches of working for their own self-interest and of repeatedly displaying "a spirit of partisanship and power politics that contradicts their claims and that eventually must lead to the charge that the ecumenical ship is sailing under false colors."44
Rottenberg said that during the years in which he served as chairman of the executive committee of the NCC's Office on Christian-Jewish Relations, "the political infighting between the various offices was fierce (as is the case today). But open personal confrontation for the purpose of honest dialogue was carefully avoided. Why? Because the interest in scoring political points by passing certain resolutions at Governing Board meetings was greater than the interest in speaking out of a common faith."45
Rottenberg said people at the NCC want "more than anything else" to be perceived as "prophetic, as people who question conventional wisdom as well as entrenched institutions." Rottenberg points out, however, that the prophetic spirit must be informed by the "Protestant principle," which implies self-criticism.46
Unfortunately, Rottenberg has observed a siege mentality in the ecumenical movement (of which the NCC is the primary component). He has predicted that if dissent continues being viewed as "bad faith and when criticism is automatically seen as a surrender to 'the Right,' the inevitable result will be a movement that is isolated from its own constituents, estranged from American society, insecure about its position and increasingly strident toward those who are perceived to be 'the enemies.'"47
It is valuable to remember that institutions are sometimes caught in traps of their own making. They take extreme positions from which it is difficult to retreat or simply identify those positions with the institution itself. Thus, any retreat to a more popular stance is identified with the death of the institution. Moreover, the more numerous the staff of any institution, the more difficult it is to gain a consensus for change. This may be the trap in which the National Council presently finds itself.
So, why does the Religious Left identify itself with totalitarians? Why does it seemingly work against its country's interests? There is no one answer. It is important to remember, however, that people are Psychological beings before they are anything else. The source of human attitudes and beliefs is rarely based totally in the intellect. If a person believes absurd things,it is generally not because that person has been tricked, or is stupid, but because that person wants to believe. There is a reward for believing the absurd thing that is not available when facing the truth.
Unfortunately, it is also rare for someone who has worked for mistaken causes and believed false concepts to recant. Such courage is unusual.
Therefore, argument and presentation of facts will not change a majority of the Religious Left. The only way in which its influence on the church can be lessened is to stop its funding or remove its leadership from positions within the denominations.
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The Betrayal of the Church Copyright © 1986 by Edmund W. Robb and Julia Robb. Published by Crossway Books, a division of Good News Publishers, Westchester, Illinois 60153
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