Saturday, January 27, 2007

Evangelicals: American Fascists?

I was listening to NPR (89.3 for those in LA) this week and they were interviewing Chris Hedges, the author of a recent book, that draws comparisons between the situations in pre-Nazi Germany, pre-Mussolini Italy and the current US. The interviewer was listenly, very seriously, to Hedges' animated rhetoric, comparing Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and James Dobson to a) Nazis and b) Islamic terrorists. If these Evangelicals had their collective dastardly way, Hedges said, homosexuals and Muslims, in addition to anyone else who didn't agree with the most conservative agenda, would be jailed or thrown into concentration camps. It was all conducted very matter-0f-factly.

It struck me as strange that a credible news program would present such seemingly outlandish claims as plausible. Never did the interviewer challenge Hedges or even ask him to clarify his position. She ate it up.

I was so intrigued that I went to Border's and read most of the first chapter. Hedges was raised as the son of Presbyterian minister, and went to Harvard Divinity School. He obviously is familiar with the Bible and Christian doctrine. His main problems seem to be that he views God as a God of mystery, the Bible as a good, but ultimately contradictory book, moral absolutes as deadly, the hope of Heaven depressing in living an earthly Christian life, and conservative Evangelicals who differ from him as simplistic if not the demon spawn of our country. In reading this, I realized that this view of conservative Evangelicals is probably not that far from the mainstream, liberal view.

Some of Hedges' points seemed grounded. To be fair, he estimates only about 20-25% of Evangelicals as potentially fascist. He labels these "dominionists," who see America as "God's country," who take books like Left Behind literally, who believe in conversion of the unsaved at any cost, who believe in strong, masculine leadership, and who look to a utopian Heaven as fulfillment (and apparently don't care anymore about their earthly lives).

I suppose if all of these were added together, a culture of fascism could occur. But Hedges seems to assume several things that just don't seem to be the case. I am hardly one to endorse Robertson or Falwell, but even they don't seem fully capable of the kind of extremes of Nazi Germany. Morever, Hedges seems to form a correlation between belief in moral absolutes and other fascist characteristics (militarism, self-sacrifice, and etc.). This just seems false. Moral absolutes may be passe or cliche in today's Blue Like Jazz Christian culture, but they are no fascism. Moreover, God Himself, although He may be inscrutable and certainly mysterious at times, does deliver edicts that turn out to be moral absolutes. God's character is morally absolute. Viewing homosexuality or abortion as always wrong does not mean that abortion clinics should be bombed or that gays and lesbians should be punished with the death penalty. Apparently, evangelicals could do more to show their compassion to the wider culture.

This problem of underestimating God comes through too in Hedges' portrayal of Evangelical believers. He tells the story of one convert who was sexually abused early in life, before "finding Jesus." For her, life on earth has let her down, and she looks forward to life in Heaven as a chance to be perfected as a person. Hedges presents her as already having given up on her earthly life. To me, this underestimates God's power to really change and redeem people here on earth.

In any case, I look forward to checking this book out from the library and giving it a proper review. I also encourage you to read it, because it seems to reflect a political view of Evangelicals that is held throughout our country.

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