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The Covenant, The Sword and The Arm of The Lord

A vigorous Christian right alleges that it has entered politics to emancipate itself from discrimination by the welfare state and its intolerant ideology of secularism.
Joel Schalit

Issue #21, September 1995

In the period after the end of the Second World War, the United States gained increasing prominence as the leading power of imperialist reaction, taking Germany's place in this respect. In substance, then, we would have to write a history of that nation's philosophy as precise as that we have produced for Germany in order to show, the derivation and roots, both social and intellectual, of the present ideologies of the 'American age.'
— George Lukacs, The Destruction of Reason
The Nazis had a preoccupation with death, they were big time abortionists, big time euthenasiaists, killing of crippled people and people they didn't think were worthy. And of course the same thing in America today. The Nazis had an occultic dimension behind the Third Reich. The Third Reich, the leaders including Hitler were Satanists. And you find the same occultic dimension behind this plunge towards the New World Order in our country today. They blew off their constitution and traditional heritage and of course the same thing is here today. The parallels between Nazi Germany in the thirties and America today are absolutely incredible for anyone who would like to look at them.
— The Reverend Don McIlveney, Southwest Bible Church Radio Ministries

From Fascism To Fundamentalism

When a particular epoch appears to come to an end, new social movements project their visions of the future based on differing judgments of the past. On the cusp of the post Cold-War era, a vigorous Christian right alleges that it has entered politics to emancipate itself from discrimination by the welfare state and its intolerant ideology of secularism. The left may call each and every rise in conservatism indications of a trend towards fascism, but the religious right has chosen to make the very same claims about liberalism. The right sees America as being in the midst of a crisis of values created by the over-development of the state and its promotion of social pluralism. The left responds that the religious right is anti-democratic because it represents the return to the political mainstream of repressed fascist politics previously articulated by dangerous fringe groups such as Aryan Nations, The Ku Klux Klan, and The Order.

The problem posed by the evocation of a Fourth Reich is that there are significant differences between the religious right and National Socialism which must be understood in order to grasp the true nature of the new beast. Regardless of the similarities, the new political landscape in which these difficult questions of difference arise make them extremely important to answer. Liberal democracy is undergoing an extreme crisis and it is doubtful that it will survive in its current form. Secular and religious fears of a new authoritarianism are therefore not unfounded. What is most troubling about the new discourse about fascism is that it says a great deal about how Americans experience life these days. We must take the time to understand why it is that we all make such analogies in order to confront the new politics on its own terms. Because things just aren't that simple anymore.

Fascism was an outgrowth of monopoly capitalism. Some critics, such as members of the early Frankfurt School, charged that it was also an outgrowth of liberalism. In either case, the economic roots of the present conservatism are different. The once mighty industrial nations of the West are now driven by service economies. The political formations of mid-century, the welfare state and the political party, have been eclipsed by this new mode of production. So have the old forms of politics which accompanied these institutions. And capital now resides all over the globe. Or so we think. The new conservatism scares us into recalling fascism because it has the same complaints, the same scapegoats, and the same old class antagonisms fueled by economics, history, and ideology.

It comes as no surprise that it is Americans who make the biggest stink about a new authoritarianism. America is the most religious country in the western world. The tradition of messianic expectation is quite ingrained in our culture. But the end of the world appears to have been looming over us for a millennium. That is why the new apocalyptic anxiety of the old republic is so familiar. What makes it so dangerous is the historical period in which faith is now being redefined. Never before has religious renewal had so much to be nostalgic about. If yearning for a lost state of affairs means being fearful of the present, then we must have good reasons for glossing over history so quickly to embrace a mythical past. When we want things to return to a state of affairs that never existed, we are bound to uncritically assimilate the burden of the centuries. This is precisely what the religious right is doing. For the first time it can claim a yearning for the last charismatic leader, the last state, its enemies and also its victims.

A painting by Frank Kozik documents this poignantly. It depicts a crucified Hitler surrounded by Storm Troopers serving as stand-ins for the Apostles. Christian Identity theology makes a similar claim, however unintended. In a recent radio broadcast an Evangelical minister asserted that Hitler was the fulfillment of the prophetic line in the Bible. Like Jesus, Hitler too was crucified by the Jews. As much as the religious right would like to charge that liberalism has degenerated into fascism and the welfare state has become the authoritarian state, nothing better than an image of a beatified Hitler could demonstrate who's really wearing the brown shirt. Those who repress their identity always seem to project it upon their opponents.

