Last weekend, the Chicago Sun-Times gave nearly an entire page in their "Controversy" Section to a man who feels America is under attack by a radical, religion that is inseparable from Nazi Fascism. He feels it is a hateful religion that is out to destroy America and everything it stands for and it must be stopped at all costs.
No he did not mean Islamism, amazingly enough, but Christianity.
There are times when people find their lives empty and begin to look for a "new" way of life. Sometimes they find that life in a cult and become brainwashed converts like "Azzam The American", the recent American born al Qaeda mouthpiece, or Johnny Lindh Walker, the young enemy combatant from California who was caught fighting for al Qaeda against US forces. If one looks for something, one usually finds it. And too often when what is being looked for is found, it causes more trouble than it really is due or takes on a larger meaning than reality permits. The saying "Be careful what you wish for comes to mind.
But, if fear not faith, becomes the underlying mania utilized to fill an empty life, one often cannot help but see the subject of that fear everywhere, under every bed, around every corner. That demon appears, peering out of every dark closet, red-eyes glowering menacingly, the fear of it tightening the throat, strangling breath. We see this mania in rabid racists who see their most hated "others" encroaching upon them in every aspect of life, for instance.
Chris Hedges, a senior fellow at The Nation Institute, has found his fear and it seems to be controlling his every waking thought much like that of one engulfed in racist hate. He has become that frightened little boy under the covers, fearing that demon in the closet and imagining it following him everywhere. But Hedges' demon isn't one of horns and hell-fire for his demon appears in the form of Christianity.
Jesus is Hedges' boogyman.
On February 4th the Chicago Sunday Sun-Times lamentably acted as Hedges' enabler and gave him an important forum from which to reveal -- or maybe I should say revel in -- his mental distress. I hope the Times is paying for this poor man's psychology bills. (It seems, unfortunately, that the Sun-Times has not placed this piece on the Internet. It was published in a section tabbed "Controversy", page 3B.)
Titled “Beware the new American fascists”, Hedges unleashed a diatribe that is amazing for its immaturity and sad for its blindness. His target is the so-called "Christian fascists" in America, a phenomenon he seems to imagine is akin to Hitler's Third Reich in its single minded desire to remake America into an image of its own making.
But, the piece is so empty of reasoned discussion that if only the word "Christian" were replaced by "blacks", his book hawking Op Ed would be quite at home on any KKK homepage. The subtitle of the piece gives a pretty clear taste of the polemic rhetoric that is used throughout the piece: "Social despair has led tens of millions of Americans into the arms of Christian right demagogues who promise miracles and magic", it ominously warns.
Amusingly using "demagogues" in the subtitle, Hedges appears to be an expert on the concept for just about every line in his op ed is so over the top with it that it seems there won't be a chance for dispassionate debate with the man but mere demagogy throughout.
Hedges cites as his muse a leftist college professor he once had in Harvard Divinity School in the late 1970s or early 80s, a man who Hedges claimed warned him that "Christian fascists" would soon be the USA's chief enemy. This professor was obviously wide of the mark as it is Islamists, rather than Christians, that have become our most virulent religious foe as it turns out. But, it is obvious this professor, though serving as a poor prognosticator of future events, made quite an impact on an impressionable, young Hedges. Sort of like the siren song Marx offered to a young Stalin, perhaps. It's the kind of effect that the ideas of the staid academic have on the young and wild-eyed, true believer.
In any case, Hedges found religion in the claims of his professor who sonorously intoned that America was headed into a fascist state because of the "flight of manufacturing jobs, the impoverishment of the American working class, the physical obliteration of communities in the vast, soulless exburbs and decaying Rust Belt" that were "swiftly deforming our society." As he posits that totalitarian movements are built out of a "deep personal and economic despair" and he feels that "despair" is here with us now.
"This despair" will empower "dangerous dreamers" Hedges claims. "... those who today bombard the airwaves with idealistic and religious utopianism that promises, to eradicate the old, sinful world that had failed many Americans."
One of Hedges' fears is that American Christians are hoping for and trying to cause an apocalypse. He sees the rise of the politically activist Christian, starting in the 1980s, as the harbinger of this dangerous cataclysm and, even though the economy isn't at anything like the "despair" seen in 1930s Germany, he feels we have arrived at the same conditions that fostered Hitler's rise, conditions which these "Christian fascists" will swoop in and take advantage of to achieve their agenda.
Obviously, the crystal ball of Hedges' favorite professor never seemed to have worked correctly as nearly every claim Hedges presents from this man ended up being but bombast and wind. The economic "despair" we are supposed to be in is just one miss. For decades, for instance, the economy has been steadily growing and it today growing at a healthy 3.4 percent (in 2006) with the unemployment rate commonly at what was once termed "full employment" (around 5%). We have also seen the "soulless exburbs" charge perhaps abating, the fear being overplayed, as we are observing new types of social exchange developing at amazing rates on the Internet. That is a phenomenon so new we aren't even sure of its impact, but it certainly belies the claim that we are drifting completely apart. Consequently, Hedges' Nostradamous of Harvard seems more like a Nostradummy.
