A GOOD TELEVISION SERIES can alter the way people view the world. Fifty years from now, people will still be drawing lessons from Game of Thrones. Similarly inspired, I continue to draw lessons from a British television series first screened in 1971, The Guardians.
The “Guardians of the Realm” are a paramilitary force set up to enforce the will an authoritarian British government. Confronted with a rapidly disintegrating United Kingdom, shadowy forces, headed by “The General”, seize power and establish a dictatorial regime. The resistance movement, known simply as Quarmby, respond with a campaign of assassination and terror. Like Game of Thrones, The Guardians is not light viewing.
One episode of The Guardians, in particular, left me forever alert to the cynical use of religion as a political weapon. Not entirely happy with the way things are going in the Guardians’ new UK, the CIA sets up a weird religious movement through which it plans to influence public opinion.
Given what has happened in the years since The Guardians first screened, I have often wondered who the creators of the series, Rex Firkin and Vincent Tilsley, had been talking to. Certainly, radical religious movements were frequently to be found buttressing the authoritarian regimes installed by the CIA throughout the 1970s and 80s – especially those whose primary function had been to forestall, or destroy, left-wing governments attracting dangerous levels of popular support.
This was especially the case in Latin America where the Christian socialism of “Liberation Theology”, espoused by a growing number of Catholic priests and prelates, was attracting a growing following among the rural and urban poor. The ascension of the vehemently anti-communist Polish cardinal, Carol Wojtyla, as Pope John-Paul II, in 1979, served – for a while – to stem the spread of Liberation Theology across the Catholic lands. To those responsible for preserving the global hegemony of the United States, however, Catholic Christianity would always be suspect. Popes come and go, but Christ’s “preferential option for the poor” endures as an unacceptable challenge to American imperialism.
The religious expression weaponised by the CIA was evangelical Protestantism. Both at home and abroad, evangelicalism became an extraordinarily potent rejoinder to the latent socialism embedded in the Christian gospel. Where the Catholic Church preached a theology of atonement and imitation, radical Protestantism promised rebirth and redemption – without the need for good works.
“Born again”, the evangelicals could come before God pre-forgiven and debt-free. In combination with the emotional intensity of its services, evangelicalism’s guarantee of salvation constituted a compelling sales pitch. Catholicism’s insistence on confession and penance put them at a competitive disadvantage.
Only three things could keep an evangelical from God’s eternal company: socialism, abortion, and homosexuality. Providing the believer eschewed these three affronts to the Almighty, his or her salvation was assured.
What’s more, evangelical congregations numbering in the thousands were able to give worshippers extremely powerful emotional experiences. They were also large enough to fund comprehensive welfare services to congregants in need. Who needs socialism when you have your church?
Besides, Jesus wasn’t so much a friend of the poor, as a benefactor of the provident. Nor was he the enemy of the rich. Evangelicals were encouraged to see the accumulation of great personal wealth as a sign of God’s approbation. After all, what sort of incentive to Godliness is poverty?
Having just logged-on (3/10/22) to the Brazilian Electoral Commission’s website, the practical effect of this slow but steady spread of evangelicalism across Latin America is staring me in the face. With 99.9 percent of the votes counted, the Socialist candidate, Lula, has fallen agonisingly short of the 50 percent + 1 of the popular vote he needed to avoid a second round against the far-right (and recently baptised evangelical Christian) Jair Bolsonaro.
Had the religious demographics of the states of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo remained what they had been when Lula first won the Brazilian presidency back in 2003, it is likely they would have delivered him the votes he needed to win. With the help of the much increased and increasingly pivotal evangelical vote, however, both states fell to Bolsonaro by wide margins.
One does not need to be a conspiracy theorist to see in the bloody alliance of Latin American dictators, reactionary Catholics and fanatically anti-communist evangelical protestants a political combination of enormous utility to the United States. As New Zealanders, inhabitants of one of the most secular societies on earth, we find it difficult to grasp the centrality of religious belief to the politics of Latin America. Nevertheless, we need to understand that the tactics of the CIA-backed anti-insurgents of the 1970s and 80s were born out of what lay about them. If hands needed to be bloodied, it helped to have a religious faith ready and willing to wash them clean.
