From God to Gaia to Obama’s Nuclear Apocalypse

Thirty years ago, driving across the hill country in the South, every 50 miles  I’d pick up a new Pentecostal radio station with the preacher screaming in tongues in  a torrent of ecstatic drivel – “Miki taki meka keena ko-o-ola ka” – the harsh consonants rattling the speakers on my Newport station wagon.  I had a friend, a  “shouter” – whose trailer featured by way of cultural uplift only the Bible and a big TV set tuned to the Christian Broadcasting Network, on which Pat Robertson used to denounce New Age paganism on an hourly basis.

Last time I visited, a few months ago, my friend’s nice house still featured the Bible. Next to it is was thick manual  of astrological guidance – could Geminis pair up with Scorpios with any hope of success, and kindred counsel – and  he and his wife surfed  through a big menu of channels. Out on the highway my radio picked up Glenn Beck spouting drivel, but the old Pentecostalists had vanished from the dial.   These days, my friend told me, he and his wife didn’t tithe to any particular church and pastor. “All crooks,” he said dryly. They stay home and hold their own Sunday service there.

It’s still God’s country, but  all the landmarks are different. There are millions  in the Bible belt steering not just by God’s compass and the Good Book, but also by the stars and natural forces of a pagan spiritual outlook.

The Bible’s had a rough time of it these past forty years. In 1967 came Linn White Jr’s famous 1967 essay “The Historic Roots of our Ecologic Crisis”  denouncing  God’s okay to Adam on planetary pillage in Genesis 1: 26-28: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion… over all the earth… Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth and subdue it,” a mandate also unpleasing  to the  population controllers,  always a powerful force in American environmentalism (and surging anew today, since every mewling  infant  means a hateful new carbon lungprint.  One can imagine Paul Ehrlich shuddering like a vampire at the sight of the crucifix, every time he trips over yet another “begat” in the Pentateuch.)

In the Judaeo-Christian tradition, only man  had reason and a soul. The rest of creation was mechanical and could be subdued with a clear conscience. Down the road lay the Descartes and the Jansenists claiming that the howls of tortured animals was merely the noise of breaking machinery.
Feminists found much to deplore in the Bible too, whether it was God’s tough talk to Eve in the Garden of Eden — “In sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee” —  or St Paul’s terse “The head of every man is Christ and the head of the woman is man.”

Nor did the Six Day War help the Bible’s standing as God’s revealed truth and as Zionism’s anchor. As Israeli archaeologists led by Yigael Yadin  fanned out across the newly conquered  West Bank and the heart of biblical Judea they searched for evidence of the historical homeland, in a quest that had its roots, as brilliantly excavated by Shlomo Sand in his recent The Invention of the Jewish People (Verso),  in the appearance of prenationalist Jewish historiography from the mid-nineteenth century, starting with  Heinrich Graetz’s  History of the Jews from the Oldest Times to the Present. Graetz believed with every fiber of his being that the Pentateuch was historically accurate.

As Sand relates, the post 1967 digs “failed to find any traces of an important tenth-century kingdom, the presumed time of David and Solomon…. The inescapable and troublesome conclusion was that if there was a political entity in tenth-century Judaea, it was a small tribal kingdom, and that Jerusalem was a fortified stronghold. “ Sand approvingly cites the view of certain biblical scholars that “the Bible is not a book, but a grand library that was written, revised and adapted in the course of three centuries, from the late sixth to the early second BCE.”   In 1969 Golda Meir famously declared, “There were no such thing as Palestinians…. They did not exist.” Four decades later the Israeli journalist Tom Segev is quoted on the dust jacket  of Sand’s  book as saying “”There never was a Jewish people, only a Jewish religion, and the exile also never happened – hence there was no return.”   Degraded in its historical standing, the Old Testament meanwhile swelled in unpleasing outline  as a prefiguring of , and a mandate for later savage persecution by  Israeli Jews  of  Palestinians.

When his British publisher, Jonathan Cape, announced a year ago that R. Crumb was preparing an illustrated Genesis that would be a “scandalous satire” presenting  “a complex, even subversive, narrative that calls for a significant re-examination of both the Bible’s content and its role in our culture”, I thought this would be the coup de grâce, the final revenge of the antinomian ’60s on decency and faith and the bloodthirsty Creator.

If a conclusive disrespecting of Genesis was required, wouldn’t you think R. Crumb was the man for the job? It would be as seditious as hiring the Marquis de Sade to write the history of the British royal family. The patriarchs of the second half of Genesis would be crushed beneath the vast breasts and bottoms, hairy thighs and savage élan of Eve and her daughters.

