People Who Truly Believe in Hell Often Can’t Wait Until the Next Life to Send the Heathen There

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Remember a few weeks ago when I was writing about various avoidance techniques I was using to help me not write? I recently rediscovered a truth I’ve known quite well and put into practice successfully in the past: the very best writing-avoidance-technique of all is some other writing project. I’m still not working on the project I committed to, but I’m getting all sorts of other writing done. Check out the January calendar here on my blog--you’ll notice that there was a flurry of activity last week. I was blogging so I wouldn’t have to work on the real project I needed to deal with. In fact, that’s why I’m blogging right now.

But back before I started writing in order to not write, I read stuff. And one of the things I read was this really scary book entitled American Fascists: the Christian Right and the War on America by Chris Hedges, which came out in 2006.

This book truly alarmed me, and I heartily recommend it to anyone who has ever been to church, as well as anyone who has never been to church and so doesn’t know what happens there. In other words, it’s essential reading if you want to understand one of the challenges facing our society.

This book does not mention Mormons--the word doesn’t appear in the index, and indeed there are significant ways in which Mormons don’t fit into definition of religious fascists Hedges presents. (If there weren’t, Harry Reid, the Mormon Democratic senator from Nevada and Senate Majority Leader, couldn’t exist. Also, I think the fact that Mormons tried and failed to create a theocracy in North America has left them with a little more distaste for the enterprise than a lot of conservative Christians.) But there were ways in which they do. For instance, this passage could easily describe life in the Mormon church:

By submitting to the Christian leader, and to a powerful male God who will destroy those who misbehave, followers avoid dealing with life. The movement seeks, above all, to banish mystery, the very essence of faith. Not only is the binary world [of good and evil] knowable and predictable, but finally God is knowable and predictable. (81)

and this passage is a powerful critique of acculturation into Mormon society:

This conditioning of children to fear nonconformity and blindly obey ensures continued obedience as adults. The difficult task of learning how to make moral choices, how to accept personal responsibility, how to deal with the chaos of human life is handed over to God-like authority figures. The process makes possible a perpetuation of childhood. It allows the adult to bask in the warm glow and magic of divine protection. It masks from them and from others the array of human weaknesses, including our deepest dreads, our fears of irrelevance and death, our vulnerability and uncertainty. It also makes it difficult, if not impossible, to build mature, loving relationships, for the believer is told it is all about them, about their needs, their desires, and above all, their protection and advancement. Relationships, even within families, splinter and fracture. Those who adopt the belief system, who find in the dictates of the church and its male leaders a binary world of right and wrong, build an exclusive and intolerant comradeship that subtly or overtly shuns and condemns the “unsaved.” People are no longer judged by their intrinsic qualities, by their actions or capacity for self-sacrifice and compassion, but by the rigidity of their obedience. This defines the good and the bad, the Christian and the infidel. And this obedience is a blunt and effective weapon against the possibility of a love that could overpower the dictates of the hierarchy. In many ways it is love the leaders fear most, for it is love that unleashes passions and bonds that defy the carefully constructed edifices that keep followers trapped and enclosed. And while they speak often about love, as they do about family, it is the cohesive bonds created and family and love that they war against. (88)

One of the things Hedges continually draws attention to is the way the Christian Right claims to be victimized at the same time it is victimizing everyone who disagrees with it. I wonder if Ann Coulter has read Hedges’ book, since her most recent book involves accusing liberals of claiming to be victimized while they are going around victimizing everyone else.

The problem here is that most liberals don’t claim to be victims themselves--they’re typically educated, financially comfortable, able to take advantage of society’s benefits. They decry and argue against the victimization of OTHERS--of people who are NOT THEM. They are interested in creating a society that benefits everyone--not just themselves. Whereas people like Ann Coulter--and the segment of the population she represents--complain about their own victimization, and want to created a society that benefits primarily themselves--everyone else be damned, literally. And because of their own selfish, limited view, they necessarily project their own way of thinking onto their enemies:

Because fundamentalist followers live in a binary universe, they are incapable of seeing others as anything more than inverted reflections of themselves. If they seek to destroy nonbelievers to create a Christian America, then nonbelievers must be seeking to destroy them. This belief system negates the possibility of the ethical life. It fails to grasp that goodness must be sought outside the self and that the best defense against evil is to seek it within. When people come to believe that that they are immune from evil, that there is no resemblance between themselves and those they define as the enemy, they will inevitably grow to embody the evil they claim to fight. It is only by grasping our own capacity for evil, our own darkness, that we hold our own capacity for evil at bay. When evil is always external, then moral purification always entails the eradication of others. (151)

The conclusion of the book is quite chilling, particularly in light of what happened with Proposition 8 in California and other bits of anti-gay legislation around the country. In the 1980s, Dr. James Luther Adams, who was Hedges ethics professor at Harvard Divinity School, told his 20-something students that when they were Adams’ age (around 80), they “would all be fighting ‘Christian fascists.... Adams was not a man to use the word ‘fascist lightly. He was in Germany in 1935 and 1936 and worked with the underground anti-Nazi church, known as the Confessing Church, with dissidents such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Adams was eventually detained and interrogated by the Gestapo, who suggested he might want to consider returning to the United States” (194-195).

Adams, finally, told us to watch closely what the Christian Right did to homosexuals. The Nazis had used “values” to launch state repression of opponents. Hitler, days after he took power in 1933, imposed a ban on all homosexual and lesbian organizations. He ordered raids on places where homosexuals gathered, culminating in the ransacking of the Institute for Sexual Science in Berlin and the permanent exile of its director, Magnus Hirschfield. Thousands of volumes from the institute’s library were tossed into a bonfire. The stripping of gay and lesbian Germans of their civil rights was largely cheered by the German churches. But this campaign legitimized tactics, outside the law, that would soon be employed against others. Adams said that homosexuals would also be the first “social deviants” singled out and disempowered by the Christian Right. We would be the next. (201)

If that doesn't scare you, well, then perhaps you're an American fascist, or perhaps way more sanguine than I am.

Still, those of us who are opposed to fascism, American or otherwise, can take hope--quite audaciously--in the fact that while Prop 8 and other similar measures passed, we elected a president who has shown himself dedicated to protecting civil rights in significant ways. Perhaps this hater movement has spent its energy and the flurry of anti-gay legislation was the last lashings of the shore before the tide turned and the storm abated. We can’t count on that--we have to work to make this country truly free in all the ways it needs to be--but it is a reason to believe that our efforts can succeed.

1 Comment

Before you even mentioned Prop 8, that's what I was thinking of - these behaviors and tactics are all too familiar.

And this is such a perfect description of how I feel around some people in my family (like when my sister "joked" that I was going to Hell because I "denied the truth"):

"People are no longer judged by their intrinsic qualities, by their actions or capacity for self-sacrifice and compassion, but by the rigidity of their obedience."

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This page contains a single entry by Holly published on January 30, 2009 9:16 AM.

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