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11

Feb

2007

Storming Heaven: The Rise of Pseudo-Christian FascismStorming Heaven: The Rise of Pseudo-Christian Fascism
Sunday, 11 February 2007 17:35
by Chris Floyd

I see pieces of men marching; trying to take heaven by force.
I can see the unknown rider, I can see the pale white horse.
— Bob Dylan, "Angelina"

Chris Hedges — the former NY Times war correspondent who was essentially booted from the paper for daring to question the wisdom of the Dear Leader in launching an unprovoked, criminal war of aggression against Iraq (although we gather that the Times, like so many other Establishment worthies these days, has now had some second thoughts of their own about this escapade) — has written a powerful new book about one of the greatest threats the American Republic faces today: the extreme Christianists who have allied with the Bush Faction militarists to birth a uniquely American style of fascism.

I've been tracking this movement myself for more than 30 years now, from the time my late brother and I used to gape, slack-jawed in appalled amusement, at the crazed rantings of late-night TV fringe preachers named Falwell, Robertson, Bakker and others. It seemed like a bad joke then — but at the same time, I could see their bizarre brand of supposed Christianity — with its blustering belligerence (War on the Russkies! War on the Ay-rabs! War to save our Panama Canal from the, er, Panamanians!) , its condemnatory and exclusionary zeal, its arrogant self-righteousness, and, even then, its overriding obsession with sex (a topic never once addressed by Jesus in the Gospels), especially homosexual sex (remember Anita Bryant?) — was beginning to make inroads among the people around us. Even our grandmother — as gentle and tolerant a soul as could be imagined — had been scared into sending money to these hucksters to help them "save" American society from the bogeymen of their imaginations and their twisted lusts.
 

Over the years, I watched with growing horror as these freaks from the fringe marched steadily to the center of American politics, making the beast with two backs with the worst elements of the Republican Party. Robertson went from curing goiters over the airwaves to running for president; Falwell went from squirming explosions of homosexual panic to prayer breakfasts in the White House; the dinky, late-night TV shows grew into international media networks worth billions of dollars. And the crank notions of divinely sanctioned militarism, aggressive obscurantism, blistering intolerance and virulent hatred of the personal freedom that lies at the heart of the American dream of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," all became the official policies of the ruling faction of the United States government.

The hour is actually late to try to turn back this tide, but Hedges is bringing his considerable literary gifts and extensive learning and real-world experience to the fight for the Republic. His recent article in Truthdig gives a good overview of the concerns addressed by his new book, American Fascists . (How's that for plain talk?) He tells more in a recent Truthdig interview with James Harris and Robert Scheer, "The Christian Right’s War on America." Extensive excerpts from Hedge's remarks are excerpted below, after the jump.

Excerpt from the interview with Chris Hedges:

I look at the religious right, the radical religious right, those people who want to create a Christian nation, as a mass movement. I don’t give them much religiosity at all. I think they have acculturated the Christian religion with the worst aspects of American imperialism and American capitalism. They prey on the despair of tens of millions of Americans in this country who have been completely disenfranchised and shunted aside with the creation of this American oligarchy. That is the engine of the movement. These people, their lives have become train wrecks, their communities have been physically obliterated with the flight of manufacturing jobs, or they live in these soulless exurbs, in places like Orange County, with no community center, no community rituals—you know, they don’t even have sidewalks. And they’re lonely, and they’re alienated, and they’re lost. And that’s the fodder that demagogues use to amass totalitarian movements. And they do that by offering these people a world of magic, of belief in destiny and miracles and angels, that Jesus has a plan for them. And they essentially remove them from the reality-based world. That’s what creationism is about. And everybody who’s written about despotic movements, from Hannah Arendt to Karl Popper to Fritz Stern to Robert Paxton, cites this despair as being the kindling that allows despotic, totalitarian movements to tear apart the open society. So for me the radical Christian right is very much a manifestation of the inequities and the injustices that plague American society. We now live in a country where the top 1 percent control more wealth, or have more wealth, than the bottom 90 percent combined. The absolute destruction of the working class—and much of my family has been a victim of this—has now been accompanied by an assault on the middle class. So anything that can be put on software, from engineering to finance to architecture, can get outsourced, where it’ll end up in India, where they’ll work for a third of the wages, with no health insurance, no benefits. These kinds of assaults against the working and middle class are absolutely deadly to a democratic state. And that’s something that even the Greeks wrote about. I mean, Plutarch and Thucydides understood that...

[The union between the Christian Right and the Republican-led government] essentially serves the same purpose as the fusion of party and state, which is what totalitarian movements do. The state implements the policies of the party; they become essentially one entity. And that is by its very definition what a totalitarian state consists of. I think we have to remember that this new political religion is a radical mutation from traditional fundamentalism, or traditional evangelism. Evangelical leaders in the past, like Bill Graham, always warned their followers that—and he of course got burned and used by Richard Nixon—to keep their distance from power. And fundamentalists have traditionally called upon their followers to remove themselves from the contaminants of secular society, and to shun political activity. This is something we have not seen in the past. And yes, the nation has had certainly a Christian component to it, but there was always that understanding that religious belief was a private, internal affair, and not something that would be propounded by the state. And of course the architects of the Constitution were terrified of going back into the kind of tyranny and repression that was practiced by the puritan states, and more importantly by the religious states in Europe, because they understood the danger of that sectarian violence. And I think we should also be clear that the early Christians in this country, most of them were Deists, which these radical Christians would consider as heretics, the notion that you could find God in nature, as Jefferson and others believed...

