“ where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (2 Corinthians 3:17)
Perhaps the best, most generic definition of “fascism” was stated by Laura Dawn Lewis in a piece that I found on the Internet. She states: “The most notable characteristic of a fascist country is the separation and persecution or denial of equality to a specific segment of the population based upon superficial qualities or belief systems. Simply stated, a fascist government always has one class of citizens that is considered superior (good) to another (bad) based upon race, creed or origin. It is possible to be both a republic and a fascist state. The preferred class lives in a republic while the oppressed class lives in a fascist state.” [Dissident Defense Network, August 17, 2005.]
In 1932 Benito Mussolini, the founder of “fascism,” wrote the following for the Italian Encyclopedia: “ The Fascist State organizes the nation, but leaves a sufficient margin of liberty to the individual; the latter is deprived of all useless and possibly harmful freedom, but retains what is essential; the deciding power in this question cannot be the individual, but the State alone .”
When there is a nation largely composed of people with uncritical intellects; people who are trained by assorted advertisers and other media savvy people to be gullible and develop “false needs,” there is no need to impose fascism on them. They willingly, gladly, embrace fascism as a salve, an antidote to their fears and perceived needs that are inculcated and reinforced by those who seek to gain and maintain power over them.
Some of this embracing of fascism is neurobiological, as the author, Arianna Huffington, pointed out in her article, “Appealing To Our Lizard Brains: Why Bush is Still Standing,” published before the 2004 Presidential election. [AlterNet, October 13, 2004.] She stated: “Deep in the brain lies the amygdala, an almond sized region that generates fear. When this fear state is activated, the amygdala springs into action. Before you are even consciously aware that you are afraid, your lizard brain responds by clicking into survival mode. No time to assess the situation, no time to look at the facts, just: fight, flight or freeze.” “The strutting, winking, pointing and near-shouting that marked Bush’s town hall debate performance all sent the same subconscious message to our fear-fogged brains: ‘I’m your daddy I’ve got your back. So just go to sleep and stop thinking. About anything.'”
LGBT people, therefore, can see in this discussion of the roots of fascism, and its embracing by many people whose fight or flight response has been successfully engaged by their puppet-masters, some of the dynamics behind their grinding oppression, as their oppressors have succumbed to the fiction of LGBT people being constructed by religious and secular homophobes as “enemies” who are a direct threat to heterosexuals, the sanctity of the family, tradition, children, the way of life as we know it, and who are sinful, and whom God condemns!
Of course, these assertions are clearly and patently false and represent gross distortions and misrepresentations of the Bible, which professing Christian oppressors equate with God, thereby committing the sin of idolatry; they equate their own fallible interpretation of certain selected Bible passages that are based upon their own preconceived prejudices as being “the word of God,” and they thereby seek to impose those prejudices upon both the Bible and upon others, having the consequence of helping to deny LGBT people the dignity and civil and sacramental rights that they, themselves, enjoy.
However, when the Reptilian Brain is engaged, when the fight or flight response is triggered, rationality and “truth” fly out the window, and simplistic answers given by people who are in unjustified authority positions and who are given a credibility that they certainly don’t deserve, are given relatively free rein to turn the truth into a lie, and to purvey all sorts of lies and distortions so as to both trigger people’s fight or flight response so that they will look to the puppet-master to provide the simplistic answers that they crave to assuage the fears that those puppet-masters have, themselves, created!
When in a condition of fear or uncertainty, we seek to bond with a person to whom we ascribe “charisma”; we tend to ascribe charisma to that person who promises to deliver us from our fears and uncertainties even when he or she has created and reinforced those very fears and uncertainties. Hence, the frequent successes of one-dimensional politicians who impose simplistic thinking on complex issues, and of “fundamentalists” of any religion!
And what better way to attain and maintain “religious” and political power and moral hegemony in the public square than by claiming to speak for God, all the while having the temerity to elevate their prejudices and studied ignorance as being equivalent with the word of God and with the protection of “good, moral, and decent folks,” so as to maintain “America’s Judeo-Christian principles.” So, the best way to “justify” homophobia is to manufacture LGBT people as “the enemy,” and then “come to the rescue” so as to rid society of the “scourge” of “the homosexual agenda!”
These puppet-masters promise us surety in a world fraught with danger; they promise us deliverance when we feel trapped; they promise us clarity when we are confused; they promise us protection when we feel threatened; they promise us peace when we are in turmoil. They seek to force us to see the world as they do, thereby making many, if not most, people “Stepford Wives,” in a scenario that they have themselves created.
