Several years ago when I first began corresponding with my uncle, Ron, he referred me to an article on Alternet about Christian Dominionism ~ this was my first introduction to Chris Hedges, author of American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America. I was amazed ~ and as a devoted Christian, more than a little perturbed ~ at Hedges insight into what motivates radical fundamentalist Christians ~ namely, fear, self-loathing, and the culture of despair. I identified with the pro-life women whom Hedges interviewed, and was quite dismayed to find that I actually agreed with his conclusion:
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.
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, … 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 Americans longing for revenge and yearning for a mythical utopia, Americans who embraced a theology of despair because we offered them nothing else.
“Yikes!” I wrote in my response to my uncle, “Hedges hits too close to home ~ I feel convicted because I know it was fear and despair which attracted me to fundamentalism.”
Ever since, I’ve been wanting to read American Fascists ~ and now I’m doing just that. I’ve been especially interested in chapter four: The Cult of Masculinity~ and have decided to devote a few blog posts to the Hedges’ analysis of the Christian Right’s degradation and oppression of women.
Hedges begins the chapter by relating the story of “Roberta” whose family attended the Rev. D. James Kennedy’s church in Fort Lauderdale, FL. After briefly telling how Roberta was drawn more and more to the teachings of the church ~ including having a born-again experience just before her 16th birthday, Hedges explains:
The embrace of the new community, the sense that she had found an extended family, was at first exciting and appealing. But it also soon brought with it radical changes. She was told to adopt a more “Christian” lifestyle. Funk and pop music, her non-believing friends, the part-time modeling jobs and even the secular high school were, she was told, thwarting her attempts to be a Christian. She destroyed her Motown and Michael Jackson records. She gave up modeling. She transferred to Westminster Academy, Coral Ridge’s Christian School. She walked out on her old community.
The more Roberta gave up, the more was demanded of her. She was soon overwhelmed with the demands of the church’s male hierarchy. She struggled with depression and doubts due to the radical life changes ~ feelings of being cut off from everything familiar ~ but those doubts were kept in check by her fear of disapproval and censure from her new community of “True Believers.”
It wasn’t long before Roberta was no longer sure what she felt or believed, she just worked harder to obey.
“I was anesthetized,” Roberta told Hedges in an interview, “I was programmed to believe all this. It was reinforced by my family and the church. There was this double authority that came from God. The male authorities in my life spoke for God. God spoke through my father, who was very authoritative and who held the power, as did the twelve male pastors in the church. All the leaders in my life were male. …
“My female truth was not diminished, it was completely silenced…. It was obliterated. I had a mother, who was not a questioning female, who had also been socialized to be obedient. The good woman, they tell you, is the obedient woman.”
After many years of contorting her beliefs and behaviors to fit the model of a “good Christian woman,” Roberta eventually drifted away from the church … believing it had stunted her as a woman and forced her into a system based on submission.
Coming next: The Hypermasculinity of Radical Christian Conservatism …