Did the creators of The Guardians intuitively grasp the political utility of religious extremism, or did somebody they met in a bar tell them? The early 1970s were a dangerous and dubious time. Shadowy figures gathered in great houses and plotted coups. Assassination and terrorism filled the headlines. Certainly, it was no accident that the network broadcasting The Guardians, ITV, decided that it was all just a little too close to home to be screened in Northern Ireland.
Or, in today’s Brazil.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 4 October 2022.
You say “Both at home and abroad, evangelicalism became an extraordinarily potent rejoinder to the latent socialism embedded in the Christian gospel.”
I have a genuine question. Can you point to any ‘latent socialism’ in the four Gospels, in the teachings of Christ? Jesus talks a good deal about money and wealth in the four Gospels. He encouraged the rich young ruler to sell his possessions and to give to the poor, and then to follow him, but he is silent on the role of the State when it comes to enforcing wealth distribution by means of coercion.
Voluntary acts of charity by individuals are exemplified and encouraged throughout the Gospels, and later in letters from the Apostles to the Church, but I see nothing advocating State mandated wealth redistribution in the Scriptures.
What have I missed?
To: Brendan McNeill @ 11:13
If you search the gospels for a political manifesto, Brendan, you will search in vain.
A society guided by the teachings of Christ will, however, reflect them in its laws, and those seeking to make its laws will reflect them in the policies they offer to the voters.
Our first Labour prime minister, Michael Joseph Savage, expressed this admirably when he described Labour's proposed welfare state as "applied Christianity".
That this is not obvious to you, Brendan, troubles me. Still, as Jesus said: "It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than it is for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven."
You say : “A society guided by the teachings of Christ will, however, reflect them in its laws, and those seeking to make its laws will reflect them in the policies they offer to the voters.”
While it sounds admirable at first glance to have the State impose the teachings of Christ by means of civil law, I wonder if this is desirable or even possible in practice? When Jesus was questioned about the greatest commandment he replied in Mark 12:29-31:
“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.[a] 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’[b] 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’[c] There is no commandment greater than these.”
How then, by means of civil law do we implement the first and most important commandment in the Gospels, to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength? Or the second, which is like the first, to love our neighbour as ourselves?
Do you think it possible or desirable to have the State force people to love God or their neighbour? Wouldn’t that result in the same tyranny we see in Muslim Nations like Iran? If the State cannot effectively or legitimately impose the two most important commandments taught by Christ, what makes you think socialists have a mandate to impose involuntary wealth redistribution in the name of Christ?
In reality, socialism is a form of Christian heresy. It is an attempt to create the Kingdom of God on earth, without recourse to God. It is a parasitic ideology, dependent upon Christianity for its moral vision, but with man and not Christ at its centre. It conflates coercion with compassion and proclaims its adherents righteous in so doing. Its end, as with all utopian dreams is misery.
The true hope of the Gospel is that it transforms the human heart, and is an antidote for human selfishness, hatred, greed and strife. It is by this means that God’s Kingdom will be manifest on earth. It is a gospel of grace, rather than coercion and it is available to all, rich and poor alike. With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.
There's been a degree of speculation that the "Sovereign Citizen" aka the confusingly misnamed "Common Law" movement - its adherents use the latter - has been artificially encouraged.
I was sent a link to the following podcast where someone who sounds like a Kiwified Brit advances this theory:
Some interesting titbits and background on some of the movers and shakers of the past election that I hadn't heard reported before.
The past election was so bizarre I do wonder whether there wasn't heavy interference on both sides by our American friends along the theme of your beloved show.
If you don't like the state 'enforcing wealth distribution by means of coercion', might I suggest you move to Somalia or Libya.
Neither place has a government.
There are, however, plenty of bandits and warlords.
They are more than happy to distribute your wealth to themselves.
"You can't serve both God and Mammon."
Professing devout faith and commitment to the Christian God rings rather hollow when you go out of your way to advocate for economic policies that benefit the rich. Hiding behind the figleaf of "we can't allow state coercion" rather overlooks the flipside of the famous "eye of the needle" line... if a rich man isn't entering the Kingdom of Heaven, where, exactly is he going? It's almost like the Christian God has His own means of going after the rich pricks of the world, a means rather stronger than any earthly power.
The rich can still enter the Kingdom of heaven, the Scriptures simply say it is ‘more difficult’ for them. Wealth brings its own distractions. My key point is that socialism is ‘another gospel’ with a plagiarised moral vision containing a promise it cannot hope to deliver for its followers.