They play upon most people’s short sighted self-interests that guide most of their choices in life. I remember when I was President of the local faculty union, I was amazed at how most faculty members only cared about their own paychecks and work lives, and didn’t care one bit about anyone else.
I sought to remind them that we couldn’t have “collective bargaining” unless we were a “collective.” It made no difference! Their short-sighted self-interest ruled the day for them and, consequently, for the rest of us.
Fascism is also enmeshed with what the sociologist Emile Durkheim defined as “ingroup-outgroup dynamics.” Basically, this thesis states that when you have a threatening out-group, the in-group unites to protect itself against it. That is why one of the most dangerous calls the police receive is the domestic disturbance. Frequently, even though the husband may be savagely beating his wife, when the police enter the situation both spouses frequently unite and attack the officer.
Therefore, it’s in the interests of those who want to obtain or maintain power to create out-groups so that in-group cohesion can develop around them. Even though they themselves created the out-group(s), the uncritical, gullible, self-interested, fearful public bonds with them if they, either verbally and/or non-verbally, promise them deliverance from their fears. Hence, by creating gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people as “out-groups” to be feared in that they are made to be seen as seeking to “destroy the sanctity of marriage” by wanting the same rights as any other citizens, many people were motivated to vote for the person in the 2004 Presidential election who was seen as “standing in the gap” between heterosexist supremacy and the “danger” of same-sex marriage. The same phenomenon can now be seen in the infamous Proposition 8 in California that will appear on the November ballot, seeking to overturn the California Supreme Court’s ruling that same-sex couples have a right to marry within the state of California.
“Fundamentalism” of all stripes capitalizes on this phenomenon! When the imprimatur of “Christianity” is placed upon a person, rhetoric, and deeds, that person and his or her acts become not merely credible, but seen as “righteous,” and even “biblical” and “Godly.”
Rhetoric is crucial in this endeavor! Coupling what is implied or stated as the equivalent of “God’s will” by a person in power or by a person who seeks power to a citizenry that is fearful and seeks, even if irrationally, a person who promises them deliverance from their fears, with an agenda that, to a rational person, even contradicts his or her statements and policies, lends credence and respectability to that person’s agenda, regardless of how irrational and horrific that agenda is.
Witness the following statement: “The National Government will regard it as its first and foremost duty to revive in the nation the spirit of unity and cooperation. It will preserve and defend those basic principles on which our nation has been built. It regards Christianity as the foundation of our national morality, and the family as the basis of national life.” (Adolph Hitler, My New World Order, Proclamation to the German Nation at Berlin, February 1, 1933.)
By using such buzzwords as “duty,” “revive,” “spirit of unity and cooperation,” “preserve and defend,” “basic principles on which our nation has been built,” “Christianity as the foundation of our national morality,” “the family as the basis of national life,” uncritical and gullible people who are fearful will look favorably upon such sentiments and upon the person promising their deliverance, regardless of the means utilized to achieve the goals of promised deliverance.
The appeal to virtue, as seen in the 2004 Presidential election, where “faith” and “morality” were made to be centerpieces in one’s choice of candidate, also resonates with the imposition of a mind-set by political and religious “leaders” who have nefarious motives. Hear this: “Parallel to the training of the body a struggle against the poisoning of the soul must begin. Our whole public life today is like a hothouse for sexual ideas and simulations. Just look at the bill of fare served up in our movies, vaudeville and theaters, and you will hardly be able to deny that this is not the right kind of food, particularly for the youth…Theater, art, literature, cinema, press, posters, and window displays must be cleansed of all manifestations of our rotting world and placed in the service of a moral, political, and cultural idea.” (Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, Vol. 1, Chapter 10)
Whenever evil is done, there is almost always an appeal to virtue! This phenomenon is especially true in politics and in religion. Some of the most horrific abuses have occurred in the name of religion, such as the justification of slavery; segregation; subjugation of women; condemnation of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people; capital punishment; religious imperialism, as occurred in the Crusades; in this country’s invasion of Iraq, and in the attempt to overturn the California Supreme Court’s decision affirming the right of same-sex couples to marry.
There is a gigantic difference between “the Spirit of the Lord” and “religion!” One of the definitions of “religion” is the following: “A specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects.” (Random House Webster’s College Dictionary)
As the verse of Scripture that preceded this article states: “ Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” In “religion,” there are doctrines and creeds that seek to restrict, not only a person’s thoughts and behaviors, but have the consequence of frequently quenching the Spirit of God at work in people’s lives. In many ways, “religion” inhibits and is actually antithetical to the “freedom” that God seeks for us.
