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The Suicide of the Liberal Church


The Suicide of the Liberal Church

Chris Hedges

Paul Tillich wrote that all institutions, including the church, are inherently demonic. Reinhold Niebuhr asserted that no institution could ever achieve the morality of the individual. Institutions, he warned, to extend their lives when confronted with collapse, will swiftly betray the stances that ostensibly define them. Only individual men and women have the strength to hold fast to virtue when faced with the threat of death.


I like Hedges most of the time, but his understanding of Christian History is mostly whitewash and propaganda.

From the time the Roman emperors embraced the Christ cult until now, it has always been a form of politics, a form of social control, with everything that he likes about the religion being subsidiary to those ends.

The Church handed over its 1st heretic to be executed in 385 AD and continued this practice until 1826. Over the past 2 millenia, millions of people were faced with the choice of conversion or death, including the millions of Africans and their descendants condemned to slavery, and the Native Americans impressed into slave labor Christian 'missions' in North and Central America.

Not to mention the horrors of the Inquistion, not to mention the sale of Indulgences, not to mention the Church's demonization of gay people and Jewish people, not to mention the institutional repression of women, not to mention the horrors of the Magdalene slave laundries in Ireland and Canada.

The so-called liberal or human-rights oriented church is a historical anomaly. The case of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) is historically significant but more often we see dictators like Hitler quoting the great Christian theologian Martin Luther's assertion that Jews should be driven from Germany and their temples burnt to the ground.

Against the backdrop of 1700 years of mental totalitarianism, such things as the SLSC are the exception, never the rule.


There is only one church permitted under capitalism: the Church of the Almighty Dollar.

Also, I don't think Hedges can have his Crazy Horse and his Christianity too. Are you on the side of the indigenous and the rest of the ever-increasing masses rendered destitute and bereft by the omnicidal rampage of this culture of control and exploitation, Chris, or are you on the side of civilization and the monotheistic, patriarchal religions?

You can't have it both ways.


"Paul Tillich wrote that all institutions, including the church, are inherently demonic."

A better translation for this day would read "inherently corporate" instead of "inherently demonic". Churches--all churches--are nothing more than human corporate hierarchies seeking to come between the people and their relationship with God. Chris Hedges illustrates this nicely as he develops his mournful dirge:

"The liberal church committed suicide when it severed itself from
radicalism. Radical Christians led the abolitionist movement, were
active in the Anti-Imperialist League, participated in the bloody labor wars, fought for women’s suffrage, formulated the Social Gospel—which
included a huge effort to carry out prison reform and provide education
to prisoners—and were engines in the civil rights and anti-war
movements. Norman Thomas, a longtime leader of the Socialist Party of
America, was a Presbyterian minister."

And what does any of this have to do with the Christian gospel? Absolutely nothing! It is religion adopting politics in the name of religion.

"These radicals generally were not embraced by the church hierarchy,
which served as a bulwark of the establishment, but they kept the church
vital and prophetic. They made it relevant and important to the
oppressed, the poor and to workingmen and -women. Radicals were and are
its hope."

So they enlarged the churches corporate client base? So what?! What about God? Or more specifically, Jesus Christ, who promised to His followers that they would be given power through the Holy Spirit not to lead mass political movements but to be a witness of His life, death, and resurrection to a doubting and skeptical world that would mock and persecute such conviction? Nah! That's not cool enough for Chris Hedges and his cohort of liberal church mourners who get their buzz from political radicalism instead of living by the teachings of Jesus whom they profess as their Savior--Hah!.

Neither is it cool enough for the prosperity gospel proto-fascists who are increasingly taking over the evangelical and fundamentalist sects. They get their buzz from lots of money extracted from lots of people who are then given the "indulgences" for their unchanged lifestyle by "the church" just like Medieval Roman Catholic Pontiffs used to bless the crusading murderers who did it all in God's name.

"What remains of the church, if it is to survive as a social and
cultural force, will see clergy and congregants leave sanctuaries to
work in prisons, schools, labor halls and homeless and women’s shelters,
form night basketball leagues and participate in grass-roots movements
such as the anti-fracking struggle and the fight to raise the minimum

Don't forget BDS, 350 or bust, transgender rights,...the list is endless and pointless (as are the list of American exceptionalism rationales championed by their religio-political opposites in the fundamentalist camp) because it does nothing to distinguish those well-intentioned but misled believers from other well-intentioned non-religious believers who "believe" the same things.

"Fear has driven church and seminary leaders into the hands of those the
Gospel condemns as exploiters of the poor and the oppressed. They have
turned their backs on Christian radicals, who alone can infuse new life
into the church. The institutions believe alliances with the powerful
and the wealthy will save them. They are wrong. Once they stand for
nothing they become nothing."

No Chris, the liberal churches are engaging in the kind of "rebranding" about which you wrote so eloquently in "Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle". They have been doing so for centuries as their human hierarchies strive to maintain and grow market share.


