George Bush and the Rise of Christian Fascism
Rev. Rich Lang
Trinity United Methodist Church Seattle. <email@example.com>
02/14/04: (ICH) The men who wrote the Constitution of the United States knew that we human beings have a tendency to 'not get along with each other'. They knew that if power accrued into the hands of an elite the experiment of democracy (power spread out into the realm of the people) would be over. So they created a system of checks and balances which blocked access to any one person, or any one special interest or elite gaining too much power over others. Thus our executive, legislative and judicial branches of government "checked" each other. The media was yet another "check" on the accrual of too much power as was the Bill of Rights which was written into the Constitution. The system wasn't perfect but it kept alive the possibility of true democracy. It kept alive the dream that one day "we the people" could live in a peaceful commonwealth where every person has what they need to survive and thrive.
That dream died in December 2000 when the checks and balances of our Constitution collapsed and George Bush was inserted into the Presidency of the nited States. September 11, 2001 furthered the atrophying of democracy handing the country into the hands of an emerging Corporate (and I say Christian) Fascism.
Since that time we have witnessed and have been unable to prevent the emergence of an Imperial Presidency that has the unrestricted power to declare war against any country he chooses. The Imperial Presidency has brought to an end the Constitutional mandate that 'ONLY CONGRESS' has the authority to declare war. It has furthered weakened international law and has undermined the potential of the United Nations to spread democracy throughout the earth.
The President has also gained unrestricted power to round up unlimited numbers of American citizens and incarcerate them in military brigs or concentration camps for the rest of their lives. He can keep them from ever again communicating with friends, families, and attorneys, simply on the president's certification that
the incarcerated are "terrorists," as he has done with Jose
Padilla and Yaser Esam Hamdi. The President may also now kill American citizens abroad solely on the basis of his certification that the one killed is a "terrorist". Just ask the family and friends of Ahmed Hijazi, anAmerican killed with a U.S.-fired missile in Yemen. Therefore suspending the Constitutional right: "no person shall be denied life, liberty or property without due process of law."
Ominous signs are all around us concerning the accrual of power into the hands of the Presidency. If Mr. Bush stays in office I think our future will continue to witness shrinking political rights, financial collapse and endless war. Part of the power and seduction of this administration emerges from its diabolical manipulation of Christian rhetoric. I want to flesh out the ideology of the Christian Fascism that Mr. Bush articulates. It is a form of Christianity that is the mirror opposite of what Jesus embodied. It is, indeed, the materialization of the spirit of antichrist: a perversion of Christian faith and practice.
This country, like it or not, is overwhelmingly dominated by the ideology of the Christian story. It is not so much that our founders were all Christians. Rather, they lived in an atmosphere scented throughout by Christian thought and rhetoric. Just as most of us can't imagine how to keep things cold without refrigeration; so too our founders couldn't help but think through the lens of the Christian story. And what they saw was that America had become the New Israel (the new Promised Land) of God. America has understood itself as a benevolent nation seeking only the good of all. We have understand our wealth as a blessing given to us as a sign that we are a "chosen, special people" whose larger meaning is to help the world into an era of peace, prosperity and justice. Every politician draws on this "civil religion story" which gives authority to the politicians ambition and agenda. Another way of saying this is: every nation needs sacred legitimation. It needs the authority of transcendence: of a story larger than itself . a story that connects past with present and future. An Empire needs an even broader story: one that connects with cosmic and/or historical redemption and new creation.
Martin Luther King understood this sacred American civil religion and was able to wed it brilliantly with the prophetic religious teachings of the Bible. He drew upon Biblical narratives which limited the power and authority of the elite while calling for economic redistribution of wealth. He drew upon teachings rooted in the personal morality of nonviolence and compassion. George Bush, on the other hand, also understands this sacred American 'civic gospel' and has brilliantly merged it with Biblical Holiness and Holy War traditions. These traditions call for the emergence of the Righteous Warrior who will cleanse the land of its impurity. These traditions are rooted in the personal morality of righteous zeal and obedience.
1.. Mr. Bush consistently sends signals to his right wing religious base. In last year's State of the Union he exhorted: "there's power, wonder working power, in the goodness and idealism and faith of the American people". It's a phrase from a well known Communion hymn "there's power, wonder working power in the blood of the lamb". Bush brings together the holiness zeal of Christian evangelicalism with patriotic fundamentalism. The core belief system of this 'civic gospel' goes something like this: The United States was founded as a Christian nation with free enterprise as the only economic system truly compatible with Christian beliefs. These religious values are today under attack in America. The danger is that without faith in God America will lose its blessing. Therefore, the government needs to act to protect the nation's religious heritage.
