Those arrayed against American democracy are waiting for a moment to strike, a national crisis that will allow them to shred the Constitution in the name of national security and strength … Debate with the radical Christian Right is useless … The movement is based on our destruction. —Chris Hedges (p. 202)
Where are we to begin, to review such a hysterical, hate-filled book?
Keeping track and taking note of published attacks on Bible-based Christianity is a dismal business. We only bother to answer this particular attack because the writer calls our good works into question, and that demands an answer.
Chris Hedges’ book features error piled on error, prejudice on prejudice. Maybe we ought to expect this from a writer who left The New York Times to work for The Nation. Hedges’ new employers have been bashing Christianity and boosting Bolshevism for decades. Hedges’ latest book is standard Nation fare.
Shredding the Bible
Which of our good works would Mr. Hedges overthrow, if he could?
“Church leaders must denounce biblical passages [denounce the Bible, from the pulpit?] that champion apocalyptic violence and hateful political deeds,” he says (p. 6), and “repudiate the apocalyptic writings in scripture” (p. 7).
“The Bible was not the literal word of God” (p. 21), Hedges learned from his father, an ordained minister of the gospel who taught that the gospels are “filled with factual contradictions” (p. 3). And, “As for the question of God’s true nature, there are many substantive contradictions” (p. 3).
Hedges detests the Pentateuch because it contains God’s law, which he finds oppressive, sexist, racist, anti-gay, and superstitious (pp. 3–4). He doesn’t have much use for the New Testament, either, especially the Gospel of John (“Hatred of Jews and other non-Christians pervades the Gospel of John” p. 4) and the Book of Revelation. In short, he says, “There is enough hatred, bigotry, and lust for violence in the pages of the Bible to satisfy anyone bent on justifying cruelty and violence” (p. 5).
As for God Himself, Hedges, following his father’s teaching, says, “We had no ability to understand God’s will” (p. 2), and “God is inscrutable, mysterious, and unknowable” (p. 8).
Convicted out of his own mouth, Hedges functions as an atheist. If we cannot know God or His will in any way, then we can have no relationship with Him and, as far as we’re concerned, there might as well be no God.
If we think we can know God by studying the Bible, Hedges tells us the Bible is not God’s Word and cannot enlighten us. If we think we can know God by studying the life of Jesus Christ, Hedges answers that the gospels misinform us. In not acknowledging that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and Lord and Savior of all mankind, as He said He was, Hedges tacitly accuses Christ of being either a liar or a lunatic.
If we think we can know God through His grace applied to us, and through the Holy Spirit, Hedges will not allow us that, either. He describes God as cruel, vengeful, sadistic, unloving, and so on.
So which of our good works does Hedges call evil?
He is against us if we preach all of God’s Word, instead of just the parts that please him. If we were to delete from the Bible everything that offends Mr. Hedges, it would have fewer pages in it than an issue of The Nation.
He is against us if we preach the Lordship of Christ, and the exclusivity of Christ as the means of salvation. If Christians are right about this, and the Bible is telling them the truth, then non-Christian religions must be wrong; but Hedges won’t allow that. One wonders what he learned as a Harvard Divinity School student.
Finally, he castigates “radical Christians” for trying to influence Congress to pass laws that displease him—laws to protect the special status of marriage, to restrict abortion, to combat illegal immigration, etc. Of course, he doesn’t mind if unbelievers lobby for legislation that they like. It’s only wrong if “Christians” do it.
He does not want us to preach the whole Word of God. Any effort we make to foster a better understanding of God’s will for us, as expressed in the Bible, Hedges sees as futile, destructive, and wrong.
If Hedges is right, then we are worse than divorced from God: we were never united to Him in the first place. And we can’t answer Hedges out of the Bible because he rejects the authority of Scripture.
When we turn to the Bible, we can hear the voice of God. “Thus saith the LORD, Where is the bill of your mother’s divorcement, whom I have put away? or which of my creditors is it to whom I have sold you?” (Isa. 50:1, the Lord gives His people credit for enough intelligence to appreciate irony). We are not divorced from God, nor has He sold us out. It is this comfort, this connection to God, that Mr. Hedges would deny to us.
What Are “They” Up To?
What does he think “radical Christians” are actually hoping to do?
- “The goal of the movement is to create a theocracy” (p. 86).
- “Should another catastrophic attack occur [like Sept. 11, 2001], what will prevent these preachers [Pat Robertson, et al.] from calling for the punishment, detention and quarantine of gays and lesbians … What will stanch the hate crimes and physical attacks against those deemed immoral…? And most ominously, the fringe groups of the Christian Right believe they have been mandated by God to carry out Christian terrorism” (p. 106).
