Critical Analysis: Chris Hedges, A True Christian in Principles and a Complete Failure

In the posts labeled “Critical Analysis”, I will be giving my opinions on public intellectuals that I feel have influenced my opinions on politics, socioeconomics, and religion. The first person on the list is Chris Hedges, former NY Times journalist and Bureau Chief of Middle Eastern Affairs. I hope that these articles provide some value to readers and that you enjoy them.

I first learned about Chris Hedges during my Bachelors degree courses in Political Science. One of his books, War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning, was required reading. The book was one of the most thought-provoking, deep, insightful, and intelligent books that I had ever read and probably will ever read about war, terrorism, and State power. Hedges has lived a very difficult life and I sincerely believe that we should appreciate his opinions on the matter of wars. He was a war correspondent for the New York Times for fifteen years and observed some of the most heinous, cruelest actions committed by human beings and he admits that he eventually lost his faith in Jesus Christ because he couldn’t rationalize the barbarity of seeing innocent children slaughtered on the streets while he and other journalists lived through the horrific experiences. Journalists are trained and conditioned to handle negative effects of warfare just as soldiers are but Hedges could no longer be satisfied with the Christian religion’s explanation for evil in the world. He considers himself a theist but he doesn’t believe in an anthropomorphic metaphysical being as a God. He just couldn’t after seeing such bloodshed and he makes it very clear that Christianity only helped to create a convenient self-fulfilling answer to death and destruction that was more about appeasing our narcissism than explaining the horrors of the world. In one incident, he writes about being captured by terrorists and how he managed to survive as a hostage.

Hedges explains that the reason soldiers go back to war is because war can be a drug during the mayhem. Fighting for survival, killing or being killed, and being able to pull the trigger are aphrodisiacs that give soldiers a rush of adrenaline and a desire to fight. The stories of a “test of wills”, fulfilling obligations to past “heroes”, and defending the divine worship of the nation-state are illusions from corporate and governmental propaganda. The truth is that many of the soldiers that he met and interviewed in Latin America and Eastern Europe enjoyed killing and enjoyed fighting for their lives. They call themselves noble self-sacrificing people, but it is to increase their narcissism. In truth, they enjoyed having the power to kill and fighting for their lives in constant danger. Another unvarnished truth is that civilians – including innocent children – always die in prolonged wars. Hedges cites many examples of mass slaughters and war rape campaigns upon civilians. One of which is a soldier who shot at a door that suddenly opened at an apartment building when soldiers were marching in streets to fight enemy soldiers that they were afraid would ambush them. After the shot was fired, under the belief that an enemy soldier tried to ambush them, the shooter discovered that he had shot and killed a 9-year old girl who had opened the door in a panic. The soldier broke down on the street and vomited right there, because it reminded him of his own 9-year old daughter at home and he was too distraught to continue fighting when he got back to his military camp. Those sorts of events happen all the time and soldiers can never talk about it with their families. It’s one of the focal reasons religious extremism always increases after prolonged wars. The State and Corporate media’s never report such incidents or try to hide them to continue supporting the idea of heroics and humanitarian interventions in wars. The childish belief of good versus evil is a seductive way to find meaning in mayhem and destruction. Hedges writes, these sorts of horrible events that soldiers experience are the driving motivator behind soldier suicides. People take their own lives because of the shame in being unable to talk about these events and guilt over pulling the trigger.  In that sense, some of them – who are devout in their faiths – may believe that they deserve eternal torment in hell. War utterly destroyed them; State and Corporate media in all countries have a vested interest in never reporting this part about warfare. Nationalism – the collective narcissism of a people in Hedges’s own words – prevents any deep insights into the real effects of warfare on soldiers and civilians.

Hedges went on to point out how the US had become similar to the nationalistic fervor of the Balkans during war-time and how he recognized they were being led astray by nationalistic propaganda regarding Iraq. He attempted to give his opinions at one college conference a few weeks into the War in Iraq but was shouted out of the building by angry college students who viewed him as unpatriotic. The New York Times warned him that the US news media needed to show solidarity for the war in Iraq and Hedges resigned because the company was conducting actions that went against his ethics. In his book, he pointed out that the news media covered “our boys” referring to the US military and how they had to deal with weather conditions while the US were conducting bombing campaigns upon Iraqi civilian homes en masse for the initial invasion. He notes how religion is used to give flimsy meaning to the anecdotal experiences of soldiers throughout war. How it helps ease soldiers inhibitions. Near the end of the book, he finalizes his point by stating that war is not a force that gives people meaning and that people need to follow better paths but acknowledges that sometimes war is sadly necessary. Yet, too often arguments of “self-defense” are just manipulative methods to rally people into warfare with foreigners for economic objectives.