2.. Mr. Bush's teachings on terrorism: "you are with us or against us" cements for the hearer the apocalyptic world of good versus evil. There can be no neutral ground. You have to make a decision. Patriotism is now all or nothing: it is either total agreement or a slippery slope towards treason. In the Church you come to Jesus alone for salvation. In the state you obey the God-annointed leader and are thereby secured.
Renana Brooks writes (The Nation June 24, 2003: Bush Dominates A Nation of Victims):
"Bush is a master at inducing learned helplessness in the electorate. He uses pessimistic language that creates fear and disables people from feeling they can solve their problems. In his September 20, 2001 speech to Congress on the 9/11 attacks, he chose to increase people's sense of vulnerability: 'Americans should not expect one battle, but a lengthy campaign, unlike any other we have ever seen. . I ask you to live your lives, and hug your children. I know many citizens have fears tonight . Be calm and resolute, even in the face of a continuing threat.' (Subsequent terror alerts .. have maintained and expanded this fear of unknown, sinister enemies.)"
The terror threat itself can only be combated with increases in military force, domestic security and curtailment of civil rights through Patriot Acts. There are no other options nor any dialogue or debate that would create an alternative way to deal with terrorism.
3.) Mr. Bush certainly sees himself as a Messiah figure. Listen to his language after 9-11: " I will not forget this wound to our country or those who inflicted it. I will not yield; I will not rest; I will not relent in waging this struggle for freedom and security for the American people." Or, in his 2003 State of the Union speech: "I will defend the freedom and security of the American people". He has become the nation. He is its embodiment. According to Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, - Bush told him: "God told me to strike at al Qaida and I struck them, and then he instructed me to strike at Saddam, which I did, and now I am determined to solve the problem in the Middle East. If you help me I will act, and if not, the elections will come and I will have to focus on them." This is Biblical language . it isn't political script. This is Bush's soul language. He understands himself as a man with a Divine mission. It also means that for him leadership is not "representing the people" rather leadership means transcending the will of the people. George Bush already knows the truth before the evidence is presented. He is guided by God and must blaze the trial even if the people are reluctant.
Iraq, for example, was a necessary war whether or not Saddam had nukes. Saddam, for Bush, was a bad guy who tried to kill "my dad". The war, for Bush, was holy and justified and necessary. Purging evil is necessary in the Holiness/Holy War tradition of the Bible. The righteous will purge evil but the unrighteous will be consumed by it. Think of an alcoholic: it's all or nothing. The whole world is all or nothing.
Like all religions the Bible has various narratives within its pages: Jesus drew on the prophetic traditions that called upon the people to change their way of life even as it critiqued and called upon the elites to decentralize their power. Jesus himself role modeled a lifestyle of service. Mr. Bush, on the other hand, draws on traditions that call for purity and cleansing. It is a language of hostility towards enemies and a strident call for obedience. It calls forth a lifestyle of the RIGHTEOUS ONE who will purge evil from the world through sacred violence.
All of this is not to say that the political world is of less importance. We know that the planning for the Iraq war was at least a decade in preparation. We know that America has had imperial designs and has intervened militarily throughout the world. And we've known for 25 years that Corporations have been savagely reducing labor rights while looting the treasury. We know that Mr. Bush is not the cause of our problems. Rather, the point I am making is that Mr. Bush is a sincere front man for an emerging fascism. His religious rhetoric is an authentic merging of Holiness Christianity with Imperial Americanism. The emphasis on security, law and order is necessary to maintain the "high calling" of the American people. The policies of fascism, in other words, are consistent with religious holiness and holy war narratives. And fascism, woven underneath Christian Holiness/Holy War traditions, is a powerful symbolic narrative that speaks to the American people as evidenced by Mr. Bush's 58% approval rating.
The coming election will not be decided because of political policy. It will not be decided in a debate over free markets versus fair markets; tax cuts or no tax cuts, Patriot Act or no Patriot Act; war with Syria or no war. None of these issues will determine the election because the candidates are all for free markets, tax cuts, domestic security and a strong global military presence. The election will be determined by the candidate who can embody the deeply felt, often unarticulated religious yearnings of the populace. Yearnings such as "who will save us, secure us, lead us??? who will connect us with a power greater than the power of others?" Bush speaks this language. Democrats are stuck in political nuance. Or, in other words, Democrats cannot speak the language of Martin Luther King who understood that social transformation requires a transcendent authority.
