The engine that drives the radical Christian Right in the United States, the most dangerous mass movement in American history, is not religiosity, but despair. It is a movement built on the growing personal and economic despair of tens of millions of Americans, who watched helplessly as their communities were plunged into poverty by the flight of manufacturing jobs, their families and neighborhoods torn apart by neglect and indifference, and who eventually lost hope that America was a place where they had a future.
Practically every clause of that paragraph is false, of course, so let's just answer Hedges' central claim that widespread "economic despair" is turning people into Christian radicals by the "tens of millions" with this li'l linkie and move on:
This despair crosses economic boundaries, of course, enveloping many in the middle class who live trapped in huge, soulless exurbs where, lacking any form of community rituals or centers, they also feel deeply isolated, vulnerable and lonely. Those in despair are the most easily manipulated by demagogues, who promise a fantastic utopia, whether it is a worker's paradise, fraternite-egalite-liberte, or the second coming of Jesus Christ. Those in despair search desperately for a solution, the warm embrace of a community to replace the one they lost, a sense of purpose and meaning in life, the assurance they are protected, loved and worthwhile.
Huge, soulless exurbs? Hedges thinks he's a beatnik. You can keep your Madison Avenue rat-race, maaaaan.
During the past two years of work on the book American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America, I kept encountering this deadly despair. Driving down a highway lined with gas stations, fast food restaurants and dollar stores [capitalism sucks!] I often got vertigo, forgetting for a moment if I was in Detroit or Kansas City or Cleveland.
Amazing how the guy can rope so many doddering intellectual cliches together, ain't it?
There are parts of the United States, including whole sections of former manufacturing centers such as Ohio [sic], that resemble the developing world, with boarded up storefronts, dilapidated houses, pot-hole streets and crumbling schools. The end of the world is no longer an abstraction to many Americans . . . .
To Hedges everything is an abstraction, especially Americans.
There has been, along with the creation of an American oligarchy, a steady Weimarization of the American working class. The top one percent of American households have more wealth than the bottom 90 percent combined. This figure alone should terrify all who care about our democracy. As Plutarch reminded us "an imbalance between the rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics."
So, as a veteran carer about democracy, why amn't I terrified? Maybe because things were different in Blutarch's day. People actually starved to death and stuff. Today, as everybody knows, even "poor" people eat too much and own too much crap.
Hedges' use of the term "Weimarization" is odd, too. Weimar's problem wasn't income inequality, but runaway inflation.
Next Hedges gives us several paragraphs about a "typical" fundamentalist Christian he interviewed, Jeniece Learned, making her sound, of course, like a lunatic. Read that part yourself. Hedges' point in profiling her is to highlight the despair that forced her to escape reality through religion:
Jesus Christ. Read that last sentence again. In the context of the rest of the paragraph it makes absolutely no sense, and hardly makes any on its own.
The stories believers such as Learned told me of their lives before they found Christ were heart breaking. These chronicles were about terrible pain, severe financial difficulties, struggles with addictions or childhood sexual or physical abuse, profound alienation and often thoughts about suicide. They were chronicles without hope. The real world, the world of facts and dispassionate intellectual inquiry, the world where all events, news and information were not filtered through this comforting ideological prism, the world where they were left out to dry, abandoned by a government hostage to corporations and willing to tolerate obscene corporate profits, betrayed them.
They hated this world. And they willingly walked out on this world for the mythical world offered by these radical preachers, a world of magic, a world where God had a divine plan for them and intervened on a daily basis to protect them and perform miracles in their lives. The rage many expressed to me towards those who challenge this belief system, to those of us who do not accept that everything in the world came into being during a single week 6,000 years ago because it says so in the Bible, was a rage born of fear, the fear of being plunged back into a reality-based world where these magical props would no longer exist, where they would once again be adrift, abandoned and alone.
For Hedges, most of my wife's family would qualify as Christian fundamentalists (and yes I'm aware of his fake distinction between "dominionists" and "fundamentalists"). But I've been around them for years in all kinds of situations, and not one of them has ever betrayed the slightest sign of the fanatical rage he keeps blathering about (except when I screw up at Mahjong. Christian fascists love Mahjong). Hell, even Hedges' own example, Jeniece Learned, seems notably unrageful, at least in his telling here (maybe he fleshes her out more in the book). Onward:
The danger of this theology of despair is that it says that nothing in the world is worth saving. It rejoices in cataclysmic destruction. It welcomes the frightening advance of global warming, the spiraling wars and violence in the Middle East and the poverty and neglect that have blighted American urban and rural landscapes as encouraging signs that the end of the world is close at hand.Oh, bullshit. Hedges would probably back this claim by citing the bogus quote attributed to Reagan's much-reviled interior secretary, James Watt, that Bill Moyers embarrassingly fell for last year: "after the last tree is felled, Christ will come back." That example disallowed, I wonder if he has another?
Believers, of course, clinging to this magical belief, which is a bizarre form of spiritual Darwinism, will be raptured upwards while the rest of us will be tormented with horrors by a warrior Christ and finally extinguished. This obsession with apocalyptic violence is an obsession with revenge. It is what the world, and we who still believe it is worth saving, deserve.Many have noted the ability of the far left to spout twisted untruths while purring with moral self-satisfaction ("we who still believe it is worth saving"). Hedges:
Those who lead the movement give their followers a moral license to direct this rage and yearning for violence against all those who refuse to submit to the movement, from liberals, to "secular humanists," to "nominal Christians," to intellectuals, to gays and lesbians, to Muslims. These radicals, from James Dobson to Pat Robertson, call for a theocratic state that will, if it comes to pass, bear within it many of the traits of classical fascism.Yeah? Like what? How, for example, has this fascist "rage and yearning for violence" been expressed by the millions of rank-and-file fanatics Dobs 'n' Robs have been cranking out? I mean, attacks on gays and intellectuals and Muslims and secular humanists and "nominal Christians" (that's harsh) must be spiralling out of control, one Kristallnacht after another, right? Yet somehow we never hear about it. Oh wait, maybe that's because it's not happening.
And since Hedges can't point to anything in the present to confirm his paranoid fantasies, like all apocalypticians he eagerly anticipates the evil future lurking just around the corner:
All radical movements need a crisis or a prolonged period of instability to achieve power. And we are not in a period of crisis now. But another catastrophic terrorist attack on American soil, a series of huge environmental disasters or an economic meltdown will hand to these radicals the opening they seek. Manipulating our fear and anxiety, promising to make us safe and secure, giving us the assurance that they can vanquish the forces that mean to do us harm, these radicals, many of whom have achieved powerful positions in the Executive and legislative branches of government, as well as the military, will ask us only to surrender our rights, to pass them the unlimited power they need to battle the forces of darkness.
They will have behind them tens of millions of angry, disenfranchised [sic] Americans longing for revenge and yearning for a mythical utopia, Americans who embraced a theology of despair because we offered them nothing else.
Yeah, sure. (Don't worry, he'll calm down a lot if a Democrat is elected president in 2008.)