The Halls of Power: Church, State and Fascism. Photo by Jason Weingardt on Unsplash

Christian Authoritarianism in America

Church, State and Fascism

In Bonhoeffer’s Germany, followers of Jesus wondered what they should call themselves. The German Christian Church had become an organ of fascism. The resistance movement called themselves The Confessing Church.

Chris Hedges on American Fascism

As you know, 10 years ago I wrote a book on the Christian Right, American Fascists, The Christian Right and the War on America. I come out of a religious tradition. My father was a minister. My mother graduated from seminary and was a professor. I graduated from Harvard Divinity School. I am steeped in that tradition. And I didn’t use the word “fascist” lightly. In fact, when I finished the book, I went to spend several hours with Fritz Stern, one of the great scholars of fascism, who wrote The Politics of Cultural Despair, and fled Nazi Germany as a teenager, as well as Robert Paxton, who wrote Anatomy of Fascism, the great Vichy scholar of Columbia.

First of all, they’re Christian heretics. You don’t need to spend three years at Harvard Divinity School as I did to realize that Jesus did not come to make us rich, or shower us with consumer products, or bless the dropping of iron fragmentation bombs all over the Middle East. Inside these megachurches, they function as cults. These white, male pastors who prey on the despair of their congregants for wealth, people like Joel Osteen, are multi-millionaires.

In the same way, Trump preyed on the despair of people in his casinos. People raise the issue, “How can people in the Christian Right build an alliance with Trump?” I would argue that, in fact, they are completely alike. They’re con artists. They manipulate the misery and despair of others. They perpetuate a form of magical thinking: magic Jesus. They attack reality-based science and reality-based news. This all predates Trump.

Fascism, as Paxton writes in The Anatomy of Fascism, always comes draped in familiar, even comforting iconography and language. Italian fascism harkened back to ancient Rome and the glory of the Roman Empire. German fascism harkened back to Teutonic myths. And we harken back to the iconography and language of Christianity: the fusion, the sacralization of the state.

My great mentor at Harvard Divinity School, James Luther Adams, was in Germany in 1936 and 1937, at the University of Heidelberg, he watched Martin Heidegger begin his lectures with the Nazi salute. He dropped out, he joined the Confessing Church with Niemöller, Bonhoeffer, Schweitzer, Karl Barth and others, and he took lots of home movie film. He was picked up by the Gestapo and thrown out of Germany a year later. I watched that film as he narrated in his apartment in Cambridge, Massachusetts, but much of it was of the so-called German Christian Church, which had on one side of the altar the Christian cross and on the other the Nazi swastika. Adams told me, in the early 80s, and he was about 80 years old, “When you are my age, you will all be fighting the Christian fascists.” He understood that when you dispossess a working class, as we have done — and this was evident when I did the book on the Christian Right — the real world becomes so oppressive. I did dozens of interviews with followers. You’d have to have a heart of stone not to be moved by their struggles with addiction, underemployment, sexual abuse, and domestic abuse. This magic Jesus, this magical thinking is kind of the last protection that they have.

I was in Detroit during an end times series with Tim LaHaye who wrote the Left Behind series, and lust is the only word I can use to describe it — this lust for apocalyptic violence. I think I finally understood that came from the euphoric desire to destroy the world that almost destroyed them. At the end of the book, I said, “You will not break this movement by trying to argue them out of Creationism. You will only break this movement by reintegrating these people into the economy and rebuilding the social bonds that have been destroyed so that they have a possibility of meaningful work, of self-actualization.”

Of all people, John Paul II wrote a very good encyclical about work. Émile Durkheim’s book on suicide talks about how those societies and individuals that have a propensity for self-annihilation are those for whom these social bonds no longer function. And, of course, ten years later, it is much worse. We have to address the root. We have to rebuild those social bonds, if we are going to save us. By capitulating every election cycle to the Democratic Party, ultimately we ensure our own enslavement and — without being melodramatic — because of climate change, ultimately, the extinction of the human species.


It now seems naïve to have argued over 10 years ago that there are no examples of violence to refer to:

The problem is that he can’t point to any actual existing violence among the people he’s reporting on.

Designer, writer, educator, social architect, founder, Builders Collective, Leading with Design.

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