- The Christian Right, says Hedges, is plotting to “dismantle the federal government and unleash the fetters on corporations” (p. 180), and “to use the United States to create a global Christian empire” (p. 194). How these herculean tasks are to be accomplished, we are not told.
Christians are also plotting to abolish “truth.” For Hedges, “truth” consists of Darwinism (p. 115), the assertion that homosexuals are “born gay” (p. 103), the claims of the man-made global warming crowd (p. 203)—and this from a man who declares that we must “reject absolutes, especially moral absolutes” (p. 9)! His absolutes, of course, are to be accepted without question.
The Usual Suspects
Who are these Christian villains, who inhabit the “brutal, masculine world of this ideology, a world that knows little of tenderness, personal freedom, ambiguity, nurturing, and even pleasure” (p. 79)?
They are, says Hedges, “dominionists,” a small minority, “a core group” within a broader “evangelical” movement (p. 21), who are scheming to take over the church. And, “They can count on the passive support of huge numbers of Christians” (p. 21) who, alas, don’t allow The Nation to guide them.
We are told “the [dominionist] movement has seized control of the Republican Party” (p. 22), which comes as news to us. Who can justly accuse Arlen Specter, John McCain, Orrin Hatch, Mitt Romney, or the National Review editorial board of taking marching orders from “preachers”?
Who are the dominionists? Hedges’ list of culprits includes the Southern Baptist Convention (America’s largest Protestant denomination), “virtually all of the nation’s more than 2,000 religious radio stations” (pp. 10–11), and adherents of Christian Reconstruction (p. 11). He accuses Christian Reconstructionists of “racist and brutal intolerance” and a “lust for repression,” and of plotting to create “a Christian society that is harsh, unforgiving, and violent” (p. 12).
As he warms to his topic, Hedges widens his cast of villains to take in Reformed and dispensational theologians, the ubiquitous assorted fringe groups, cults, the Trinity Broadcasting Network, conservative Roman Catholics, Jews for Jesus, Jews who defend the Christian Right—indeed, anyone who doesn’t rate a World Council of Churches seal of approval. From a small core group, his conspiracy grows to number in the millions.
Paranoia and Projection
But then the whole book is a conspiracy theory. Hedges accuses the Christian Right of promoting wacky conspiracy theories to manipulate people by fearmongering. On page 25 he accuses the Diebold Corporation (manufacturers of modern voting machines), in cahoots with the Ohio secretary of state, of stealing the 2004 presidential election from John Kerry. A few paragraphs later, on page 28, he says the dominionist movement is “marked … by its obsessions with conspiracy theories … a deep paranoia …” He wants us to believe only in his conspiracy theory.
Everything he accuses bad Christians of doing, he does. In psychology, this is called “projection.”
- He rails constantly about “the bleakness of life in Ohio” (p. 43) and “soulless” suburbs, projecting his own unhappiness onto millions of ordinary people.
- If there are no absolute moral values, why does he insist America embrace his values?
- He denounces the “apocalyptic visions” of the Christian Right, while writing a whole book to vent his own apocalyptic vision.
- He chastises dominionists for their “binary worldview” (p. 154)—but who has a more dualistic, “us against them” worldview than Mr. Hedges himself?
- He objects, repeatedly, to the Christian Right lumping all its opponents together as “secular humanists.” But anyone who can lump together R. J. Rushdoony, D. James Kennedy, the Left Behind novels, and the heretical eccentricities on daily display on the Trinity Broadcasting Network deserves a Nobel Prize for lumping.
Hedges sees a monolith where there is only division. He fails to distinguish between orthodox, Bible-based Christianity and the host of man-made accretions tacked onto it by sinful, fallible human beings in our popular culture. He can see no difference between a sober Reformed theologian and a sleazy televangelist who promises to heal your cancer if you’ll send him a check for $1,000.
- Most pitiably, Hedges allows his deep personal problems with his father to shape his outlook on life.
In addition to teaching his son that the Bible is not true and that no one can know anything about God, Hedges Senior comes across as self-righteous, unloving, and implacable. We learn from Hedges’ last book, Losing Moses on the Freeway, that his father forced him to spend most of his childhood at a rather unpleasant boarding school.l In American Fascists, pp. 2–3, we read again how, when Chris Hedges was a college student, his father became enamored of the gay-rights movement and regularly invited “gay” speakers to his son’s campus. He also compelled his son to found a homosexual students’ organization at the school, an act that earned the young man much ridicule and opprobrium from his peers.
