American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America

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9780099499220: American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America

They disseminate their ideas on the alternative broadcast networks and through their own publishers and schools. Their intellectual leaders demand the complete dismantling of the secular state; their followers have been roused to a fever pitch of resentment and despair. Describing themselves as true patriots, they wrap themselves in the flag - but all it might take, writes veteran journalist (and Harvard Divinity School graduate) Chris Hedges, is one more national crisis of the order of September 11 for the Christian Right to seize power and reveal themselves for what they really are - the American heirs to Fascism. With a step-by-step breakdown of how they started and where they are, Chris Hedges conducts brilliant on-the-ground reporting and produces a deeply compelling work of cultural and political anthropology and an impassioned, no-holds-barred polemic. "American Fascists" is sure to be one of the most talked about books of the year.

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About the Author:

Chris Hedges was a foreign correspondent for nearly two decades for the New York Times and other newspapers and is the author of War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, What Every Person Should Know About War, and Losing Moses on the Freeway. A senior fellow at the National Institute, he also teaches in the Program for American Studies at Princeton University. He lives in Stockton, New Jersey.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

CHAPTER ONE

Faith

Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them. In this formulation, I do not imply, for instance, that we should always suppress the utterance of intolerant philosophies; as long as we can counter them by rational argument and keep them in check by public opinion, suppression would certainly be most unwise. But we should claim the right to suppress them if necessary even by force; for it may easily turn out that they are not prepared to meet us on the level of rational argument, but begin by denouncing all argument; they may forbid their followers to listen to rational argument, because it is deceptive, and teach them to answer arguments by the use of their fists or pistols. We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant. We should claim that any movement preaching intolerance places itself outside the law, and we should consider incitement to intolerance and persecution as criminal, in the same way as we should consider incitement to murder, or to kidnapping, or to the revival of the slave trade, as criminal.

-- Karl Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies

I grew up in a small farming town in upstate New York where my life, and the life of my family, centered on the Presbyterian Church. I prayed and sang hymns every Sunday, went to Bible school, listened to my father preach the weekly sermon and attended seminary at Harvard Divinity School to be a preacher myself. America was a place where things could be better if we worked to make them better, and where our faith saved us from despair, self-righteousness and the dangerous belief that we knew the will of God or could carry it out. We were taught that those who claimed to speak for God, the self-appointed prophets who promised the Kingdom of God on earth, were dangerous. We had no ability to understand God's will. We did the best we could. We trusted and had faith in the mystery, the unknown before us. We made decisions -- even decisions that on the outside looked unobjectionably moral -- well aware of the numerous motives, some good and some bad, that went into every human act. In the end, we all stood in need of forgiveness. We were all tainted by sin. None were pure. The Bible was not the literal word of God. It was not a self-help manual that could predict the future. It did not tell us how to vote or allow us to divide the world into us and them, the righteous and the damned, the infidels and the blessed. It was a book written by a series of ancient writers, certainly fallible and at times at odds with each other, who asked the right questions and struggled with the mystery and transcendence of human existence. We took the Bible seriously and therefore could not take it literally.

There was no alcohol in the manse where I grew up. Indeed, my father railed against the Glass Bar, the one bar in town, and the drinking in the VFW Hall. We did not work on Sunday. I never heard my father swear. But coupled with this piety was a belief that as Christians we were called to fight for justice. My father took an early stand in the town in support of the civil-rights movement, a position that was highly unpopular in rural, white enclaves where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was one of the most hated men in America. A veteran of World War II, he opposed the Vietnam War, telling me when I was about 12 that if the war was still being waged when I was 18, he would go to prison with me. To this day I carry in my head the rather gloomy image of sitting in a jail cell with my dad. Finally, because his youngest brother was gay, he understood the pain and isolation of being a gay man in America. He worked later in life in the gay-rights movement, calling for the ordination and marriage of gays. When he found that my college, Colgate University, had no gay and lesbian organization, he brought gay speakers to the campus. The meetings led gays and lesbians to confide in him that they felt uncomfortable coming out of the closet to start an open organization, a problem my father swiftly solved by taking me out to lunch and informing me that although I was not gay, I had to form the organization. When I went into the dining hall for breakfast, lunch and dinner, the checker behind the desk would take my card, mark off the appropriate box, and hand it back, muttering, "Faggot." This willingness to take a moral stand, to accept risk and ridicule, was, he showed me, the cost of the moral life.

