Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Book Review- American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America

Fascist is a word that is often used yet not very often defined. In debate parlance, those on any side of an issue often claim that the other side is "fascist,"- when they really only intend to denounce the other as some sort of "bad person."

In American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America, Chris Hedges takes this a step further and makes the case that the Christian Right movement has the potential, and perhaps seeks to, turn America into a fascist state. While defining fascism is tricky and controversial, Wikipedia does a pretty good job of it. Hedge's book makes a strong case that no matter what we call the Christian Right movement, it encompasses many characteristics of fascism, most notably a rejection of modernism, fear of difference, permanent enemies/war, and submission to a central moral authority.

Throughout this article, I use the term fundamentalist Christian and Christian Right interchangeably. "Fundamentalist" is an important qualifier, as these Christians do not speak for all Christians and, in fact, fundamentalist Christian often do not consider other forms of Christians (ie- liberal Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox Christians) to be true Christians at all.

So, what is fundamentalist Christianity and what is the threat?

1. On Certainty

One of the mass appeals of the fundamentalist Christian movement is that it offers certainty in an uncertain world. It teaches that the Bible is to be interpreted literally and that this literal interpretation encompasses the Truth about the world and morals. Yet, Hedges details how "evangelicals and fundamentalists are, as the Reverend Sloane Coffin wrote, not biblical literalists, as they claim, but 'selective literalists,' choosing bits and pieces of the Bible that conform to their ideology and ignoring, distorting, or inventing the rest." (8)


What is less clear to me is how the fundamentalist Christian masses are not aware of this practice of selective literalism. Perhaps they are blind to the internal contradictions and distortions in their quest for a morally certain world. Hedges references psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton, who describes the "heavily loaded language, the words and phrases that allow believers to speak in code" which he describes as "though-terminating cliches" (57). Upon conversion, you see, certain cliches are used (eg- "The wages of sin are death") to "end all discussion" (Ibid.). "Doubt is sin. Questioning is sin. The only proper relationship is submission to those above you, the abandonment of critical thought and the mouthing of religious jargon that is morally charged and instantly identifies you as part of the same, hermetic community" (Ibid.).

It's all very effective mind control on a mass scale. The movement teaches that the Truth is already known, and therefore, it cannot and should not be questioned.

For the many born-again converts, their new religion "gives the believers a cause, a sense of purpose, meaning, feelings of superiority, and a way to justify and sanctify their hatreds.... They do not have to make moral choices." (58) It can be a relief to many, living in a complex world of shades of gray, to conform, to dismiss "the facts and logic for magic," and to submit moral authority to someone- something- else (59).

In short, because of a variety of factors- personal loss, crisis, divorce, addiction, economic despair, abuse- (which Hedges outlines in detail) "many yearn to be deceived and directed. It makes life easier to bear" (Ibid.).

The way I see it is like this. Ultimately, we all make choices with regard to our spiritual and religious lives. We can deceive ourselves and choose to become a part of a movement where everything is already figured out for us- where those who have figured everything out for us are, like us, mere humans claiming to speak on God's behalf. Or, we can choose to accept that we don't have all the answers. No one does. And that, no matter how holy a certain man-written book is, it is just that- written by men. I am okay with uncertainty, just as many people are. But many people aren't. And because of that, a hateful, intolerant religion is preying on the human fear of the unknown and is becoming a destructive force.

2. On Dominion

This relatively new fundamentalist Christian movement differs from traditional fundamentalism in its attempt to impose its belief system on the rest of the nation. Hedges writes of R.J. Rushdoony's book The Institutes of Biblical Law, which is "the most important book" for the movement (12). According to Hedges, Rushdoony believes that Christians are the new chosen people of God and are therefore called to "create a godly, Christian state" (Ibid.).

What would this state look like? Well, "Educational and social welfare should be handed over to the churches. Biblical law must replace the secular legal code. This ideology... remains at the heart of the movement" and we are seeing its influences under the Bush Administration (13).

"Many of its tenets are being enacted through the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, currently channeling billions in federal funds to groups such as National Right to Life and Pat Robertson's Operation Blessing, as well as to innumerable Christian charities and organizations that do everything from running drug and pregnancy clinics to promoting sexual abstinence-only programs in schools" (13).

In this way the fundamentalist Christian movement is attempting to replace our secular government with its brand of faith-based government.

With regard to the war, "The Christian Right is deeply involved in the building of America's first modern mercenary army" (29). Here Hedges is referring to Blackwater, the private security firm that has built a formidable mercenary force in Iraq. I won't go into the detail that Hedges does in describing this outfit and its cost to us, the taxpayers, but I want to add this quote:

"The term 'contractor' deflects attention from the ominous rise of a mercenary army. Paramilitary forces have no place in a democratic state. These forces, protected and assisted by fellow ideologues in the police and military, could ruthlessly abolish what is left of our eroding democracy. War, with the huge profits it hands to corporations, and to right-wing interests that back the Christian Right, could become a permanent condition.... 'Unlike police officers they are not trained in protecting constitutional rights,' said Michael Ratner, the president of the Center for Constitutional Rights. 'And unlike police officers or the military they have no system of accountability whether within the organization or outside it.'" (Remember where else we heard about war contractor immunity from the law?)

Hedges also describes literal Biblical warriors- those on the movement's "outer fringes" where "collections of odd messianic warriors, those ready to fight and die for Christ" exist. I previously examined one such group, the anti-gay hate club Watchmen on the Walls. Hedges references the American Veterans in Domestic Defense (AVIDD), "a Texas group that transported former Alabama Supreme Court justice Roy Moore's 2.6 ton 10 Commandment monument by truck around the country." (28).

(As an aside, I visted AVIDDs website. As its totally macho mission statement admits, it seeks to search out, identify, and "neutralize" the negative impacts on our society. The negative influences being these. Regarding gay people, "one woman" says that we should just stick gay people back in the closet because they're not like the rest of us. This woman, mind you, is admittedly ignorant and she confesses to not having read a newspaper in years, her source of "news" coming from right-wing talk radio. Yee-haw, Donate Now!)

But seriously, can you imagine an America where ignorant, bigoted fringe groups such as these were in charge, guns ablaze "neutralizing" their perceived threats to the country?

What, perhaps, is most frightening and threatening is the eagerness with which so many so-called religious folk accept violence, killing, and war. I am at a loss as to how any credible or legitimate religion sanctifies violence. But the Christian Right, using a tactic as old as religion, tells its masses that in the event of apocalypse and war "God will protect Christians; that hundreds of millions will die, but because Christians have been blessed they alone will triumph from the ash heap" (36). For those of us nonbelievers who are killed, we are at fault for turning our backs on God.

Sort of a problematic outlook on violence and war for those of us trying to live in a civil society, eh?

This concludes Part I of American Fascists. Stay tuned for tomorrow's conclusion where I review the Christian Right's attack on The Homasexul and Tolerance!

No comments: