The warning, given to me 25 years ago, came at the moment Pat Robertson and other radio and televangelists began speaking about a new political religion that would direct its efforts at taking control of all institutions, including mainstream denominations and the government. Its stated goal was to use the United States to create a global, Christian empire. It was hard, at the time, to take such fantastic rhetoric seriously, especially given the buffoonish quality of those who expounded it. But Adams warned us against the blindness caused by intellectual snobbery. The Nazis, he said, were not going to return with swastikas and brown shirts. Their ideological inheritors had found a mask for fascism in the pages of the Bible.
He was not a man to use the word fascist lightly. He was in Germany in 1935 and 1936 and worked with the underground anti-Nazi church, known as The Confessing Church, led by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Adams was eventually detained and interrogated by the Gestapo, who suggested he might want to consider returning to the United States. It was a suggestion he followed. He left on a night train with framed portraits of Adolph Hitler placed over the contents inside his suitcase to hide the rolls of home movie film he took of the so-called German Christian Church, which was pro-Nazi, and the few individuals who defied them, including the theologians Karl Barth and Albert Schweitzer. The ruse worked when the border police lifted the top of the suitcases, saw the portraits of the Fuhrer and closed them up again. I watched hours of the grainy black and white films as he narrated in his apartment in Cambridge.
He saw in the Christian Right, long before we did, disturbing similarities with the German Christian Church and the Nazi Party, similarities that he said would, in the event of prolonged social instability or a national crisis, see American fascists, under the guise of religion, rise to dismantle the open society. He despaired of liberals, who he said, as in Nazi Germany, mouthed silly platitudes about dialogue and inclusiveness that made them ineffectual and impotent. Liberals, he said, did not understand the power and allure of evil nor the cold reality of how the world worked. The current hand wringing by Democrats in the wake of the election, with many asking how they can reach out to a movement whose leaders brand them “demonic” and “satanic,” would not have surprised Adams. Like Bonhoeffer, he did not believe that those who would fight effectively in coming times of turmoil, a fight that for him was an integral part of the Biblical message, would come from the church or the liberal, secular elite.
His critique of the prominent research universities, along with the media, was no less withering. These institutions, self-absorbed, compromised by their close relationship with government and corporations, given enough of the pie to be complacent, were unwilling to deal with the fundamental moral questions and inequities of the age. They had no stomach for a battle that might cost them their prestige and comfort. He told me that if the Nazis took over America “60 percent of the Harvard faculty would begin their lectures with the Nazi salute.” This too was not an abstraction. He had watched academics at the University of Heidelberg, including the philosopher Martin Heidegger, raise their arms stiffly to students before class.
Two decades later, even in the face of the growing reach of the Christian Right, his prediction seems apocalyptic. And yet the powerbrokers in the Christian Right have moved from the fringes of society to the floor of the House of Representatives and the Senate. Christian fundamentalists now hold a majority of seats in 36 percent of all Republican Party state committees, or 18 of 50 states, along with large minorities in 81 percent of the rest of the states. Forty-five Senators and 186 members of the House of Representatives earned between an 80 to 100 percent approval ratings from the three most influential Christian Right advocacy groups – The Christian Coalition, Eagle Forum, and Family Resource Council. Tom Coburn, the new senator from Oklahoma, has included in his campaign to end abortion: a call to impose the death penalty on doctors that carry out abortions once the ban goes into place. Another new senator, John Thune, believes in Creationism. Jim DeMint, the new senator elected from South Carolina, wants to ban single mothers from teaching in schools. The Election Day exit polls found that 22 percent of voters identified themselves as evangelical Christians and Bush won 77 percent of their vote. The polls found that a plurality of voters said that the most important issue in the campaign had been “moral values.”
President Bush must further these important objectives, including the march to turn education and social welfare over to the churches with his faith-based initiative, as well as chip away at the wall between church and state with his judicial appointments, if he does not want to face a revolt within his core constituency.