Now, by that point in my life, I had been familiarized with some of Sam Harris’s arguments from youtube videos since high school. I had really liked his arguments in favor of a secular world but my initial enthusiasm from my high school days but had misgivings after reading Hedges’s book. Hedges pointed out too many flaws that couldn’t and shouldn’t be ignored but always seemed to be when rallying the public into warfare or for nationalism. I began reading some of Hedges’s truthdig articles and much of his content seemed to be verifiable through legitimate sources although – depending on which country was giving the info – they had Republican and Democrat or even US biases. Yet, that is a truth in journalism – there is no real objective journalism; it is all a matter of perspectives by reorganizing the facts and opinions of social events for a favorable view of your side. I still enjoyed Sam Harris related videos and some content in his blogs but Hedges points couldn’t be ignored and the more I learned from my Political Science classes, the more concerned I grew with how Harris systematically misrepresented political events and socio-political issues. I searched for his sources as well and I found them to be dubious. I began to wonder whether he honestly believed some of the arguments that he was making about Muslims in particular. There are certain political topics that even US academia will be hesitant to write or deeply immerse themselves in. For example, the genocide of the Native Americans and the constant misrepresentation of the facts regarding the genocide is one of them. Sadly, the US academia focuses strictly on the initial contact period but ignores the systematic sterilization, land grabs, and State/local governments financing militias that would slaughter the Native population throughout its history. To both men’s credit, they’ve both highlighted the grotesque incidents of abuses of the Native population. Hedges has investigated the systemic poverty and racially motivated police aggression upon the population and Harris has pointed out that during the 1600s Christian missionaries would baptize Native American babies to Christ and then kill them immediately by smashing their heads in with stones to send them to heaven. Sadly, if anything, the genocide is understated and not overstated. Despite whatever similarities they had, the differences were many and I wondered who would be more convincing in a debate.

I decided to google Chris Hedges and Sam Harris to find that they did know of each other. I recall being briefly excited at the possibility that they had debated together against another group of people similar to Hitchens and Harris debating Christian groups. My enthusiasm left me when the first title I read from Sam Harris’s own website read “Dear Angry Lunatic”, I promptly began laughing at what I felt was irony. I began to read Harris’s fairly angry tangent against Hedges. I immediately searched for their debate to watch what had happened. Despite the moderator’s lack of impartiality, he did allow Harris repeated attempts to counter both men and Harris’s arguments were less than convincing. Any further debate will never be had because Harris refuses to ever debate Hedges again or be anywhere near him in public discourse (he says as much in his final blog post about Hedges which can be seen on his website and truthdig). The fact was that Hedges did have more convincing, factually verifiable arguments. Most Harris fans are also all too willing to argue that anyone who proves Harris wrong is an angry charlatan looking for some anonymous career advancement, that the other person is deceitful or lacks any true credibility ( an argument made against all Harris’s detractors), and that the other person is being a jerk and taking Harris out of context. While I found the arguments between Hedges and Harris entertaining, amusing, and chalked up the controversy as both men having incompatible personalities despite their similarities – I’ve noticed that Harris has now repeated this very event with Greenwald, Aslan, and Affleck. The childish insults and ad hominems don’t just come from Harris’s extreme fans, but rather from Harris’s own blog and he’s subtly encouraged the behavior as a result. Much like his interaction with Hedges, Harris noticeably ignores the content of the arguments and goes onto repeated character assassinations and derogatory insults. In regards to Hedges’s content of arguments, he was proven right. Harris’s last blog post on truthdig doesn’t explicitly say that he wants to nuke the Muslim world but he heavily implies it. For that matter, why did he even suggest a nuclear attack as a viable option? His fans seem to be unable to understand the nuance of Harris’s detractors. Hedges arguments about Harris being a fundamentalist for Atheism and American foreign policy apologist became more credible years after their controversy.

