Above all, Chris Hedges is a moralist, one of the most important
moralists of our time. We risk imminent peril when ignoring his words.
And those who need to ponder his writings the most are the same people
he pushes away the hardest--Christian Fundamentalists.
In his book, American Fascists: The Christian Right And The War On
America, Hedges makes a distinction between conservative Christians who
sought to impose their beliefs on the rest of society from conservatives
who did not. In his latest article, Fundamentalism Kills
, he neglects
this distinction. All Fundamentalists, Christian or otherwise, pose a
mortal threat to the rest of us. How? Because all Fundamentalists have
determined to impose their fantasy world on the rest of us. Hedges
continues by saying that the Fundamentalists who present the greatest
threat to America are not Islamic Fundamentalists but Christian and
secular Fundamentalists from America. They are the ones who embrace myth
and self-worship while pushing away rationality and self-examination.
Thus, according to Hedges, if Christian Fundamentalists hope to
become part of the solution, they must leave their faith. Not only does
this put Christian Fundamentalists in a bind, it also puts the squeeze
on the whole country. That is because much of the country, for good and
bad, has conservative Christian leanings. And since most significant
change happens incrementally, the implication here is that we are
doomed. But more than that, just has America's indiscriminate use of
military violence reinforces the extreme world view held by Muslim
terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda, so Hedges' charges against all Christian
Fundamentalists in the above mentioned article reinforces the
self-serving, apocalyptic world view held by the groups of Christian
Fundamentalists who are causing real problems.
At this point, it would be helpful to define Christian
Fundamentalism. We should note that the popular working definition
focuses on negative personality characteristics that many, but not all, Christian
Fundamentalists have. So what is real Christian Fundamentalism?
Christian Fundamentalism was a reaction to the theological liberalism of
the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Such liberalism reduced all of
reality to the physical realm. Thus Christian Fundamentalism arose in an
effort both to recognize differences between conservative Christians
who were seeking to be true to what they saw was the faith of the
Apostles and counter the liberalism of their day and to identify a
single group. It is based on five beliefs, four of which center on who
Jesus Christ is. The other belief declares that God's word is infallible
and inerrant--this claim applies to the original autographs only. And
when one examines each of these beliefs, one would be hard-pressed to
show how any of those basic beliefs would cause people to be
arrogant and threatening or would imply political policies that would
push us off the precipice. But having said that, we see many Christian
Fundamentalists who pompously support destructive practices while
they pretentiously reject rationality and valid criticisms.
We should note here that the political convictions supported by many American Christian Fundamentalists are not shared by
Christian Fundamentalists from other countries. This was shown to me a
by fellow Christian Fundamentalists from England. In addition, there are
American Christian Fundamentalists who are ecologically aware, who
oppose Israel's current implementation of Zionism, and who oppose
America's military empire. Also, I am a Christian Fundamentalist and a
Socialist and I find a strong connection between the two.
So why do some American Christian Fundamentalists hold to political
convictions that are grossly unjust and self-serving? It isn't that
Hedges is seeing things, far too many Christian Fundamentalists seem
intent on proving him right. These American Christian Fundamentalists
have not just believed Fundamentalism, they have passionately embraced
exceptionalism, which is not a necessary
consequence of Fundamentalism. In addition, we should note that the
dogged belief in the one's own superiority over all others is a
definition of exceptionalism, not Fundamentalism. An exceptionalist
nationalistic self-image is normal for Americans of regardless of their
religious views. In fact, claiming to be special is normal regardless of
This exceptionalism is evidenced in our consumption as well as our
empire. With regards to consumption, this exceptionalism makes us feel
entitled to enjoy a lifestyle that is beyond what those from other
countries experience regardless of the price others have to pay. And, of
course, exceptionalism gives us license to push our military weight
around and force others to open their markets to our goods without
having second thoughts.
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This double-edged sword of our exceptionalism provides a feeling of
significance that is not easily surrendered--again, this is regardless
of one's religious beliefs. And it is this feeling of significance that
is the cause of America's addiction to exceptionalism. For the
Christian, incorporating the finding of one's significance outside of
Christ as being a part of one's Christian life is like pounding a round
peg into a square hole. Violence is done to both with the compromises
made to one's faith being a sacrifice too easily accepted.
While Hedges' view of Christian Fundamentalism requires that the
Fundamentalist leave his or her faith before becoming a part of the
solution, there is another approach. The other approach consists of
showing a Christian Fundamentalist how working for peace, social and
economic justice, and striving to help the environment, is consistent
with the Bible. So when a Christian Fundamentalist wants to immerse him
or herself in jingoistic pride, we can point to Romans 3 where Paul says
that faith excludes boasting. Or we could remind a super patriotic
Fundamentalist of Philippians 3 where Paul rejects anything that could
make him proud of being a descendant of Abraham so he could focus on
Christ. In addition, we could remind the patriotic Christian that all
are made in the image of God, not just Americans.
When Christian Fundamentalists make the prosperity that flows from
American Capitalism into an idol, we only need to remind them of Jesus'
parables that warn us about either relying on earthly treasures or
refusing to help those in need. Of note is Jesus' parable of the sheep
and the goats. The sheep were invited to join God in enjoying paradise
because they had helped the "least of these." Those who did not help
people in need were sent to eternal suffering (Matthew 25:31-46).
We should also mention that there is a historical force that has
plagued Western Christianity, not just American Christian
Fundamentalism, which has made Christianity more of a blight than a
blessing. That force is the belief that one should work for a Christian
society. Such a belief has caused Christians to think of society and the
state as providing a supplemental source of discipline for those who do
not submit to the Church. Such a view caused Luther to conclude that
society must punish the Jews for persisting in unbelief or be guilty of
complicity. Such a view mandated that Calvin approve of the burning of
heretics at the stake. Such a view gave the Puritans permission to
persecute and even kill Quakers. And such a view is uncritically
accepted and moves many of today's Christians to show intolerance to all
who are different.
Hedges use of terms is most unfortunate because he sets the grounds
for others to make Christian Fundamentalists, amongst others, into
scapegoats. And considering that what Hedges is legitimately writing
against is exceptionalism, his mislabeling undermines his work.
Exceptionalism starts with self-righteousness that leads to feelings of
superiority that result in attitudes of entitlement. People who cling to
exceptionalism have both cut off their own ears as well as performed
their own lobotomies. They have made themselves incapable of changing.
But we should also note that if Fundamentalism leads to an
exceptionalism that makes one dangerous, then almost anyone who is
committed to a group can become a mortal threat. That is because any
serious allegiance to a group means acceptance of the core beliefs and
philosophies of the group. And synonym for "core beliefs" is the word
"fundamentals." So Hedges' own honorable commitment to the October 2011
coalition, a commitment I have made too, could make him, as well as all
of the other coalition members, dangerous.
Hedges' complaint is all too legitimate but his choice of words was
not the best. It is exceptionalism that kills, not Fundamentalism,
Christian or otherwise. And we would all be wise to realize that any of
us can become an exceptionalist but not because of fundamentalism, but because of the feeling of significance that exceptionalism brings. For what can make us feel better about ourselves than to believe we are exceptional.