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One nation, under God ...

American Fascists The Christian Right and the War on America Chris Hedges Free Press: 256 pp., $25

January 07, 2007|Jon Wiener | Jon Wiener, a history professor at UC Irvine, is the author of numerous books, most recently "Historians in Trouble: Plagiarism, Fraud and Politics in the Ivory Tower."

PRESIDENT EISENHOWER famously said, "Our government makes no sense unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious faith, and I don't care what that faith is." The people Chris Hedges writes about in his new book have a different view: They care a lot about the religion on which our government is based and they think it should be Christianity -- their version, of course. "American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America" is a call to arms against what Hedges sees as the efforts of Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and the operators of Trinity Broadcasting Network, among others, to turn the United States into a Christian nation.

Hedges is not your average secular humanist. He knows his Bible. He's the son of a Presbyterian minister and a graduate of Harvard Divinity School. He's also a Pulitzer Prize-winning correspondent for the New York Times who has reported from more than 50 countries over the last 20 years.

In "American Fascists," Hedges reports in fascinating detail what goes on inside the churches, conventions and meeting halls of the Christian right. He attends a "Love Won Out" conference in Boston, sponsored by James Dobson's Focus on the Family, held to "cure" those who are afflicted by "same-sex attraction." He visits the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Ky., where he finds a display describing evolution as the "big lie."

Hedges also goes to the National Religious Broadcasters annual convention, where 5,500 Christian TV and radio folk gather in Anaheim. And he joins a five-day "Evangelism Explosion" seminar in Florida to learn tactics for converting people to the Christian right's version of Christ. That conference is run by D. James Kennedy, whose "The Coral Ridge Hour" is seen weekly on more than 600 TV stations. There, he and 60 other people learn the sales pitch and how to fake friendship for the potential convert. Then they talk about sin. The aspiring evangelists also are told that "eternal life cannot be achieved through good deeds or even a good life," that there is no escape from sin, that belief in Jesus is the only way to eternal life.

But the key message Hedges and the others are taught to deliver is that conversion obliterates "our fear of death, not only for ourselves, but the fear we have of losing those we love" -- for example, children or spouses fighting in Iraq. This, Hedges argues, is "not only dishonest but cruel," because the fear of death cannot be banished.

This message is also dangerous, Hedges writes, because the goal of the Christian right is "not simply conversion but also eventual recruitment into a political movement to create a Christian nation," where constitutional freedoms would be replaced by biblical law, as interpreted by evangelical leaders. Kennedy has been clear about this goal: "As the vice regents of God," the Florida-based minister has written, "we are to exercise godly dominion and influence over our neighborhoods, our schools, our government," as well as "our entertainment media, our news media, our scientific endeavors...."

Hedges carefully distinguishes this strand of Protestant Christian evangelicalism, known as "dominionism," from traditional fundamentalism, which "has not tried to transform government ... into an extension of the church." Under Christian dominion, Hedges writes, "Labor unions, civil rights laws and public schools will be abolished.... and all those deemed insufficiently Christian will be denied citizenship." The Christian right could come to power, he suggests, if we had "another catastrophic terrorist attack, an economic meltdown or huge environmental disaster." At that point, Hedges asserts, evangelical leaders such as Kennedy, Falwell and Robertson could be "calling for the punishment, detention and quarantining of gays and lesbians -- as well as abortionists, Muslims and other nonbelievers." Thus, Hedges concludes, the United States today faces an internal threat analogous to that posed by the Nazis in Weimar Germany.

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