I began to read Hedges truthdig articles fairly regularly but I began to feel deeply depressed after reading through them after several months. One particular article, about the Israeli-Palestine conflict as it was happening, about how international law was being waived seemed to show Hedges own failure in understanding most of the laws. Nation-states are allowed to interpret and pick and choose which laws to follow. I doubt even Security Council resolutions can ever truly be enforced fully. During Occupy Wall Street, Hedges seemed to offer a slimmer of hope but after Occupy failed, it was apparent that most of his blog posts were repeated articles highlighting doom and gloom. I had always felt objections to Hedges’s socialist leanings because Socialism has failed in every format that it has tried. I felt that Hedges should have been able to do far more as a journalist. Perhaps something similar to The Intercept or Wikileaks but his talks, blogs, and so forth would always go on discussions about the evils of technology and how he felt that religion’s more pacifist and kind nature was thoroughly eroded due to corporate power, anti-gay bigotry, and ubiquitous American greed. I had come to a stunning and depressing epiphany after Hedges stated that nothing we could do now could really stop military-corporate power and the destruction of the earth from global warming.

Most fans of Hedges seem to wonder why someone like him can’t ever truly get airtime or why people don’t listen to him; it isn’t because he doesn’t lie – which I’ve begun to doubt – but rather that he really doesn’t have any solution to these issues. It’s always evil people in power and the poverty stricken – the age-old childish narrative that we’ve been exposed to in cartoons. The rich are always evil, greedy, and hateful while the poor are kind, honest, and hardworking. Hedges seemed to espouse this narrative up until people actually do accomplish good actions against self-centered corporate interests. When they do, Hedges changes his tune and speaks of the greed and evil within all of us – even the Occupy Wall Street protesters who, Hedges has written, seek the same greed and lavish lifestyle as the rich before going on about how heroic they are. His arguments began to seem less cogent and his negative tangents began to make me feel detached from any kind of positive thinking. Hedges has no solution to these issues; when people point out scientific research into solar powered alternatives, algae powered buildings (Yes, algae powered!), or other alternatives; Hedges will list arguments about nuclear wars and horrible atrocities that science causes. It creates feelings of depression and possibly even ubiquitous nihilism about the future of the human race. It is always doom, failure, and utter despair in the framework of Hedges’s articulate, intelligent, and very biased arguments. I realized the reason politicians are in charge and not people like Hedges was because they can give you assurances – even lies that sound like assurances – to make you feel good about yourself, your community, your country, and give kind platitudes of encouragement for the public. That gives hope, hope that seems veiled and with ulterior motives but hope nonetheless. People need to feel safe and comforted, not just for themselves but for their loved ones sake too.

It isn’t simply the message, Hedges’s actual arguments lack substance in regards to scientific alternatives and he obsesses over the negative impacts of corporations while ignoring the positive effects of the overwhelming amount of charity works. Billionaires are giving away more money than they ever have before in history as of now. But in the world of Chris Hedges, rich white people can only do evil to the average American. He actually makes a racial distinction and makes such a racist argument about affluent White Americans. In the world of Chris Hedges: All technology everywhere is evil and will only hasten the inevitable self-annihilation of our species while he lives a safe life within one of the most advanced first world countries and has had another child. All corporations are super powerful, monolithic, and work to commit the worst evil except the massive charity drives, relief aid given to people suffering from natural disasters, and cancer research. He has a point about the funding of wars and war equipment to maximize profits and Evangelicals being funded to commit cultural genocide in India, Thailand, and several parts of Africa, but otherwise his claims seem unsubstantiated.

Chris Hedges is a kind, honest, and hardworking person but he has his flaws and his flaws are truly detrimental. Both he and Chomsky can outline and elaborate upon many issues with US foreign and domestic policies but they don’t really have clear, logical, or legitimate solutions to these issues. Socialism and Anarchism will never work and they seem blind to the ill effects of their social beliefs while categorically highlighting the abuses of capitalism and the US government. They’re not entirely wrong, but they do exaggerate. Hedges is a true Christian in his values and I would argue that is his fundamental flaw. When Christianity removes heaven, hell, and Jesus Christ as real and instead perceives them as helpful guides to life and good moral character then a disturbing and vile form of living can be observed. I had suspected it when interacting with Christians in forums and reading Christian blogs but Hedges serves as a confirmation. That is not to say that belief in metaphysical Christianity isn’t also detrimental, but placing importance upon Christian values are the fundamental flaw. Chris Hedges has utterly destroyed himself because of his Christian values. Hedges father was a minister and he had a Presbyterian upbringing, I understand that giving up on it completely would be excruciatingly difficult for him but keeping to the values of the Christian faith show its true ugliness. It was only confirmed later when I read and reread some of his other blog posts on New Atheism and especially capitalism.

