Christofascists on the march

I just finished reading Michelle Goldberg’s Kingdom Coming, the Rise of Christian Nationalism. It’s a short and scary book and I highly recommend it. Goldberg, a reporter for Salon, immersed herself in the Christofascist world over a period of a year, going to their churches, talking to leading preachers and ordinary “believers” in the pews, reading the works of their so-called theologians. She also documented Christofascist ties to the Bush administration, ties that affect everything from stem cell policy to choice of judicial nominees to the enormous ongoing wealth transfer (mostly from — no surprise here– “blue states” to “red states”) under the rubric of the Faith-Based Initiative.

Goldberg does not use the word Christofascism; that’s simply my preferred term for the phenomenon she discusses: a paranoid, anti-intellectual, patriarchal, hate-driven, war and death-loving syncretic cult, nominally Christian, that has an elaborate mythology and symbology derived from crackpot eschatology and an idiot-Disney invented history of the United States of America. This multifaceted cult, which boasts hundreds of prominent, sometimes competing, sometimes cooperating ayatollahs like Pat Roberston and Jerry Falwell, and tens of thousands of lesser clerics, claims George W. Bush (who swore an oath to preserve and defend the Constitution against all enemies) as an adherant, despite having the avowed goal of replacing our constitutional republic with a corporatist theocracy. “Christofascism” may not be the best term for the Christian Nationalist movement, but I can’t think of a better one, and since we’re all going to be bombarded with the Islamofascism “I-word” every day until either the Second Coming or the end of the war on terra (whichever comes first) anyway, I figure I might just as well trampoline off of it.

Goldberg’s tone is reportorial, God love her, but I can’t talk about this stuff in a neutral tone. Something about malevolent sanctimonious kitsch kinda brings out the invective from me.

Goldberg explains the various flavors of nutzoid “Christian” doctrines — premillenialist, postmillenialst, Dominionist, whateverist — and discusses “Christian Nationalism”’s similarities to, and historical connections with, earlier variants of American anti-rationalist paranoid cults, such as the John Birch Society and the Klu Klux Klan. While she does give some attention to religious doctrine, mostly she talks about Christofascism as a *political* phenomenon. Kingdom Coming provides an insightful analysis of Christofascist strategies and successes, which are more sophisticated and successful than you may realize.

Citing several provocative passages from Hanah Arendt’s classic “The Origins of Totalitarianism,” Goldberg demonstrates how the Christofascist right is following in the footsteps of similar movements in pre-Nazi Germany and pre-revolutionary Iran by undermining courts and disdaining the rule of “man made” law in allegiance to a “higher law” as interpreted by their “Great Men”. Ironically enough, the very people who love to rail against “moral relativism” and claim to be absolutists in the name of God use the distinctly postmodern technique of questioning whether anything can be truly known at all. Thus “intelligent design” is posited as an alternative to scientific theory, and laws and decisions of the courts are only binding when the “Christian” says they are. In many ways, in other words, this “heartland” Christianity embodies the worst aspects of the hippie sixties: a disdain for the very idea of law, and an overweaning narcissim that places the subjective, intuited opinion of the “saved” believer above reason and comity. The doctrine of being “saved” is, after all, a blanket waiver. You’re pre-absolved, man; it says so in John 3:16.

Rational thinking in general, and science in particular, are the greatest threats to delusional thinking of the religious kind. That’s why, in Christofascist demonology, science and scientists are objects of terror and must always be resisted if not attacked outright (whether the topic be global warming or evolution). The practice of doublethink is essential to the health of the movement.

