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.