Creeds and doctrines certainly have their place! Indeed, they were largely instituted to prevent “heresy,” and that was a worthwhile institution, since the fledgling Church was inundated with false doctrines that could have had the effect of destroying Christianity before it even got off the ground. Unfortunately, many Christians confuse the recitation and intellectual adherence to doctrines and creeds with living out the Christian life, a life that is characterized by faith in God over and above seen circumstances and manifesting love toward others.
Doctrines and creeds can never usurp the work of God’s Spirit; the work of God’s Spirit is to bring freedom to those who are bound by encumbrances that prevent them from living as fulfilling a Godly life as possible. Frequently, those encumbrances are imposed by religious denominations and institutions that, in recent times, have also aligned themselves with the political aspirations of those who seek to inculcate fear and, appealing to our Reptilian Brains, thereby gain and/or maintain power.
Hence, for increasing numbers of Christians, we may be entering a post-denominational era, where Christians gather in worship communities not beholden to the rules, regulations, and strictures that have been traditionally and institutionally imposed on us by most of the institutional Church. Many Christians may well come to realize that the “ecclesia,” the “called out ones,” are those throughout the world chosen by God to be agents of His grace in the world; institutional religion has increasingly become antithetical to fulfilling that ministry and mission.
That is one of the reasons that I have long maintained that LGBT people are God’s gift to His Church and to society, and they are the canaries in the mine shaft who are there to let the miners know if there is poison gas in that mine that will kill them. The more strident and homophobic the professing “Christian” leaders and their blind followers to the demand for full equality of LGBT people in regard to the acquisition of full and equal civil and sacramental rights, the more those who are Christians in fact will flee these oppressive structures that sow the seeds of fascism and that all too often align themselves with the most reactionary political and secular forces, and their hateful and exclusionary ideologies, within society.
As we see in regard to most of the denominations in the institutional Church, God is separating the wheat from the tares (Matthew 13:30,38,40), the tares being those who talk the God-talk with aplomb, and who exude all the sanctimoniousness that they falsely think defines a “Christian,” but are plainly seen to be the poison of all Christians who are Christians in fact, the members of Christ’s Church, and who know that the Gospel is defined by Jesus Whose life, ministry, and work epitomized grace, faith, love, peace, reconciliation, and inclusiveness. Moreover, these tares, these “ravening wolves in sheep’s clothing” (Matthew 7:15), are also poison to society as a whole!
And these purveyors of a false gospel, these one-dimensional legalists who “strain at a gnat and swallow a camel,” who arrogantly presume to know the mind of God and seek to impose their own preconceived prejudices both onto the Bible as well as onto others, seeking to deny their demonically constructed “enemies” the same civil and sacramental rights that they enjoy, show themselves to be none of His, and that they are surely as poisonous to the Christian life and to Christ’s Church as the Kool Aid that was drunk by Jim Jones’ followers!
They have the temerity, the sheer arrogance, to commit the sin of idolatry by equating the Bible with God Himself, and by equating their own fallible, often false, interpretations of selected passages of Scripture based on their own prejudices, with what they falsely call “God’s will,” thereby elevating themselves, their prejudices, and their own fallible interpretations of selected texts of Scripture, above God Himself.
They also contravene Jesus’ Great Commandments that Jesus says encapsulates “all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:36-40), and is to characterize and be manifested by all those who truly follow Him. Those two Great Commandments are to love God and to love and not judge others!
These pretentious and ravenous wolves in sheep’s clothing, these purveyors of the false gospel of legalism and perfectionism, these who strain at a gnat and swallow a camel, these advocates of the exclusion of others in the name of God, pose a horrific and poisonous danger to all Christians, to Christ’s Church, and to the struggle to have a truly civil society!
In no uncertain terms, Jesus condemns these ravenous wolves: “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.” (Matthew 23:27)
Furthermore, it must be acknowledged that the institutions of “education” and “bureaucracy” have also been catalysts to make possible the emergence of fascism, by their encouraging of both uncritical intellects and by subordination of the interests of individuals to the interests of the bureaucracy. The sociologist, Max Weber, wrote concerning bureaucracy that, although it subordinated the individual to the codified rules, “having no respect of persons,” bureaucracy was “the most rational and efficient way of coordinating complex tasks.”