Christian Nationalism is a totalitarian, tribalist movement and must be understood as such if it’s to be successfully resisted. As a social movement of the aesthectically impoverished, consumerist, American suburbs and exurbs, Christian Nationalism is a fascinating and significant phenonenon. As religion, however, it’s very thin gruel. (As my friend Richard Byess once explained to me, “They don’t have a theology. They have a dress code.”). The religious ideas upon which Christian Nationalism is built are, in a word, silly. The Islamic suicider blows himself up in the belief that he’s destined for a kitschy paradise of milk and honey, to be welcomed by 72 virgins. Such a pathetically shallow conception of God’s reward to his faithful would be laughable if it were not so fucking dangerous. Islam, so defined, is a convenant for imbeciles, and most of us infidels have no problem seeing it as such. However, if you think that Pat Robertson’s or Jerry Falwell’s conception of paradise is any more profound than “milk and honey and 72 virgins” you’ve go another think coming. These are not people given to deep thought. Their God plays them for chumps, and they’re cool with it.

As Goldberg makes clear — allowing Christian Nationalists to speak for themselves, in their own words–what they want is a Reich, a United Christian States of America. Just because they fetishize the American flag and the American military does not mean that they embrace American principles like freedom, justice, and equality before the law. In many ways, this is a profoundly anti-American movement. Nevertheless Christofascists and their sympathizers hold high positions in the White House, the Pentagon, and the Air Force Academy.

Goldberg, in her epilog, says that Christian Nationalists are a small minority of Americans, a minority even among people who call themselves Christian, but that they are very serious-minded people who are much closer to achieving a takeover than many of us would like to admit. They must be resisted, she says, and I could not agree more. Goldberg suggests how that can be done, and how those of us who favor the constitution– including the Bill of Rights, and “government of the People, by the People and for the People” — should take heed. Please, read her book.

American Christofascism is predicated on the myth, the falsehood, that the United States of America is, and always has been, a “Christian” nation. It is predicated on the lie that the founders of this country, and their heirs and successors through the centuries, have been pious Christian men who thought they were creating a Christian theocracy but somehow forgot to tell anybody that that’s what they were about–presumably because it was so obvious that it went without saying. That is a base slander. The United States of America was created by, and has been sustained by, courageous men and women of every religious stripe, from athiest to Zoroastrian, and this thing they built–hundreds of thousands of them with “their last full measure of their devotion”– is nothing if it is not the embodiment of the liberal, humanist ideal. And that is why this sacred land has been, until quite recently, if not the home of a superior race, nevertheless a light unto the world and a beacon of hope for all humanity.

The Christofascists within are no less a threat than the Islamofascists without. May God confound them all.


  1. Back in the late 1990s, Michael Doughny (of “people eating tasty animals” fame) cashed out of his .com money (getting bought out of Digex) and dedicated a good deal of his time documenting the rise of the “Biblical Army.” At the time, he was something of a lone voice in the wilderness.

    He started to document his concerns. You mnay wish to check it out.

  2. Christian Fascists? Really?

    “is nothing if it is not the embodiment of the liberal, humanist ideal. And that is why this sacred land has been, until quite recently, if not the home of a superior race, nevertheless a light unto the world and a beacon of hope for all humanity.”

    Add to your litany of liberalism, humanism, and idealism, morality. The atheist and other non-Christian founders were moral people. They were civilized. Sadly (for you), there morality was derived from Christianity, or from a strong desire to be compatible with Christianity-based civilization.

    Do you suppose that the founding fathers were all Quakers, or Baptists? They had their disagreements, but they resolved them in a Christian manner to the benefit of the greater good. It is still possible to be a Christian and a constitutional purist. You can thank 110 years of the public school system for the emergence of your “Christian fascists.” Our way of conducting education is derived from a Prussian system that was designed for the express purpose of creating a nationalist, controllable population. Americans are accustomed to allowing the government to raise their children. But cultural themes die hard, and so now there is an undercurrent of backlash against the liberalization of the school systems, perceived as socialistic and amoral (or anti-moral) these days by people who remember higher standards of morality in days gone by.