This probably sounds insulting and I suppose it is insulting in some respects but I think it is accurate: Chris Hedges is the epitome of Christian nihilism. A socialist with Christian values praises nihilism as a human good. At his core, he has Christian values and those Christian values seductively preach the ubiquitous hatred of all human actions. Christians are taught, by Jesus Christ himself, to point out hypocrisy everywhere and to celebrate poverty as an achievement. Hedges does both of these in his blogs about socioeconomic issues and human greed. Evil is everywhere, greed is innate, and Hedges himself has cited original sin as the true nature of humankind when rebuking New Atheism. Thus, because it is a human action; it is steeped in evil, sin, greed, and hatred. Nothing a human being does can ever be good because Christian values teach you that all you can do is your wrongness in sinful behavior and that seeking Jesus’s salvation will exempt you of your crimes upon other people. There is no sense of responsibility in Christianity because of the forgiveness doctrine. But for Hedges, he emphasizes the hypocrisy and the evil of humanity. Everything human is wrong, humans – once they do evil – can never stop or make anything positive. It is just the most detrimental and stupid form of circular reasoning that I’ve ever observed. Chris Hedges has thought-provoking criticism but he has no solution and all he can provide is this self-abased worldview that heaps nihilism upon nihilism ad infinitum. I sometimes wonder whether he just wants to commit suicide because his articles are so self-deprecating. What is the point without a solution? There can be none. It is almost literally Nietzsche’s warning in genealogy of the morals about the Will to Nothingness. While I haven’t really lived up to any Nietzschean philosophy and don’t agree with some parts of it, I am so happy to have read it because it provides such a wonderful counterpoint to Christian theology and Christian philosophy. Within the context of the Christian lifestyle, everything is loser logic that one must accept with humility. Egoism is always evil, wrongful, and stupid while doing nothing and celebrating the “do-nothing” attitude is the greatest achievement in Christian theology. It is no wonder Evangelical tycoons use cognitive dissonance to rationalize their actions. Christian theology goes nowhere without death as a reward. I’m afraid that’s exactly the path that Hedges has chosen.

I still respect him, his insights, and that he highlights ignored issues; but he has no real solution and he is far too nihilistic about life itself to be taken seriously. He will disingenuously argue about science and positive civil events just to continue a diatribe of ubiquitous nihilism in a Christian moral worldview about every social and political topic. He is mostly wrong about capitalism, the reason it has increased in power isn’t solely because of the money issue but also because workers gained more control of the decision-making of the business. Middle managers were cut across the board and managers are empowering their workers more than ever; those that don’t are slowly losing their business. It’s a detail that he completely ignores to project a monolithic conceptualization of capitalism as a malignant entity.

I’ll conclude with a quote from Nietzsche, that I think, really highlights the problem of Hedges’s content:

      Doing Harm to Stupidity. It is certain that the belief in the reprehensibility of egoism, preached with such stubbornness and conviction, has on the whole done harm to egoism (in favour of the herd instinct, as I shall repeat a hundred times!) , especially by depriving it of a good conscience, and by bidding us seek in it the source of all misfortune. “Your selfishness is the bane of your life “so rang the preaching for millenniums: it did harm, as we have said, to selfishness, and deprived it of much spirit, much cheerfulness, much ingenuity, and much beauty; it stultified and deformed and poisoned selfishness! Philosophical antiquity, on the other hand, taught that there was another principal source of evil: from Socrates downwards, the thinkers were never weary of preaching that “your thoughtlessness and stupidity, your unthinking way of living according to rule, and your subjection to the opinion of your neighbour, are the reasons why you so seldom attain to happiness, we thinkers are, as thinkers, the happiest of mortals.” Let us not decide here whether this preaching against stupidity was more sound than the preaching against selfishness; it is certain, however, that stupidity was thereby deprived of its good conscience: those philosophers did harm to stupidity.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

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