With his professor so often wrong, it's hard to understand why Hedges still so fondly recalls this man's blather? But, as I said, Hedges is a true believer. Facts, you see, will never get in the way of a zealot's devotion and Hedges sees only validation in his professors failed soothsaying.
So much for the tenuous economic basis for his fears. His next tact is to posit that Christians are somehow too stupid or naive to see reason and that they are too easily led by those "dangerous dreamers".
"These Christian utopians promise to replace this internal and external emptiness with a mythological world where time stops and all problems are solved. The Christian right has lured tens of millions of Americans, who rightly feel abandoned by the political system, from the reality-based world to one of magic -- to fantastic visions of angels and miracles, to a childlike belief that God has a plan for them and Jesus will guide and protect them."
Curiously, Hedges acknowledges that people are right to "feel abandoned by the political system", but he seems never to have considered just why they might be justified to feel so abandoned? He bemoans the political activism of the "Christian right" but never seems to have taken a minute to discover why they became active, when in the past they did not, in the first place?
It wasn't because these "dangerous dreamers" suddenly were formed out of whole cloth but because the left had already materially torn down the system that was America between the 1940s and the 1970s. The "Christian right" was not a creation of religious Hitlers but a response to political Marxists who had so destroyed America that many no longer recognized it as their own.
In any case, Hedges' world seems to have been born the day he met his professor and any thought to a pre-history before this time seems to have been met with a wall of indifference and deemed immaterial.
Hedges next claims that Christians want to kill everyone not of their own ilk in our current "very essence of a totalitarian state."
"It includes a dark license to kill," he ominously warns, "to obliterate all those who do not conform to this vision, from Muslims in the Middle East to those at home who refuse to submit to the movement. And it conveniently empowers a rapacious oligarchy whose god is maximum profit at the expense of citizens."
Wow. What hyperventilation. Did Hedges miss that whole business where radical Islamists had been cutting off heads and blowing up buildings since even during his professor's crystal ball gazing days in that carnival sideshow we call Harvard Divinity School?
After reading that dire assessment of the world according to Hedges, one would think Americans are being yanked from their homes left and right by this all powerful "Christian fascist" movement. But, if one could expect Hedges to name any of those "obliterated" by the Christian right -- even one person so eliminated -- one would certainly be asking too much. Broad-brush generalities are all he has to offer.
We do, indeed, have examples of such anarchic actions in this world today, but they all wear the face of the followers of Mohammed. In fact, while reading Hedges words one is consistently struck with the curious feeling that some half blind typist misread his rough draft and placed "Christian" in every place where "Islamist" originally had been.
Still, this Chicago Sun-Times op ed could easily be a one-column-fits-all screed. I mentioned that if one replaced "Christian" with "blacks" the piece would be transformed into any common KKK screed and would be an apt fit to the hate spewed by that racist organization. Similarly, one might be able to replace the "Christian" in Hedges work with the name of any targeted group; Jews, liberals, Conservatives, Frenchmen or even Cubs or Sox fans for those Chicago readers. Place any label in the place of Mr. Hedges' hated "Christians" and the piece would read no differently.
Toward the end of his article, Hedges gets to the meat of his point by equating this mythical Christian right he so fears directly to the Nazi Party of Hitler's Germany. He and his cut-rate prophet, professor see "disturbing similarities with the German Christian Church and the Nazi Party, similarities that (professor Adams) said would, in the event of prolonged social instability or a national crisis, see American fascists rise under the guise of religion to dismantle the open society. (Adams) despaired of U.S. liberals, who, he said, as in Nazi Germany, mouthed silly platitudes about dialogue and inclusiveness that made the ineffectual and impotent. Liberals, he said, did not understand the power and allure of evil or the cold reality of how the world worked. The current hand-wringing by Democrats, with many asking how they can reach out to a movement whose leaders brand them 'demonic' and 'satanic' would not have surprised Adams."
Again, all one can say at first read is, wow! Liberals impotent and ineffectual at stopping these Christians? It is liberals, rather than Christians, who are constantly using the iron boot heal of government to shut down debate under the guise of tolerance. It is Christians, not liberals, who are being systematically eliminated from the public and private sphere by government/judicial fiat sponsored by liberal activists. This is one of the reasons that Christians had finally begun to pay attention to politics and band together in associations at long last -- itself a time honored American tradition -- after nearly 200 years of not making it a focus in their lives. Liberals were mercilessly attacking them in society and they had had enough.
