Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Book Report: American Fascists, Part II

What follows is the second half of my book review and analysis of Chris Hedge's American Fascists. In Part I of my review, I examined Hedge's case regarding the appeal of the Christian Right movement and its ultimate goal of dominion.
Today, I want to examine Hedge's claims about the great scapegoat of the Christian Right (gays) as well as the Christian Right's hypocritical new definition of tolerance.

3. On Gays

The Christian Right's pet cause, their scapegoat for just about every conceivable social ill, is "homosexuality." Firmly believing that society should not tolerate gay people and that homosexuality is innately immoral, so-called "Ex-Gay" therapy thrives within the movement. In homosexuality, the Christian Right has found its chief enemy around which to rally its troops.

Hedges writes, "The legalization of gay marriage in Massachusetts has helped mobilize the Christian Right, including many in the state who see the move as morally polluting their schools and communities."

Marriage equality is, or should be a common-sense non-issue of fairness and equality in a nation that prides itself on these values. Yet the Christian Right has created an entire anti-gay industry that allows God-fearing Americans to rally around an invented enemy of the state. In their eyes, subjugating an immoral population for the alleged best interest of society trumps the equal rights that gay people deserve.
If I saw the Christian Right actually promoting social justice and caring about true human suffering, I would take their claimed concern regarding the "best interest of society" more seriously. But, it is readily apparent that the Christian Right is doing nothing more than preying on the fears surrounding an already-disliked group of people for political gain.

Ironically, in the Christian Right's quest for inequality, they cultivate a sense of Christian persecution to further demonize gay people. Of "homosexual radicals," pastor Tom Crouse in a prime Weapon of Mass Projection states, "They're rabid and they're active, and they have no problem telling you that they're going to kill you, no problem telling you that they're going to burn you to death, no problem telling you anything, all in the name of tolerance" (100).

Really, Tom? Really? I don't know what your definition of "pastor" is Tom, but I expect more honesty from a man who claims to be one. The pastor's statement here is an obvious Weapon of Mass Projection because, for all intents and purposes, he and the Christian Right have no problem telling gay people that they do not have the right to exist.

But lying about our intents is not enough for these religious folks. Remember when Pat Robertson blamed us for 9-11? Hedges can foresee a future where the Christian Right is powerful enough that: "Should another catastrophic attack occur, what will prevent these preachers from calling for the punishment, detention and quarantine of gays and lesbians- as well as abortionists, Muslims and other nonbelievers- to safeguard the nation?? (109). It has happened in our nation before to other groups, and it would be naive to think it could not happen again.

I won't re-hash all the tired and abusive "Christian" pronouncements against gay people. We know them well. But, Hedges does a good job of examining the reason behind the anti-gay sentiment. Basically,

"Any relationships outside the rigid, traditional model of male and female threaten the heirarchical male power structure vital to the movement. Women who do not depend on men for their identity and their sexuality, who live outside a male power relationship, challenge the cult of masculinity, as do men who find tenderness and love with men as equals. The lifestyle of gays and lesbians is intolerable to the Christian Right because their existence is a threat to the movement's chain of command, one its leaders insist was ordained by God" (110).

Any real threat that gayness poses, is a threat to the man's place at the head of household, church, and society. While the men in charge of the Christian Right pretend that gayness shakes the very foundation of society, it is obvious that the only thing homosexuality shakes is the myth of male supremacy. And that, I suppose, is threatening enough to many to justify the continued persecution of people like me, and possibly you.

In the end, fundamentalist Christianity teaches that gay people will not and cannot be "saved." Gay people, they say, are less than human, we are "unnatural" (115). According to the Rapture doctrine, only straight people will go to Heaven and gay people will suffer- deserve to suffer- endless torment in Hell. But it's okay, you see, gay people can become straight if they just try hard enough.

(Right Jose?)

4. On Tolerance

Like the propagandists they are, the fundamentalist Christian movement is replacing the meanings of American virtue words such as "truth," "wisdom," "liberty," and "love" with new opposite meanings. In fact, it's like whenever the Christian Right speaks, it's Opposite Day.

As Hedges puts it, they engage in "'logicide,' the killing of words. The old definition of words are replaced by new ones. Code words of the old belief system are deconstructed and assigned diametrically opposed meanings" (14). One stark example: tolerance. In this new fundamentalist Christian vocab- tolerance no longer means tolerance. It means its opposite: intolerance.

See, a central, and my personal "favorite," claim of the fundamentalist Christian movement is that "secularists" are the ones who are intolerant. What these Christians inevitably and blindly fail to see, however, is that secularists are opposed to a fundamentalist Christian faith whose central message is one of intolerance of anyone other than the fundamentalist, heterosexual Christian.

