What happened in all this to God? Put crudely, he lost the public relations war. As the theologian Don Cupitt points out, God and Mammon have changed places.
"Mammon," writes Cupitt, "is an internationalist. He wants people to be healthy and well educated. He wants peace and stability, progress and universal prosperity. By contrast, God (especially in the Middle East) appears to have become a Moloch who demands ignorance, poverty and war."
Theocratic societies, like those of Iraq or Iran, are poor, warlike and oppressive. Technocratic societies, like Britain or, especially, America, are rich, internally peaceful and apparently free. People in the West may yearn for what God once was, but they recoil from what he has become. This new God seems to be defended by boys with AK-7s. We may not feel safe living with our wealth, but we feel a lot safer than those who still live in too close proximity to their God.
This, perhaps, is why the state of Israel exerts such perennial fascination. Part western technocracy, part Middle Eastern theocracy, it lives the contradiction with real bullets and real blood, whereas we only think about such things.
Of course, God is far from dead in the West. In America, in particular, he lives on for a large majority of the population through a vast supermarket of sects, faiths and cults, many of which have learnt to live with Mammon by raising money through hot-gospelling television shows. But, believe as they may, God is kept in check by the very variety he has inspired in Americans. So many are the faiths that they are divisive and unifying, and meanwhile the carefully secular constitution keeps any one version of the Almighty far from the corridors of power.
Perhaps this is an ideal arrangement, the very contract that explains America's overpowering success. Individual faith, with all its social benefits, is kept intact, and theocracy, with all its destructive forces, is forbidden by laws that firmly separate state and church.
But there is a catch. American faith is overwhelmingly a phenomenon of a heartland whose power and identity are rapidly diminishing. It may still be represented by the Christian wing of the Republican party, but otherwise it is regarded with some embarrassment by the liberal elites of the East and West Coasts. These are the elites that control America. They are composed of the secularised technocrats whose ingenuity powers the global march into the future.
To itself, America may be a nation of God whose material blessings are dispensed from on high, but to the rest of us it is the nation of Mammon, and those blessings flow not from heaven but from Silicon Valley, from eerie genetics labs in Boston and San Diego, from Hollywood and from those glassy New York corporate headquarters.
Meanwhile, old Europe is almost godless, and in the Far East, Buddhism and Confucianism seem to have come to a weak and compromised accommodation with the globalised world order. The recent collapse of the Far Eastern economies had the effect of asserting the ascendancy of the American Mammon. Previously, those nations, especially Singapore, had grown richer and ever more convinced that their socially disciplined and state-directed capitalism was the way to the future, rather than the chaos and freedom of the American system. But economic failure ended the dream. As Malaysia foundered and Japan lapsed into paralysis, only American values and the atomised, privatised American God was left to offer a viable future.
And so the world remains in the wreckage of its old meanings. We have much to do, but it feels like tinkering in the grounds of old temples, old magnificences. In the words of that great poet Wallace Stevens, our project seems to be little more than "To improve the sewers in Jerusalem".
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