And, again, it is striking that Hedges doesn't see the error in his analysis. Liberals are, indeed, making themselves "ineffectual and impotent" against a forceful religious attack. And, once again, it is an attack by radical Islam, not one by radical Christianity. Those "silly platitudes about dialogue and inclusiveness" are being hailed as an answer to quell the actions of people who are actively engaged in killing Americans, not as one to answer to any Christian excess. And, I might add that no Christian group has yet announced appreciation or support of suicide bombing as an adjunct to policy. Christians have, on the other hand, only expressed and worked for a way to join the average American political process.
With all the gloom and doom, though, there was a humorous part in Hedges fantastic piece and it came next. After discussing how German Universities were co-opted by the Nazi Party and how professors came to begin their lectures with the Nazi salute, Hedges imagines a day not far off when our University professors will be co-opted by radical Christianity, forcing them to espouse the creed in class. Now there is humor. Expecting an American University professor to appreciate Christianity is too hilarious to concede. After all, if must be remembered that a professor at an American University inculcated this anti-Christian ideology of Hedges’, one that was ostensibly called a "Divinity School".
The irony is rich ... or perhaps just ridiculous.
He ends his Sun-Times advertisement for his book with one last hyperbolic claim: that Christianity is "the most dangerous mass movement in American history."
Hedges sees this all consuming Christian right in the Halls of our venerable governments and in every walk of life -- in every closet, under every bed. He sees this movement as a singular, monolithic thing, forceful as Hitler's Nazi Party ever was.
And here Hedges fails in his analogizing once again. Hitler was the evil he was because he crafted a single, all-powerful organization from among the many disparate movements of 1930's Germany. Not only did he gather the most followers, but also he and his most trusted acolytes ruthlessly eliminated the competition by murder, intimidation, and co-opting the law.
When Hedges' vaunted professor Adams was rabidly denouncing the newly involved American Christian community in matters political, Jerry Falwell's "Moral Majority" was the most visible organization of the day. Yet, since that time, Falwell has found his influence waning and, in place of the once powerful Moral Majority, a myriad of Christian organizations have grown with leaders of their own. Not one of these leaders has forcefully taken the following of any of the others nor have they forcibly absorbed another's organizations into their own. Some have grown to popularity and subsequently fallen; others continue to roll onward without any great enlargement of their flock.
And there hasn't been a single Christian assassinated by a rival organization.
This all consuming "movement" Hedges sees is chimerical at best and pure hyperbole at worst. There is no central movement like the Nazi Party among Christian organizations today. There is no single, charismatic leader defeating and absorbing his rivals to form some monolithic, dangerous political force and there is absolutely no hint that one is on the horizon. In fact, not a single Christian organization even seems to have an operational basis for such "take overs" that a future leader could utilize to that end.
Hedges is as unbalanced in his fear mongering as he thinks these evil Christians are in their "fascism".
Yet, there is one other possibility, one other motivation for Hedges' outlandish beliefs and absurd, wild-eyed claims, and it's a possibility that would cast doubt on the very veracity of his rant.
He is, after all, selling a book. Perhaps he doesn't believe a word he is saying about all this "Christian fascist" stuff? Perhaps this is all a cynical ploy to sell enough books to retire? Maybe he is just a charlatan himself, selling snake oil and magical charms in the same way he accuses his foe of selling "myths" and religion?
Is it truly possible that Hedges is as unbalanced, as foaming at the mouth as he seems? Should we give him the benefit of the doubt and think him smarter than he appears?
I would have to say no. It would be too clever by half to assume he is nothing but a great trickster plying a well crafted plan merely to become wealthy from a book. Books, you see, are not often the path to great wealth for the writer.
It is far more likely that Hedges truly believes the crazy tale he spins and that his story is meant to convince himself as much as it is to persuade anyone else.
Sadly, Hedges truly seems to be as unbalanced as he sounds.
And, in a day when we face a clash of civilizations where Islamic extremists truly are emulating the Nazi Party -- with many of them having roots in Hitler's dark dreams -- and in a day when fear really is something to heed, Hedges misdirects it to fellow Americans instead of onto the real enemy. That makes him a zealot as well as himself a dangerous man as the net result will be to lead Americans astray from real danger to his fantasy land, boogymen.
Not to be deterred by reality, though, Hedges has been stewing about these "Christian fascists" since the early 1980s and seen them grow in his mind to psychologically disturbing proportions.
Unfortunately for Hedges, reality has overtaken his fears and proven them baseless but he is too overwrought to see it. I find myself leaving Hedges mental problems behind with one hope. And that hope is that Harvard Divinity School professor Adams has long since left the classroom and that he is no longer in a position to disturb the mental balance of any more young students as he did that of Chris Hedges.
And the Chicago Sun-Times ought to be ashamed of itself for allowing this sort of hateful propaganda appear in its pages. Would the editors of the Sun-Times have given as much space to the KKK?
Somehow I doubt it.