The difference between Americans and non-Americans is something that has come up before on this forum, setting off some sparks. I wonder to what extent these differences play a part in our attitudes to Krishna consciousness. I have a book that I have been meaning to review for our Book Review section, but haven't been able to manage, called Restless Gods about the state of religion in Canada. From the column I am cutting and pasting here, and from the many other readings on the subject, I can clearly see the extent to which I am a Canadian rather than an American. But to what extent is "Krishna consciousness" a facsimile of fundamentalist Christianity for American devotees? We can discuss this issue here: Secularism and Fundamentalism
By RICK SALUTIN
America's fundamental sin of abuse
Friday, May 7, 2004 - Globe&Mail
I thought of the Fox network's Bill O'Reilly when I heard about the recent prisoner abuses in Iraq. Not because of the normal abuse you get on his show. But I was on The Radio Factor With Bill O'Reilly last week and in the intro to our discussion he referred often to The Globe and Mail as left-wing. I said I had to defend it against that charge, since The Globe has always been a conservative, business paper here. Oh, come on, he scoffed, noting that the Globe is "secular." We sparred and it was only when he repeated the term that I realized that in the United States, the main political divide now runs between Christian fundamentalism and "secularists." I said I was grateful for this insight: that the U.S. may be the only nation that defines politics in such religious terms. Since the Taliban, anyway, muttered a friend.
I'd say this kind of religiosity is now the biggest difference between us. It's amazing how many Americans drop into conversation references to their faith, or ask about yours. Forty-six per cent call themselves born-again. In Canada, an evangelical group claims 12 per cent, but even those are not self-described; they are extrapolated from a dubious poll. The U.S. is a country that has "creationist" theme parks to offset dinosaur theme parks. Seriously.
When George Bush met with families who lost members in Iraq, he proudly told them he was praying for them. But he's the President. He could do something, not just pray. George Monbiot, in The Guardian, says 15 per cent of Americans hold a fundamentalist view by which the state of Israel must expand to its biblical borders in order to set off a cosmic battle during which believers will be taken to Heaven naked (the Rapture). They may comprise 33 per cent of Republicans, including Attorney-General John Ashcroft and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. Those voters are heavily courted by the Bush team and they demand conflagration rather than peace as policy goals in the Mideast.
(For the record, I don't really consider this kind of mindset so much a matter of religion -- a broad category that includes the worldview of the Dalai Lama -- as a mythical or magical way of thinking about reality, like Lord of the Rings or Dungeons & Dragons.)
But what's the connection to prisoner abuse in Iraq? Well, a striking aspect of that abuse has been a persistent sexual quality. It is not torture in the sense of thumbscrews or the rack. It has been about nakedness, domination, humiliation, coerced masturbation. It's like porn. "He's getting hard," PFC Lynndie England reportedly shouted out at one point. And Christianity has always had a tortuous relation with sexuality. Think of ongoing abuse by Catholic priests; or Mel Gibsons's Passion, which blends, as Christopher Hitchens says, homoeroticism and brutality. U.S. Christianity is especially convoluted, from the sexual puritanism depicted in Arthur Miller's The Crucible to the national moralistic orgies over Bill Clinton's affairs.
Now the core of the U.S. volunteer army is poor southern and/or rural youth, like Jessica Lynch. They come from the heartland of revivalist religion in the U.S., home base for sexual agonizers and self-dramatizers like televangelists Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker. It is never surprising when sex gets entangled with faith, patriotism, and everything else in this context.
Still, I am surprised by the un-Christian attitude of George Bush and other U.S. leaders toward those who got caught. "A group of kids from Virginia," a defence attorney called them. They were told they were going abroad to fight naked, ahem, evil, and that rose petals, not bombs, would be thrown at them. Now they are dismissed as bad, un-American apples. Why won't anyone in power admit that U.S. policy, in interaction with local forces, helped create this mess, including these low-level offenders? Listen to our own Prime Minister echo that puritanical rigidity: "We have to remember that our values are why we are fighting terrorism . . ." As if some Western values might not be part of the problem.
The military is "attempting to have these six soldiers atone for its sins," said the same attorney. That catches it: all religion, all the time.