Tuesday, September 19, 2006


Tony Robinson's documentary about Christian fundamentalism last weekend suffered from the same weakness as Dawkins' previous, and to some extent the same weaknesses as ex-CIA man Robert Baer's suicide porn. An embarrassing naivete and smug conformity about the secular world, if you can call it that, is mixed with an absolutely apocalyptic, hallucinatory sense of the power of religion and religious organisations. The documentary itself was all very interesting in its way - showing how Christian fundamentalists support the most extreme Zionists in Israel, showing how their preferred political strategies tend to hasten the onset of apocalypse ("so it's a self-fulfilling prophecy!" Robinson cheerfully notes at one point), talking to people who describe their bizarre views with a rather chipper "that's-God's-plan" attitude.

But without wishing to minimise the noxious effects of the End-Timers and the very careful way in which they are used to indoctrinate and train up generations of reactionary polemicists and activists, the missing factor in these analyses is (as you would be expect me to say) capital. What's curious is that Robinson was rather eager to impute to the fundies a sort of political power that they don't realistically possess while totally ignoring the truly apocalyptic effects of capitalism. He interviews Zionist fanatics in Israel, but demonstrates no suspicion that they are a rational outgrowth of the ideology and movement that produced Israel, or that their batty dispensations about rebuilding the Temple on the Mount are far less worrisome than actual day to day mass murder going on in Gaza and the West Bank. He interviews people who discuss with gleaming eyes the prophecies that are already coming true: you know, the skies are blackening, wars are rather frequent, great meteorological catastrophes have taken place, societies are becoming more violent and polarised, all that stuff. And yet, one would think to have a glance at the recent history of humanity that these ghouls had half a point.

It was predictable that with the general collapse of other forms of identity (communism, most spectacularly) that religious identities would become prominent, thus resuscitating a very old liberal critique of religion and the politics of religion. The irony is that this critique, supposedly a scathing indictment of superstition and delusion, dogmatically accepts the theological underpinnings of capital, which is simply accepted as there, as part of the natural order of things, a logical step in a long process of technological development and the specialisation of labour. And that Smithian divine narrative is accompanied by all sorts of mad, quasi-religious doctrines about 'human nature' (which inevitably posits a natural inclination toward trucking, trading and bartering, homo economicus, as well as toward selfishness, cruelty, vindictiveness etc), which not only abound freely in liberal discourse but actually sustain it. The apocryphal tales about the development of capitalism fed to students in Business Studies and Economics classes are underpinned by a touching faith in the benevolence of the Holy Profit and the providential guidance of the Hidden Hand. With devout rectitude, one never questions these assumptions, one simply entertains every silly fable and fairy tale about free markets and enterprise and property rights. Every grotesque result of this grotesque system is externalised: in effect, the theodicy of Robinson and the Robinsonades is that God did it. In fact, watching these documentaries, one can't help but be moved by the immovable faith that Robinson, Dawkins and Baer have in the real earthly power of God. They are true believers.