Rather than teaching a lesson in religious plurality and tolerance, fundamentalist Christianity preaches that Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and well, basically any other religion, spiritual belief, or non-religion are wrong. Period. To these Christians, such certainty does not represent intolerance. Or, if it is admittedly intolerant, church leaders believe it is justified intolerance because they think they know with absolute certainty that fundamentalist Christian doctrine is the Truth. For, if one knows the Truth, one is justified in not tolerating opposing, and "wrong," faiths. Fundamentalist Christian leaders mock lispy liberals' dedication to true tolerance, smugly and self-righteously proclaiming that Christians have no obligation to respect other viewpoints, because these viewpoints are simply false.

Most scary, however, is that these Christians dream of a world where non-Christians no longer exist. By it's defining nature, fundamentalist Christianity- using the scare tactic of The Rapture- seeks to recruit non-Christians and those who aren't the "right kind of" Christians into its swelling ranks. The message non-Christians learn from The Rapture is this: convert or die a miserable death and then spend an eternity in hell. Fundamentalist Christians believe that once all the non-Christians and infidels (gay people, for exampe) are gone, the Earth will be a utopian paradise. Carried to an extreme, it is not hard to see this apocalyptic end-of-the-world vision perhaps someday inspiring and justifying religious and sexual genocide.

Hedges ends with this thought regarding faith and religion,

"I do not deny the right of Christian radicals to be, to believe and worship as they choose. But I will not engage in a dialogue with those who deny my right to be, who delegitimize my faith and denounce my struggle before God as worthless. All dialogue must include respect and tolerance for the beliefs, worth and dignity of others, including those outside the nation and the faith. When this respect is denied, the clash of ideologies ceases to be merely a difference of opinion and becomes a fight for survival. This movement seeks, in the name of Christianity and American democracy, to destroy that which it claims to defend.... All Americans- not only those of faith- who care about our open society must learn to speak about this movement with a new vocabulary, to give up passivity, to challenge aggressively this movement's deluded appropriation of Christianity and to do everything possible to defend tolerance." (210-211)

I agree completely. On a more personal note, in my attempted conversations with those opposed to gay rights, I have come to believe that they dream of and yearn for a world where gay people no longer exist. Dialogue with such persons- those who deny my very right to be and to be left alone- is ultimately futile. They consider my very existence and desire to live a happy life to be a radical, "in your face" imposition on their Christianity and morality even though I am telling no one who to have sex with, who to love, or who to marry. Weapon of Mass Projection much?

Yet more generally, wrapping themselves in the American flag, bearing the cross, and preying on the liberal virtue of tolerance, fundamentalist Christian leaders ultimately seek a homogenous, closed, and repressive society. By claiming that those who oppose Christian intolerance are "intolerant" (for not wanting to tolerate intolerance) they seek to create a society that is opposed to gay people, opposed to women working outside of the home, opposed to women in positions of authority, opposed to rational science that challenges their selective interpretation of the Bible, and opposed to non-Christians and atheists. Does that sound like a "free" or "tolerant" country to you?

I don't know how we as a country should deal with the problem of the growing influence of fundamentalist Christianity. Hedges perhaps implicitly argues that this movement needs to be silenced- that we should not tolerate such a repressive movement. He argues and makes a very strong case for the fact that this movement is not legitimate and should not be treated as such (36). He writes,

"The leading American institutions tasked with defending tolerance and liberty- from the mainstream churches to the great research universities, to the Democratic Party and the media- have failed the country. This is the awful paradox of tolerance. There arise moments when those who would destroy the tolerance that makes an open society possible should no longer be tolerated. They must be held accountable by institutions that demand the free exchange of ideas and liberty." (36) [my emphasis]

And Hedges is right about the paradox. He alludes that it would be a "final irony" for liberals and progressives who believe in tolerance to one day see the demise of tolerance because we ended up being too tolerant.

And yet.... It would be reprehensible and would constitute true persecution (as opposed to the imagined persecution the Christian leaders today preach about) to legally, or from a free speech perspective, restrict this 'religion'. What would differentiate progressives from any other authoritative movement if such tactics were used?

Ultimately, our nation needs a progressive educational movement to counter this intolerant, dangerous, and repressive fundamentalist movement. Rather than using the tactics of propaganda and logic-killing statements of the fundamentalists, accessible and honest education- perhaps led by a Christian denomination that truly encompasses tolerance- is in order. Those of us on the outside, must continue calling out the Christian Right for what it truly is and criticizing its hypocrisy, lies, and intolerance.

In the end, in an open and tolerant society perhaps the best we can do is to put faith in humans, when faced with persuasive propaganda versus honest information, to decipher right from wrong and then do the right thing. The key, of course, is in getting the information out there and ensuring that people get that when they vote for the Christian Right they are actually voting against their interests and the interest of everything good that America stands for yet fails to live up to.

And yet... can we be confident in the ability of he masses to do the right thing when propaganda is more persuasive than cold hard facts?

After reading this book, I am more uncertain than ever...

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