The Christian Right and the Rise
of American Fascism
by Chris Hedges
www.theocracywatch.org, Nov 15,
(This is an article by Chris Hedges
that no major publication will print.)
Dr. James Luther Adams, my ethics professor
at Harvard Divinity School , told us that when we were his age,
he was then close to 80, we would all be fighting the "Christian
The warning, given to me 25 years ago,
came at the moment Pat Robertson and other radio and televangelists
began speaking about a new political religion that would direct
its efforts at taking control of all institutions, including mainstream
denominations and the government. Its stated goal was to use the
United States to create a global, Christian empire. It was hard,
at the time, to take such fantastic rhetoric seriously, especially
given the buffoonish quality of those who expounded it. But Adams
warned us against the blindness caused by intellectual snobbery.
The Nazis, he said, were not going to return with swastikas and
brown shirts. Their ideological inheritors had found a mask for
fascism in the pages of the Bible.
He was not a man to use the word fascist
lightly. He was in Germany in 1935 and 1936 and worked with the
underground anti-Nazi church, known as The Confessing Church,
led by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Adams was eventually detained and
interrogated by the Gestapo, who suggested he might want to consider
returning to the United States . It was a suggestion he followed.
He left on a night train with framed portraits of Adolph Hitler
placed over the contents inside his suitcase to hide the rolls
of home movie film he took of the so-called German Christian Church,
which was pro-Nazi, and the few individuals who defied them, including
the theologians Karl Barth and Albert Schweitzer. The ruse worked
when the border police lifted the top of the suitcases, saw the
portraits of the Fuhrer and closed them up again. I watched hours
of the grainy black and white films as he narrated in his apartment
in Cambridge .
He saw in the Christian Right, long before
we did, disturbing similarities with the German Christian Church
and the Nazi Party, similarities that he said would, in the event
of prolonged social instability or a national crisis, see American
fascists, under the guise of religion, rise to dismantle the open
society. He despaired of liberals, who he said, as in Nazi Germany,
mouthed silly platitudes about dialogue and inclusiveness that
made them ineffectual and impotent. Liberals, he said, did not
understand the power and allure of evil nor the cold reality of
how the world worked. The current hand wringing by Democrats in
the wake of the election, with many asking how they can reach
out to a movement whose leaders brand them "demonic"
and "satanic," would not have surprised Adams . Like
Bonhoeffer, he did not believe that those who would fight effectively
in coming times of turmoil, a fight that for him was an integral
part of the Biblical message, would come from the church or the
liberal, secular elite.
His critique of the prominent research
universities, along with the media, was no less withering. These
institutions, self-absorbed, compromised by their close relationship
with government and corporations, given enough of the pie to be
complacent, were unwilling to deal with the fundamental moral
questions and inequities of the age. They had no stomach for a
battle that might cost them their prestige and comfort. He told
me that if the Nazis took over America "60 percent of the
Harvard faculty would begin their lectures with the Nazi salute."
This too was not an abstraction. He had watched academics at the
University of Heidelberg , including the philosopher Martin Heidegger,
raise their arms stiffly to students before class.
Two decades later, even in the face of
the growing reach of the Christian Right, his prediction seems
apocalyptic. And yet the powerbrokers in the Christian Right have
moved from the fringes of society to the floor of the House of
Representatives and the Senate. Christian fundamentalists now
hold a majority of seats in 36 percent of all Republican Party
state committees, or 18 of 50 states, along with large minorities
in 81 percent of the rest of the states. Forty-five Senators and
186 members of the House of Representatives earned between an
80 to100 percent approval ratings from the three most influential
Christian Right advocacy groups - The Christian Coalition, Eagle
Forum, and Family Resource Council. Tom Coburn, the new senator
from Oklahoma , has included in his campaign to end abortion a
call to impose the death penalty on doctors that carry out abortions
once the ban goes into place. Another new senator, John Thune,
believes in Creationism. Jim DeMint, the new senator elected from
South Carolina , wants to ban single mothers from teaching in
schools. The Election Day exit polls found that 22 percent of
voters identified themselves as evangelical Christians and Bush
won 77 percent of their vote. The polls found that a plurality
of voters said that the most important issue in the campaign had
been "moral values."