The problem comes down to this: Democrats, liberals, and social progressives have simply not grasped how afraid, insecure and how deeply in despair the populace is. They keep speaking as if objective analysis and idealistic vision can win the day. What Bush and Rove, Rumsfeld, Cheney, Wolfowitz and Pearls, Abrams and Bolton, DeLay and Rice etc, have clearly understood is that truth is subjectivity. Unfortunately, the inner person of America today is a hollowed out consumer who lacks the will power, stamina and imagination to do anything more than be overwhelmed. Therefore, a politics of crisis, a politics of fear will keep us locked into a state of conformity.
On the "civic side" of things America is being inundated with a rhetoric of insecurity. Most of Bush's State of the Union was taken up with war themes reminding us all of the horrible new world we live in post 9/11. We know that further increases in the military and police budgets are on the way; we know that the Patriot Act is going to be extended and strengthened; we know that Homeland Security will continue to be a growth industry. We know that this administration wants to break down the wall between church and state with faith-based initiatives. The world is in chaos and the Bush-men will fix it bringing us peace, prosperity, purity and purpose.
On the religion side of things apocalyptic theology is booming. This is also a worldview of crisis and insecurity. It is a theology rooted in the Holiness/Holy War traditions and it dominates the spirituality of this current administration. More to the point, this is the dominant theology of the mass media expression of Christian faith. It is a theology of despair that has given up on the possibilities of redemption.
One of the most popular fiction series making the rounds these days is the LEFT BEHIND series written by Tim LaHaye & Jerry Jenkins. Multiple millions of people are reading these books which fictionalize the end of life as we know it. It used to be that the Church could control people through the fear of eternal damnation. Today it is through fear of the future. The theology is basically this: The Bible is a code book that when rightly interpreted reveals that we are living at the end of history. History is scripted and is about to come to a catastrophic conclusion. The only hope is to accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior so that you can be "saved" from the future apocalypse. God will "snatch you up" (Rapture) right before a seven year series of horrible events that will see the rise of Antichrist and the rebuilding of the Jewish temple. There will be world war with most of humanity dying. At that point Jesus will return to restore law and order. This theology of despair "fits" our current culture of powerlessness and fear. From SARS to weapons of mass destruction to the ongoing Palestinian-Israeli conflict, to ecological collapse, the whole world seems to be on a "no exit" slide into an end times abyss. The theology of despair is very seductive. It is shaping the spirituality of Christians which provides a strong core from which Bush draws political strength.
And it has, at least, five political implications that affect each one of us here today. FIRST: Israel is to be exalted and defended no matter what they do to the Palestinian people. They are God's chosen people and must reside in their Biblically anointed Land for the "end time clock" to tick to its final minute. Israel has a Biblical mandate to conquer and control all of the land from the Nile River to the Euphrates. Behind the politics of oil lie the religious passion to fulfill God's will: Syria must fall.
Secondly: institutions like the United Nations are not to be trusted because they are tools of the Antichrist. The Antichrist is thought of (not as a spirituality or ideology) but as an personal embodiment of evil. The Antichrist will be a living person who will come to power at the end of history and proclaim himself to be god on earth. The theory has it that his power will be generated from within a coalition of nations. Thus . America, as God's chosen nation, will need to go it alone so as not to be duped by Antichrist. Our destiny is to take the gospel to all the nations: a benevolent gospel of therapeutic salvation for all.
Thirdly: since the world is passing away the environment is not of great importance. There is no need to worry about issues of sustainability because the world is in its final countdown. Part of the unconcern towards global warming and other ecological crisis is the religious belief that we aren't going to be around in 100 years. We're in the end times now . every moment is merely preparation for eternity. Whether Bush himself believes this or not is irrelevant. This is the religious worldview of those who exalt him and the voter-bloc to which he plays. For Bush to act for sustainability would require a major shift in his religious narrative. . As an aside this past summer the National Park Service was instructed to approve the display of religious symbols and Bible verses, as well as the sale of creationist books at the Grand Canyon National Park. In December 2003 the Park Service was ordered to develop a "more balanced" version of an 8 minute video shown at the Lincoln Memorial Visitor Center. Conservative Christians wanted the removal of footage of gay rights, pro choice and anti-war demonstrations replacing it with footage of Christian rallies and pro-war demonstrations.
Fourth: the trust that Jesus died for "my sins" is far more important than the teachings of Jesus. This fosters a domesticated therapeutic religious expression that insists that "jesus in my heart" is more important than my lifestyle. It's like the Mafia don who could order his enemies killed while he himself was celebrating the baptism of his nephew. There is a disconnect between one's inner experience of God's loving grace and embodying that experience outwardly through one's politics. This leads to a discounting of following Jesus in a lifestyle of nonviolence, economic justice and compassion. Again as an aside . while Governor of Texas Mr. Bush was interviewed by Talk Magazine concerning the impending execution of fellow Christian Karla Faye Tucker. Bush imitated Tucker's appeal for him to spare her life . pursing his lips, squinting his eyes, and in a squeaky voice saying, "please don't kill me".
Fifth: a leader who loves Jesus is to be followed as God's man for the hour. The Christian leader is God's shepherd over the American flock. As stated before Bush sees himself as a Messiah figure (annointed by God for a special redemptive purpose). When he decided on running for the Presidency he called a group of evangelical Pastors together announcing to them "I have heard the call" and then receiving from them the "laying on of hands" which corresponds to divine ordination for the task ahead. On September 14, 2001 he stated: "our responsibility before history is already clear: to answer these attacks and rid the world of evil". He then launched the crusade Operation Infinite Freedom against Afghanistan. Yet other messainic statements from Bush:
"History has called America to action. . The great hope of our time, and the great hope of every time, now depends on us." ..
"We must also remember our calling as a blessed nation to make the world better . and confound the designs of evil men."
"Our nation has been chosen by God and commissioned by history, to be a model of justice before the world."
*** According to Vice-President Cheney: America "has the duty to act with force to construct a world in the image of the United States."
In return for this messianic leadership evangelical Christians have returned an annointing of prayer. During the Afghanistan crusade thousands of "Presidential Circles of Prayer" and "Wheels of Prayer" were organized on the Internet, running 24 hours a day.
WHEEL OF PRAYER FOR OUR SOLDIERS
Lord hold our troops in your loving hands. Protect them as they protect us.
Bless them and their families for the altruistic actions they are performing
for us in our time of need. This I ask in the name of Jesus, our Lord and Savior. Amen
This prayer was so popular and was hit so often that the website crashed within days.
Pastor Charles Stanley distributed among Marines as they entered into combat thousands of pamphlets entitled "Duty of a Christian in Time of War". With the pamphlet went a card instructing them to sign and send directly to Mr. Bush. The card says: "I have committed to pray for you, your family and your Administration." Specific prayers for the President were included for each day.
The point I'm trying to make is that we are not dealing simply with politics when it comes to the Bush administration. The progressive left, which often pays little attention to Christianity, will be making a huge mistake if they overlook the religious ideology at the core of Mr. Bush personally and the movement he represents. And we are talking about a "movement" (a movement of 'the people' not just the elites). We are seeing today the emergence of a "fascist movement". It is bankrolled and organized by Corporations, articulated through the ideology of neo-conservativism. but is fueled by the right-wing church drawing upon Holiness/Holy War Biblical narratives.
When Dave Korten (author of When Corporations Rule the World) says that we need a "new story"; he is talking about needing a transcendent authority in which we root our political culture. Human beings cannot live in societal form without a sacred narrative. Neither anarchy nor atheism can construct a house that will hold our future. The Republicans know this well. But the Democrats seem clueless.
In Biblical language the Republicans have become Pharaoh whose house is strong because of economic exploitation of the populace and military repression of the people. The populace is being asked to make bricks without straw. We are seeking a "savior" . a Moses who can rally us out of these mudpits towards the promise of a land flowing with milk and honey. Unfortunately most Democrats are simply offering Pharaoh-lite: they still will keep us in the mudpit making bricks.
What we need is a movement of spiritual justice. We need the language of those who can wed America's civil religion with Biblical prophetic narrative. We need to expand that language so that it can include the language and stories that are emerging from the antiwar, fair trade and human rights movements. Together this language can form a unique new narrative that has the power to inspire imagination and courage. A language that call forth a new coalition powerful enough to leave behind the mudpit and to enter the promise of a new beginning. A coalition that understands that "we are the ones we are looking for". Indeed, the new narrative will proclaim "God with us" not "God above us".
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