Mass Movements, Devils & Tipping Points

anti-jewish poster

The Nazis made the Jews their “Devil”

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The great American philosopher, Eric Hoffer once wrote, “Hatred is the most accessible and comprehensive of all the unifying agents. Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a god, but never without a belief in a devil.”

Hatred is an amazing emotion. I the day and a half that I have been home from Europe I have been almost overwhelmed by the amount of hatred being posted on social media, blogs, and by supposedly Christian preachers, politicians and pundits. Of course if you want find a politician, pundit and preacher all wrapped into one person look no further than Baptist preacher, conservative media pundit, and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, but I digress…

It is funny when you even mildly disconnect from this climate for even a week, just how overwhelming returning to this can be, and how easy it would be to respond in kind, because unlike love, hatred is easy to conjure up. It is kind of like what you need to build a fire; fuel, oxygen and heat. To generate hatred on a massive scale all you need is a disaffected populace, a convenient target, and an agent to ignite the mixture.

Shrewd politicians, preachers, and pundits do this well. They demonize the target group or population and then let the hatred of their disaffected followers flow. The leaders need that disaffected and angry base in order to rise to power; such was how Hitler, Stalin, and so many other despots gained power. They took advantage of a climate of fear, and found others to blame. For Hitler it was the Jews; while for Stalin it was various groups like the Ukrainians, or the Poles who were the devil to be feared and destroyed. Timothy Snyder in his book Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin wrote:

“Dead human beings provided retrospective arguments for the rectitude of policy. Hitler and Stalin thus shared a certain politics of tyranny: they brought about catastrophes, blamed the enemy of their choice, and then used the death of millions to make the case that their policies were necessary or desirable. Each of them had a transformative utopia, a group to be blamed when its realization proved impossible, and then a policy of mass murder that could be proclaimed as a kind of ersatz victory.”

Snyder is quite correct, demonizing a people and making them some kind of “other”, “they”, or “them”, is a wonderful way to blame a group of people for the ills of society. It is also a good way to deflect the blame for the corporate failures of societies and governments onto a convenient scapegoat; and to blame others for the personal failures and petty jealousies of the people doing the demonizing. It also allows people to abandon ethics and the simple notion of the Golden Rule an engage in genocide.

Mass movements and their leaders; of which the contemporary “Christian Right” is one, love to use this technique; especially when using it against those of other races or religions. The technique is not at all new, it has been used from antiquity but has become much more dangerous in the modern era with the spread of instant communications technology. History shows us all too clearly how it has happened and how easily it can happen again. Witch hunts, slavery and Jim Crow, the extermination of the Native Americans which inspired Hitler in his campaign of genocide and the Holocaust; the Soviet gulags and ethnic cleansings, the Rape of Nanking, the Chinese Communist “Cultural Revolution” the Rwandan genocide, Srebrenica, the Turkish genocide of the Armenians, and the current crimes against humanity of the so called Islamic State. Sadly, the list can go on and on.

All of these events simply required the elements of a disaffected population, a devil or scapegoat to blame, and a leader or leaders to ignite the volatile mixture; fuel, oxygen and heat. Hoffer was quite correct that “Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a god, but never without a belief in a devil.” The really successful leaders of such movements understand this. For Hitler it was the Jews and other untermenschen; for American Southerners after the Civil it was the Blacks and their white supporters. For the American “Know Nothings” of the 1840s and 1850s it was immigrants, especially Irish and Germans who were Catholic; for Stalin it was non-Russian ethnic minorities. For the leaders of the Islamic State, it is Jews, Shi’ite Moslems, less than “faithful” Sunnis, Christians and well for that matter anyone who does not line up one hundred percent with them on every issue. The examples are so plentiful to support this fact that it is almost overwhelming.

The problem is that when any society, or government begins to label or stigmatize a race, religion, ethnicity, sexual preference, or political ideology, and then in the process demonize those people to the point that they become less than human we have reached a tipping point. We reach the point where we are just one crisis away from all of those crimes against humanity that we believe that we are no longer capable of doing. But sadly, we human beings are not nearly as evolved as we think and I think that the tipping point in the United States may be far closer than we could ever imagine.

Those that follow my writings on this site know how much I love the various Star Trek television series and movies. There is an episode (The Siege of AR-558) of Star Trek Deep Space Nine where the Ferengi bartender Quark, makes a truly astute observation during a battle for survival at an isolated outpost:

“Let me tell you something about Hew-mons, Nephew. They’re a wonderful, friendly people, as long as their bellies are full and their holosuites are working. But take away their creature comforts, deprive them of food, sleep, sonic showers, put their lives in jeopardy over an extended period of time and those same friendly, intelligent, wonderful people… will become as nasty and as violent as the most bloodthirsty Klingon. You don’t believe me? Look at those faces. Look in their eyes.”

I really do not think that we are too far from some tipping point where the politicians, pundits and preachers; especially those of the political right and the media whores who are more concerned about market share than truth, decide that their “devils” must be exterminated. Of course when they will do they will claim a higher moral, religious, or racial, purpose; or perhaps use the language of Manifest Destiny, the Lost Cause, or the Stab in the Back or some other historical myth that suffices to justify their actions.