"The Catholic Church also is being decimated; its decline has been exacerbated by its decades-long protection of sexual predators within the priesthood and the Vatican’s relentless campaign, especially under John Paul II, to force out of the church priests, nuns and lay leaders who focused their ministries on the poor and the oppressed. The Catholic Church, which has lost 3 million members over the last decade, has seen its hold on the U.S. population fall to 21 percent from 24."

The Catholic church's structural misogyny in granting no status higher than that of nun/none to women is part of whatever mass rejection exists. Add in its draconian birth control policies and its overall hostility to women's rights and that would explain why some intelligent women had to finally fly over that cuckoo's nest.

Presuming that the numbers of Protestants attending services are really diminishing, I wonder if that includes the influence of TV ministries and virtual outreach?

Having just finished Barry Lynn's book on "God and Government," there's a very strong contingent of church types who have been pushing an agenda enabling them to use more and more public tax funds for their own religious purposes in direct violation of the Constitution's wall between church and state.

I've noticed that I am one of the only people (if not THE only person in this forum) who dares to expose the chilling fact that MOST Charter Schools are really religious schools and this is a nefarious way that the public funds are channeled to promote theological (and very narrow ones at that) ends.

And if the church is liberal, how can its many pastors chanting for WAR if not Holy War not be called to the mat?

Bush's base, after all, was composed of Christian Conservatives, and they're still the ones supporting the likes of Trump, Paul Ryan, Cruz, and these other despeciable people who boast about bombing women and children (and men) in foreign lands. Typically, these lands have NOTHING to do with America's security... apart from the imperial wishes of a number of influential corporations (oil & weapons prime among them) who wish to exploit these foreign zones.

The Vatican made its covenants with Hitler and too often, it's been a FRIEND to warriors, imperialists, and those who murder on a wide scale. To call that institution "liberal" is a misnomer of the worst kind.


I was thinking about this subject last night. How any idea that becomes an institution always is weighed down by institutional protocols, politics, and ego-driven power struggles.

I think what attracts Mr. Hedges to religion at all is the witness of the few visionaries who transcended the "letter of the law" understanding (and collective practices) of their faith. Most don't.

Dr. King was inspired by Christianity and I think one of the few living beings who became Christ-like in so many ways; yet he, too, had his human failings (a mistress which the FBI intended to use in an attempt to "guilt him into" suicide).

John Dear, Kathy Kelly, Dorothy Day, and a number of luminous altruists also come to mind.

But the church, in and of itself, particularly the Anglican & Catholic Churches which gilded their doors in gold but turned the poor away have a LOT to answer for.

According to books that delve into Project Paperclip, it's documented that Vatican interests helped fund the escape of upper echelon Nazis.

I think Flapdoodle did a very good job explaining the history of the old church.

Another topic that seems about as taboo in this forum as honest discussions about 911 is just how thoroughly infiltrated the military (particularly the U.S. Air Force) is... with Christian chaplains. Their recruitment there, and intended role is hardly emulative of Christ's teachings about peace, forgiveness, and turning the other cheek.

To the contrary, these chaplains are in place to convince young drone pilots that it's within the bounds of Christian ideology to drop deadly ordnance on people who very well may be civilians and certainly haven't had their day in court or any presumption of innocence.

"Thou Shalt Not Kill" is a tough commandment to override... but nothing succeeds in that objective more than using a so-called emissary of god, the father, to allegedly endorse said drone load's drop.

It's very SICK!


North America, Central America and South America: all of the indigenous peoples were enslaved or killed using the psychopathy of the Bible. Christianity and Imperialism are inter-twined at the roots in all of the Americas.


I was also musing about what societal factors typically act as a brake against the formation of any military society and the three that came to mind were: education, law, and religion founded in a genuine (as in healthy) spirituality.

Today, with lawyers handpicked to give horrors like torture the legal equivalent of a facelift, and religious leaders pushing FOR war, and education monitored like something straight out of Stalin's Russia... the checks and balances against the totalitarian make-war state are almost fully eroded.

This, from the article, is right-on. I would add that there are many other parallels with the l930s and some of them are a direct reflection of quite real and influential astrological cycles:

"The doctrine these sects preach is Christian heresy. The Christian faith—as in the 1930s under Germany’s pro-Nazi Christian church—is being distorted to sanctify nationalism, unregulated capitalism and militarism. The mainstream church, which refuses to denounce these heretics as heretics, a decision made in the name of tolerance, tacitly gives these sects credibility and squanders the prophetic voice of the church."