President Bush must further these important
objectives, including the march to turn education and social welfare
over to the churches with his faith-based initiative, as well
as chip away at the wall between church and state with his judicial
appointments, if he does not want to face a revolt within his
Jim Dobson, the head of Focus on the Family,
who held weekly telephone conversations with K arl Rove during
the campaign, has put the President on notice. He told ABC's "This
Week" that "this president has two years, or more broadly
the Republican Party has two years, to implement these policies,
or certainly four, or I believe they'll pay a price in the next
Bush may turn out to be a transition figure,
our version of Otto von Bismarck. Bismarck used "values"
to energize his base at the end of the 19 th century and launched
"Kulturkampt", the word from which we get "culture
wars," against Catholics and Jews. Bismarck 's attacks split
the country, made the discrediting of whole segments of the society
an acceptable part of the civil discourse and paved the way for
the more virulent racism of the Nazis. This, I suspect, will be
George Bush's contribution to our democracy.
DOMINIONISTS AND RECONSTRUCTIONISTS
The Reconstructionist movement, founded
in 1973 by Rousas Rushdooney, is the intellectual foundation for
the most politically active element within the Christian Right.
Rushdooney's 1,600 page three-volume work, Institutes of Biblical
Law, argued that American society should be governed according
to the Biblical precepts in the Ten Commandments. He wrote that
the elect, like Adam and Noah, were given dominion over the earth
by God and must subdue the earth, along with all non-believers,
so the Messiah could return.
This was a radically new interpretation
for many in the evangelical movement. The Messiah, it was traditionally
taught, would return in an event called "the Rapture"
where there would be wars and chaos. The non-believers would be
tormented and killed and the elect would be lifted to heaven.
The Rapture was not something that could be manipulated or influenced,
although believers often interpreted catastrophes and wars as
portents of the imminent Second Coming.
Rushdooney promoted an ideology that advocated
violence to create the Christian state. His ideology was the mirror
image of Liberation Theology, which came into vogue at about the
same time. While the Liberation Theologians crammed the Bible
into the box of Marxism, Rushdooney crammed it into the equally
distorting box of classical fascism. This clash was first played
out in Latin America when I was there as a reporter two decades
ago. In El Salvador leftist priests endorsed and even traveled
with the rebel movements in Nicaragua and El Salvador, while Pat
Robertson and Jerry Falwell, along with conservative Latin American
clerics, backed the Contras fighting against the Sandinistas in
Nicaragua and the murderous military regimes in El Salvador, Guatemala,
Chile and Argentina.
The Institutes of Biblical Law called for a Christian society that was harsh,
unforgiving and violent. Offenses such as adultery, witchcraft,
blasphemy and homosexuality, merited the death penalty. The world
was to be subdued and ruled by a Christian United States. Rushdooney
dismissed the number of 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust
as an inflated figure and his theories on race echoed Nazi Eugenics.
"The white man has behind him centuries
of Christian culture and the discipline and selective breeding
this faith requires...," he wrote. "The Negro is a product
of a radically different past, and his heredity has been governed
by radically different considerations."
"The background of Negro culture
is African and magic, and the purposes of the magic are control
and power over God, man, nature, and society. Voodoo, or magic,
was the religion and life of American Negroes. Voodoo songs underlie
jazz, and old voodoo, with its power goal, has been merely replaced
with revolutionary voodoo, a modernized power drive." (see
The Religious Right , a publication of the ADL, pg. 124.)
Rushdooney was deeply antagonistic to
the federal government. He believed the federal government should
concern itself with little more than national defense. Education
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. It is being enacted through school
vouchers, with federal dollars now going into Christian schools,
and the assault against the federal agencies that deal with poverty
and human services. The Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives
is currently channeling millions in federal funds to groups such
Pat Robertson's Operation Blessing , and National Right to Life,
as well as to fundamentalist religious charity organizations and
programs promoting sexual abstinence.
Rushdooney laid the groundwork for a new
way of thinking about political involvement. The Christian state
would come about not only through signs and wonders, as those
who believed in the rapture believed? , but also through theestablishment
of the Christian nation. But he remained, even within the Christian
Right, a deeply controversial figure.
Dr. Tony Evans, the minister of a Dallas
church and the founder of Promise Keepers, articulated Rushdooney's
extremism in a more palatable form. He called on believers, often
during emotional gatherings at football stadiums, to commit to
Christ and exercise power within the society as agents of Christ.