There is a very ruthless core of people who are better described as dominionists. One thinks of Dobson, Robertson, LaHaye, Benny Hinn. These people who are pushing through a radical Christian agenda, who essentially control all Christian radio and television, and who have been quite ruthless—as we saw in the Southern Baptist convention—in pushing aside those people who don’t accept that particular political agenda, even if they’re born again, and even if they subscribe to some of the hot-button issues, like thinking that homosexuality is a sin. And they count on the sympathy or support or tacit acceptance of 80 to 100 million evangelicals in the United States, because they have been very effective in using the religious vocabulary and religious iconography—in the same way that they wrap themselves in the American flag. But I think that when you look closely, which is what my book tried to do, at what their belief system is, it is really a theology of despair. It is about bigotry, intolerance, there’s not only a lust for violence, but a kind of pornographic fascination with violence. There’s a cult of masculinity. There’s a war on science, a war on truth. And what they do, like many totalitarian movements, is speak in a language that’s comforting to the rest of us, but hollow out the definitions so they mean something else. It has a kind of newspeak quality, so peace is war. The concept of liberty, for them, as it is defined, is not our traditional definition of liberty, but liberty that comes with giving yourself over to Jesus and complete submission to Jesus Christ. And of course, in their minds, leaders who speak to Jesus... Yes, there is a great deal of skepticism [of these leaders among ordinary Christians]. And I actually think that the most virulent opposition will rise not from the liberal church, but from within the evangelical movement itself. But these people are well financed, oftentimes by corporate interests—Wal-Mart—a lot of right-wing foundations. They’ve harnessed the power of modern communications systems and they’ve locked tens of millions of followers in closed systems of indoctrination, where they get their news, their spiritual guidance, their health and beauty tips, their entertainment, all filtered through this ideological prism...

...Jerry Falwell got his start as a racist demagogue who got up and talked about how desegregation was going to destroy the white race. That’s how he made his money, that’s how he built his church. And he went back in a kind of Stalin-esque purge and destroyed copies of almost every sermon he preached over a 10-year period, because it was so virulent and raw. He still preaches, in my mind, bigotry and racism. It’s just that he’s turned it on others, like homosexuals or liberals or feminists or immigrants, or whatever. But this man, he has the profile of a classic demagogue...

The...point is that this movement cannot come to power unless there is a period of prolonged instability or a crisis. I covered the war in Yugoslavia and we heard all these stories about ancient ethnic hatreds. The war in Yugoslavia had nothing to do with ancient ethnic hatreds; it had to do with the economic meltdown of Yugoslavia in the years leading up to the war, which, again, created deep despair and dislocation which the nationalist demagogues like Milosevic or Tudjman played upon. And I think that if we don’t enter a period of crisis, this movement can make creeping gains, as it has, but it probably can’t take power. But if we suffer another catastrophic terrorist attack—and I spent a year of my life covering al-Qaida for The New York Times, and there was not an intelligence chief that I interviewed here or abroad that didn’t talk about an eventual attack as inevitable—should we suffer a series of environmental disasters, or an economic meltdown, if we watch petrodollars become petroeuros, if we enter a prolonged period of instability, especially if people become afraid, then I think this movement does stand poised to reshape the country in ways that we’ve not seen, probably since our founding....

I lived in Israel when the suicide bombings began. I was in Sarajevo during the war. I know what it’s like to be afraid. And you start thinking with another part of your brain. You reach out to people like Dick Cheney, who talk tough and promise to stomp the vermin out—if we’ll just give them the power to do it. That’s the appeal of an Ariel Sharon at a moment like that. That’s the appeal of a Slobodan Milosevic. So you’re right that they’ve worked really hard to try and make us afraid, but real fear, to be gripped with fear, in the sense that, “If we get on the subway it could blow up,” that’s another state and another level. And if we reach that level, especially with instability, especially with chaos, then we’re in trouble....

I think the things we say about Muslims in this country could not be said about any other ethnic group. I think the racism is raw, the ignorance is appalling. The way we denigrate their culture, their religion, talk about how they only understand violence, or that they want their children all to be suicide bombers, it’s just a huge advertisement to our incredible lack of understanding and appalling ignorance. And for somebody who’s spent so much time in the Middle East, it’s almost impossible to counter. The notions that all Muslims—who are one-fifth of the world’s population, most of whom are not Arab—[the notion that they] all think the same way, or that there isn’t a moderate center, or that Algerians are the same as Iraqis—you don’t even know where to begin.

It’s so vast, and it’s pervaded the mainstream to such an extent that I think you raise a good point. We’ve turned 1 billion people into a caricature or stereotype—and not a very pleasant one. And it’s ominous, if we should have another catastrophic terrorist attack, it’s going to be pretty ominous for Muslims in this country. And ominous for us because once again we’ll be responding or at least supporting a violent response, probably, in the Middle East, without any kind of cultural understanding or sensitivity. And all we’ve done since the war in Iraq is essentially dumped gasoline over the best recruiter that al-Qaida has—the conflict. And it comes because we’re walking blind into an area of the world we know absolutely nothing about, and dealing with people we’ve turned into cartoon figures.
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