Posted in Rants on June 15th, 2015 by Ed

(From a laundromat in Anchorage. Remind me to copyright the slogan "Anchorage: The Scenic Bakersfield!")

One sad but interesting development since the end of the second World War is the death of pacifism as an organized movement. Well, at least I find it interesting (Nicholson Baker's "Human Smoke" is a particularly good read if you're interested too). In the course of reading a book about Henry Ford, I was reminded about the Peace Ship debacle prior to World War I and the central role that religious groups used to play in the pacifist movement. And it wasn't just groups like the Quakers, whose stance on nonviolence remains well-known today. Major, mainstream Protestant religious groups – especially, curiously enough, evangelicals – the Catholic church, major Jewish organizations, and the like were all strongly associated with the anti-war movement before World War II.

Part of the difference today stems from the Hitler, Imperial Japan, and fascism making war a moral crusade that religiously inclined people felt safe getting behind. War is not a moral or ethical dilemma if one conceives of the potential target or opponent as the Third Reich. Unfortunately this has served as little more than a straw man since 1945, as whoever the western nations of the world feel like reducing to rubble happens to be "just like Hitler," coincidentally enough. Attempts to recreate the black-and-white morality of World War II in modern conflicts is not only idiotic, but seemingly mandatory on the part of political leaders.

What stands out to me is how much, in the United States, mainstream Christianity has bent and molded itself around the preferences and prejudices of the one demographic – white people, particularly conservative and rural white people – with which it is still popular. We know from all varieties of survey data that Americans are identifying with organized religion less than ever today, and even among identifiers the percentage of Protestants and Catholics is declining. Smaller religions like Mormonism, Hinduism, Buddhism, "New Age" belief systems, and so on are all growing at the expense of traditionally common Christian denominations.

Not to be accused of concern trolling, but it seems like a religion should have a belief system that tells followers or potential followers "This is the One True Path. Join us. If you're not interested, piss off, because the One True Path does not change for anyone." In practice we see American Christianity, particularly the evangelical variety, becoming hard to distinguish from a Support Our Troops rally, which makes sense when you realize both organizations are aiming at the same demographic. Religion seems to have ceded, at least in our case, the moral argument against violence and war. I haven't been a practicing Catholic in decades, but I do like the fact that the incumbent Pope is willing to remind his flock that there are things they should be opposed to beyond just abortion and The Gays – poverty, war, injustice, and other things that fly in the face of the Dignity of Life and Humankind thing that they care about collectively.

I may not be the kind of person to whom organized religion appeals, but nonetheless I understand the potential it has to be a positive force in the world and in the lives of individuals who do find it appealing. It would be nice, in that light, if American churches were willing to take some kind of moral stance against something other than the convenient target groups that its core supporters already hate. It's safe and easy to bash abortion from the pulpit; how about branching out and asking the congregation what exactly it needs all those guns for, or why they don't mind that an alarming number of unarmed black men seem to end up dead when they encounter police. I don't disrespect right-wing Christianity because of the beliefs per se, as there are tons of belief systems in the world I find ridiculous personally. I disrespect it because it tells the faithful what they want to hear while remaining silent about what they need to hear. "The customer is always right" is a poor strategy in this case.