McJesus: Corporate Christianity
Regarding “The Guts of American Christianity” (Issue #85): Good article. I think it’s timely and important that we, as a movement, begin to take stock of what institutional religion is up to, and how these communities either impede or could support revolutionary ends.
Something surreptitiously left out of the article, however, is the extreme collusion between contemporary churches and capital.
San Antonio, home of five military installations, and numerous corporate churches is a perfect example. Last weekend, I went to a “church” called “Tree of Life” outside of New Braunfels Texas. This is no small “community” based church, but rather a huge corporate compound that resembles more a mall or shopping center than a traditional church. Our idea was to leaflet the parking lots with anti-war propaganda that had an ethico-moral reprobation of the wars in Iraq/Afghanistan. (The parking lot alone is on acres and acres of concrete, replete with red jacketed security, orange-coated attendants and toll booths.)
However, what really blew our minds was walking into the church and seeing a fucking $tarbucks and Kri$py Kreme Donut franchise inside the church! We were somewhat mentally prepared for spectacle, but it was still nothing short of shocking to witness such a blatant display of pro-capital collusion inside the “temple.” (If it could be properly so called. One immediately thinks of the story of Jesus and the “money-changers” and wonders what it would be like for Jesus to come along and smash the fucking corporate enterprises inside the temple!) Anyway, I lack the prose to sufficiently describe this post-modern church/mall thing, and our reactions to it. Really. I did notice that their literature, located in their book kiosk across from the $tarbucks, was mainly corporate propaganda. Titles like “How to Close the Deal of Your Life,” and “The Seven Steps to Successful Partnership,” etc. Business seminar authors like Zig Ziglar and such seemed to “out-trump” (to borrow from their heavily capitalist metaphor lexicon) any religious topics in the traditional sense of the word. And where the “services” were being held resembled more of a Cinemark movie theater than a church: reclining movie theater seats, (although I didn’t notice any cupholders on the armrests!), two giant twelve foot plasma screen TV’s, corporate rock playing on the loudspeakers, and multi-colored arena rock lighting to boot. This was more like a business seminar than a church in my estimation. However, experiences like this do raise some serious questions about the nature of religion within capitalist societies and the ability of capital to subsume any and everything within it’s reach. Also, the nature of language within these socio-religious architectures and how meaning is imbibed through a collusion of two distinct paradigms: One, the metaphorical language of religion, and two, the metaphorical language of the corporation. Perhaps they are not distinct at all. Check out: www.treeoflifechurch.org.
I would recommend visiting the “new campus tour” and watching the video. It was apparently made before the monstrosity was finished being erected, but it will give you a good idea of the nature of these corporate churches.
Another thing we realized after drifting through this place was the difficulty we face in critiquing the social structure among adherents to corporatized religion because it is so deeply tied to their ideology. For instance, because a $tarbucks is where they go to worship, it is associated with their religion and takes on some of the more metaphysical characteristics of their faith. So it tends to be viewed as integral to their faith; an attack upon it, or the system of low wages and social sterility it represents then becomes an attack on their belief system. (??)
At any rate, this collusion between the corporate structure and the structure of contemporary churches should be given over to some serious analysis…..
Palestine: 2 States is too many
Before the Palestinian election, leftist papers were replete with editorials on how leftists / socialists / anti-authoritarians / etc should support Marawan Barghouti for the leadership of the PLO. Around this time, Slingshot carried an article by Zeev Bin Natan [“PLO to Arafat's Popular Successor: Stand Aside for the Puppet” (Issue #84)] that stated “At the present critical juncture, anti-authoritarians should be part of a broad international movement to ensure the emergence of a new Palestinian leadership with strong ties to the Palestinian masses”. This sentiment is not unique to Mr. Natan but instead seems to hold weight within the American radical left, and is what I hope to address here.
The notion that it is not our place as Americans to critique other cultures’ liberation movements, and instead support them in their quest for “autonomy,” even under a nationalist banner, holds no place in anarchist theory. Rather, to support Marawan Barghouti, one would have to ignore two fundamental tenets of anarchist theory. The first is the issue of representation.
Just as not all Americans have the same interests, and thus cannot be accurately represented by any one person, neither can all Palestinians. Throughout the election season in our country, groups such as the Bl(A)ck Tea Society and Anarchist Resistance highlighted that no political leader can accurately represent our will. In fact, no one can accurately represent us but ourselves. This holds not just for Americans, but also Palestinians; Natan’s assumption that Barghouti can somehow represent “the Palestinian masses” is racist at best. To quote Sam Mbah of the Nigerian Awareness League, “Freedom does not mean equal access to coercive power [through free elections], but rather that it means freedom from coercive power.” A nationalist bourgeois Palestinian government will still rely on the same authoritarian apparatus as the Israeli occupation government.
Secondly, nationalist struggles built around racial and ethnic lines ignore a deeper current that more accurately highlights the real conflict: class. Barghouti, along with the rest of the PLO’s leadership, represent the wealthiest of the wealthy in Palestine. His interests are diametrically opposed to that of the Palestinian people. As has been shown in every example of modern de-colonization, once the western occupying power was removed, the bourgeois “leaders” of the popular liberation struggle quickly filled their role.
The best example of this process, an example that resonates deeply in Palestine, is South Africa. One of the strongest opponents of the European exploitation in South Africa (both of poor blacks and poor Afrikaners) was COSATU, a syndicalist-oriented trade organization. As the union grew in strength though, its leadership was taken over by members of the bourgeois democratic African National Congress. Although successful in overthrowing apartheid, their struggle did not fundamentally change South African society, as the members of the ANC, who had promoted solely racial struggle, occupied the positions of power left vacant by the Afrikaners. Soon after winning the first “free” South African election, Nelson Mandela proceeded to enter into agreements with the World Bank, returning South Africa to the control of European and American capital and leaving “his people” in the same poverty they had known for hundreds of years.
The same will happen in Palestine, even under a single unified government. Men like Marawan Barghouti ultimately will follow not the interests of their people, but of their class. Real freedom in Palestine will not come from nationalist struggles, but rather from revolutionary class struggle, which will unite all those exploited, regardless of ethnicity, and break the chains of the capitalist state. To quote the Israeli National Traitors Anarchist group, “Two states for two nations is two states too many”.