    However, your “suburb-trash Christian nationalists,” although pliable, are shallow and aren’t really as much of a threat as you think they are. It is unlikely that they can be motivated to meaningful action in sufficient numbers. Even if your worst fears are realized, would it really be so bad? Christianity isn’t Islam. Adherents to Islam become more prone to violence and coercive population control the deeper they dig into their religion for meaning in practical life. Spreading the word involves the phrase, ‘join us or die.’ Adherents to Christianity (should) become more prone to humility, service, and generosity the deeper they go. The spread of deep Christianity is accomplished through gentle persuasion and reason, not coercion or even societal pressure.

    Historically, Christianity has quite effectively policed itself. And by Christianity, I don’t mean Catholicism. Splinter groups that begin to implement practices anathema to the core beliefs tend to fade away with time. If you stumble across somebody preaching, along with Christ, justification for murder, racism, aggressive use of force, indifference to suffering, or even a lack of kindness, you haven’t found true Christianity. But, you have found something sensational to tradition-busters, so it merits airtime. True Christianity distances itself from abortion clinic attackers, politically-persuasive preachers such as Robertson, and anything else that falls outside the tenets of loving and serving God, and being humble, kind, generous, and gracious. I have heard Christian leaders renounce and distance themselves from well-known television “Christians.” These types of statements don’t seem to get much play. Instead, we are treated to an endless loop of the original offensive or loony remark, followed by the hollow-sounding call for apologies and retractions, usually issued or instigated by the same news organ. There won’t be another Inquisition. There won’t be a resurgence of lynchings. Abortion clinic attacks are on the decline (both kinds, actually). The Reformation started Christianity’s departure from its common usage as a tool of government, and Christianity has never ceased reforming itself. How many sub-denominations are there these days, anyway? If Christianity were to field a ‘morality police’ force, which denomination would set the standards? Islam appears to be more monolithic in its view toward the things everybody finds objectionable these days: the violence and duplicity. Jihadist attacks happening right now aren’t much different in their moral underpinnings than those that occurred in the 1800s, or the 1600s, or the 1300s, etc

    The best path to assuage your fears isn’t more liberalism, socialism, or Democratic hysteria. What would truly benefit you the most is a resurgence in in-depth study of the constitution and the bible, abolition of the public school system so that more people can learn to think and decide for themselves, and praise and encouragement for those who think of and serve others first. A devout Christian will always support the right to not be one. Let’s get away from this notion of limiting our exposure to the teachings, in an effort to make sure that no more become one.

  3. I’m not quite sure what points you’re making here, but let me try to respond.

    Of course the liberal, humanist ideal is a moral ideal. Profoundly so. I guess I thought that that went without saying.

    Certain of the so-called founding fathers considered themselves Christians, others were kind of enlightenment “theists”, but in any event, various flavors of Christianity permeated the early Americas and also Europe, from whence came many of the ideals upon which the republic was founded. I don’t refute that and didn’t in my essay.

    My problem isn’t with Christians or Christianity, per se, it’s with fascists and protofascists. In this country many of these people are so-called “Christian Nationlalists,” and call themselves Christians. Rather than rehearse Goldberg’s book, I ‘ll simply suggest you read it, or otherwise there’s not much point to our conversation, since my post was mostly a book review.

    Let’s hope that Christianity is or will be self-policing, as you suggest. Since by some definitions of Christianity I’m a Christian myself, I guess I might be considered part of that self-correcting process.

    About public schools you and I may find much to agree about and much to disagree about, but setting them up as the boogeymen responsible for a proufoundly ignorant movement like Christian Nationalism is not likely to win me over.

    You ask, “would it be so bad” if the Christian nationalists took over? Well, I guess that depends on what you mean by “so bad”. Myself, I think the end of constitutional democracy in the United States of America would be pretty bad, yes. Call me old-fashioned on that score.

    Islamofascists may be “worse” than Christofascists, but they’re also much less of a threat to the USA. I mean, give me a break. OK, they did bring down the two towers in New York. But who believes that they can conquer the USA? Anybody? Have we become such a nation of cowards and scaredy cats that Al-Queda can spook us into destroying the very things that have made our country great through the centuries? If so, then, to coin a phrase, Jesus Motherfucking Christ on a Pogo Stick, maybe we deserve whatever we get.