In the Star Trek the Next Generation episode entitled The Drumhead Captain Picard has to warn his security officer, Lt Worf about the dangers of rampant paranoia. Worf starts: “Sir, the Federation does have enemies. We must seek them out.”
 

Picard pauses and then notes:

“Oh, yes. That’s how it starts. But the road from legitimate suspicion to rampant paranoia is very much shorter than we think. Something is wrong here, Mister Worf. I don’t like what we have become.”

To claim Picard’s words for myself after being somewhat off the grid in Europe the past week and having come home to the fusillade of hatred being spewed forth, I have to admit that I don’t like what we have become either.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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3 Comments

Filed under ethics, faith, History, Political Commentary, Religion

3 responses to “Mass Movements, Devils & Tipping Points

  1. David A. Budka

    The so called Christian Right is a large, diverse group of people. Not all of them would necessarily agree with, or follow, Mike Huckabee. You are taking about people who range from certain Orthodox Protestant groups, Anabaptist groups, various Baptist groups, Swedish Evangelical groups, some Lutheran groups, to a wide variety of Pentecostal and Charismatic groups, among others. Christians make very nice scapegoats because they do not go along with every social policy that comes down the line, but TRY to follow what the Bible teaches, or at least their particular interpretation thereof. This does not make them popular, but many of them are not in the race to win a popularity contest.
    As for me, the world has become so complex, I find it hard to make any kind of simplistic judgment, whether secular or religious. I find a lot of secular moralists rather self-righteous in their own way. They too are often filled with rage and malice toward anybody who doesn’t go along with their particular ideology or viewpoint.
    If I find myself raging against an individual or group, I suddenly am reminded that I am no better than they are.

    • padresteve

      David,

      As always thank you for commenting. First let me say that I agree that not all “conservative Christians” would support Mike Huckabee. Likewise I also acknowledge that the groups that you mention are theologically cohesive or even part of what I call the “Christian Right.” In fact some of their theologies, particularly the Anabaptists are diametrically opposed to the political theology of the Christian Right, which has as its heart the theology of Christian Dominionism, something I have written about many times. This is a modernized understanding of political Calvinism, which has sometimes known as Seven Mountains theology, as such I make a profound distinction between such groups and the political movement which calls itself the Christian Right and assumes that as such it speaks for all conservative Christians.

      In its quest it has commandeered the Republican Party, and it’s power has been demonstrated in the resignation of Speaker Boehner, a staunchly conservative pro-life Roman Catholic last week. You need to re-read some of my previous articles about it, and what Barry Goldwater said about it. This movement has nothing to do with doctrinal purity, except in regard to the rights of Gays, women, and non-Christian minority religions, which in addition to condemning to hell they believe should be deprived of the basic fundamental rights of all Americans those of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Large numbers of their preachers, pundits and more importantly politicians have stated that God’s law, or rather their interpretation of it stands over the Constitution. These include Huckabee, Cruz, Jindal, Paul, Santorum, Carson and so on.

      Even the Catholics in this movement openly defy the Pope when he disagrees with them on any issue.

      Truthfully the great early defenders of religious liberty, including Virginia Baptist lead John Leland opposed the type of religious tests, and religious discrimination that the current leaders of the political Christian Right espouse.

      The problem is that this bunch does not truly represent anything Christian, except the renewed power of a state religion. However, that being said, if they ever took power and vanquished their secular, liberal or non-Christian opponents, they would turn on themselves; because at their core their alliance is flawed, their basic theology of church, and authority conflict and it would lead to religious fratricide.

      As far as secular moralists go, they do not have a cohesive ideological or political movement behind them, nor do the have the money generated by the “Christian” business leaders who pump vast sums of money into political and lobbying organizations. I don’t deny that some of them too operate out of anger and rage, but the history of such people in this country has almost been universally the pursuit of equal political, economic and social rights, often in support of poor and marginalized conservative African-American and Hispanic Christians, who the political ancestors of the modern Christian Right suppressed and persecuted.

      I would continue but I ask that you read some of my posts on religious liberty, John Leland, Christian Dominionism and what Barry Goldwater, the scion of the modern conservative movement said about the political extremist preachers who now control the political party that holds the House and Senate.

      It is late so I will stop. Have a great night and as always thanks for commenting.

      Peace

      Steve+

  2. Perhaps to take the startrek episode one step further, the subsequent quotes of Jean Luc Picard are pure hold…

    Captain Jean-Luc Picard: Mister Worf, villains who twirl their moustaches are easy to spot. Those who clothe themselves in good deeds are well camouflaged.

    Lieutenant Worf: I think… after yesterday, people will not be so ready to trust her.

    Captain Jean-Luc Picard: Maybe. But she, or someone like her, will always be with us, waiting for the right climate in which to flourish, spreading fear in the name of righteousness. Vigilance, Mister Worf – that is the price we have to continually pay.

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