Clearly the State has justifiable authority to tax its citizens in order to deliver its core services. Even with a flat tax system the rich pay more than the poor. The benefit of a just taxation system, where all are taxed at the same rate, is that it would impose greater restraint on Government largesse. The State would be restricted ‘doing no harm’ rather than attempting to ‘do good’ as is the case now. We could debate what constitutes ‘core services’ at another time.
Robbing Peter to pay Paul in a socialist democracy inevitably grows the number of Paul’s whose demand for more ‘free stuff’ can never be satisfied. We have been doing this now since Michael Joseph Savages ‘applied Christianity’ in the 1930’s, and we have more welfare dependency today almost 100 years later than when he first began, which is entirely in line with what you would expect. That is the design flaw in the system. You can never extinguish a fire by continuing to fuel it in ever increasing measure.
That this is unsustainable ought to be obvious to even a casual observer. It’s not just the foolishness of waste and abuse inherent in the system, it is the corrosive effect that intergenerational welfare dependency has on the human spirit. We can and should be better than this.
Very interesting, Charles!
The election was certainly a weird one... The mainstream media focused on alleged support of Counterspin by Steve Bannon but I am told that rather than financial support they merely had their videos uploaded to his and his Chinese parter's GTV network, a man who the Washington Post has written is now bankrupt, Guo Wengei. (Wengei could previously be seen floating between continents on a mega yacht in a tailored suit supping CHampagne).
It may be that the Counterspin team were selected as patsies. They have played that role in MSM, as have others, whatever their own convictions or true purpose. Alp and Spierer seem genuine in their convictions to me rather than black propagandists. However, if I were some CIA black propagandist, I might strive for such authenticity and seek to arrange it through my machinations.
Perhaps I give such forces too much credit. Surely, the agencies would not allow such egregious foreign interference in our country's political system? Andrew Hampton recently spoke to Stuff about social media companies pulling off "the biggest scam in history" and noted that his agency collected only a fraction of what they collected. Perhaps it is time to employ human intelligence once more, Mr Hampton? A little shoe leather wouldn't go amiss. Graphs are useful, but you cannot plum the depths of a human soul with a graph. More fireside chats might be needed. A craft beer or two at an Irish pub?
Data in intelligence may also work as a sort of scam. Or a veil. Deal with the thing and not just its representation. For data-based agencies have a hard enough time predicting the next move by mother nature on a daily basis My suggestion that it would be possible for an actor to intervene in a political situation in a foreign country and alter the course of politics there without being found out, in a sleepy country like New Zealand, might be down to too many Grahame Green novels and imparting intrigue from the sub-continent, where such intrigues play out in jungles and exchanges still. Then again, that might be to give the MSM too much credit and to bolster that old lazy veil and excuse of "nothing ever happens in New Zealand." A third man might very well be able to insert himself into a political party only to have the media play right into his agenda, and a cartoonish third man, at that, given the baa baa incredulity of the public and the on-message herding of the sheep dog press.
Looking back on the coverage of the last election, I feel that the whole thing stinks, and I'm not surprised to learn that there may have been serious efforts on the "left" as detailed by our mystery correspondent. Our third man of the curious project called Hastings (a "limited hangout" itself?) with the imperfectly disguised British accent made reference to the Maori Loans Affair, where foreign skullduggery was certainly afoot!
Sadly, there seems no-one around to write the first draft of what I assume will come out in the wash as history, in a more public effort. Perhaps "Charles" intended that effort to fall into your lap, curiously, like an umbrella on a sunny day, Mr Trotter?
Ah Brendan ... back with comments about Islam I see. I find that extreme Christians like you are not really theologically literate enough to comment on it.:)
If you want to see what a theocracy looks like I suppose you could look at some Muslim countries, but also some of those states in the US which happen to be in the Bible belt. Human rights fast disappearing there.They also tend to be way down the list on such metrics as health and education as well.
Will information sharing between agencies lead to more oppression or less?
Provided there's goodwill and respect for each other's priorities.
What about The Prisoner "A still tongue makes for a happy life" and "it's just very international and cosmopolitan".
And 2001 A Space Odyssey (Carbon Neutral 20??)?
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