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You can see them gathering on the horizon. Ready to take over America after the next 9/11-like crisis … and then destroy American democracy. These are the new "fascists," according to a book just published by a former New York Times correspondent. Who are they? Well, if you’re an evangelical peering off into the horizon to view the looming threat for yourself … well, you’re looking into a mirror. The new fascists are … evangelical Christians. And the growing legions of creationists are on the frontlines, suggests author Chris Hedges.
Worse, Hedges says that at the next 9/11 of its kind, evangelicals are poised to take over the country: “Those arrayed against American democracy [i.e., evangelical Christians] are waiting for a moment to strike, a national crisis that will allow them to shred the Constitution in the name of national security and strength” (pp. 201–202). Already, declares Hedges, “this minority … is taking over the machinery of U.S. state and religious institutions” (p. 19).
I’ve never been called a fascist,1 but this new book by a former divinity student essentially calls me that. In Hedges’ book, with the inflammatory title American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America, he calls evangelicals the new fascists and draws many comparisons to the Nazis of Hitler’s Germany. He targets creationists as a major ally in the fascistic effort. Hedges especially highlights our soon-to-open Creation Museum near Cincinnati, which he describes as a place that “presages a society where truth is banished” (p. 128).
Hedges’ bizarre premise is that theologically conservative Christians (including biblical creationists) are attempting to take over America … fascist-style. In so doing, he essentially insults, among others, those Christian heroes of World War II who risked their lives fighting fascism.2 Allegations of Christian fascism are terrible slaps in the face of prominent creationist leaders such as Dr. John Whitcomb (whose 1961 book The Genesis Flood—co-authored with Dr. Henry Morris—ignited the modern creationist movement) and famed creationist debater Dr. Duane Gish, both of whom risked their lives fighting fascism in WWII.3 However, knowing these two gracious Christian men rather well, I believe they would simply shrug off Hedges’ creationist-fascist claim as silliness.
While it would be tempting to dismiss this over-the-top book as the ranting of an anti-Christian, it should be pointed out that 1) Hedges is a graduate of Harvard Divinity School who grew up in a Presbyterian home (and today describes himself as a Christian); 2) he was a prominent foreign correspondent with The NY Times (and was on an investigative team with the Times that won a Pulitzer prize in 2002); 3) he is an author with a major publisher that has tremendous marketing clout (Simon and Schuster); and 4) he is a frequent interview guest for major newspapers and other media outlets.
His book merits particular attention from AiG because chapter 6 devotes huge chunks to us (and our future museum). Hedges views AiG as a group that proclaims a “subversive message … that it’s OK to believe what we want, to believe lies” (p. 115). More dangerously, he asserts that the goal of the creationists “is the destruction of the core values of the open society” (p. 116). (How ironic, we should note, that our so-called open society of today won’t tolerate any questioning of the evolution belief system in schools and other public places.)
Our review of American Fascists will primarily examine chapter 6, and the review of that chapter will come in a follow-up article soon. But for the remainder of this part of the review, a few comments about the rest of Hedges’ text are in order so that the creationist section is seen within the broader context of the entire book.
Hedges’ biggest concern about the evangelical church is an element within it called “dominion theology.” While he does admit that not all Christians subscribe to a belief that there is a mandate to set up a theocracy in America (he acknowledges that “fundamentalists” have traditionally avoided political activism, but that some are no longer doing so today), Hedges believes that most prominent evangelicals are banding together to advance a subversive “religious right” agenda.4
As someone who has been in ministry since the early 1970s and who has had first-hand contact with the leaders of many prominent evangelical ministries and influential churches over the years, I have never seen any evidence of what Hedges has supposedly discovered for himself: that Christians are plotting a takeover of America, and are just waiting for the right opportunity to act.
Hedges admits that the dominion movement is “small in number” (and indeed it is), but he gets around that difficulty by stating that they are “influential” (p. 10) and adds that “the potency of this radical movement far exceeds its numbers” (p. 19). He is, of course, grasping at straws. Because he admits that he can’t find many theocrats among evangelicals, he thus overstates their significance to make his point.
A few pages later, and in one of the many unintentional ironies in the book, Hedges attempts to undermine one of the evangelicals’ oft-cited claims: that humanists, not evangelicals, have the major influence in society (in politics, academia, the media, museums, etc.). He counters with the feeble argument that there are only 3,000 members of the American Humanist Association (p. 27). So his argument is that because this particular group is small, the humanist movement can’t be influential or potent whereas the even smaller Dominion Theology movement (which has no such large national association) is supposedly controlling the evangelical world.
Time and time again in his book, Hedges singles out a particular Christian leader in an attempt to make him (sometimes “her”) represent the whole of the Church. He points, for example, to a major televangelist and his “name it and then claim it” theology, to indicate that the so-called prosperity gospel is dominant in the church (which is false, although it certainly is promoted by some mega-churches). Similarly, Hedges told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (January 14) that a belief system exists among many Christians that “God will not only take care of you but God will also make you successful, often in economic terms.” That is a gross distortion of what most evangelicals believe.
Hedges also told the Journal-Constitution that the antics of “prosperity” televangelists are similar to the “despotic movements, [where] figures are often laughable and buffoonish.” Note, however, that this type of televangelist typically does not get sidetracked into political causes; instead, they seem to have another goal in mind (financial prosperity). According to Hedges, though, if you’re a buffoonish Christian on TV and have millions of viewers, you are well on the road to despotism. We can think of certain over-the-top TV commentators—with strong political views (Jerry Springer, Bill Maher, Keith Olbermann, et al.)—who might be better candidates in leading a national uprising.