Jim Dobson, the head of Focus on the Family, who held weekly telephone conversations with Karl Rove during the campaign, has put the President on notice. He told ABC’s “This Week” that “this president has two years, or more broadly the Republican Party has two years, to implement these policies, or certainly four, or I believe they’ll pay a price in the next election.”
Bush may turn out to be a transition figure, our version of Otto von Bismarck. Bismarck used “values” to energize his base at the end of the 19th century and launched “Kulturkampt,” the word from which we get “culture wars,” against Catholics and Jews. Bismarck’s attacks split the country, made the discrediting of whole segments of the society an acceptable part of the civil discourse and paved the way for the more virulent racism of the Nazis. This, I suspect, will be George Bush’s contribution to our democracy.
DOMINIONISTS AND RECONSTRUCTIONISTS
The Reconstructionist movement, founded in 1973 by Rousas Rushdooney, is the intellectual foundation for the most politically active element within the Christian Right. Rushdooney’s 1,600 page three-volume work, Institutes of Biblical Law, argued that American society should be governed according to the Biblical precepts in the Ten Commandments. He wrote that the elect, like Adam and Noah, were given dominion over the earth by God and must subdue the earth, along with all non-believers, so the Messiah could return.
This was a radically new interpretation for many in the evangelical movement. The Messiah, it was traditionally taught, would return in an event called “the Rapture” where there would be wars and chaos. The non-believers would be tormented and killed and the elect would be lifted to heaven. The Rapture was not something that could be manipulated or influenced, although believers often interpreted catastrophes and wars as portents of the imminent Second Coming.
Rushdooney promoted an ideology that advocated violence to create the Christian state. His ideology was the mirror image of Liberation Theology, which came into vogue at about the same time. While the Liberation Theologians crammed the Bible into the box of Marxism, Rushdooney crammed it into the equally distorting box of classical fascism. This clash was first played out in Latin America when I was there as a reporter two decades ago. In El Salvador leftist priests endorsed and even traveled with the rebel movements in Nicaragua and El Salvador, while Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, along with conservative Latin American clerics, backed the Contras fighting against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and the murderous military regimes in El Salvador, Guatemala, Chile and Argentina.
The Institutes of Biblical Law called for a Christian society that was harsh, unforgiving and violent. Offenses such as adultery, witchcraft, blasphemy and homosexuality, merited the death penalty. The world was to be subdued and ruled by a Christian United States. Rushdooney dismissed the number of 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust as an inflated figure and his theories on race echoed Nazi Eugenics.
“The white man has behind him centuries of Christian culture and the discipline and selective breeding this faith requires…,” he wrote. “The Negro is a product of a radically different past, and his heredity has been governed by radically different considerations.”
“The background of Negro culture is African and magic, and the purposes of the magic are control and power over God, man, nature, and society. Voodoo, or magic, was the religion and life of American Negroes. Voodoo songs underlie jazz, and old voodoo, with its power goal, has been merely replaced with revolutionary voodoo, a modernized power drive.” (see The Religious Right , a publication of the ADL, pg. 124.)
Rushdooney was deeply antagonistic to the federal government. He believed the federal government should concern itself with little more than national defense. Education and social welfare should be handed over to the churches. Biblical law must replace the secular legal code. This ideology remains at the heart of the movement. It is being enacted through school vouchers, with federal dollars now going into Christian schools, and the assault against the federal agencies that deal with poverty and human services. The Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives is currently channeling millions in federal funds to groups such Pat Robertson’s Operation Blessing, and National Right to Life, as well as to fundamentalist religious charity organizations and programs promoting sexual abstinence.
Rushdooney laid the groundwork for a new way of thinking about political involvement. The Christian state would come about not only through signs and wonders, as those who believed in the rapture believed, but also through the establishment of the Christian nation. But he remained, even within the Christian Right, a deeply controversial figure.