“We have transformed our culture into a vast replica of Pinocchio’s Pleasure Island, where boys were lured with the promise of no school and endless fun. They were all, however turned into donkeys – a symbol of ignorance and stupidity”
In Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle Chris Hedges pulls no punches in condemning the corruption, materialism and lies that he believes US culture is enslaved to. I think it’s an important book – a sort of intellectual version of a Michael Moore film.
Hedges’ uses the pretend world of professional wrestling and the increasingly degrading porn industry as illustrations of the power of this illusory world. Also included in his critique is gimmicky US church culture which sells a shallow form of hope without helping people engage with reality.
But he also hones in on weightier targets such as the lack of intellectual independence in Harvard, Yale and America’s other elite universities who have sold their souls to big business. He savages the corruption and power of US Corporations and their manipulation of the government.
Hedges compares the US to other empires which have corroded through corruption and immorality throughout history:
‘Our culture of illusion is, at its core, a culture of death. It will die and leave little of value behind.’
Similiarly to many Biblical prophets, the message of this book is mainly deconstructive. It speaks the truth to power. It is a call to resistance. But what about renewal – is there any hope?
Well, not much – but there is some. Hedges states in the book’s final paragraph: ‘Hope exists. It will always exist…’ and he goes on to say (reminding me of I Corinthians 13):
‘The power of love is greater than the power of death. It cannot be controlled. It is about sacrifice for the other – something nearly every parent understands – rather than exploitation. It is about honouring the sacred. And power elites for millenia have tried and failed to crush the force of love. Blind and dumb, indifferent to the siren calls of celebrity, unable to bow before illusions, defying the lust for power, love constantly rises up to remind a wayward society of what is real and what is illusion. Love will endure, even when it appears darkness has swallowed us all, to triumph over the wreckage that remains.’
This book argues powerfully that in the darkness of this world there is much to resist. But hope is displayed in authentic, sacrificial love. This is what will bring true renewal.
4 thoughts on “‘Empire of Illusion’ by Chris Hedges”
This is a good review. The need for prophetic resistance and hope for renewal is an important reminder of the biblical mandate of speaking truth to power. Some of Hedges’ insights could apply to the UK equally as much as they speak into the US context.
I wanted to thank you for posting a reference to Empire of Illusion here on your page. I get alerted anytime Hedges is posted anywhere. This brings me to pages like yours which, occasionally, present a hopeful surprise.
It’s a good move that his word is heard in a ‘christian’ forum. I myself no longer associate with the church in any fashion. Long ago I, like Hedges, saw the bitter and rampant inaction and hypocracy of the church and those who associate under such a brand. However, I was fortunate in my high school years to be taught by the Jesuits, who encouraged me to search for my path and, in these fellows, I found the greatest mentors and – still, to this day – friends.
You make a good step to incorporate this very thoughtful and experienced gentleman into your work. I do believe there are groups who operate under Jesus’ name with selfless intent, but such are hard to see with all the noisemakers and pious pottymouths.
When I see you bringing the JC name up against someone of such resistance I go back to my better roots. I hope your regulars are people of action.
Genuine kindness, stupid acts of resistance are going to be needed in the future. I am not one with a positive outlook myself, but I do believe in those few who stand up against the growing oppression. I commend you and wish you great success, even if only measured in your own heart. You know what it is. And that kind acts transcend us all, and what we are to live through.
Thanks sabel for your generous email. I did find it a very good book – and I wondered to myself throughout reading it where Chris Hedges was coming from in his personal faith commitment, as I have not read him before. Whilst there is much criticism of the church, there is also so much which resonates with progressive Christian thinking and he mentions attending seminary etc. The US context is different to the UK – we have plenty of ‘pious pottymouths’ (great phrase) but they have no where near the profile and power they do in the US. Ironically though it is Americans who are of great inspiration to many of my Christian friends- obviously people like Martin Luther King – but also Dorothy Day, Jim Wallis and Ched Myers. I am reading a great book at the moment by John Perkins called ‘Let Justice Roll Down’ – which is about the civil rights struggle and the silence of so many evangelical Christians.
Thanks for getting in touch – and yes, my site is aimed at activists and to provoke activism – but its early days! You might be interested in the piece ‘What Evangelicals have done to Sin’ under the theology tab above.