Political Religions

I am struck by the degree to which modern leftist thought is like religion. In Robert Jensen’s fable, a malign United States brought sin into the world and now Americans must atone and purify themselves. Granted the early European settlers and their descendants did some very bad things, but so did other people including Indians, and anyway the perpetrators are all long dead. So why should Americans of non-Indian descent, many of whose ancestors didn’t even come here until recently, atone? Perhaps what Jensen really opposes is the idea of the United States, in which case people who celebrate the country’s existence would (in his view) have something to atone for.

Buried in Jensen’s seemingly prideful remarks is a reasonable point about national myths. I think that point was much better made by Bernard Lewis in his great short book, “History: Remembered, Recovered, Invented“. As for religion, if you must have it I think that you can probably do a lot better, both for yourself and others, with a traditional belief system.

(via Instapundit)

13 thoughts on “Political Religions”

  1. Jensen’s solution is very much like all man-made religions; i.e. perpetual atonement with no assurance that it will ever be enough or that it will finally result in restoration.

  2. Seeing Instapundit’s juxtaposition I had a less philosophical response – my, how sad & hate-filled Thanksgiving must be at casa Jensen. Thanks for your perspective Jonathan.

    The old religions show us man is tainted. Sure our history is going to be made up of errata & even sins. Do you have some other history in which perfect man set forth on this continent, bathed in perfection? That’s life. We can each try to transcend this nature – with varying degrees of success. (I suspect success is lessened by those who take visions like Jenson’s too seriously, since they are so busy seeing motes in other’s eyes.) I’m not perfect, I suspect Jonathan isn’t perfect, and I’m pretty sure Jensen isn’t perfect. Neither was Columbus. This is news?

  3. Yep, for a journalism prof like Jensen, nothing good in the US for him. I looked up his home page:
    and find it strikingly funny that all our leftist friend has to complain about is massacres in the US from 150 years ago, when of course there would be no need for him and his “comrades” to atone for the two greatest massacres of all time, Mao’s China and Stalin’s Russia. And I bet comrade Jensen likes his capitalist system based paycheck he gets as well. Disgusting.

  4. Ginny has it exactly right: the important bit is transcending your history, not having a perfect history. Whether you seek condemnation or false glory in your history, you’re missing the point. It’s only if you use it as a way to judge your movement toward better things that it has meaning.

    The U.S. did eliminate slavery, opened up the vote, took down the “white-only” drinking fountain signs and continues on a path where, by its gradual improvement, its past is bound to be an embarrassment by comparison. The shame would be if it were truly as tied to its past as Jensen tries to make it.

    The wonder of the Jensen article is that even as it calls for a real understanding of history, its ideological underpinnings render history useless: if America is so permanently malign that its most needed holiday is for atonement – why not reflection?, progress is impossible and history has nothing to teach.

  5. Jensen’s self-loathing gibberish is practically a parody of Leftist thought today. Or, is it better said to be the epitome of it? The man is right to hate himself —but polite enough to do so, anyway, saving us that burden on such a pleasant day as this.

  6. The U.S. did eliminate slavery, opened up the vote, took down the “white-only” drinking fountain signs and continues on a path where, by its gradual improvement, its past is bound to be an embarrassment by comparison. The shame would be if it were truly as tied to its past as Jensen tries to make it.

    Curiously, contemporary liberals do not want the present ever to move into the past, straining mightily to maintain a status of guilty victimhood for themselves. If they weren’t so self-parodying, they might actually be a threat to something. As it is, they appeal only to persons locked within the same coccoons.

  7. My family has been traced back to the Mayflower so, according to Mr. Jensen, I am guilty of the original sin and should, therefore, in order to demonstrate “moral progress”, spend my Thanksgiving Day being hungry and feeling guilty. How convenient that Mr. Jensen’s view of history starts with the arrival of Europeans on the North American continent. Mr. Jensen, who exactly should atone for driving my ancestors to abandon their homes and families and risk their lives for the basic human rights of freedom of thought and expression? How far back must we go, Mr. Jensen? Will we have attained sufficient “moral progress” if the proverbial Eve somehow “atones” for taking a bite of the proverbial apple? Life moves on, Mr. J. I prefer to move forward with gratitude for the good things rather than sit around feeling guilty about past sins (real or imagined).

  8. You write: “As for religion, if you must have it I think that you can probably do a lot better, both for yourself and others, with a traditional belief system.” And hear hear to that. Seems to me that a lot of awfulness has resulted from people looking to politics and art for what neither field can deliver: transcendence, comfort, redemption, etc. Let’s take those religious feelings and put ’em back where they’ll do better: namely, in religion.

  9. …my, how sad & hate-filled Thanksgiving must be at casa Jensen.

    When I opened up the Houston Chronicle and saw Jensen’s little article within, a pall was cast over Thanksgiving at Schloss Schultz, too. “I should read this and savage it,” I thought, “but if I do, I’ll be vexed and ratty for days. Best to just ignore it.” Instead I cooked for four hours, and wrote a post urging holiday murder and cannibalism. I’m sure Jensen would approve.

  10. Mr. Jensen and his crowd of gloomy Shleprocks (remember him from the Flintstones, always had the thunder cloud over his head… “woe is me” he would say) are the true revisionists of history here.

    To think the portayal of the indian indigenous cultures as happy agrarian peoples leaving nothing but footprints from clear stream to wild plain is pure silliness.

    The indians were a warring people. They were separated into tribes which constantly battled for each others territory and bounty.

    The indians were anti-female. Their ways around women were as near to islam as one can find in the modern world – women were beaten, uneducated birthing machines used as property. They were literally dragged around by their hair.

    The indian culture was a drug-infested culture. They cultivated hemp – peace pipe my ass. It was precisely this reason that puritans chose to ban the weed as they saw it as a root cause of the way the indians treated their women, and their general warring nature. Hell, we still have those same laws today.

    The indian people were ill-adapted to european disease, and would have died out in the numbers given as they had no medicine per se but shaman ritual. Those not adapted do not survive.

    I’m sorry, but what happened to those people was a natural evolution of what happens to warring, drug infested, anti-values driven tribal grunting scavenging cultures. They were a leftover from an iceage, and they were doomed for all of time.

    Do you think the mexicans would have been kept away for very long?

  11. Joseph Knippenberg, at American Enterprise, analyzes Thanksgiving proclamations in “Our Civic Religion”, with a focus on their blends of religion & patriotism Jonathan addresses. Knippenberg argues these proclamations emphasize

    the dual nature of Thanksgiving is the manner in which the proclamations cite the date, almost always self-consciously referring both to the “year of our Lord” and the year “of the Independence of the United States of America.”

    His remarks make further points similar in focus to those here:

    If we are called to be thankful only for things our ancestors have done, if we’re called only to emulation of past human accomplishments, then we are incited ultimately to pride and overweening. The balance struck by most Presidents in their proclamations, looking outward at the nation while also looking upward to God, reminds us of our limitations and our responsibilities, and of the resources beyond ourselves upon which we can call to overcome the one and fulfill the other. This is a civic religion, but not one that glorifies the country or the state. It conjoins liberty and limited government, on the one hand, with responsibility and limitless love, on the other. It acknowledges and indeed cherishes our religious diversity, seeking to include all rather than to exclude any.

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