Re: Religion and the Sixties (multiple responses)

Marty Jezer (
Thu, 29 Oct 1998 22:04:18 -0500

In response to Richard Manning.

My apologies, it was I who wrote the screed. Your posting brought to mind
the many many times I've heard fellow leftists say, "the US is the most
sexist, homophobic, violent, repressive and most environmentally
destructive society on earth" and then blame capitalism or our
Judeo-Christian heritage for everything. I was responding to that
recollection more than your thoughtful posting -- and responding more with
emotion than with serious thought.

Rather than comment on each of your points (which I can't -- you've done
serious study, I haven't) I'll make this (hopefully) brief response to mark
out the areas where I think we differ and which may, I would hope, stir
some discussion.

I've no argument that J-C has caused great destruction throughout history.
I truly believe that religious fundamentalism is the greatest threat to our
future right now, though I do appreciate that in many cases the
fundamentalists have a righteous grievance against the moral breakdown of
secular society. They've a grievance but not a solution -- and what they
think is a solution is the main problem.

Still, I would argue 1) that other cultures and other religions have had
and do have destructive stains as virulent (though not, perhaps,
technologically efficient) as J-C cultures.

The tribal massacres in Africa; Pol Pot; the ancients wars between Vietnam
and China (that predate the French/US invasions); the masacres in
Indonesia, Timor, the brutality in Burma, what seems to be going on in
North Korea, etc. is pretty horrific stuff.

One could argue with some validity that the west (J-C culture) is the cause
of many of these. Certainly western imperialism has upset natural
evoluionary harmonies the world over. But certainly J-C can't entirely be
blamed for the brutality of it all.

Tribalism and its religious equivalent, fundamentalism, with its fear and
hatred of "the other," seems to exist in all cultures, no matter how
moral-sounding the theologies. It's the universal fear of "the other" that
is I believe, a primary cause of violence the world over.

My second point is that all cultures and religions seem to bring forward a
humanistic resistance. Thich Nhat Hanh comes to mind in Vietnam. But in
the U.S., the southern civil rights movement (possibly the most progressive
force in the last half century along with the South African ANC) was
Christian based. It was Catholic nuns who woke this country up to American
complicity in El Salvador. It was not just the Berrigans who stood up
against the US in Vietnam. Good people from a lot of religions took risks
to end th war, and their courageous stands emerged out of their own
religious traditions. Yes, they are or were a minority and were usually
struck down by their insitutionalized leadership. But they were important,
they had influence, and they are linked in their humanity (if not their
theology) to dissident religious activists the world over.

The Catholic Church expresses the complexity of this subject. Pope John in
the 1960's was one of the most progressive and humane figures of that
period and set off liberating waves throughout the world. The current pope
is reactionary in many ways, but he's been eloquent in speaking out against
free market capitalism. Yes, the church as a whole listens only to his
sexist preachings and ignores his economic teachings, but he is out there
and his anti-capitalist
speeches come out of a J-C heritage.

So Richard: yes, the J-C heritage has caused the destruction you indicate.
But it has also spawned a humane resistance. The prorgressive Buddhists
have more in common with progressive Christians, Jews, muslims, Hindus,
etc., then they do with the dominant reactionary forces within their own
theological identities.

With respect,

Marty Jezer

Stuttering: A Life Bound Up in Words (Basic Books)
Abbie Hoffman: American Rebel (Rutger University Press)
The Dark Ages: Life in the USA, 1945-1960 (South End Press)
Rachel Carson [American Women of Achievement Series] (Chelsea House)

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