Thursday, September 13, 2007


February 27, 2007

Spencer: Beware the Christian Jihad?

In FrontPage this morning I discuss the new fashion in the mainstream media: exposing the alleged plot to establish a theocracy in the U.S. -- the Christian plot, that is (news links in the original):

A new book that is climbing the New York Times Bestseller List warns Americans of a dedicated minority of religious fanatics who are hijacking a great religion and actively working to destroy the United States Constitution and set up a theocracy in America, in which nonbelievers will be discriminated against or even summarily killed. Nor is their nefarious vision confined to the United States alone: this small but influential and wealthy band of religious zealots is also trying to turn events in the Middle East to their own advantage, so as to advance their religious agenda there also.

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. Among the crop published in 2006 alone were, besides Hedges’ book, American Theocracy by Kevin Phillips; The Baptizing of America by James Rudin; Kingdom Coming by Michelle Goldberg; The Theocons: Secular America Under Siege by Damon Linker; Thy Kingdom Come by Randall Balmer; Piety & Politics by Barry Lynn; and Religion Gone Bad by Mel White. Other popular books sound many of the same themes, including The Conservative Soul by homosexual activist and blogger Andrew Sullivan and the atheist apologetics The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins and Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris.

A general tendency of such books is to equate to varying degrees, often in an off-handed manner suggesting that the equivalence was self-evident, Christian and Muslim “extremists,” “radicals,” or “fundamentalists.” Hedges declared that “the Christian Right and radical Islamists, although locked in a holy war, increasingly mirror each other. They share the same obsessions. They do not tolerate other forms of belief or disbelief. They are at war with artistic and cultural expression. They seek to silence the media. They call for the subjugation of women. They promote severe sexual repression, and they seek to express themselves through violence.” Sure, we’re told, the Islamists are working to impose religious rule on their societies, but so are the Christianists, and the Christianists posed the far more immediate and serious threat. Some even charge that just as the Taliban practiced stonings and beheadings, so would these “Christianists” if they got half a chance.

The threat is imminent. 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.” He even asserts that “those in the movement often speak about such a moment with gleeful anticipation.” For now – but only for now – the Christian Right is “forced to function within the political system it seeks to destroy.”

If there really is a domestic threat of religious authoritarianism that threatens to destroy the Constitution, this would be a matter of considerable concern. But as the Qur’an says, “Bring your proof, if you be truthful” (2:111; 27:64). Good advice.

In support of his 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,” Chris Hedges 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.

The primary focus of the theocracy foes’ fears is a movement arising from Calvinistic circles in the United States, Christian Reconstructionism. According to the anti-theocracy writers, Christian Reconstructionism has insinuated its adherents into the highest levels of government, and want to replace the Constitution with laws mandating the stoning of homosexuals and adulterers. The proof for this comes largely from the writings of the intellectual guiding lights of the Reconstructionist movement, and the chief villains of virtually every piece devoted to exposing its enormities: two American Calvinists, Rousas John Rushdoony (who died in 2001) and his son-in-law, Gary North.

Rushdoony and North may be well cast in this villain’s role, for at least according to some reports they apparently do depart from Christian tradition in calling for capital punishment for crimes such as adultery and homosexuality, as specified in the Book of Leviticus. In a 1998 piece in Reason magazine, Rushdoony is said to defend Biblical punishments for a variety of offenders: “blasphemers, heretics, apostate Christians, people who cursed or struck their parents, females guilty of ‘unchastity before marriage,’ ‘incorrigible’ juvenile delinquents, adulterers, and (probably) telephone psychics.” North is quoted in the same article defending the ancient Biblical punishment of stoning: “Why stoning? There are many reasons. First, the implements of execution are available to everyone at virtually no cost.”

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. It is dominion we are after. Not just equal time. It is dominion we are after. World conquest. That’s what Christ has commissioned us to accomplish. We must win the world with the power of the Gospel. And we must never settle for anything less….Thus, Christian politics has as its primary intent the conquest of the land -- of men, families, institutions, bureaucracies, courts, and governments for the Kingdom of Christ. It is to reinstitute the authority of God’s Word as supreme over all judgments, over all legislation, over all declarations, constitutions, and confederations. True Christian political action seeks to rein the passions of men and curb the pattern of digression under God’s rule.”

Strong words. But do statements like these amount to a manifesto to subvert the non-establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution and establish Christian rule in the United States? The “theocrats” themselves deny this. Chris Ortiz of Rushdoony’s Chalcedon Foundation explains: “The paranoid secularist reads this portion of Grant and links it with the political activism and lobbying of the Religious Right in order to assemble a frightening monster of religious fascism. But, Grant would likely be the first to argue that there is no theocratic conspiracy….In other words, don’t confuse the rhetoric or ideology of certain radical thinkers with the mass of conservative Christianity.”

Grant is indeed first to argue that there is no theocratic conspiracy, or at least, if there is, that he opposes it. Responding to claims that the passage above is a declaration of intent to destroy the U.S. Constitution, he wrote in an email to me:

1. My body of work demonstrates that I am an ardent defender of the 1st Amendment.

2. I am an opponent of “state churches.”

3. I am an opponent of confusing, blurring, or overlapping the spheres of authority and jurisdictions between church and state and family. […]

The quoted passage is from a long discussion regarding cultural evangelism, not petty partisanship. It is from a discussion of ends, not means. The language is the culmination of a discourse in the realm of eschatological theology, not practical activism….

