Out Run Politics
“Faith presupposes that we cannot know. We can never know. Those who claim to know what life means play God. These false prophets—the Pat Robertsons, the Jerry Falwells and James Dobsons—…give us the rules by which we live…and they become our idols. And idols, as the Bible never ceases to tell us, destroy us.”1. In American Fascists, Chris Hedges challenges the Christian Right's religious authenticity.
Chapter One talks about Dominionism, a fascist movement born out of a theology known as Christian reconstruction, which seeks to politicize faith. The people who utilize this ideology are called “selective literalists,” those who choose bits and pieces of the Bible that conform to their ideology, while they distort or invent the rest. According to Hedges, false prophets such as Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and James Dobson are selective literalists who use elaborate spectacles to channel and shape the passions of mass followers into totalitarian movements. For instance, “when Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, as they do, sanction preemptive nuclear strikes against those they condemn as the enemies of God, they fuel the passions of terrorists driven by the same vision of a world cleansed and purified through apocalyptic violence. They lead us closer to the delusion that...God will protect Christians...hundreds of millions will die, but because Christians have been blessed they will rise in triumph from the ash heap.”2 Chapter Two talks about of Jeniece Learned, a woman who was molested and haunted by her guilt of abortion and June Hunt, daughter of con artist H.L. Hunt who thought of killing her father. Both women have experienced trauma in their life and long for a utopia where they don’t have to face any of their troubles again. Those propelled into the Christian Right movement, like Learned and Hunt, have a utopian vision that tells them that they are protected, loved, guided and blessed. “Converts seek a world where they will never again have to return to the lives they led, never again wonder if it might be better to end their lives, never again be tempted by the dark impulses that beset them. They embrace a collective madness to crush their personal madness.”3
Chapter Three discusses the conversion techniques used by evangelists. Techniques include capturing the listener’s attention by sharing stories about terrible personal tragedies that have been solved by God, love-bombing (feigning instant companionship), and appealing to the elderly. “One thing we get a lot with the elderly...they are so works-oriented because of the culture in which they were raised and having gone through the Depression. So we really have to talk about eternal life as a free gift. That has to be emphasized over and over.”4 Chapter Four talks about how the Bible states that women must obey men. In the Bible, “Genesis tells us that the Creator made two sexes...he designed each gender for a specific purpose.”5 James Dobson, a popular Christian leader and talk show host, has built his career on perpetuating these stereotypes. Dobson says that to achieve tranquility at home wives have to be submissive and goes on in Family.org to insist that submission is a choice women should make. The choice not to submit to the male head of the household, Dobson makes it clear, is a violation of God’s law. Hedges believes that “goal of the movement is to create a theocracy, but they must dominate women first to keep the system in place.”6 Chapter Five talks about the issue of homosexuality. Followers of the Christian Right movement see “homosexuality as a form of barbarity...Gays and lesbians, like other enemies of Christ, are not fully human, they are ‘unnatural.’”7 They believe homosexuality is a choice, and everyone is born heterosexual. Gay conversion therapies were prominent during the movement. However, many who went through the gay conversion therapy, like Reverend Dr. Mel White, stated that “over the long haul...my natural attraction to other men never lessened.”8
Chapter Six talks about the conflicts between the Christian Right and science. It discusses disputes over topics such as dinosaurs and how the Earth was formed. Followers of the Christian Right believe that all attempts to seek truth challenge the blind obedience and suppression of conscience championed by those who teach one “truth” and one way of being. Hedges states that the Christian Right is a totalitarian movement that conjures “up a lying world of consistency which is more adequate to the needs of the human mind than reality itself...The force possessed by totalitarian propaganda...lies in its ability to shut the masses of from the real world.”9 Chapter Seven states that followers of the Christian Right believe that they are more superior than other non-believers. They want to create a utopia where all Christians live through Jesus and where all non-believers are punished. When the Christian utopia is “finished, when all have been stripped of legal and social protection, it will be too late to resist. This is the genius of totalitarian movements. They convince the masses to agitate for their own incarceration.”10 Chapter Eight talks about how many leaders of the movement take advantage of their followers financially. Rob Parsley, head of the World Harvest Church for instance, “collects millions of dollars by promoting the gospel of prosperity, the promise that his followers...tithe 10 percent of their salaries, God will reward them a hundredfold.”11 Parsley now lives in a 7,500-square foot house worth more than $1 million and has fought off several allegations from former employees charging misuses of church funds.
Chapter Nine talks about how many leaders during the Christian Right lied to their followers. For instance, popular healer Benny Hinn said that “Adam was a superhero who could fly to the moon and claims that one day he will be able to raise the dead with his television broadcasts.”12 When there is no other place to turn for help other than miracles and magic, mediated by those who grow rich off those who suffer, followers of the Christian Right are lied to and manipulated. Chapter Ten talks about how the Rapture, a theory that Jesus will come down to destroy Earth and its non-believers and send all Christians to heaven, is not entirely accurate but used to create a sense of urgency to be converted before Jesus comes because he can come at anytime. Southern Baptist minister Tim Lahaye, co-author of the Left Behind series of Christian apocalyptic thrillers “had to distort the Bible to make all this fit---the Rapture, along with the graphic details of the end of the world...is never articulated in the Bible---but all this is solved by picking out obscure and highly figurative passages and turning them into fuzzy allegory to fit the apocalyptic version.”13
Hedges believes that the radical Christian Right’s ideology bears within the tenets of Christian fascism. The movement preaches intolerance against all who do not conform to its vision of a Christian America pumped into tens of millions of Americans’ homes through Christian television shows, radio stations, and schools.
