“American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America”
2006 Free Press
Are right-wing Christians in America developing a potentially fascist movement that would discard democracy for the sake of security and conservative values? This is answered affirmatively by Chris Hedges, author of War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, in his newest book.
We all know the worst of the evangelical movement, which Hedges calls the “dominionists”: they’re militantly anti-abortion and promote abstinence-only education, they hate queer and trans people, they don’t believe in evolution or environmentalism, they’re racist against immigrants and support US warfare and imperialism, and they can be violent, potentially terroristic. This book explores all of these themes, but it also exposes the frightening strength these people have in our society.
For example, “There are at least 70 million evangelicals in the United States attending more than 240,000 evangelical churches… Polls indicate that about 40 percent of respondents believe the Bible is ‘to be taken literally, word for word.’ .. Almost a third of all respondents say they believe in the Rapture.” Clearly this movement has developed a mass base by hiding behind Christianity.
But are these folks organized? Hedges says yes, quite so. He points to their dominance over the Republican Party, as well as billions of dollars received in the form of “faith-based” grants. This governmental power is matched by media influence, as the Christian Right also owns several national television and radio networks, as well as many local media outlets. Further, right-wing organizations such as Focus on the Family and the Christian Coalition are controlled by wealthy white male elites who claim to be “close to God” and are followed with feverish obedience by millions of supporters.
The best parts of the book are the interview sections which delve into the lives of the people drawn to, and spit out by, this movement. By humanizing the participants, we come to understand that their immersion into this Christian reality is often a flight from an overwhelming sense of meaninglessness and despair, genuine emotions which develop from real-world sufferings like unemployment and abuse.
However, much of the book does not live up to this potential and consists of Chris Hedges sending forth litanies of blanket indictments against the ideology of the Christian Right, and attaching a somewhat monolithic character to what in reality is probably a more scattered and heterogeneous right-wing Christian population. In other words, by attacking them as potentially all-powerful, do we not in fact imbue them with powers they do not actually possess?
Worse, although the author rightly argues we must not tolerate a movement which does not tolerate us, he leaves us with little useful ammunition for that struggle. Condemnations of fundamentalist thinking and similarities to Nazism will only get us so far, we need to locate the weak points in the armor of these Crusaders, and this book unfortunately serves little in developing such a strategy.
In a present and future marked by severe crises of an economic, ecological and social nature, the seductiveness of movements urging apocalyptic violence unfortunately may become quite great, and only an alternative movement that appeals to the best in humanity can prevent the emergence of a dictatorship of fear. That great Christian principle of love must be the guiding force as we address the mounting grievances of those left behind by this society and point towards a better future.