Friday, May 23, 2008

McCain cuts bait and runs from radical cleric John Hagee

The final (divine?) hammer blow to Christianist radical cleric John Hagee's alliance with "100 Years War" McCain was this post by Bruce Wilson at the Talk to Action Web site, Audio Recording of McCain's Political Endorser John Hagee Preaching Jews Are Cursed and Subhuman 05/15/08. The Huffington Post picked it up, political pressure built and, as the saying goes, the rest is history. Later in the day on Thursday, McCain also rejected the endorsement of another radical Christianist clerick, Rod Parsely.

Hagee was only the tip of the iceberg of the story of the Republican Party alliance with the radical Christianist right. But democrats (yes, I mean the small-d) need to enjoy victories when they happen. And Hagee's public discrediting among the broader public is a win for decency and democracy. The guy preaches a wretched, hateful, anti-Semitic version of Christian theology. He's a disgrace to Christianity and a disgrace to Republican politicians like McCain who kiss up to him.

(Graphic from the 2008 Bruce Wilson post linked here)

This is also a good example of how the blogosphere can play a constructive role in political activism and in spreading decent news and analysis.

This wasn't CBS or the Washington Post pushing this story. It was Democratic activists and the blogosphere. Wilson's patient research into this dark corner of American Christianity paid off. And, for all the problems of the Internet spreading goofy rumors and pseudoscience and so on, good research and analysis occasionally makes its way to the top of the heap.

But there's also a collective effect here. The final blow to the McCain-Hagee alliance came with the dramatic nudge of Wilson's audio having Hagee distinctive bombastic voice proclaiming that Adolf Hitler was sent by God to drive the Jews back to Israel. And triple-good on Bruce Wilson for putting it out there.

Still, Hagee's anti-Semitic bigotry has been no secret. He's a present-day version of Sinclair Lewis' Rev. Ezekiel Bittery in Gideon Planish (1943) who gradually nationally audience:

And during all this time, the Reverend Ezekiel himself will, as publicly as possible, to as many persons as he can persuade to attend his meetings, have admitted, insisted, bellowed, that he has always been a Ku Kluxer and a Fascist, that he has always hated Jews, colleges and good manners, and that the only thing he has ever disliked about Hitler is that he once tried to paint barns instead of leaving the barns the way God made them.
So there is a collective effect here of many activists chipping away at the Hagee story until Wilson's video finally burst the boil on the political scene.

This isn't to detract from Wilson's accomplishment with this story. It's worth remembering that some of the best investigative reporting has come from journalists like I.F. Stone who took the time to search through public records and put together a picture that was lying out there in public but most people couldn't quite see it yet.

As I said in connection with the Jeremiah Wright story, the traditional notion that God passes collective judgments through historical events on groups because some of them sinned is very problematic. But it's especially beloved by fundamentalists and Pentecostals like Hagee. In theological terms, it's a subset of the "theodicy" problem of what role God has in the suffering and evil of the world.

But it kind of makes my skin crawl to dignify Hagee's anti-Jewish fanaticism by observing that it's a part of a much larger theological issue. Because, let's get real. When a preacher like Hagee is saying that Adolf Hitler was sent by God to accomplish His divine purposes by mass murder and brutality, something stinks to high heaven about that brand of Christianity. You don't need to jump through theological hoops to see that.

This wasn't part of that particular video. But in Hagee's worldview, the reason God sent Hitler to run the Jews to Israel with the Holocaust is to prepare the End Times scenario in which most of the Jews of the world are slaughtered in a massive battle and the few remaining stop being Jews by converting to Christianity. And then the world will finally be rid of those Christ-killing Jews and Jesus can return to Earth. There are various ways to analyze that. But it's painfully obvious that any theory of history that has it be God's will to do away with Jews in such bloody fashion is just Jew-hating horse-poop.

(For more on that aspect of fundamentalist apocalypticism, see Intolerance: The Bestseller by Gershom Gorenberg The American Prospect 09/22/02; Friends Of Israel and AIPAC Envision "Israel's Final Holocaust" and "Jew Toast" by Bruce Wilson, Talk to Action 03/14/07.)

In addition to Bruce Wilson's post, check out McCain Renounces Hagee, Hagee Withdraws His Endorsement by Frederick Clarkson, Talk to Action 05/22/08. He gives a very good analysis of why McCain's comparison of his own radical cleric problem to Obama's relationship with Jeremiah Wright is off-base. An excerpt:

Obama has certainly had a longtime and now defunct, personal relationship with Rev. Wright. But Wright has had no role in Obama's presidential campaign. Wright is not a politically powerful figure and has not sought to be.

Conversely, McCain agressively [sic] sought out the endorsement of John Hagee - one of the most prominent and powerful figures on the religious right, and every bit as controversial as say, Pat Robertson. Nevertheless, McCain turned a blind eye to the extreme views in Hagee's published work and public statements.
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