He also called for a Christian state. But he did not advocate
the return of slavery, as Rushdooney did, nor list a string of
offenses such as adultery punishable by death, nor did he espouse
the Nazi-like race theories. It was through Evans, who was a spiritual
mentor to George Bush that Dominionism came to dominate the politically
active wing of the Christian Right.The religious utterances from
political leaders such as George Bush, Tom Delay, Pat Robertson
and Zell Miller are only understandable in light of Rushdooney
and Dominionism. These leaders believe that God has selected them
to battle the forces of evil, embodied in "secular humanism,"
to create a Christian nation. Pat Robertson frequently tells believers
"our aim is to gain dominion over society." Delay has
told supporters, such as at a gathering two years ago at the First
Baptist Church in Pearland , Texas , "He [God] is using me,
all the time, everywhere, to stand up for biblical worldview in
everything I do and everywhere I am. He is training me, He is
working with me." Delay went on to tell followers "If
we stay inside the church, the culture won't change."
Pat Robertson, who changed the name of
his university to Regent University , says he is training his
students to rule when the Christian regents take power, part of
the reign leading to the return of Christ. Robertson resigned
as the head of the Christian Coalition when Bush took office,
a sign many took to signal the ascendancy of the first regent.
This battle is not rhetorical but one that followers are told
will ultimately involve violence. And the enemy is clearly defined
and marked for destruction.
"Secular Humanists," the popular
Christian Right theologian Francis Schaeffer wrote in one of numerous
diatribes, "are the greatest threat to Christianity the world
has ever known."
One of the most enlightening books that
exposes the ultimate goals of movement is America's Providential
History , the standard textbook used in many Christian schools
and a staple of the Christian home schooling movement. It sites
Genesis 26, which calls for mankind to " .have dominnion
over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, over the
cattle and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that
creeps on the earth" as evidence that the Bible callls for
"Bible believing Christians" to take dominion of America.
"When God brings Noah through the
flood to a new earth, He reestablished the Dominion Mandate but
now delegates to man the responsibility for governing other men."
(page 19). The authors write that God has called the United States
to become "the first truly Christian nation" (page 184)
and "make disciples of all nations." The book denounces
income tax as "idolatry," property tax as "theft"
and calls for an abolish of inheritance taxes in the chapter entitled
Christian Economics. The loss of such tax revenues will bring
about the withering away of the federal government and the empowerment
of the authoritarian church, although this is not explict in the
Rushdooney's son-in-law, Gary North, a
popular writer and founder of the Institute for Christian Economics,
laid out the aims of the Christian Right.
"So let's be blunt about it: We must
use the doctrine of religious liberty to gain independence for
Christian schools until we train up a generation of people who
know that there is no religious neutrality, no neutral law, no
neutral education, and no neutral civil government. Then they
will get busy in constructing a Bible-based social, political
and religious order which finally denies the religious liberty
of the enemies of God." (Christianity and Civilization, Spring,
Dominionists have to operate, for now,
in the contaminated environment of the secular, liberal state.
They have learned, therefore, to speak in code. The code they
use is the key to understanding the dichotomy of the movement,
one that has a public and a private face. In this they are no
different from the vanguard, as described by Lenin, or the Islamic
terrorists who shave off their beards, adopt western dress and
watch pay-for-view pornographic movies in their hotel rooms the
night before hijacking a plane for a suicide attack.
Joan Bokaer, the Director of Theocracy
Watch, a project of the Center for Religion, Ethics and Social
Policy at Cornell University , who runs the encyclopedic web site
theocracywatch.org, was on a speaking tour a few years ago in
Iowa . She obtained a copy of a memo Pat Robertson handed out
to followers at the Iowa Republican County Caucus. It was titled,
"How to Participate in a Political Party" and read:
"Rule the world for God."
"Give the impression that you are
there to work for the party, not push an ideology.
"Hide your strength.
"Don't flaunt your Christianity.
"Christians need to take leadership
positions. Party officers control political parties and so it
is very important that mature Christians have a majority of leadership
whenever possible, God willing."
President Bush sends frequent coded messages
to the faithful. In his address to the nation on the night of
September 11, for example, he lifted a line directly from the
Gospel of John when he said "And the light shines in the
darkness, and the darkness will not overcome it." He often
uses the sentence "when every child is welcomed in life and
protected in law," words taken directly from a pro-life manifesto
entitled "A Statement of Pro-Life Principle and Concern."
