Unlike Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Tamas Pataki, the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Chris Hedges is not an atheist. In fact, his credentials on the matter of religion happen to be impeccable. The son of a Presbyterian minister, Hedges obtained a Master of Divinity degree from Harvard before becoming a foreign correspondent. He’s a believer who feels compelled to speak up against the rising tide of Christian fundamentalism in the US. In fact, for Hedges, silence on this issue is equivalent to moral failure.
With American Fascists, Hedges doesn’t attempt to show that belief in God is misguided. Rather, he explores the ways religious fundamentalists are changing the social and political landscape of America. Using techniques that eerily resemble the rise of fascism in Europe before World War II, a few “religious utopians are slowly dismantling democratic institutions to establish a religious tyranny”. These self-proclaimed prophets offer to lead Americans to a mythical paradise, first demanding total submission and the abandonment of all critical thought. Hedges points to the democratic tradition of tolerating personal freedoms as a force that plays straight into their hands.
A journalist of the highest standard, Hedges offers illuminating investigations, profiles, interviews, and coverage of recent events to support his claims, making for a convincing and highly-readable call to action.
In spite of the polemical title, American Fascists presents an even-handed look at how Christian fundamentalism is changing the US. It’s a reminder of the dangers liberal, democratic societies face when they “tolerate the intolerant”. Sadly for all, the picture Hedges paints of a Christian America looks alarmingly like Osama bin Laden’s model of pan-Islamism.
American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America, Chris Hedges, Vintage.
Review first published in The Courier-Mail in 2008.