Hence, bureaucracy was seen by him to be a necessary evil; it is functional. It does what it’s supposed to do. Even though individual interests are subordinated to the needs of the bureaucracy, he stated that bureaucracy will nevertheless endure.
The sociologist, Robert Merton, in his article, “Bureaucratic Structure and Personality,” highlighted the dysfunctional aspects of bureaucracy. Bureaucracy, he argued, made people “methodical, prudent, disciplined,” in their actions and ways of thinking. This phenomenon is no less true in the corporate secular world than it is in the corporate “religious” world!
To be “methodical, prudent, disciplined” is not necessarily to be “logical!” Within the confines of an organization that elevates rules over people’s needs, such traits may well mitigate against “logic,” and yield a slavish respect for the rules and for actual or perceived authority figures. Since most people spend most of their waking hours in such organizations, bureaucracies, this mind-set tends to become a way of life, and taken as a legitimate way of thinking, even in situations where such a mind-set is both illogical and even irrational.
So, for example, it is not uncommon to hear leaders of assorted denominations condemn same-sex love by appealing to “church law” that trumps pastoral considerations and the call of Jesus to love and not judge others! Here, bureaucratic leaders and their strictures needn’t appeal to the Reptilian Brain to keep their followers in line but, rather, merely allow man-made rules and regulations to trump the only Gospel to be found in Christianity: grace, faith, love, peace, reconciliation, and inclusiveness; allow man-made traditions make void the Word of God, a sin that Jesus roundly warned against. (Matthew 15:3)
Such a bureaucratic mind-set tends to yield a slavish conformity to the status quo; respect for authority figures; the placing of organizational and societal needs over the needs of individuals; subordination of sensitivity to the dictates of authorities; short-term thinking as ways to solve problems rather than looking beyond the immediate circumstances.
Educational institutions are bureaucracies! Despite their rhetoric of encouraging critical and eclectic thinking, they actually encourage docility and a lock-step rigidity in one’s thinking, so that many, if not most, students are only concerned with the question, “Will this be on the exam?” Just as this phenomenon all too frequently appears in secular society it all too frequently appears within most of the institutional Church.
Educational institutions are bureaucracies after all and, therefore, encourage their members, both students and faculty, to be “methodical, prudent, disciplined,” those very qualities that lead to short-sighted self-interest in not only confronting fear and uncertainties, but in dealing with life itself. Such qualities, largely spawned by bureaucratic institutions, are tailor-made for encouraging the yearning after gurus, and by those who count on an uncritical intellect to institutionalize their own self-serving, sometimes believed to be God-ordained, agendas.
That is why Hitler was able to galvanize overwhelming support, not only from the masses, but from the “intellectuals,” the professors, the physicians, corporate heads, the clergy. By engaging the Reptilian Brain, creating out-groups, promising deliverance, counting on people’s gullibility and their short-sighted self-interests, he was able to mobilize people to support and do the most horrific things to men, women, children, and babies. We have seen this phenomenon applied in the United States in the subordination of women, the institutionalization of slavery and, later on, segregation and Jim Crow laws, all of which were actively encouraged and supported by most all clergy from assorted pulpits, citing selected Bible verses to “justify” White Supremacy and the grinding oppression and lynchings that emanated from that “justification.”
Most of the electorate actively seek to deny some of their fellow citizens the civil liberties and rights that they themselves enjoy; many working class and middle class people have embraced domestic and foreign policies that are diametrically opposed to their rational self-interests; most of the electorate supported foreign policies that virtually guaranteed more death and destruction; many have embraced the limitations placed upon their own freedoms in the name of “the war on terror,” largely constructed by those who sought to retain power over them and have thereby succeeded in so doing; many people have been duped by the purveyors of “religious” fascism into believing the big lie that LGBT people are a threat to society and are immoral, thereby gaining materially and/or psychologically and/or socially and/or politically by so doing.
May God open our eyes to see what’s happened to this country by “religious” and secular fascists, and what they have unleashed on assorted minority groups throughout America’s history, as well as on the rest of the world! May God have mercy on us all!
Professor Emeritus of Sociology at California State University, Chico, Rev. Dr. Jerry S. Maneker served as an ordained priest in the Congregational Catholic Church, a division of the Independent Catholic Churches International (ICCI). For many years he published a weekly column in the Sacramento Valley Mirror titled “Christianity and Society” where he dealt with a variety of social issues from a biblical and sociological perspective. He also published a blog called “A Christian Voice for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Rights” and the website Radical Christianity.