Chris Hedges: American Fascists

Air Date: 
Friday, October 10, 2008
Commentator: 
Tom Shipka
Audio: 
Transcript: 

The radical segment of American Evangelicals is the focus of the fourth book by Chris Hedges, a former war correspondent for The New York Times and co-recipient of the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for reports on global terrorism. The book, entitled American Fascists: the Christian Right and the War on America, is a chilling expose and critique of the quest for theocracy, and its leaders, among them Francis Schaeffer, Jerry Falwell, D. James Kennedy, Pat Robertson, Timothy LaHaye, Rod Parsley, and others. (1) Hedges did his research for the book not only by reading publications and tuning into the broadcasts of the movement's celebrities, but by interviewing dozens of current and former radical Evangelicals, and attending worship services and workshops.

Hedges tells us that the radical religious right takes its cue from R. J. Rushdoony who published The Institutes of Biblical Law in 1973. According to Hedges, Rushdoony argues that:

Christians are the new chosen people of God and are called to do what Adam and Eve failed to do: create a godly, Christian state. The Jews, who neglected to fulfill God's commands in the Hebrew scriptures, have, in this belief system, forfeited their place as God's chosen people and been replaced by Christians...The world is to be subdued and ruled by a Christian United States. (2)

Further, Hedges says, Rushdoony proposes to strip the federal government of all its functions save national defense, to turn over education and social welfare to Christian churches, and to replace the secular legal code with "Biblical law." (3)

According to Hedges, the radical Religious Right thrives on the disappearance of community in American culture, the despair that has set in with the loss of millions of manufacturing jobs, the plague of drug addiction and alcoholism, and various other crises. The vulnerable are systematically recruited by intoxicating preachers and their trained disciples who use virtually any tactic, moral or not, that works. (4)

And what happens to the newly saved? They join mega-churches which become the center of their lives; they tap into the huge Christian broadcasting industry for virtually all their news and entertainment; they send their children to Christian schools or home school them; they buy into the gospel of prosperity peddled by their spiritual leaders (5); they join the crusade to abolish the separation of church and state; they learn to hate gays, Muslims, abortionists and the rest of the unsaved; they embrace an agenda which seeks to "cure" homosexuals, outlaw abortion, restrict sex education to abstinence, deny global warming, and promote patriarchy in the family, the church, and the state; and they subscribe to the prophecy of the Rapture. (6) In this Rapture, "one day, without warning, the saved will be lifted into heaven and the unsaved left behind to suffer a seven-year period of torment and chaos known as the Tribulation." (7)

A mainstream Christian, Hedges charges that militant Evangelicals have turned a religion of love and peace into a religion of hate and power. He concludes his book with an entreaty to moderate Christians and all others committed to democracy and an open society "to give up passivity, to challenge aggressively this (extremist) movement's appropriation of Christianity and to do everything possible to defend tolerance." (8)


 

  1. Free Press, 2006.
  2. American Fascists, pp. 12-13. Rusdoony, Hedges say, takes his cue from Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion, published in 1536.
  3. American Fascists, p. 13. Hedges claims that the White House Office of Faith-Based Initiatives, established by President George W. Bush, is enacting many of Rushdoony's tenets. Hedges concedes that only a minority of the nation's 70 million Evangelicals today fully endorse Rushdoony's theocracy, but, he warns, this minority "is taking over the machinery of U.S. state and religious institutions" and he regrets that too often moderate Evangelicals defer to the radical minority. (p. 19) For a picture of the diversity among Evangelicals, see page 20.
  4. American Fascists, p. 19. For comments on the diversity among Evangelicals, see p. 20.
  5. The major televangelists, Hedges writes, "rule their fiefdoms as despotic potentates. They travel on private jets, have huge personal fortunes and descend on the faithful in limousines and surrounded by a small retinue of burly bodyguards. These tiny kingdoms, awash in the leadership cult, mirror on a smaller scale the America they seek to create." (p. 91)
  6. At a seminar run by Dr. D. James Kennedy on how to win converts, Hedges reports the following: "The most susceptible people, we are told in the seminar, are those in crisis: people in the midst of a divorce, those who have lost a job or are grieving for the death of a close friend or relative; those suffering addictions they cannot control, illness, or the trauma of emotional or physical abuse." (p. 56)
  7. See American Fascists, Chapter Three, "Conversion," Chapter Four, "The Cult of Masculinity," Chapter Six, "The War on Truth," and Chapter Seven, "The New Class." On the Christian broadcast industry, Hedges counts "5,500 Christian broadcasters... who reach, according to their figures, an estimated 141 million listeners and viewers across America." (p. 129) Probably the largest company is the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) of Paul and Jan Crouch. See Chapter Nine, "God: The Commercial," pp. 164-181. One reason that fundamentalists oppose hate-crime legislation, Hedges says, is that, if passed, it would inhibit them from spewing hate toward homosexuals and other enemies of God in their programming. (p. 139) On the gospel of prosperity, Hedges writes that, according to fundamentalists, "Wealth, fame, and power are manifestations of God's work, proof that God has a plan and design for believers." (pp. 132-133) Hedges notes in several places that fundamentalist preachers who subscribe to the gospel of prosperity have enjoyed the generous support of many titans of American business, among them the Waltons, Amway founder Richard DeVos, Sr., and beer baron Joseph Coors. For a summary of the moral agenda of fundamentalists, see Hedges' description of a church service led by Rod Parsley, head of the World Harvest Church, pp. 158-163.
  8. American Fascists, p. 207.

© 2008 Tom Shipka