The four Gospels, we understood, were filled with factual contradictions, two Gospels saying Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, while Luke asserted that John was already in prison. Mark and John give little importance to the birth of Jesus, while Matthew and Luke give differing accounts. There are three separate and different versions of the 10 Commandments (Exodus 20, Exodus 34, and Deuteronomy 5). As for the question of God's true nature, there are many substantive contradictions. Is God a loving or a vengeful God? In some sections of the Bible, vicious acts of vengeance, including the genocidal extermination of opposing tribes and nations, appear to be blessed by God. God turns on the Egyptians and transforms the Nile into blood so the Egyptians will suffer from thirst -- and then sends swarms of locusts and flies to torture them, along with hail, fire and thunder from the heavens to destroy all plants and trees. To liberate the children of Israel, God orders the firstborn in every Egyptian household killed so all will know "that the Lord makes a distinction between the Egyptians and Israel" (Exodus 11:7). The killing does not cease until "there was not a house where one was not dead" (Exodus 12:30). Amid the carnage God orders Moses to loot all the clothing, jewelry, gold and silver from the Egyptian homes (Exodus 12:35-36). God looks at the devastation and says, "I have made sport of the Egyptians" (Exodus 10:2). While the Exodus story fueled the hopes and dreams of oppressed Jews, and later African Americans in the bondage of slavery, it also has been used to foster religious chauvinism.

A literal reading of the Bible means reinstitution of slavery coupled with the understanding that the slavemaster has the right to beat his slave without mercy since "the slave is his money" (Exodus 21:21). Children who strike or curse a parent are to be executed (Exodus 21:15, 17). Those who pay homage to another god "shall be utterly destroyed" (Exodus 22:20). Menstruating women are to be considered unclean, and all they touch while menstruating becomes unclean (Leviticus 15:19-32). The blind, the lame, those with mutilated faces, those who are hunchbacks or dwarfs and those with itching diseases or scabs or crushed testicles cannot become priests (Leviticus 21:17-21). Blasphemers shall be executed (Leviticus 24:16). And "if the spirit of jealousy" comes upon a man, the high priest can order the jealous man's wife to drink the "water of bitterness." If she dies, it is proof of her guilt; if she survives, of her innocence (Numbers 5:11-31). Women, throughout the Bible, are subservient to men, often without legal rights, and men are free to sell their daughters into sexual bondage (Exodus 21:7-11).

Hatred of Jews and other non-Christians pervades the Gospel of John (3:18-20). Jews, he wrote, are children of the devil, the father of lies (John 8:39-44). Jesus calls on his followers to love their enemies and to pray for their persecutors (Matthew 5:44), a radical concept in the days of the Roman Empire. He says we must never demean or insult our enemies. But then we read of Jesus calling his enemies "a brood of vipers" (Matthew 12:34).

The Book of Revelation, a crucial text for the radical Christian Right, appears to show Christ returning to earth at the head of an avenging army. It is one of the few places in the Bible where Christ is associated with violence. This bizarre book, omitted from some of the early canons and relegated to the back of the Bible by Martin Luther, may have been a way, as scholars contend, for the early Christians to cope with Roman persecution and their dreams of final triumph and glory. The book, however, paints a picture of a bloody battle between the forces of good and evil, Christ and the Antichrist, God and Satan, and the torment and utter destruction of all who do not follow the faith. In this vision, only the faithful will be allowed to enter the gates of the New Jerusalem. All others will disappear, cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:14-15). The Warrior's defeat of the armies of the nations, a vast apocalyptic vision of war, ends with birds of prey invited to "gather for the great supper of God, to eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all men, both free and slave, both small and great" (Revelation 19:17-18). It is a story of God's ruthless, terrifying and violent power unleashed on nonbelievers:

The fourth angel poured his bowl on the sun, and it was allowed to scorch men with fire; men were scorched by the fierce heat, and they cursed the name of God, who had power over these plagues, and they did not repent and give him glory. The fifth angel poured his bowl on the throne of the beast, and its kingdom was in darkness; men gnawed their tongues in anguish and cursed the God of heaven for their pain and sores, and did not repent of their deeds. (Revelation 16:8-11)

There is enough hatred, bigotry and lust for violence in the pages of the Bible to satisfy anyone bent on justifying cruelty and violence. Religion, as H. Richard Niebuhr said, is a good thing for good people and a bad thing for bad people.3 And the Bible has long been used in the wrong hands -- such as antebellum slave owners in the American South who quoted from it to defend slavery -- not to Christianize the culture, as...

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