Old Religion, New Politics

The Evangelical community most frequently compares the political and cultural climate of contemporary America to the Weimar period. Prior to the assumption of power by Hitler, constitutional authority ceased to have any binding value and traditional social norms were being uprooted by a wave of cultural experimentation. The Evangelical assault on mass culture since the 1980s bears many similarities with the Third Reich's attack on German avant-garde art during the 1930s. The Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art's 1989 revival of Hitler's Degenerate Art exhibition made many aging German expatriates wince with déjà vu because it occurred during the first right wing attacks on the National Endowment for the Arts. The NEA was attacked for funding Andres Serrano's Piss Christ painting, Robert Mapplethorpe's homoerotic photography exhibit at the Corcoran Gallery, and Karen Finley's monologues about rape, sexual abuse and psychological torture.

The primary difference between German fascism and the new Christian politics is that National Socialism attempted to reclaim a cultural history that predated Judeo-Christian civilization through reviving Indo-Aryan mythology as a replacement for monotheism. Nazis also prescribed state capitalism as an antidote to unrestrained free-market economics. Evangelicals, on the other hand, seek to recover the lost Christian consensus that prevailed in America during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, while eliminating federal regulation of the marketplace. Contrary to the time-honored charge by the left that Evangelicals are simply fascists, the religious right espouses a progressive ideology that embraces the deepest and most thoughtful aspects of American liberalism. As of late the religious right has also adopted the rhetoric of multiculturalism and identity politics in order to claim that traditional identities are undermined by the constitutional separation of church and state, and governmental prohibition of religious expression in schools, the workplace, and the media.

Unlike conventional multiculturalists, Evangelicals argue that it is liberalism which deprives American society of its cultural glue because it promotes a form of social pluralism that is antithetical to the Christian principles of our nation's founding ideology. Protestant social commentators such as former Nixon administration official Charles Colson suggest that religious pluralism is anti-democratic because it questions the very foundations of social equality found in the Biblical verse 'All men were created equal in the eyes of God.' The problem with pluralism is that it excludes Christian participation in politics on the grounds that religious viewpoints are far too sectarian to engage in democratic decision making. Citing every philosopher from Cicero to Nietzsche, Colson asserts that such thinking exemplifies Hannah Arendt's view that 'politics is civil war carried on by other means,' threatening an Evangelical war on American society if Christian demands for social equality are not met.

Casting the truth of constitutional prohibitions on religious participation in public life aside, Evangelicals argue that religious pluralism and secularism are recent phenomena which lack any substantive precedent in American history. These maladies are perceived to be the symptoms of a cultural crisis created by the over-development of the state and the free market, which, cut free from the originally Christian ideology that held society together, have replaced religion as the social cement that governs law, order and morality.

This stands in marked contrast to the National Socialist critique of Judeo-Christianity which contended that it was Biblical monotheism that had robbed European civilization of its original Indo-Aryan heritage. Fascist religious theorists such as Rosenberg and more recently Alain De Benoist have put forward the proposal that monotheism is a form of authoritarianism which imposed itself on Europe after the adoption of Christianity by Constantine towards the end of the Roman Empire. This set the precedent for the introduction of modern capitalism which progressively robbed Europe of its authentic cultural heritage. The Third Reich sought to recover it by reviving Indo-Aryan and Norse mythology.

The lesson to be learned from this unsettling parallel is that the religious right is repeating the Nazi tactic of disguising its own xenophobia through a strategy of deliberate and calculated self-marginalization. But the Evangelical community lacks a Versailles Treaty to blame its woes upon. The only difference between the new religious prejudice and its fascist predecessor is that it has simply replaced Jew with liberal and the free market with democracy.

The potential for anti-Semitism and homophobia within the religious right remains the same because both minorities continue to occupy similar places in the new religious cosmogony that they previously inhabited in fascist demonology. That is why it is surprising that the national pro-life leadership has not revived the myth of Jewish infanticide, taken from the Book of Exodus by some anti-abortion activists as a means of explaining the cultural origins of abortion in God's slaying of Egypt's first-born. Perhaps the only reason why we have not heard such scripturally based arguments is that the anti-abortion cadre fears charges of racism, something they have managed to avoid so far. Nevertheless fringe elements of the religious right continue to adhere to traditional anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. According to Christian Patriots and followers of Dominion and Reconstructionist theologies, Judaism remains the undead father religion which seeks to forestall its own natural extinction through the acquisition of material goods and the production of surplus value, the ultimate form of this-worldly hubris so integral to Protestant anti-Semitism. It shouldn't surprise anyone who the next scapegoats will be when the religious right starts forming its own death squads. The recent metamorphosis of Operation Rescue into Christian Patriot Militias points in the obvious direction.