As another example of his constant over-generalization and implication of sinister motives, Hedges accuses the mega-ministry of Focus on the Family with having the primary mandate of recruiting believers into a political movement and, correspondingly, pushing dominion theology. Now, Focus on the Family certainly encourages its supporters to be involved in the political process, but its president, James Daly, has publicly spoken against theocracy. Daly also says that Christians should act lovingly towards those who may push a humanist agenda. But because of Focus’s size and influence, Hedges demonizes them as leading the theocracy movement. So much for careful and honest reporting!
Interestingly, the alleged impending uprising by Christians, with which Hedges is so concerned, is lacking a major hallmark of fascist groups: committing acts of violence. Except for a few isolated exceptions over the years, Christians (even those who might embrace dominion theology5) rarely engage in violent acts against society. I can’t think of a single act of violence committed—or encouraged—by any of the dozens of evangelical leaders that Hedges mentions in his book. This is an obvious counter to his thesis that the religious right is fascistic and is waging a revolution on liberty.
Hedges points out that there are paramilitary groups that identify themselves as being Christian based (p. 29), but he acknowledges that they are “obscure” and “shadowy” (hence not significant, I would add). Further, I don’t believe that many of their members would even think of calling themselves evangelicals. Lacking hard data, Hedges relies on anecdotes to build his case that evangelicals are on the march to take over America. In a relatively short, small-format book (207 pages), Hedges tells many stories about evangelical leaders—particularly as he cites disgruntled former employees to help portray their previous evangelical boss as fascistic. A disgruntled former staff member is not the most objective of witnesses.
To be fair to Hedges in one respect, Christians do use language from the Bible that has military metaphors. This would include phrases in Ephesians 6 such as: “put on the whole armor of God,” “the shield of faith,” “the sword of the Spirit,” etc. Taken out of context, such words can feed the false belief held by Hedges and others that evangelicals can be militaristic; yet when a typical ministry employs such biblically based words and phrasing, it is almost always used in the context of the spiritual warfare the Apostle Paul writes about in his letter to the Ephesians and elsewhere.
Who are the better candidates to be the fascists of the 21st century? It’s those non-Christians who, in the name of tolerance, will refuse to tolerate those labeled as “intolerant” (especially if the “intolerant” ones hold to absolute moral standards, as most evangelicals do). In fact, Hedges quotes (sympathetically) the late philosopher Karl Popper, who once wrote that we can “therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant” (p. 1). The inconsistency is so glaring to us; Hedges’ bizarre adherence to his own version of tolerance is hypocritical at its core.
Another irony is this: while Hedges sometimes alludes to the possibility of Christians becoming violent, he hopes that all Americans will “do everything possible to defend tolerance” (p. 207) [emphasis ours]. Now, just 4 pages previously, he approvingly recalled a former professor presenting the argument that if there were 1,000 people who came together in “heroic resistance,” they would have stopped Hitler. Such wording—“everything possible” and “heroic resistance”—seems to indicate that Hedges comes close to tolerating violence himself. Hedges apparently sees himself as engaging in his own righteous cause against American evangelicals.
His inconsistency should not be missed by anyone. But Hedges’ alleged open-mindedness and tolerance absolutely fall apart as he attempts to rationalize his blatant hypocrisy. In fact, he has even publicly chastised liberal humanists (of which he is one) who believe in inclusiveness and express any willingness to dialogue with evangelicals.6
In addition, Hedges ironically notes (correctly) in his book that despots often caricature their enemies (e.g., how the Nazis depicted the Jews) to advance their cause. Yet here we have a book by Hedges that caricatures Bible-believing Christians in such a way! This irony has somehow eluded him.
It is Hedges and his friends who see Christian bogeymen, with whom Americans should be concerned, around every corner. These kinds of anti-evangelicals manifest an intolerance of anything that goes against their own deeply held religious (but anti-biblical) worldview.
So, what does AiG have to say about Christians influencing the culture? For our part, we would declare that it’s not our “job” to directly change the culture—it’s our task to disseminate information, proclaim the gospel, and stand on the authority of God’s Word … and then see hearts changed for the Lord.
Now, if these changed lives impact the culture, and if God blesses that, then we’re happy to see it. But we’re not going to be an activist ministry in the sense of legislating, litigating, or lobbying key leaders to mandate change in society.
Regarding Hedges’ treatment of AiG and the Creation Museum, there are many factual errors about AiG and other creation groups. Some are so egregious that they only help to expose Hedges’ bias towards biblical Christianity. Time and time again, Hedges manufactures his own straw-men and then turns them into bogeymen, parading them out in an alarmist fashion to showcase a (non-existent) threat on American liberty.
In a follow-up article to this piece which will be posted in a few days, I will examine these claims and then refute them. Incorrect assertions by Hedges include: erroneously suggesting that AiG is a political organization; erroneously suggesting that creationists blame Darwin for social evils like racism; erroneously describing the exhibits inside the future Creation Museum; and totally misrepresenting events in the school system of Dover, Pennsylvania, regarding the teaching of evolution and intelligent design, etc.
Check back soon for a follow-up article that discusses these and other errors made by Hedges in his book.