Mr. Hedge's didn't mention that this twisted ideology is Calvinism and it has old roots. Corporate America may have dusted it off, but is hardly the author of the doctrine:

"These corporatists promoted and funded a brand of Christianity—which is today dominant—that conflates faith with free enterprise and American exceptionalism. The rich are rich, this creed goes, not because they are greedy or privileged, not because they use their power to their own advantage, not because they oppress the poor and the vulnerable, but because they are blessed. And if we have enough faith, this heretical form of Christianity claims, God will bless the rest of us too."

It was that very philosophy that Charles Dickens illuminated in his seminal work, "A Christmas Carol" in its examination of Scrooge's cruel business ideology. And Paul Ryan and Scott Walker are two of its most prominent poster boys.


“The liberal church committed suicide when it severed itself from radicalism.” So did the whole liberal movement in it’s misguided belief, along with some radicals, that capitalism could be reformed. The reforms they accomplished at much suffering and loss of life have now largely been taken back. Concessions won from capitalists are always temporary as is everything that does not maximize profit. The twentieth century proved that capitalism cannot be reformed but must be destroyed.

Organized religion is about getting people to accept their lot, it is not about rebellion. Christian faithful are told to expect rewards not in this life but after death, in Heaven. Comfort can be had in expectation of one’s persecutors spending an eternity in Hell.

In AD325 the Emperor Constantine called the warring factions of the various christian sects to his Council of Nicaea, effectively the first Ecumenical Council, where the Emperor established the Christian church, laid down dogma and ruled for a canon that few wanted and most repudiated. The Jesus of Constantine became a conqueror like himself and the emphasis was on controlling people. This is the Jesus responsible for many wars, persecutions and oppression. This is the Jesus of the rich and the ruling class right on down to today's CEO's. It is the belief by conservatives that God granted rights come before government granted rights and this is expressed by both the "divine rights of Kings" and the " endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights" of the U.S. Declaration of Independence. It allows some to believe that they are above the law and that they thus have a God given right to do as they please. In reality they create and maintain a system which guarantees their right to everything.

The broadening of Christianity to reflect and encompass the entire class system is probably the reason for its past success. But it's also its greatest failure as it serves to maintain the status quo by manipulating the disadvantaged into accepting their lot and legitimizing those that exploit them.

Socialists do not believe that rights should be granted by gods or governments. Capitalism must be destroyed and replaced by socialism and all comrades are welcome in this struggle including religious ones.


"The institutions believe alliances with the powerful and the wealthy will save them. They are wrong. Once they stand for nothing they become nothing".
"Once they stand for nothing they become nothing"- These words say so much....


Chris Hedges works tirelessly to promote truth, justice, and an equitable society.

Your vapid critique is a stark juxtaposition to his meaningful life.

Happy cluck.:blush:


I agree with you. The teaching of Jesus Christ were radically evolutionary and much different than what imperialism and patriarchy has shaped them into for its own purposes. But try telling that to so-called Christians, even the many Christians, of all denominations, who selflessly work for social justice, whom I admire in any case.

I imagine Jesus, in his other dimension, saddened at the lack of comprehension of his intentions, indeed a man of sorrows.


Side note: What about the Faith Based Initiative. Didn't Obama continue this Bush policy? How much of our tax dollars are going to tie religious leaders tongues in 2016?


Religion is the opiate of the masses. Always was, is and will continue to be.


They don't look too tongue-tied to this neutral party. Quite the contrary, actually. Around 20% ( and growing ) of adults in the U.S.A. sure wish they would practice what they preach, pray in private, beat their weapons into plowshares, remove " under god " from the Pledge of Allegiance, give unto Caesar..., and. Oh well, you get the idea. Anyway, if you like your hypocrisy mixed with real estate deals and formal, conventional religion in America; here's an idea. Skip the sermonizing and just follow the money in local and national politics. And then sit back and watch the fireworks. A good primer for this latest manifestation of god's work in 'Murica would be the genocidal " temple cleaning " in Flint, Michigan. In that scenario I think the old saying, " the first will be last and the last will be first " has quite a different twist. If you get my drift.


For the record, ANDOVER NEWTON THEOLOGICAL SCHOOL has NOT closed. Check your facts. ANTS is in conversation with Yale Divinity School to possibly become an embedded school as Berkeley Divinity School is.


I find it frustrating that the author fails to engage with the good things happening in parts of the 'conservative church' apparently being unable to see that most Evangelicals have bought into the prosperity heresy, for example,

an example of a radical alternative to institutional structures is provided by

Cole, Neil Organic Church: Growing Faith where life happens. (San Francisco: JosseyBass 2005)

which offers a model of stripped down church that may well strike a chord, whilst


may encourage you to believe that some of those whose theology is conservative are actually doing the sorts of ministry you aspire to. Bob's story is interesting; after a sound liberal theological education, he went to Honduras - and found he was totally out of his depth. In his despair he called out to God, and became empowered by God to see amazing things happening. Since then he has a variety of ministry involvements, in prisons, working with the undocumented in the US and also with the poor of Honduras.



Sue for defamation?