While it may appear to be only a question of semantic differences, Christian identity politics are superior to their National Socialist predecessor because Evangelicals don't make sweeping historical generalizations as readily. Acutely aware of the persistence of religion in contemporary life, the Evangelical emphasis on the Christian character of American history is fundamentally correct. Bible-wielding reformers were among the first to point out that slavery is immoral, but God-fearing men had also been the first to cite Scripture as justification to hold slaves. National Socialism on the other hand insisted on making a clean break with European history. Assuming that it was possible to reconstruct supposedly repressed forms of historical identification, the Nazis disregarded the deeply profound influence of Protestantism on German culture, politics and religion, including fascism. To paraphrase the New Testament, pouring new brew into an old wineskin is not the same as buying a forty ouncer.

Bring Me The Head of Pat Robertson

The irony is almost too much to bear. To quote Theodor Adorno, the second mythology is worse than the first. In The New World Order, Pat Robertson identifies transnational capitalism as the new threat that has replaced the menace of Communism after the fall of the former Soviet Union. Robertson proceeds to target the United Nations as the primary political institution that represents and coordinates the interests of the new capitalist enterprise. And yet it is precisely Pat Robertson himself who epitomizes the new international capitalism with his vast media empire The Christian Broadcasting Network, which owns hundreds of radio and television stations worldwide. Robertson hates the United Nations simply because it represents the interests of businesses other than his own. But out of his repressed desire to possess everything, Robertson has developed an anti-capitalist ideology of world administration which has resurrected working-class conciousness long dormant among economically impoverished Americans such as Timothy McVeigh and the former Operation Rescue leader Reverend Matthew Trewhella of the Milwaukee Militia.

Like Hitler, Pat Robertson's paranoid fantasies of a world-wide capitalist conspiracy have resurrected class antagonism, but he has lied to the working class about who its enemies really are. The Christian Coalition tells its constituency that big government is evil, but, as Barry Goldwater of all people noted, the religious right wants to expand the authority of the state even further. Motivating working-class resentment is nothing new to fascist agitators. But what is unique about Robertson's initiative are the militaristic overtones of his agitation techniques. Reviving nationalist sentiment by targeting international capital as responsible for the decline of American life has lead the white working class to take up arms for the first time since the post-Civil War Ku Klux Klan. Robertson may blame the workings of an abstract international entity for the decline in American living standards, but behind this facade Robertson finds the Jews. Robertson's desire to overthrow the father religion is rearticulated as a strategic foil for the new anti-statism best expressed in Christian Patriot literature like William Pierce's Turner Diaries in its description of 'The Zionist Occupation Government.' Robertson's call for a Religious Equality Amendment to the constitution is intended to restore what the Christian Coalition's Contract with the American Family says should be equal civil rights for Christian citizens. What kind of rationale lies behind such an absurd proposal? Surely Roberston and his coven of soothsayers must have some other intention in whipping up hysteric delusions of discrimination among the faithful. If the Enlightenment rhetoric of social equality can appeal to the majority religion's deepest-seated fears of domination, then all liberal discourses about justice have grown rotten to the core. In arguing that Christians are being persecuted, the religious right translates the crises which accompany the loss of economic privilege into a culture war that convinces the downtrodden that material inequality is in reality spiritual hierarchy.

No wonder one hears of tales of ritual satanic abuse, multiple personality disorder, repressed-memory syndrome and demon possession. The second mythology is worse than the first because we are being given medieval palliatives to compensate for the collapse of the welfare state that provide the former middle class with the same political obligations and cultural imagination of serfs in a feudal manor. On the one hand, the new tithe takes the form of federal and state taxes and, on the other, charitable gifts and donations paid to invest in the private sector, the church, the radio, and the television ministry. Both forms of appeasement are falsely thought to promote the welfare of the public sector by enriching particular individuals and corporations whose market presence is supposed to benefit civil society the way the welfare state used to. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Republicans cut taxes for the wealthy only to triple them for the poor while they continue to increase defense spending and investment in corporations, as though the federal government were a private contractor.