Hedges, who grew up in rural parishes in upstate New York where his father was a Presbyterian pastor, attacks the movement as someone steeped in the Bible and Christian tradition. Hedges father worked in the gay-rights movement after he discovered that his younger brother was gay. After his father found out that Hedges’ college did not have a LGBT organization, he made him start one, which resulted in him being constantly ridiculed. Hedges believes that “this willingness to take a moral stand, to accept risk and ridicule, was, [my father] showed me, the cost of the moral life.”14 It was this lesson he learned from his father that made him criticize the Christian Right.
Publishers Weekly wrote of the book: "As a Harvard Divinity School graduate, his investigation of the Christian Right agenda is even more alarming given its lucidity. Citing the psychology and sociology of fascism and cults, including the work of German historian Fritz Stern, Hedges draws striking parallels between 20th-century totalitarian movements and the highly organized, well-funded 'dominionist movement,' an influential theocratic sect within the country's huge evangelical population. Rooted in a radical Calvinism, and wrapping its apocalyptic, vehemently militant, sexist and homophobic vision in patriotic and religious rhetoric, dominionism seeks absolute power in a Christian state. Hedges's reportage profiles both former members and true believers, evoking the particular characteristics of this American variant of fascism. His argument against what he sees as a democratic society's suicidal tolerance for intolerant movements has its own paradoxes. But this urgent book forcefully illuminates what many across the political spectrum will recognize as a serious and growing threat to the very concept and practice of an open society."15
Rick Perlstein of the New York Times writes: “Hedges is a serious Christian himself, a seminary graduate, and is best when he excoriates liberals who prefer to explain away preachers who say things like ‘Jesus was the most intolerant person in the world’ (Hedges heard that at a conference aimed at “curing” people of their homosexuality). Instead, he insists, they must be fought — by anyone (which should be everyone) who believes in the open society...But unless I speak too soon, one notable thing about today’s Christian dominionists is how little recent violence they have unleashed. Not too long ago, during another high tide of a culture war, purgative right-wing vigilantism occurred at regular intervals. Just to take a few examples: in 1966, pacifists were found shot in the back of the head on a dirt bank in Richmond, Va.; in 1967, the New Jersey State Police, after subduing the riots in Newark, went on to terrorize innocent bystanders in what a gubernatorial commission called “a pattern of police action for which there is no possible justification”; in 1968, Cuban exiles bombed more than a dozen offices, both of radical publishers and of nations trading with Castro, in the New York metropolitan area; in 1969, in Chicago, a vigilante beat a radical sociology professor in his office and left him for dead. Self-identified evangelical Christians have carried out acts like this in the past. But virtually none have occurred in years. There may now indeed be millions more Americans than ever who fantasize about the purgation of their spiritual-cum-political enemies. Readers have, after all, bought more than 60 million books in the “Left Behind” series, a pornography of violence in which the Almighty melts the flesh of unbelievers and wrong-believers off their bones. The message people seem to be imbibing from these novels and from their preachers, however, is not: Take vengeance. It is: Vengeance is mine, says the Lord. Hedges is worst when he makes the supposed imminence of mass violence the reason the rest of us should be fighting for the open society. We should be fighting for it anyway.”16
The Christian Right is a movement where God is used to justify everything. For instance, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson ranted about ordering nuclear strikes on those they condemned as enemies of God, without thinking about the damage it could cause to tons of innocent people. It is also despicable that many prominent figures during the movement use their believers to increase their income. They convince their followers that for every tithe 10 percent of their salaries, God will reward them a hundredfold.
The 1980’s has a reputation for being a decade in which the United States turned away from the 1960’s liberalism and toward conservatism. During the Christian Right movement, Christian conservatives mainly looked to apply their comprehension of the teachings of Christianity to legislative issues and to public approach by announcing the value of those teachings or by trying to utilize those teachings to impact law and public policy.
In conclusion, the Christian Right is a fascist movement that preaches intolerance to those who do not conform to its vision of Christian America. Hedges challenges the Christian Right's religious legitimacy and argues that at its core it is a mass movement fueled by unbridled nationalism and a hatred for the open society.
1. Hedges, Chris. American Fascists. New York: FREE PRESS, 2006, 9.
2. Hedges, Chris. 32.
3. Hedges, Chris. 49.
4. Hedges, Chris. 71.
5. Hedges, Chris. 82.
6. Hedges, Chris. 86.
7. Hedges, Chris. 112.
8. Hedges, Chris. 109.
9. Hedges, Chris. 113.
10. Hedges, Chris. 147.
11. Hedges, Chris. 163.
12. Hedges, Chris. 172.
13. Hedges, Chris. 184.
14. Hedges, Chris. 3.
15. “Nonfiction Book Review: American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America by Chris Hedges, Author . Free Press $25 (256p) ISBN 978-0-7432-8443-1.” PublishersWeekly.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 May 2016.
16. Perlstein, Rick. “Christian Empire.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 06 Jan. 2007. Web. 25 May 2016.