    Your comments that the public schools should be abolished seem nonsensical and frightening, and I don’t know what you mean by “limiting exposure to the teachings”, since I advocated no such thing.

    A few final tidbits: I went to public schools through 8th grade, then to Xavier High School in Manhattan — the Jesuit-ROTC place that also produced Antonin Scalia. Also, as a Peace Corps Volunteer and later graduate student, I lived in a Moslem village for nearly three years. And I’m married into a family that has several baptist and pentacostal preachers in it.

  4. “Of course the liberal, humanist ideal is a moral ideal. Profoundly so. I guess I thought that that went without saying.”

    The classical liberal ideal was moral. What currently passes for liberalism is perceived by Christians to be anti-moral. Therefore, sadly, in today’s discourse, liberal = moral no longer goes without saying. If I have a “position” here, it is that the morality of classical liberalism was derived from Christian morality, or a strong desire to be compatible with the culture of a predominantly Christian society. You don’t have to subscribe to the doctrine of original sin and fallen man, the default state of the nature of man is evidenced by the practices of all those recently-discovered, culturally isolated jungle tribes. Why, they’re practically uncivilized! It is in the basic nature of man to indulge himself in his innate passions. The goal of all civilizations has been to cause man to restrain himself. This has been done with force, logic, peer pressure, and religion, and various combinations thereof. The Israelites, and after them the Christians, were the first religion that attempted to constrain man’s sexual passions within the confines of marriage. Upon that single precept, Western Civilization as we know it emerged, for it replaced man’s drive for sexual conquest with a drive to conquer his basic nature. Islam isn’t very different from the various idolatrous religions from whence Abraham fled so long ago, in that it encourages man to pursue some of his innate, or carnal, desires. Christians may feel like killing their enemies, but their religion tells them to pray God’s blessing upon them. Islam says, go ahead, kill them in the name of Allah.

    Show me someone who fits the ticket of a Christian Nationalist, and I will show you someone who hasn’t made the effort to pursue the depths of Christianity. You’re right, though. I should read the book.

    All debate on the topic is part of the self-correcting process. It would be very nice to get some other prominent religions on board. <ahem>

    Why is the public school system free from blame for public behavior’s resemblance to conformist sheep in most of their lives?

    I wouldn’t want “Christian Nationalists” to “take over.” I am all in favor of our Republic, and constitutional purity. It’s highly unlikely that it ever could happen in the first place. However, due to the introspective and participatory nature of non-Catholic Christianity, I don’t see how it could last. As people seek depth in their Christianity, as they go to ground, they find less and less theological support for acting upon their baser instincts. When people go to ground in Islam, they find theological support for acting upon their baser instincts.

    “Have we become such a nation of cowards and scaredy cats that Al-Queda can spook us into destroying the very things that have made our country great through the centuries?”

    I’m not sure that certainty about this is available.

    “Your comments that the public schools should be abolished seem nonsensical and frightening, and I don’t know what you mean by “limiting exposure to the teachings”, since I advocated no such thing.”

    What is so frightening about abolishing public schools? The more we spend on them, the poorer results we get. They function as daycare facilities, and unnecessarily prolong irresponsibility. They provide parents an easy default as marginally-involved custodians of their children. The teachers’ union is expressly advancing an agenda of eliminating all exposure to any trappings of Christianity within the confines of public school life. You can’t legislate morality, we’re told. But by George, we dare not resist forced exposure to things that Christians find immoral, such as teaching the moral equivalence of homosexuality. I call that legislating immorality. I submit that the abolishment of the federal involvement in the public school system would be far less disruptive to society than implementing the fair tax, or going to ground with the constitution by nullifying the many over-reaching laws that abuse the “interstate commerce” clause.

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