He quotes from hymns, prayers, tracts and Biblical passages without
attribution. These phrases reassure the elect. They are lost on
CHRIST THE AVENGER
The Christian Right finds its ideological
justification in a narrow segment of the Gospel, in particular
the letters of the Apostle Paul, especially the story of Paul's
conversion on the road to Damascus in the Book of Acts. It draws
heavily from the book of Revelations and the Gospel of John. These
books share an apocalyptic theology. The Book of Revelations is
the only time in the Gospels where Jesus sanctions violence, offering
up a vision of Christ as the head of a great and murderous army
of heavenly avengers. Martin Luther found the God portrayed in
Revelations so hateful and cruel he put the book in the appendix
of his German translation of the Bible.
These books rarely speak about Christ's
message of love, forgiveness and compassion. They focus on the
doom and destruction that will befall unbelievers and the urgent
need for personal salvation. The world is divided between good
and evil, between those who act as agents of God and those who
act as agents of Satan. The Jesus of the other three Gospels,
the Jesus who turned the other cheek and embraced his enemies,
an idea that was radical and startling in the ancient Roman world,
is purged in the narrative selected by the Christian Right.
The cult of masculinity pervades the ideology.
Feminism and homosexuality are social forces, believers are told,
that have rendered the American male physically and spiritually
impotent. Jesus is portrayed as a man of action, casting out demons,
battling the Anti-Christ, attacking hypocrites and castigating
the corrupt. This cult of masculinity brings with it the glorification
of strength, violence and vengeance. It turns Christ into a Rambo-like
figure; indeed depictions of Jesus within the movement often show
a powerfully built man wielding a huge sword.
This image of Christ as warrior is appealing
to many within the movement. The loss of manufacturing jobs, lack
of affordable health care, negligible opportunities for education
and poor job security has left many millions of Americans locked
out. This ideology is attractive because it offers them the hope
of power and revenge. It sanctifies their rage. It stokes the
paranoia about the outside world maintained through bizarre conspiracy
theories, many on display in Pat Robertson's book The New World
Order . The book is a xenophobic rant that includes vicious
attacks against the United Nations and numerous other international
organizations. The abandonment of the working class has been crucial
to the success of the movement. Only by reintegrating the working
class into society through job creation, access to good education
and health care can the Christian Right be effectively blunted.
Revolutionary movements are built on the backs of an angry, disenfranchised
laboring class. This one is no exception.
The depictions of violence that will befall
non-believers are detailed, gruesome and brutal. It speaks to
the rage many believers harbor and the thirst for revenge. This,
in large part, accounts for the huge sales of the apocalyptic
series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. In their novel, Glorious
Appearing , based on LaHaye's interpretation of Biblical Prophecies
about the Second Coming, Christ eviscerates the flesh of millions
of non-believers with the mere sound of his voice. There are long
descriptions of horror, of how "the very words of the Lord
had superheated their blood, causing it to burst through their
veins and skin." Eyes disintegrate. Tongues melt. Flesh dissolves.
The novel, part of The Left Behind series, are the best
selling adult novels in the country. They preach holy war.
"Any teaching of peace prior to [Christ's]
return is heresy." said televangelist James Robinson.
Natural disasters, terrorist attacks,
instability in Israel and even the fighting of Iraq are seen as
signposts. The war in Iraq was predicted according to believers
in the 9 th chapter of the Book of Revelations where four angels
"which are bound in the great river Euphrates will be released
to slay the third part of men." The march towards global
war, even nuclear war, is not to be feared but welcomed as the
harbinger of the Second Coming. And leading the avenging armies
is an angry, violent Messiah who dooms millions of non-believers
to a horrible and painful death.
THE CORRUPTION OF SCIENCE AND LAW
The movement seeks the imprint of law
and science. It must discredit the rational disciplines that are
the pillars of the Enlightenment to abolish the liberal polity
of the Enlightenment. This corruption of science and law is vital
in promoting the doctrine. Creationism, or "intelligent design,"
like Eugenics for the Nazis, must be introduced into the mainstream
as a valid scientific discipline to destroy the discipline of
science itself. This is why the Christian Right is working to
bring test cases to ensure that school textbooks include "intelligent
design" and condemn gay marriage.
The drive by the Christian Right to include
crackpot theories in scientific or legal debate is part of the
campaign to destroy dispassionate and honest intellectual inquiry.
Facts become interchangeable with opinions. An understanding of
reality is not to be based on the elaborate gathering of facts
and evidence. The ideology alone is true. Facts that get in the
way of the ideology can be altered. Lies, in this worldview, become
true. Hannah Arendt called this effort "nihilistic relativism"
although a better phrase might be collective insanity.