Crumb encourages such hopes in the bit of his Book of Genesis Illustrated, published late last year, that I happened to read first: the notes in which he pays homage to Savina Teubal’s Sarah the Priestess (1984), which argued that Genesis is in part a sequence of clues about the suppression of a powerful matriarchal order in Mesopotamia and Egypt. In Genesis, Crumb writes, “the struggles and assertions of the female characters are all about this.”

Why did Crumb really embark on this task? Maybe the clue is in three inviting words on the cover: “Nothing left out!” , along with the tempting advisory, also on the cover: “Adult Supervision Recommended for Minors.” It would have been great to have had his frames for all fifty chapters of Genesis back in the ’50s, when we schoolboys had only our imaginations to work with, as Lot’s daughters get their father drunk and lie with him, or when Sara tells Abraham to go in unto Hagar. There was Onan too, now frame-frozen by Crumb amid coitus interruptus.

But the overall effect is more solemn than satirical, starting with portentous frames about the Creation.  Reading the verses in Chapter 15 in which God, a testy old geezer with a very long beard, makes his covenant with Abraham —“To your seed I have given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates”—I wondered whether Crumb, a Catholic long ago, had converted to Zionism. He uses Robert Alter’s 1996 translation, and Alter has had a long association with the Zionist periodical, Commentary. But as a conspiracy this doesn’t really hang together. In his interesting writings on Genesis, Alter prudently finesses questions of historical veracity by stressing the book’s literary unity, an approach that clearly bothers Commentary’s former mothership, the American Jewish Committee, whose website has a somewhat uneasy page about Alter’s views of Genesis.

What does bounce from Crumb’s pages is that Genesis really is about Jews. In the dawn of mankind there were lots and lots of hairy Jews with big noses, herding sheep and often lying on top of or underneath Jewish women who may or may not have been matriarchs. As Robert Christgau remarks, Crumb’s “head shots of Jacob’s 58 grandsons could come straight out of the Damascus A&M yearbook.”

In the end Genesis overwhelms Crumb. He never quite settles on which way to go—or what, as a dirty-minded satirist, to go up against. But paganism wins on another front. In 1975 Stewart Brand printed in the summer issue of his CoEvolution Quarterly Lynn Margulis and James Lovelock’s “The Gaia Hypothesis,” which advanced the notion that “living matter, the air, the oceans, the land surface” are “parts of a giant system” that exhibits “the behavior of a single organism, even a living creature.”

Thirty-five years later, James Cameron gives us Avatar and the planet Pandora, which is Gaia brought to life in the most savage denunciation of imperial exploitation—explicitly American—ever brought to screen. Now a huge hit, Avatar is the most expensive antiwar film ever made (at $200 million, about half the cost of a single F-22). “It is nature which today no longer exists anywhere,” a peppery German called  Marx  wrote in 1845. But Rousseau is having his revenge on Karl. The night I went to Avatar the audience cheered when Pandora, as a single Gaian organism, puts Earth’s predatory onslaught to flight and man’s war machines are crushed by natural forces. Against Genesis and the Judeo-Christian tradition, pagan mysticism is carrying the day, at the level of fantasy as it is in those astrological manuals down in the Bible belt.

But alas, it is all fantasy, as a beautiful creature with a tail whacks USMC colonel Quaritch with a couple of well-placed arrows. Here on earth,  the Gaian crowd are all devotees of the Man-Made Global Warming Cult, which this last week, in the world of the real, fulfilled its basic mission of smoothing the way for the renaissance of nuclear power, with Obama announcing last Tuesday, February 16,  – see Karl Grossman’s useful piece on this site last week –  that his administration is  moving ahead on $8.3 billion in federal government loan guarantees to build new nuclear plants.

“My budget proposes tripling the loan guarantees we provide to help finance safe, clean nuclear facilities,” Obama proclaimed on Tuesday, referring to a DOE plan which would add $36 billion and bring the loan guarantee fund to $54.5. The $8.3 billion in loan guarantees is to go toward the Southern Company of Atlanta constructing two nuclear power reactors in Burke, Georgia. These are to be AP1000 nuclear power plants designed by the Westinghouse nuclear division (now owned by Toshiba) although in October the designs were rejected by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission as likely being unable to withstand events like tornadoes and earthquakes.
Yes, Obama did denounce the dangers of nuclear power on the campaign trail. And yes, he has always been in receipt of hefty campaign funds from the nuclear industry. The huge nuke corporation Exelon donated $200,000 to Obama’s 2008 election campaign and his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, and prime political advisor David Axelrod, have links to the company. And yes, on February 1, the Obama administration unveiled a budget in which both of the University of California’s s weapons labs would receive huge boosts in government funding. The proposed funding increase of 23 per cent at Los Alamos would be the facility’s largest since 1944.  Much of that funding is for a new factory to produce plutonium bomb cores, the explosive triggers of modern thermo-nuclear warheads, for the  purpose of outfitting the first new nukes to be developed since the end of the Cold War.

