Theocratic Dreams: The Emergence of Christian Fascism in America
by Kimberly Blaker
At a gathering organized by the Center for Christian Statesmanship, House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (now House Majority Leader) declared, "I know there are some people that are worried about the faith-based initiative that the president supports. And most of the distress is about that, 'We don't want the federal government coming into our business. ' Well, my answer to that is, don't accept the money. But I see it as a great opportunity to bring God back into the public institutions of the country. God has been removed from all of our public institutions. "
"You see, " he further divulged, "I don't believe there is a separation of church and state. I think the Constitution is very clear. We have the right and the freedom to exercise our religion no matter what it is anywhere we choose to do it. We have an opportunity to once again get back into the public arena. "
To a degree, DeLay is correct. Americans do have the right to practice their religion anywhere they choose --so long as they neither trammel the freedoms of others nor violate our Constitution in doing so. But what DeLay and many others fail to recognize is that the freedom to practice religion is not extended to our government bodies. Moreover, he makes abundantly clear the real motivation behind the initiative in his admission it is a way of "standing up and rebuking this notion of separation of church and state . . . "
Most Americans, Christian or otherwise, recognize the importance of church and state separation, whether for the protection of church from the government or government from the church. But a large and powerful minority despises freedom of religion in its truest sense: the freedom to practice any religion, or no religion, according to the dictates of ones own conscience.
Since September 11, 2001, Americans of all beliefs have decried Islamic fundamentalism, vowing to protect themselves from such extremism and the terrorism it lends itself to. Yet the short years since have proven detrimental to religious freedom and liberty in general, leading to the nagging question: could America slip into a fundamentalist mode that parallels those nations we are desperately seeking to defend ourselves against?
The events of September 11 have paradoxically played right into the hands of America 's Christian right. This movement has flourished in our fear-ridden nation in spite of the obvious lessons of Osama bin Laden 's jihad. Moreover, American theocrats have even managed to draw support from many moderates, as extreme right politicians have further fused God and Jesus with government, patriotism, and the warding off of Islamic fundamentalist evils.
It is difficult to conceive of our democratic, pluralistic nation (at least in theory, if not always in practice) ever giving way to the fundamentalism seen in Afghanistan or other turbulent states. Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi, professor of psychology at the University of Haifa in Israel, points out that in societies where fundamentalism has taken control, the societies had never become fully secularized before fundamentalism took hold. So it would seem such fear might border on delusion. Yet there may, remotely, be some warrant to such paranoia.
R. Scott Appleby and Martin E. Marty wrote in Foreign Policy, January/February 2002, that "Deadly violence does occur, however, when brands of fundamentalism clash. . . . " As scholars of the Fundamentalism Project, they point to cases of various fundamentalisms colliding with each other within specific confines, such as in Pakistan or Africa. There may be some parallels given the fact that those Americans most in favor of war with Iraq have been conservative, and particularly, fundamentalist Christians. While Saddam and his regime may not be fundamentalist, America 's association of the Middle East with Islamic fundamentalism, along with Christian fundamentalists ' admitted desire for war with the Middle East to bring about the tribulation, may well be a strong motivating factor in our current conflict.
On June 18, 2002, Brad Knickerbocker wrote in The Christian Science Monitor that extreme militia and "patriot " groups (most of which are Christian based) see war on terrorism "as justification for their existence " and that a Timothy McVeigh type could be tempted to join forces with foreign terrorists "perhaps to precipitate the kind of race war envisioned in 'The Turner Diaries ' . . . " These militias are dangerously equipped with the skills and weaponry to reign the kind of fear, chaos, and destruction often seen in theocratic societies. And because most Christian extremists use religion as a grant to carry out God 's bidding, as they narrowly perceive it, militias could easily influence and fuel the fundamentalist climate.
Considering seventy-nine of the world 's eighty-two armed conflicts during the brief period of 1989 to 1992 were within, rather than between countries, the possibility should not altogether be dismissed. The one, and in some cases only, difference between Christian and Islamic theocrats is their use of the Bible, versus the Koran, to justify their oppressive ideology and desire for holy war.
Given there are approximately 400 militia-type groups in the U.S., with Christian Identity numbering in the area of 40,000 alone, the implications are profound. In her book, The Battle for God, Karen Armstrong, one of the foremost commentators on religious affairs in the U.S. and Great Britain says it is improbable that fundamentalism could gain enough popularity in the U.S. Nonetheless, she acknowledges that in an emergency state such as economic or environmental catastrophe, Christian fundamentalism could gravely change the face of our nation. She pointed out that some Christian sects are becoming increasingly militant. Says Armstrong: "Christianity, after all, was able to adapt to capitalism, which was alien to many of the teachings of Jesus. It could also be used to back a fascist ideology that, in drastically changed circumstances, might be necessary to maintain public order. "
An emergency state is perhaps what should concern us at this particular moment in American history. To a degree, we have been in such since 9-11. Similar to what Armstrong suggests, support for the Christian right movement has dramatically increased since that fatal day, and Christian conservatism has increasingly been played out in the public square.
