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Christian fascism: the best response

camel passing through needleIn American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America (Free Press, 2006), Chris Hedges warns of the danger presented by the section of the US political spectrum usually known as the Christian right – a danger to democracy, tolerance, science and intellectual freedom. His warning concerns not Christian revivalism in general (traditional evangelists like Billy Graham, he points out, were concerned with saving souls not politics) but a specific highly political tendency called “dominionism” that aims to establish the world empire of a reborn “Christian America”.

Dominionist preachers like Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, James Dobson, R.J. Rushdoony and Rod Parseley propagate their worldview through a vast array of “megachurches” and publishing houses, home schools and universities, museums and broadcasting outlets. (The programming of Paul and Jan Crouch’s Trinity Broadcasting Network is carried on over 6,000 television stations at home and abroad.) Theirs is a relentlessly simplistic worldview, supposedly based on the Bible as the literal Word of God, that denounces all opponents as servants of Satan and eagerly anticipates the miraculous horrors of the Apocalypse.

The dominionists are hostile to real science and deny global warming as well as evolution. Their “Gospel of Prosperity” celebrates unbridled capitalism and extravagant consumption. A long-term aim is government based on biblical law.

A purely American fascism

Hedges makes out a convincing case for regarding dominionism as a variety of totalitarianism and fascism. In certain ways, however, the dominionists differ from earlier generations of fascists in the United States, even though they too used the Christian label. Dominionist symbols are purely American; they admit to no connection with classical foreign fascisms (Italian, German etc.).

Comparing the new Christian fascists with the Ku Klux Klan, for instance, we find that each focuses on a quite different set of enemies. They renounce hatred for blacks, Catholics and Jews – the three bugbears of WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) bigotry. Instead, they appeal to Christians across racial lines, work with Catholics on issues such as abortion and prayer in schools, and cultivate a close alliance of convenience with the Zionist religious right, despite the divergent apocalyptic expectations of the two groups. The main targets of their hostility are those they call “secular humanists” – a catch-all for all who oppose them, non-fundamentalist Christians as well as atheists and agnostics – and also Islam.

A highly lucrative business

How do the dominionist preachers finance their activities? Partly by fleecing their flocks, who pay a “tithe” of 10% of income in addition to other donations. Other money comes from sympathetic capitalists, including Amway founder Richard DeVos and beer baron Joseph Coors. Finally, the Bush Administration, with which they had close ties through the Council for National Policy, enabled them to tap federal funds for “faith-based” social service initiatives – an arrangement that Obama has left intact.

We may reasonably doubt whether the big capitalists and politicians who support the dominionists care all that deeply about religious dogma. Their main interest presumably lies in the prospect of intensified control over and exploitation of the working class.

Indeed, for the preachers themselves religion is, apart from anything else, a highly lucrative business. Their opulent lifestyles suggest that they divert a significant portion of the various cash flows into their own bank accounts. Evidently they have overlooked certain biblical passages – for instance, Jesus’ well-known remark about the camel who tried to pass through the eye of a needle.

Our attitude as socialists

The danger presented by “Christian fascism” is a real one. It threatens us as socialists at least as much as it threatens all other “servants of Satan”. Our ability to spread our ideas depends on tolerance of minority opinions. Moreover, people whose minds have been addled by belief in magic, miracles and divine texts are unlikely to be receptive to socialist ideas.

So we cannot say: “It doesn’t matter which group of capitalists have the upper hand; they are all equally bad because they all represent capitalism.” Of course it matters.

Faced with the threat of fascism, socialists share a certain amount of common ground with non-socialists concerned to defend democracy and science. Both, for example, seek to debunk “creationism” and explain current scientific thinking about evolution.

However, we must not jeopardise our identity as socialists by joining broad “anti-fascist” blocs that inevitably accept the continued existence of capitalism. One reason is that as socialists we have a unique contribution to make to effective action against fascism.

Real versus illusory community

In his book Hedges describes how vulnerable people are recruited into dominionist churches. The target of “seduction” is someone whose history and circumstances (family breakdown, abuse, addiction, isolation, etc.) make it especially hard to bear the absence of community in capitalism. The church offers an illusion of community and the victim snatches at the bait, only later to discover, when escape has become very difficult, that he or she has paid a high price in submission for yet another illusion.

The soil in which fascism grows is the impersonal and alienating conditions of life under capitalism, especially at times of crisis. Hedges appears to understand this. But there is a disconnect between analysis and conclusion. He calls for more determined resistance to Christian fascism, but offers no hope of a more communal way of life that might counter the emotional appeal of fascism. Only socialists, by holding out the prospect of real community, can act effectively to undermine the illusory community of fascism.

The Socialist Standard, no. 1270, June 2010


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