Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Fundamentally Ignorant

There are two prerequisites to being able to write a book like Amregeddon Crazy: first one must have a very modern education, second one must have a world in which American protestant fundamentalism exists.

Mick Farren recollects his education thus:

"Education was an us and them situation, and at that point in time I started reading everything I could, from Chairman Mao through to Bakunin… a lot of things I started and went, this is kind of tedious, you know. I mean political theory; I think I only got 28 pages into Das Kapital and decided I’d rather read I, the Jury. Hell, it was Johnny Strabler; “what are you rebelling against, Johnny?” “What have you got?” I was a rebel with plenty of causes. And after that, the only semi-organised movement I ever got involved with was CND. Because they had these wonderful, almost like moving rock festivals, these marches from Aldermaston to London, and there were girls who looked like Joan Baez, and it was great. And mercifully Bob Dylan came along so we didn’t have to sing ‘Down by the Riverside’ or ‘We Shall Not Be Moved.’ And even that went into it, the whole Judas, Bob playing electric, Pete Seeger wanting to cut the power off with an axe; that really was a symptom of something much bigger. It’s only been in recent years that I’ve coined the phrase the Psychedelic Left, but it was; there was a traditionalist, working class, well not even working class, it was a woolly, middle-class, sweater-wearing, Trotskyite whatever…"
This is sufficient to create the proper conditions to even concieve of a world as utterly demented as the one presented in Armegeddon Crazy. However, what makes this disturbing book plausible (and therefore remotely interesting) is the fact of American protestant fundamentalism.
Indeed the fact of American protestant fundamentalism - particularly its charismatic varient - is really what allows Mr. Farren's novel to function. Yes, the story is a stretch of dystopian imagination, a sort of Orwellian nightmare world where religious authoritarianism is on display, but whether we like it or not, there is a large segment of the American population which could actually be said to resemble the Christian villains of Mr. Farren's novel.

There is a great temptation, as one reads this book, to become defensive about Christianity and the Midwest. The man with a liberal education and love of Midwestern rugged individualism will immediately note that there is nothing really Christian about the Christians Mr. Farren presents.

What passes for Christianity in Mr. Farren's book is a materialistic televangelistic cult that magnifies all of the classical vices associated with the most negative aspects of Christianity. No one goes to Mass. There is no Eucharist. Confession and conscience are absent or twisted. The televised sermon and the machines soothing us with Jesus Waves have replaced Ignatian spirituality. We could call this a caricature of Christianity and the result of Mr. Farren's ignorance on the subject.

Unfortunately, much of what Mr. Farren describes is not the hyperbole of the anticlerical mind, it is the reality of American fundamentalism. It is the reality of certain elements of Christian charismatic movements within both Protestant and Catholic Churches. It is the ridiculous and dangerous kind of pseudo-religion that those of us who consider ourselves Christians risk collapsing into if we are not careful.

Mr. Farren's characters do not take the time to ask serious philosophical questions. There is no where in the text a serious grappling with God and the nature of the universe. Instead one is treated to a sad world divided between the archetypes of the Punk and the Skinhead. It is hard enough to believe that these kinds of people exist in real life. We would like to read novels where they are not present. We read and indulge in art to escape the sad reality of a Punk/Skin Divide. We lead lives of self-examination to avoid becoming someone like a Mick Farren character.

Maybe that is my justification for re-reading this book without bowing to my impulse to condemn it as anti-Christian agit-prop. Above all, this book is a perfect example of everything that is wrong and deplorable about the combination of anti-intellectualism and Christianity. Yet it is also a uniquely Anti-American type of story. This improbable tale is unimaginable anywhere but America.

A society where historical ignorance is a badge of pride, where the Bible is read literally and reading is generally discouraged, a society whose intellectual avantegaurd are hard drinking rock'n'roll artists and whose common man is a simpleton: this is the America Mick Farren presents us with.

His villains are all Midwesterners who know nothing and love Jesus, prostitution and violence. His heroes are all "leftists" who dream of Australia, abortion or Canada. It is a depressing world not simply because it is so one dimensional, but because under our skin we know that to some extent it is an accurate depiction of modern America. As Farren himself writes in the third chapter: "The general population had become so goddamn weird that they deserved all they got." If true, then perhaps we the readers also deserve all we're getting.

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