Hedges’ attacks on the Bible reveal an implicit hatred for the God of Scripture, a hatred that spills over onto male authority in general, especially when wielded by Christians. Where his father planted false teachings and self-righteousness, Hedges now cultivates projection and paranoia. He turns away from God, refusing to be converted, and extends his joyless morose to all.
A Dose of Coercion
We are alarmed by Hedges’ prescription for defeating this imaginary Christian conspiracy to destroy America. What does he propose to do to stop it?
1. “The radical Christian Right must be forced to include other points of view to counter their hate talk in their own broadcasts” (p. 33, emphasis added). This regulation, in effect from 1949 to1989, when it was terminated by President Reagan, was known as the Fairness Doctrine. It was an FCC regulation, not a law. Currently, The Nation has been leading the charge on the Left to reimpose the Fairness Doctrine, this time as a law.
We know from experience that there is no way “Fairness” would ever be used to inject a conservative Christian viewpoint into The Nation, a CNN newscast, or a Desperate Housewives episode. While it was in place for forty years, it was never invoked to reduce the monopoly of the liberal viewpoint in the media. The only purpose for bringing it back would be to muzzle conservatives and make it impossible for a conservative media to earn a profit.
2. “The hate-crimes legislation now stalled in Congress because of bitter opposition from the Christian Right must be made law” (p. 203).
In Canada and England, such laws have been used to intimidate, harass, and even punish anyone who dares to oppose the march of sodomy. If you publicly question the wisdom of allowing homosexuals to adopt children, you’ll get a visit from the police. If you decline to let out your hall for the celebration of a “gay marriage,” you’ll be slapped with a hefty fine.
These first two recommendations alone would constitute a heavy dose of coercion, aimed specifically at Christians; but Hedges proposes more.
3. “Church leaders” (whoever they might be) should publicly “denounce” politically incorrect portions of the Bible. We doubt this would make for very palatable sermons, but surely Mr. Hedges would enjoy them.
4. Church leaders, news media, Hollywood, academics, politicians, and schoolteachers should “confront” and “challenge” conservative Christians at every opportunity. In Hedges’ words, the Democratic Party, the media, “mainstream” churches, and universities—“The leading American institutions tasked with defending tolerance and liberty” (p. 33)—must aggressively take it to the Christian Right.
Where has Hedges been? These people go Christian-bashing every day.
How far would he like to see “confrontation” go? We already have TV personalities (Bill Maher, Rosie O’Donnell, et al.) who mock, slander, and foment hatred against Christians every chance they get. TV shows and movies routinely depict Christians as bigoted, stupid, despicable, and dull. All the major news media give unlimited coverage to attacks on Christianity. And who would ever describe the climate at our great universities as Christian-friendly?
And yet with all this, Mr. Hedges doesn’t think it’s enough. Unable to read his mind, we cannot say what he’d like to see accomplished by “confrontation,” or what he’d be willing to do to achieve it.
5. Somehow he would like to separate “dominionists” from “evangelicals” (p. 20). Does he expect to accomplish this through mockery, name-calling, and Bible-bashing?
6. Hedges recommends that we all support Al Gore in his “valiant struggle” against man-made global warming (p. 203). We don’t see what this has to do with the rest of his thesis, but he thought it important enough to mention. After all, for him, global warming is an unchallengeable truth.
7. Finally, we are to engage in acts of civil disobedience against unjust laws passed by a Congress dominated by the Christian Right (p. 203). The only example he offers is a call to aid and abet illegal aliens trying to evade immigration officials.
Hard Times to Come?
We could go on, for many more pages, listing the inconsistencies, lapses of logic, special pleadings, unsupported assertions, and plain inanities of this book; but the reader has probably endured enough by now.
We are sorry for Chris Hedges. He’s looking for salvation in all the wrong places—the government, science, the media, all works of the flesh—and he isn’t going to find it there. In rejecting the Bible, he closes his heart to God. We are reminded of God’s Words to us, spoken through the prophet Isaiah:
“Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear:
“But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear” (Isa. 59:1–2).
It is true that Christians have left themselves open to some of Hedges’ hyperbolic criticisms. There are crassly materialistic megachurches, and heretical twits on Christian television. There have been intemperate remarks from prominent preachers. Many on the Christian Right have been seduced into seeking political solutions to spiritual problems. It would be well for us to steer clear of such stumbling blocks.
While we pray that Mr. Hedges’ heart will one day be turned to God, and be healed, we wonder if his book is a harbinger of difficult times to come. If there are many among the public who fear and hate Bible-believing Christians as Mr. Hedges does, we’d better pray for ourselves, too—for the strength to endure, to follow God’s commandments, and to put all our trust in Him.