May 7, 2007
By Ken Krayeske • 12:00 AM EST
Hedges on BBC's The Hour promoting his new book, American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War On America.
Suppose that 70 million people vested their hope in an illusion, fully convinced of its supernatural power over their daily lives? Suppose those 70 million were convinced that anyone who didn't believe in their magical myth deserved death and damnation?
Now suppose that the leaders preaching intolerance to those 70 million people wanted to replace the Bill of Rights with the 10 Commandments?
Who are these 70 million people? They're Christian dominionists, according to author Chris Hedges, and they're intolerant of anyone who doesn't think like them, and they're amassing political power to turn the U.S. into a theocracy.
Worse than you think now. Don't believe me? Go listen to Hedges when Squeaky Wheel brings him to the Center Church on the Green in New Haven, Saturday, May 12 from 2 to 4 p.m. as part of a tour for his newest book, American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War On America. Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 with student ID.
I haven't had the chance to read it, although I've heard his speech on college radio a few times lately, and I read his last one, War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning (excerpted here). In that tome, Hedges, a former war correspondent, confronts the desperate intensity of human contradiction from sentence one.
"When our own nation is at war with any other, we detest them under the character of cruel, perfidious, unjust and violent: But always esteem ourselves and allies equitable, moderate, and merciful," he wrote.
So, what happens when our nation is at war with itself? Hedges spent two years exploring the soulless exurbs of America, and in his address on the radio, he said he saw families and neighborhoods torn apart by neglect and indifference, destroyed by the "lost hope that America was a place with a future."
"They feel isolated, vulnerable and lonely," he said of modern Americans. "Those in despair are the most easily manipulated by demagogues who promise a utopia, a workers paradise or the second coming of Jesus Christ. Those in despair search in vain for a solution, a sense of purpose and meaning, the assurance they are protected loved and worthwhile."
Driving around the country, Hedges said vertigo crept in on the highways, and he often wondered if the gas stations and franchise food joints were in Detroit or Texas.
"Parts of Ohio now resemble the developing world with boarded up buildings, abandoned cars and empty lots," he said.
The people he met and the stories he heard were "chronicles about terrible pain, severe financial pain, addictions, childhood sexual or physical abuse, profound alienation, thoughts of suicide," he said.
"These are chronicles of a nation where the top one percent controls more wealth than the bottom 90 percent combined, the gross injustices and inequtieis brought on Americans," Hedges said. Hedges, for the record, was born in upstate New York, the son of a minister. Hedges went to divinity school himself, but was never ordained.
His image of the Bible, though, is very different from the Christian movement that has more than 60 percent of Americans believing in the Genesis story of creation.
"The real world, the world of facts and dispassionate intellectual inquiry is a world that left them out to dry it betrayed them," he said. "They willingly walked out of this world for the mythicsl world offered by preachers. The world of magic where God intervened on a daily basis and performed miracles for them on a daily basis."
These Americans, tens of millions of them, Hedges said, now live "locked in hermetic enclosed systems of indoctrination provided by home schooling, all news, health, beauty tips, entertainment and spiritual guidance is filtered through this disturbing ideological prism."
Political theorist Hannah Arendt, who wrote the seminal book The Origins of Totalitarianism, described that such governments take root when believers are shut off from the real world.
"Totalitarian movements conjure up a lying world of consistency that is more adequate to the needs of the human mind than reality itself," Hedges said. "Through sheer imagination, believers are spared the never ending shocks of the real life that experiences deal to the human imagination. The gruesome quiet of an entirely imaginary world lies in its ability to shut the masses off from a real world."
The dominionist faithful even scare the traditional evangelicals like Billy Graham, Hedges said, and dominionists like the Southern Baptists now control many of the Christian radio and tv stations.
"Christians who challenge this dominionists are ruthlessly thrust aside," Hedges said. "The marriage of neocons and dominionists has made huge inroads into the legislative, executive and judicial branches. They stand poised to reshape and refahsion American society."
If they succeed, Hedges said we have only ourselves to blame.
"It will be because of the moral failure of those who understand them but fail to confront them," he said. "This is the awful paradox of tolerance. There arise moments when those who would destroy tolerance that make open society possible can destroy it. They must be held accountable."
As part of the free exchange of ideas, dangerous segments like the dominionists must be denied the right to demonize whole segments of American society, Hedges said.
"They must be made to treat opponents with mutual respect and acknowledge the right of a fair hearing," he said. "This passivity in the face of the rise of the Christian right threatens the health of the Republic."
Christian right wingers want to defeat hate crimes legislation because they know it would be applied to them, Hedges said.
"Despotic movements are able to harness the power of modern communications to keep followers locked in," he said. "There will be a long steady decline of discourse if people are allowed to continue to teach neighbor to hate neighbor, and civil society will collapse. Christian schools and colleges are indoctrinating and inciting followers to tear apart the nation. In short, they preach civil war."
Again, it is the paradox of tolerance.
"Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance," Hedges claimed. "If we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of an intolerant society, then tolerance will be destroyed."
This is the part of the speech that hit me like that Kafka quote: A book should be the ax that shatters the frozen sea within us.
"We should not suppress the utterance of intolerant philopshies," Hedges said. "But we should claim the right to suppress them if necessary by force for it may easily turn out that they are not prepared to meet us on the level of rational argument because it is deceptive.
"We should claim in the name of tolerance the right not to tolerate the intolerant," he said. "We should treat incitement to intolerance as criminal, in the same way incitement to murder, kidnapping or the revival of the slave trade as criminal."
The Rapture is not in Bible, Hedges said. Demagogues like Timothy LaHaye peddling Rapture fiction and concepts like the Rapture Index represent dominionist distortions that lack religious legitimacy, Hedges said.
"They ignore core value of Christianity summed up by Sermon on the Mount, instead choosing the bits and pieces of the bible that fit their ideology," he said. "Religion is a good thing for good people and a bad thing for bad people."
The bad people embrace religion without doubt, much in the way the dominionists preach that the planet was created 6,000 some years ago. For the people who doubt, religion is a way to interpret those questions, Hedges said.
"I too struggle like the writers of the bible to understand," he said. "I too often get it wrong, but it is the honesty of the search, the doubts, the searches, the mistakes, the regrets, this humility before the unknowable that makes possible self criticism, self awareness, self reflection, it makes possible the diverse human community," he said.