Yet one of the prime driving forces behind what has the appearance of a modern American fascist movement is the Christian Right. This is stunning. Fundamentalist Christianity is so intertwined with the Republican Party that Republican politicians must seek the endorsement of fundamentalist leaders before they have even the slightest hope of winning office. No parallels exist in any other mainstream American political movement.
Furthermore, this alliance leads Republican politicians to champion legislation favorable to fundamentalist Christians on topics as broad-ranging as abortion rights to gay marriage to high-school science curricula to special rights for fundamentalist churches. This goes beyond coincidence; this is evidence of a symbiotic connection between the two groups.
That connection was born from the Southern Strategy in the 1960s. The Southern Strategy was the crucial event in the formation of the modern Republican Party, and led to a massive influx of fundamentalist Christians into the party. However, it was not fundamentalist Christians that the Southern Strategy had targeted, but white segregationists.
When you watch old videos of the segregationist south, you can see the pure, rabid hatred burning in the eyes and faces of its white residents. These were a people twisted by bigotry. Their bigotry had lasted for generations; they had abandoned first one and then another political identity to preserve it, and even the Southern Baptist denomination itself was formed to preserve the importance of slavery in their culture. It should not come as any surprise that they had molded their version of Christianity to fit their biases and prejudices.
The Bible does contain verses supportive of racism, segregation, and even slavery. Other verses, however, admonished the believer to treat others with kindness. The southern fundamentalists had downplayed the latter, at least as it applied to outsiders, which exaggerating and obsessing over the former. From some of the speeches and writings of southern religious leaders, one could easily get the impression that the Bible was little more than an instruction manual for bigotry – and, unfortunately, to many such believers, this was far too true.
Christianity had become the genetic (or, more properly, memetic) material through which southern segregationists preserved their ideas and transmitted them to their children. The southerners brought into the Republican Party brought with them this peculiar and perverse version of Christianity, and it was from its often schizophrenic beliefs that most Christian intolerance arises.
It is fundamentalist Christianity that now unites the former segregationist constituency. This is not to say that racism, prejudice, and bigotry have disappeared from this culture. All are still present, but expressed through euphemisms and distractions. An openly racist campaign would be suicidal, so, in place of open racism, Christian “values” have come to unite the constituency and focus their activism.
Those are the Christians I condemn, and their beliefs that I reject. It is from their social ambitions that the core elements of this fascist movement arise. The majority of Christians reject the beliefs and “values” of the fundamentalists, and even most of those conservative Christians who sympathize with their beliefs reject their tactics and overall political goals.
Yet fundamentalist activists have made a major effort to connect their extremist beliefs in the public mind with Christianity itself. Uninformed Christians might be persuaded to support the goals of the fundamentalists (and their corporate allies) if these goals are presented as simply “Christian”. At the same time, fundamentalists can gain some legitimacy for their fringe beliefs by co-opting the veneer of mainstream Christian belief.
The corporate-owned news media have colluded in this effort. Fundamentalist theologians are given a prominent position on news programs, and are often the only voice sought – as if they represented the beliefs of all Christians. Such theologians (and I am using that term broadly; “propagandists” would be more appropriate) are not only invited to speak on religious matters, but on political, medical, scientific, and other issues that are completing unrelated to religion. Such tactics have given the movement far more visibility than its real numbers should deserve.
Even on a personal, face-to-face level, fundamentalist Christians are loud and aggressive in sharing their beliefs, and make an effort to conflate their own beliefs with “true” Christianity. Such aggressive tactics make the fundamentalist a truly unpleasant sort of person: less an individual than a political operative.
Similarly, when someone vocally declares himself to be a Christian (generally without any sort of prompting), he will subsequently launch into a barrage of intolerant, bigoted, and even bizarre ideology. Rather than improve the public image of Christianity, such behavior merely brands all Christians with the extremism of the fundamentalist.
Unfortunately, it is impossible to make all of these distinctions every time the issue of Christianity or fundamentalism comes up. “Christian” is mere shorthand. I try to avoid using it without qualifying it with “fundamentalist”, but that gets repetitive quickly. And the term “fundamentalist” on its own is too general, since Christianity is not the only belief system that includes a fundamentalist variety (and, despite the claims of rabid theists, atheism is not one of those – idiots!).
So just keep that in mind: when I say “Christian”, I’m not talking about all Christians. It’s not my fault; I’m not responsible for that confusion.TAGS: Christianity, Christian Right, Fundamentalism