The Christian Right has fought successfully
to have Creationist books sold in national park bookstores in
the Grand Canyon , taught as a theory in public schools in states
like Alabama and Arkansas . "Intelligent design" is
promoted in Christian textbooks. All animal species, or at least
their progenitors, students read, fit on Noah's ark. The Grand
Canyon was created a few thousand years ago by the flood that
lifted up Noah's ark, not one billion years ago, as geologists
have determined. The earth is only a few thousand years old in
line with the literal reading of Genesis. This is not some quaint,
homespun view of the world. It is an insidious attempt to undermine
rational scientific research and intellectual inquiry.
Tom Delay, following the Columbine shootings,
gave voice to this assault when he said that the killings had
taken place "because our school systems teach children that
they are nothing but glorified apes who have evolutionized out
of some primordial mud." (speech Delay gave in the House
on June 16, 1999 )
"What convinces masses are not facts,"
Hannah Arendt wrote in Origins of Totalitarianism, "and
not even invented facts, but only the consistency of the system
which they are presumably part. Repetition, somewhat overrated
in importance because of the common belief in the "masses"
inferior capacity to grasp and remember, is important because
it convinces them of consistency in time." (p.351)
There are more than 6 million elementary
and secondary school students attending private schools and 11.5
percent of these students attend schools run by the Christian
Right. These "Christian" schools saw an increase of
46 percent in enrollment in the last decade. The 245,000 additional
students accounted for 75 percent of the total rise in private
THE LAUNCHING OF THE WAR
Adams told us to watch closely what the
Christian Right did to homosexuals. He has seen how the Nazis
had used "values" to launch state repression of opponents.
Hitler, days after he took power in 1933, imposed a ban on all
homosexual and lesbian organizations. He ordered raids on places
where homosexuals gathered culminating with the ransacking of
the Institute for Sexual Science in Berlin . Thousands of volumes
from the institute's library were tossed into a bonfire. Adams
said that homosexuals would also be the first "deviants"
singled out by the Christian Right. We would be the next.
The ban on same sex marriages, passed
by eleven states in the election, was part of this march towards
our door. A 1996 federal law already defines marriage as between
a man and a woman. All of the states with ballot measures, with
the exception of Oregon , had outlawed same sex marriages, as
do 27 other states. The bans, however, had to be passed, believers
were told, to thwart "activist judges" who wanted to
overturn them. The Christian family, even the nation, was under
threat. The bans served to widen the splits tearing apart the
country. The attacks on homosexuals handed to the foot soldiers
of the Christian Right an easy target. It gave them a taste of
victory. It made them feel empowered. But it is ominous for gays
and for us.
All debates with the Christian Right are
useless. We cannot reach this movement. It does not want a dialogue.
It cares nothing for rational thought and discussion. It is not
mollified because John Kerry prays or Jimmy Carter teaches Sunday
School. These naive attempts to reach out to a movement bent on
our destruction, to prove to them that we too have "values,"
would be humorous if the stakes were not so deadly. They hate
us. They hate the liberal, enlightened world formed by the Constitution.
Our opinions do not count.
This movement will not stop until we are
ruled by Biblical Law, an authoritarian church intrudes in every
aspect of our life, women stay at home and rear children, gays
agree to be cured, abortion is considered murder, the press and
the schools promote "positive" Christian values, the
federal government is gutted, war becomes our primary form of
communication with the rest of the world and recalcitrant non-believers
see their flesh eviscerated at the sound of the Messiah's voice.
The spark that could set it ablaze may
be lying in the hands of an Islamic terrorist cell, in the hands
of the ideological twins of the Christian Right. Another catastrophic
terrorist attack could be our Reichstag fire, the excuse used
to begin the accelerated dismantling of our open society. The
ideology of the Christian Right is not one of love and compassion,
the central theme of Christ's message, but of violence and hatred.
It has a strong appeal to many in our society, but it is also
aided by our complacency. Let us not stand at the open city gates
waiting passively and meekly for the barbarians. They are coming.
They are slouching rudely towards Bethlehem . Let us, if nothing
else, begin to call them by their name.
Chris Hedges, a reporter for The New York
Times, is the author of War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning
. He holds a Master of Divinity from Harvard Divinity School
. His next book , Losing Moses on the Freeway: America 's Broken
Covenant With The Ten Commandments is published by The Free
Chris Hedges page