The same holds true for the religious sphere. Under the guise of tax exemption, churches are paid to turn into Fortune Five Hundred companies by their congregations like the Church of The Latter Day Saints, one of the one hundred most wealthy corporations in America. When all access towards upward mobility is blocked by systemic unemployment and overwhelming poverty, the next best thing is to increase your symbolic capital with God. Unfortunately, like all ideological untruths, heaven is found to be paved with the silver lining of the church's own wealth, not that of the members of the denomination. When television evangelist Robert Tilton says 'A hundred dollars for Christ.... It works!' he really means it.

The Protestant denomination is the vanguard firm of the post-welfare state economy. Unencumbered by tax requirements and labor regulations, churches and media ministries can earn ten times more than their competitors by providing the maximum amount of goods and services to the greatest number of people. When Gustav Neibhur of The New York Times took a look at a prospering megachurch, he asked the chief pastor how his holdings could be doing so well. The minister replied that he finally decided to run the church as though it were a business after reading the work of conservative economist Peter Drucker. The secret to the church's success is that it provides goods and services with a human face, the capitalist antithesis of the failed socialist experiments in Hungary and Czechoslovakia during the Cold War.

The major difference is that the Protestant churches have absorbed the lessons of socialism and psychology and put them in the service of conservative politics and laissez-faire economics. Just look at the content of religious broadcasting to see how these needs are being met. Self-help radio and television talk shows, labor seminars, and political empowerment in the form of preachers who make the link between the personal and the political for their listening audiences. This is a contemporary example of the church meeting spiritual needs as it always has; needs that have always been tied to private property and political power. What is historically strange about the new religious capitalism is precisely how old it really is and why it has suddenly appeared to reinvigorate itself. One answer leads to the conclusion that with the increasing overlapping of public and private life those affairs previously deemed personal, such as faith, became fetishized by having become subject to the ever increasing demands of the economy.

Overwhelmed by the immense weight of the market, faith ceases to be a personal event that is determined by the will and by the conscience, and instead is colonized by money, power and the media. All vestiges of Enlightenment liberalism are subsequently eliminated and religion returns to its previous incarnation, what the Romans called a civitas dei, or civil religion which deifies the state and civil society by seeing them as extensions of God's will and presence in history. Recent Supreme Court rulings in favor of eliminating the distance between church and state suggest that the re-establishment of the ancien regime is near. The major difference between then and now is that this time it is more likely that a new alliance will be struck permanently because the church has adapted itself to the demands of power by remaking itself entirely in the image of the market.

Old Religion, New Subject

The new religious politics are the same as the old ones. The liberalization of the church, the Social Gospel Movement, ecumenism, feminist and liberation theology were all products of the church's attempt to adapt to the demands of the Enlightenment ideology of liberalism. Now that the transition period is over, it is back to business as usual. The end of history is overcome by the new birth of God. What remains of the Christian Enlightenment is the language of liberalism and the strategies of identity politics.

When trying to comprehend the new religious ideology it is necessary to remind ourselves that Christianity is not a passive agent ceaselessly absorbing the demands of history in a desperate attempt to ride it out. That is a purely propagandistic ploy meant to elicit our sympathy when none is required. The reentry of religion into politics says something about the extent to which Christians feel empowered to participate in political processes at a time when most persons believe that they are too crippled to do anything about their lives.

This is what Marx meant when he spoke of alienation socially reproducing itself. If the market has colonized private life, out of revenge the Christian right wants to make the market over again in its own image. Nothing sums it up better than the words Norma McCorvey uttered to an ABC reporter after being baptized in a Dallas swimming pool when she attempted to explain why she had decided to become pro-life after serving as the test case for legalizing abortion in the landmark Roe vs. Wade decision of 1973: `They were swinging back and forth but they were all empty and I just totally lost it. And I thought, Oh my God, the playgrounds are empty because there's not children, because they've all been aborted.' Perhaps Norma's reaction to the empty swing was a projection of the emptiness she feels inside, not only because of her multiple abortions, and why, like her, we are now reaching out to the state for compensation. It sounds like the New World Order Roberston and his militia henchman are speaking of, and why everyone has the word fascism stuck in their mouths.

Joel Schalit is a Ph.D. student in the Program in Social and Political Thought at York University. He is also a member of the leftist montage 'band' The Christal Methodists, famous for their satirization of the Christian Right. They have a new single spoofing the Kurt Cobain death industry called "Grungicide". To contact Joel about his article or his band, use the following e-mail address:

Copyright © 1995 by Joel Schalit. All rights reserved.