Beware the 'Christianists'?

A new book climbing the New York Times Bestseller List warns Americans of a minority of religious fanatics who are hijacking a great religion and working to destroy the United States Constitution and set up a theocracy in America. Nonbelievers will be discriminated against or even summarily killed.

Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Muhammad Atta? No, James Dobson, Pat Robertson, and Tim LaHaye. The book in question is Chris Hedges’ American Fascists, which argues that America as we know it is under threat — not from Islamic jihadists, but from a small group of evangelical Christians who are determined to remake the United States as a Christian state. Warning about “Christianism,” a neologism coined to parallel “Islamism,” has become fashionable. Ranging from the merely hysterical to the ranting and paranoid, books sounding the alarms about Christian theocracy are appearing in large numbers. Hedges claims that “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.”

In support of this, however, he offers only a single quotation from “right-wing strategist” Howard Phillips, who said in a speech to the Council for National Policy that “it is time to leave the ‘political Titanic’ on which the conservative movement has for too long booked passage” and to “build an ark so that we can and will be ready to renew and restore our nation and our culture when God brings the tides to flood.”

A call to shred the Constitution? Phillips’ words read more plausibly as a call to a conservative movement demoralized by defeat after defeat not to give up, but to develop a new strategy and await a day in which their message will be received more favorably.

Foes of theocracy point to statements like this one from the popular Presbyterian minister and writer George Grant: “Christians have an obligation, a mandate, a commission, a holy responsibility to reclaim the land for Jesus Christ — to have dominion in the civil structures, just as in every other aspect of life and godliness. But it is dominion that we are after. Not just a voice. It is dominion we are after. Not just influence.”

A manifesto to subvert the non-establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution and establish Christian rule in the United States? Grant denies this, calling himself “an ardent defender of the 1st Amendment,” as well as “an opponent of “state churches” and of “confusing, blurring, or overlapping the spheres of authority and jurisdictions between church and state and family.”

It is noteworthy to compare all this to the open statements by Muslim leaders about the Islamic supremacist imperative.

Until November 2003, the Islamic Affairs Department of the Saudi embassy in Washington carried this statement of Islamic supremacism and belligerency on its website: “The Muslims are required to raise the banner of Jihad in order to make the Word of Allah supreme in this world…”

The jihadist website states: “Islam makes it a duty upon all Muslims to work to change their countries from Dar al-Kufr [the land of unbelief] to Dar al-Islam [the land of Islam]…” It exhorts Muslims to “carry Islam to the world through invitation and jihad.”

Andrew Sullivan, while sounding the alarm about Christian theocrats, concedes that Christian Reconstructionists are “marginal, extremists, and largely disowned by the fundamentalist mainstream.” Unfortunately, that cannot be said of the Islamic jihadists, who are active in numerous countries around the world, and whose version of Islam is not being effectively combated by any significant movement of peaceful Muslims anywhere.

Should we turn our attention away from a real threat to an imagined one? That is what Chris Hedges and the other anti-theocracy writers are asking us to do. While fiction has always competed with reality in the public discourse about the Islamic jihad, the Christian theocracy scare books represent projection on a massive scale. Unfortunately, while Chris Hedges leads the hunt for Christian theocrats under our bed, real theocrats continue to advance a violent supremacist agenda worldwide. We ignore or dismiss that at our own risk.