Gray, J. 2007. Black Mass: Apocalyptic religion and the death of Utopia. New York. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Review and Commentary by Green Institute Fellow Tom Baugh
In Black Mass author John Gray, Professor of European Thought at the London School of Economics and Political Science, explores apocalyptic religion and its influence on modern politics. His opening words set the stage for the journey when he defines modern politics as “a chapter in the history of religion.’ Recognizing that religion and utopia have been coupled throughout the human project, he traces the development of utopian thought through 19th century left-leaning utopianism to the 20th century utopianism of the right. Gray says that a project is utopian “if there are no circumstances under which it can be realized.” Although Gray’s journey looks deep into the past for its thesis, he spends substantial time with Soviet Communism and Nazi National Socialism as utopian movements before focusing on the utopian religious underpinnings of the US and the utopian ‘world democracy’ movement of the United States Presidential administration of George Walker Bush.
Although he doesn’t feel that the United States is or will turn into a theocratic state, Gray does find that the American republic is characterized by unrivaled “religiousity.” Given all of that, however, it wasn’t until Bush became President of the United States that “religion began to move into the centre of American politics.” …Stimulated by the 9/11 events, and promulgating “an unmistakably apocalyptic tone…In the early 1990’s neo-conservatives joined forces in a strategic alliance with Christian fundamentalists.” Gray points out that religion in the United States has had an apocalyptic thread combined with a “political manifest destiny since its early colonial period.” It is obvious that Bush has surrounded himself with associates and Christian leaders who are adherents of one of these threads know as Christian Reconstructionism, or Dominion Theology. These are movements, often hosting an End Time theology that “believe that following the divine command humankind must ‘subdue’ the Earth – a task that includes exploiting the world’s natural resources and controlling weather.” According to Gray, it may well be that Bush’s opposition to environmentalism lies in a conflict of environmental policies with his religious beliefs, for there is “…no reason to be concerned with global warming if you believe Armageddon is around the corner.”
Gray calls us to encounter the world as it really is, neither an End Time nor a secular utopia. Things are as they are. Humanity is as it demonstrably is. For Gray solutions, if there are any, lie in a realism that recognizes these basic realities of humanity. In this regard, he suggests that humanity may be able to temper environmental crisis but not overcome it. He sees a future in which “the struggle for natural resources and the violence of faith” will determined the nature of the ‘coming century.”
I agree with World Policy Institute Senior Fellow David Reiff, who says that Black Mass is “a necessary book.” I disagree, however, with Gray’s position that the United States is not on a journey to theocracy. The US republic was set on that path before its conception and has continued on that path since its establishment. As environmental catastrophe worsens and natural resource wars become more numerous and violent, the US will, most likely, continue its drift to the right and into a religious authoritarianism. This, unfortunately, may be America’s manifest destiny
Perhaps to vindicate my disagreement, allow me to quote Lieutenant-General William Boykin, (also quoted by Gray) Under Secretary of Defense in the first Bush Administration, who says that the true enemy of the United States is ‘…a spiritual enemy, he’s called the principality of darkness. The enemy is a guy called Satan.” The eight years of the presidency of George Walker Bush has allowed a large number of men and women like Boykin to burrow deeply into government at all levels from federal, through state, to local. Many of them believe as does Boykin. They are capable of doing incalculable harm in the name of God. And the vehicle of that harm may well be called ‘democracy.’