You can trace the hand of the nuclear power lobby in the confection of the global warming scare as far back as the 1970s. It’s been a four-decade push which took a giant step towards fruition last Tuesday. A quarter of a century ago, nuclear power was dead in this country, so far as new plant construction as concerned.  In the wake of Obama’s announcement last week, there were some bleats from the greens, some pro forma yaps from the big Green organizations, but nothing with real teeth.  The executives at these big green outfits knew long ago that this was a  “bait and switch” exercise.   Watch Obama festoon the requests for the new nuke plant licenses with all manner of pleasing drapery about “cap and trade” and so forth.  It’s meaningless.
The camel is in the tent and if you look down, there’s another camel’s nose coming through. On Thursday February 18,  Obama formally signed into law the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, an admittedly non-binding presidential commission on entitlements and the deficit.  The air is thick with Obamian self congratulation about Doing the Right Thing, whatever the political cost.  The line from the Democratic strategists is that this is all mere positioning for the fall elections and in due course the Commission will fire off a couple of blanks and then quit the stage of history.

What does the president really think about cutting the social safety net? As I remarked last week, To ask which is the “real” Obama  is to drift towards the illusion of thinking there is one – as opposed to an infinitely mutable organism, endlessly adapting to political circumstance, with an eye eternally cocked to the main chance. Nonetheless, everything Obama has done so far suggests that by philosophical disposition and political instinct he’s a neoliberal eager to please the elites and can thus be counted on, when the chips are down,  to do the wrong thing. After the second camel’s nose could well come the unmistakable hump of a bipartisan compromise, eroding basic social protections and delighting Wall Street.

There’s a gift for the grandchildren! Retirement postponed to 72, and benefits slashed. Hunker down in your shanty next to the new nuclear power plant and spend your last remaining dollars on the mandatory health insurance policy. Thank you, President Obama.

Knowing Better But Doing Worse

I bet JoAnn Wypijewski a couple of weeks ago that even she couldn’t write a readable piece about HUD and Section 8 Housing. “JoAnn,” I cried, “our readers will see  ‘HUD’ and ‘Section 8’ and go straight to sleep. They’ll crash forward onto their laptops and we’ll be sued for damages.”

But JoAnn has come  through, with a truly terrific piece for our latest newsletter, clear  as a well focussed Leica lense, as savage as Jonathan  Swift,  about the adventures and misadventures of public housing since New York social organizer Langdon Post pushed a reluctant FDR and his New Dealers to invest in renovation of Vincent Astor’s slums, creating “the First Houses”, dedicated 75 years ago by Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia and Eleanor Roosevelt.

Today public housing is mauled on a daily basis by the Fox News crowd and  by the neoliberals too.  As a demolisher of public housing Clinton was worse than Nixon and Reagan. JoAnn describes how “Chicago demolished 13,000 units under Clinton’s “Hope VI” program, how Minneapolis demolished more than half of its family public housing stock between 1998 and ’99. By 2008, New Orleans had no more public housing; 4,800 units gone. The Gulf Coast had lost 12,000 Section 8 units with no hope of restoration. Los Angeles had drawn up plans to dispose of all of its public housing stock. Atlanta, with a greater percentage of its population living in public housing than any city in the country in the 1990s, had used the occasion of the Olympics to send in the bulldozers. Between 1994 and 2004, it had eliminated 17,000 units, and by 2008 it was on track to become the first city to demolish all of its public housing and essentially to privatize the undertakings of its housing authority, which now calls itself ‘a diversified real estate company, with a public mission and purpose.’”

And just what has happened in the era of former community organizer Barack Obama?  “Knowing better, But Doing Worse” is part of the title of JoAnn Wypijewski’s piece and I urge you to subscribe and read it.  In the same issue you get a marvelous essay by Paul Craig Roberts on “How the Economy Was Lost”, plus an update from David Price on his great expose  in our last issue on the new Spook Schools overseen by the CIA and other major intelligence agencies, now on 22 campuses across the country.

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How the Economy Was Lost

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ALEXANDER COCKBURN can be reached at

Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined!, A Colossal Wreck and An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents are available from CounterPunch.