In a similar vein, Rushdoony’s Chalcedon Foundation declares: “We propose an explicitly Biblical system of thought and action as the exclusive basis for civilization. Only by restoring the Christian Faith and Biblical law as the standard of all of life can Christians hope to re-establish Christian civilizations.” Theocracy? Maybe, but the statement goes on to say: “We believe that the source of godly change is regeneration by the Holy Spirit, not revolution by the violence of man…. No government in any form can make men Christians or truly obedient; this is the work of God’s sovereign grace. Much less should civil government try to impose Biblical law on an unbelieving society. Biblical law cannot be imposed; it must be embraced.”

In fact, much of the evidence that theocracy foes point to in order to establish their point that Christians intend to subvert the U.S. Constitution and replace it with Biblical law is actually evidence only that Christian pastors and leaders have for some years been reasserting the right and duty of Christians to participate in American public life, as over against the radical secularists who contend that any political activity by Christian groups constitutes a violation of the Establishment Clause.

The more conspiracy-minded among the theocracy foes, of course, brush aside such denials. The whole thing is a secret plot, you see – what else would you expect but that the plotters would deny their plotting? After all, according to Chris Hedges, the American values of “compassion, tolerance and belief in justice and equality” are “being dismantled, often with stealth…” There can be no rational response to such paranoia, or any definitive refutation of it, but it is noteworthy to compare these denials to the open statements by Muslim leaders about the Islamic supremacist imperative. For while there is no shortage of Muslim spokesmen who proclaim their rejection of terrorism, those who are pursuing the jihad are generally quite open about their intentions – in stark contrast to the flat denials from the very Christian leaders who are supposed to be leading the push for theocracy.

Before he left Britain one step ahead of law enforcement and returned to his native Lebanon, the jihadist Sheikh Omar Bakri Muhammad often boasted of his intention to “transform the West into Dar Al-Islam” and establish Islamic law on British soil. “I want to see the black flag of Islam flying over Downing Street,” he said, and his now-disbanded al-Muhajiroun group was dedicated to this goal. The transformation of Britain into an Islamic state could come in two ways, he explained: “if an Islamic state arises and invades,” in which case “we will be its army and its soldiers from within.” But if no such Islamic state arises, Bakri said that Muslims would convert the West to Islam “through ideological invasion...without war and killing.”

Al-Qaeda’s second in command, Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, articulated a global vision in the summer of 2006: “War with Israel is not subject to a treaty, cease-fire, Sykes-Picot Treaty agreements, patriotism or disputed borders, but it is jihad for the cause of God until the entire religion is for him only. Jihad seeks the liberation of Palestine, the entire country of Palestine and to liberate every land that used to be a territory of Islam, from Spain to Iraq. The entire world is an open field for us…With the grace of God, we have now returned to the field….Dear Muslim brothers everywhere, today we must target the Jewish and the American interests everywhere.”[1]

Until November 2003, when adverse publicity compelled them to take it down, the Islamic Affairs Department (IAD) of the Saudi Arabian 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, to remove all forms of injustice and oppression, and to defend the Muslims. If Muslims do not take up the sword, the evil tyrants of this earth will be able to continue oppressing the weak and [the] helpless…”[2]

In other words, if a country is perceived to be hindering the spread of Islam, Muslims are obliged to wage war against it. The spread of Islam must continue at all costs. There can be no half-measures or peaceful coexistence with unbelievers as equals on an indefinite basis. As the Egyptian jihad theorist Sayyid Qutb (1906-1966), whose works are still widely influential among Muslims worldwide, put it in his jihad manifesto Milestones (Ma’alim ‘ala Al-Tariq), which has circulated throughout the world and been published in well over a thousand editions: “Islam cannot accept any mixing with Jahiliyyah [the society of unbelievers]….Either Islam will remain, or Jahiliyyah: Islam cannot accept or agree to a situation which is half-Islam and half-Jahiliyyah….Command belongs to God, or otherwise to Jahiliyyah; God’s Shari’ah [Islamic law] will prevail, or else people’s desires. ‘And judge between them according to what God has revealed, and do not follow their opinions, and beware of them lest they confuse you in matters which God has revealed’ (Qur’an 5:50)…‘And if they do not respond to you, then know that they are following their own opinions; and who can be more misguided than one who follows his own opinion against the guidance from God? Indeed, God does not guide the wicked people.’ (Qur’an 28:50)….The foremost duty of Islam in this world is to depose Jahiliyyah from the leadership of man, and to take the leadership into its own hands and enforce the particular way of life which is its permanent feature.”[3]

The jihadist website puts it succinctly: “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, the same 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.


[1] “A Video Speech from Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri Regarding the Events in Lebanon and Gaza – 7/27/2006,” SITE Institute, July 27, 2006.

[2] Steven Stalinsky, “The ‘Islamic Affairs Department’ of the Saudi Embassy in Washington, D.C.,” Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) Special Report - No. 23, November 26, 2003.

[3] Sayyid Qutb, Milestones, The Mother Mosque Foundation, n.d., pp. 130-131.

Posted by Robert at February 27, 2007 5:49 AM


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