16 March 2016

Decadence Comes to Cuba

I was watching a recent report about some American DJ's setting up a concert in Cuba. I don't know who they are but their music was that kind of grinding discotheque style... the very sort of thing that repressive governments would like to ban. I hate to agree with such governments but the music is culturally subversive and promotes individual gratification, hedonism and decadence. The concert looked like a pretty wicked scene.

With the recent rapprochement and thaw in relations between Cuba and the United States these entertainers are now being allowed in. The consumer goods and franchises will follow. We saw the same thing happen back in the 1990s as western rock bands began to flood into the Eastern Bloc and Russia itself.

Watching the footage of the concert in Cuba it occurred to me that one concert probably did more to undo the Castro's grip on the country than fifty years of sanctions.

I'm reminded of the same thing when I look at Vietnam which is now permeated with Western business, fast food restaurants and the like.

The seduction of Western culture and in particular its American variety (with all of its myths) is very powerful. This aspect of American culture gives the United States a great deal of power abroad and governments and cultural leaders are right to worry. Once this culture finds it way in, it's very hard to get rid of.

Putting myself in the shoes of the American Establishment, I might wonder if peace and trade and the export of America's decadent culture wouldn't have done more to 'defeat' the opposition in places like Cuba and Vietnam. Instead the US harmed these nations for many years by imposing sanctions and fighting a dirty war with the Cubans and in the case of the Vietnamese there was a long very painful and highly fatal hot war. Of course the US also continued to work against Vietnam right into the 1990s by supporting the Khmer Rouge and working to counter Vietnam in every economic and diplomatic sphere. Globalisation finally ended the enmity and the US turn against China has brought the former enemies into a de facto alliance.

The wars were a waste of life and resources and yet it must be remembered there are many corporations (along with their stock holders) that did very well indeed. They were enriched by these operations.

Ironically in the US (as we're presently seeing) the Cuban community has been given political power and influence far beyond their numbers. Allying with the Republicans after the Bay of Pigs and certainly in agreement with their hawkish anti-Castro policies the Cuban-American community has provided the primary inroad for Right wing politics into America's Latino community. And now we see presidential candidates of this background being heavily promoted by different sectors of the conservative movement.

And yet none of this would have happened had the United States not chosen to back the invasion of Cuba and set off the chain of events that led to the decades long sanctions regime supplemented by sabotage and assassination attempts.

These two countries and the US policy concerning them demonstrate that even standing in the shoes of unbelieving governmental powers... war is almost unnecessary and a waste. From the Christian standpoint this is certainly the case. And yet nations love war, it's a tool for power both in terms of projection and consolidation, a means of manipulating and controlling the populace, a means of profit and in the end men like to steal, plot and murder. Pride and vengeance are the ways of the world, the lusts of the flesh, eyes and the pride of life. Men will happily kill for it especially if they can order others to do it for them, die for them and if at the same time they can fill their treasure chests.


  1. Hi John,

    While reading this post, I was reminded of a Paul Washer sermon I heard in which he lamented the inevitability of the "wall between America and Cuba coming down" (those weren't his exact words but they nonetheless convey the substance of his point). His fear was that once this happened, the superficial and tawdry message of legalistic American heterodoxy would flood the island and lay spiritual waste to it. Now that it appears that relations between the USA and Cuba are normalizing, perhaps this is on the verge of actually happening.

    On a related note, there is rarely a more depressing exercise of curiosity than visiting Google News and typing in "pastor". If there isn't some story about someone over here either sexually abusing a minor or embezzling funds than it's some Johnny-come-lately kook in Africa. Some of the most strangest and downright scary stories are actually coming out of that continent.

    One important point about Cuba, though: I've noticed many people assume that the institution of market-oriented reforms will lead to a change in the form of government. Nothing could be further from the truth. China, Vietnam and Laos did this back in the 1980s and their Communist Parties still rule. The only way political change will occur is if the Communist Party (specifically the Politburo) consciously decides to liquidate power, which is essentially what happened in Russia (and Eastern Europe) in 1989-91 when a reformist faction gained power. That isn't about to happen anytime soon, at least while the Castro brothers are still alive.

  2. #1The only thing I would say to qualify the Washer comment is... it's already been laid waste by Roman Catholicism and Castro-ism. But there's no doubt that Americanism + American Evangelicalism will likely make them twice the children of hell.
    I hope what Remnant Church exists in Cuba is vigorously sounding the alarm and not ringing the celebratory bell... but I don't know. If anyone else does, I'd be glad for a report.

    #2 It is a sad and very frustrating time to be a Christian. I feel like our witness is largely paralysed if not eradicated. We must labour to do good but because of the chaos no matter what we do or say it will probably be misunderstood on a massive scale. I think the only way to effectively evangelise at this point is to take the long view and establish trust and relationships with people that over time will bear fruit. I think determined 'witnessing' at this point is probably not going to be effective. I'm generalising of course. You have to read the situation but that's my general feel.

    #3 Agreed. It won't change the govt. but it will start to change the culture and will likely lead (at some point) to tension. At that point Havana can break or crack down. I'm thinking of Tianamen. If Beijing doesn't play its hand very carefully they may end up with another and this time they won't be able to suppress it. There was no internet in 1989. The passing of the Castro brothers may prove the game changer. Who would have ever thought we'd still be talking about Fidel and Raul in 2016?

  3. I don't know much about the Catholic Church in Cuba but it suffered the same fate as religious institutions in other Communist countries. Since the end of the Cold War, however, religious restrictions have been lifted and Catholics can even join the party. Be that as it may, it would come as no surprise if the church has been significantly co-opted by the government.

    Also, any missionary work is immediately viewed with suspicion, since the traditional narrative has been to link it with imperialism. Of course, that's not altogether untrue as history has shown.

    Personally, I foresee, within the next 50-100 years - the disestablishment of the church at the very least, if not the dissolution of institutionalized religion as we understand it, along with any semblance of a professional clergy. It will certainly be less centralized and bureaucratic. There may even come a time when the church will have to go underground in order to avoid real persecution.

    People outside the faith have become increasingly skeptical of any utilitarian benefit Christianity provides that can't be found in world outlooks more favorable to their dispositions. They don't believe the church is necessary to maintain a stable and prosperous society. I suppose one should ask at this point if that was ever the meaning of being "salt and light" in the first place. Perhaps if another cataclysmic event plunges us into another dark age, history may repeat itself but that's all speculation anyway.

    My final point with regard to Cuba's political system is that their economic reforms have a precedent in Lenin's NEP, which he instituted in 1924 to stimulate economic activity following the failure of War Communism. The state would still retain control over the "commanding heights" of the economy while allowing private enterprise to exist on a small scale in order to address supply and demand issues not covered in any government plan. It did not necessitate a liquidation of the party nor - as they saw it - capitulation to the "bourgeoisie". It was a "temporary setback". The Chinese did the same thing when Deng came to power in order to ameliorate the disastrous conditions resulting from the insanity of the Cultural Revolution.