My previous post, Knowing It All, quoted Harold Bloom’s 1992 book The American Religion. Its primary thesis is that American Christianity is not ‘Christian’ in the sense of having significant continuity with traditional Christian theology. Rather, it is Orphic, Gnostic, and shamanic. It goes for the supremacy of personal experiences of supposed grace at the expense of any intervening philosophy or principles.
I finished it this evening, and a couple of quotes caught my eye at the end of the book. Bloom unearthed a statement by President Woodrow Wilson from the time of World War I where he declared, “America was intended to be a spirit among the nations of the world.”
Pondering this, Bloom concluded his penultimate chapter:
“We export our culture abroad, low and high, and increasingly we export the American Religion as well. If Woodrow Wilson proves correct, and we were intended to be a spirit among the nations of the world, then the twenty-first century will mark a full-scale return to the wars of religion.”
That, I would say, was scarily prescient. It also underlines just how long the forces of anti-intellectual ‘faith’ (which we could fairly re-define as ‘over-excited prejudice’) have been at well-funded war with the other current in North American life, the urge toward individual rights, free of religious restrictions.
I also quote from the concluding paragraph of the book:
“Authority, in the context of the American Religion, is another form of gnosis, another knowing, and what it knows is that it must replace the purely secular authority brought about by the American Revolution. If the American Religion, as I surmised, began a generation after the Revolution, then it is a dangerous irony that, two centuries later, a belated version of our national faith is moving to abrogate our secular origin; so great a cloud of witnesses we yet may be to the triumphalism of our politicized shamans.”
Despite Trump’s triumph yesterday, I don’t think the shamans have ‘won’ yet, but they are very stubborn, and will brook no rational or merely legal obstruction. If Trump serves their purposes, as he has allowed himself so to serve, then so be it.
Which would be fine if the influence of Washington was restricted solely to the nation in which it sits. Since the rest of us, however, have to deal with “the export [of] the American Religion,” we have an obligation to ourselves to defy the shamans until their day is over.