Add to this our recent economic decline; that both Bush 's policies and war costs are likely to further plummet our economy; and that we are at war with a country in which its terrorist supporters are likely to retaliate by bombing or loosing biological or chemical weapons on U.S. soil. Should America fall victim to another significant terrorist assault in the not-so-distant future, given the significant erosion of the wall between church and state and the ravaging of Constitutional protections since 9-11, Armstrong 's prediction could, though implausible, become reality.
Though much of the savagery we read about today, such as women being stoned to death for such infractions as extramarital affairs, comes from other fundamentalisms, Christian fundamentalists are not immune from such barbarisms. Psychoanalyst Robert M. Young reports in "Fundamentalism and Terrorism " that under Argentina 's "anti-left and officially Christian dictatorship " that following "highly technical and agonizing torture " of prisoners, they were flown in helicopters; their abdomens were cut open; and they were dropped into the sea as shark feed.
When people feel threatened, they simplify, or regress, says Young. They "eliminate the middle ground " and divide "the world into safe and threat, good and evil, life and death. " President Bush 's worldview is much the same. He has declared, "Every nation in every region now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists, " and has made similar statements on more than one occasion. The very person leading our country has divided the whole world into good and evil, black and white; no gray can exist.
Fascism is defined as a political philosophy both authoritarian and antidemocratic in nature in which the state is placed above the individual, requiring absolute obedience to a glorified leader. Likewise, this has been the policy of the Bush Administration. Fareed Zakaria reported in Newsweek, March 24, 2003, on Bush 's "arrogant empire. " Bush is demanding and authoritarian in his relations even with foreign nations. As Zakaria points out, "President Bush 's favorite verb is 'expect. ' " And Donald Rumsfeld 's favorite quote is an Al Capone line: "You will get more with a kind word and a gun than with a kind word alone. "
The Administration 's authoritarian antidemocratic nature has been played out in a number of ways. Ari Fleischer told Americans in 2001 to "watch what they say. " This slogan appears to be no slip of the tongue. On February 13 of this year, in New Mexico, Andrew O 'Connor was handcuffed, refused counsel, and interrogated for hours on his political views, particularly war with Iraq, by the Secret Service for stating in a chat room that Bush "was out of control."
Christian fundamentalists have glorified Bush, as well, another requisite for a fascist leader. In March, pamphlets produced by In Touch Ministries were distributed to thousands of Marines calling on them to pray for Bush, despite the inside out nature of the request.
The ramifications of the war with Iraq, regardless of its outcome, are sobering. Should Bush 's war backfire, our economy, foreign relations, and our own safety are all at risk, and depending on the severity of any crisis, it could ultimately lead to serious reaction from America 's Christian fundamentalists. Scholars commonly refer to them as reactionary; their predictably unpredictable nature could pose real danger.
A second term in office could prove fatal to American liberties.
The implications beseech us to examine how to protect faith, freedom, and security in America and to act resolutely in doing so. The solutions, while seemingly simple, will not be easy to actuate. These would be to convince all Americans of their duty to participate in the political process by deeply familiarizing themselves with candidates backgrounds before voting and then getting to the voting booths; convincing politicians to uphold our Constitution and Bill of Rights, even when a majority of the population (or seeming majority) is in opposition, and especially during times of high national security; and finally, the next to impossible, convincing religious conservatives that dismantling the wall between church and state most surely would result in their own loss of religious freedom --the right to practice Christianity according to their own denominational beliefs, versus being required to adhere to that of Southern Baptists, Reconstructionists, Mormons, or any other Christian faith that believes its particular doctrines and interpretations are correct and desires to be the controlling religious force in America.
George Grant, a far right activist reveals, "Since only about sixty percent of the people are registered to vote and only about thirty-five percent of those actually bother to go to the polls, a candidate only needs to get the support of a small, elite group of citizens to win. " To beat the religious right, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, atheists, and all other faiths must come together and make a concerted effort to diffuse the Christian right.
Unfortunately, secularization, that which freedom and democracy are dependent upon, also gives rise to fundamentalism. We are in the ultimate catch-22. Religious extremism will not go away, so we and future generations must stringently strive to maintain the wall between church and state and all American freedoms lest our more than two-century-old democracy fade into the annals of American history.Bio: Kimberly Blaker kimberlyblaker kimberlyblaker9(at)sbcglobal.net is editor and coauthor of The Fundamentals of Extremism: the Christian Right in America. She also writes a syndicated column; church and state and the religious right.
copyright 2004 by Kimberly Blaker