A Christian Response to Fascism: Part 6 of 16
If you’re new to this series, I’m a pastor countering aspects of fascism with Christian theological critique.
Two key hallmarks of fascist regimes are rampant anti-intellectualism and the disregard of facts in favor of convenient untruths. The web of lies spins out from the center, the leader, and eventually weaves through all facets of government.
It feels like this shouldn’t even need saying, but any follower of Jesus must seek to be honest and fair, true to our word. In John 8, Jesus calls his adversary, the “devil” (the word satan in Hebrew means accuser), the “father of lies.” In contrast, disciples of Jesus are called to be truthtellers.
Most every Westerner, Christian or not, knows “Thou shalt not lie” is one of the Ten Commandments. Truthtelling and adhereing to facts and norms are a foundataional social contract that allows us to do business with integrity. Paul urges believers in Colossians not to lie to one another. Jesus tells his followers to let their “yes be yes,” and their “no be no.” We’re not to traffic in ambiguities.
The day I write this, the U.S. press secretary shared a doctored video of CNN reporter Jim Acosta that misrepresented an incident that led to his removal from the White House press room. Lies are spread daily: 4,229 by Trump alone in his first 558 days. Yes, most (all?) politicians lie, but the current administration blows the previous ones away. And it does so purposefully.
Naysayers might respond with, “It’s Trump’s style! He’s bombastic and off-the-cuff. He doesn’t mean what he says.” Authoritarian leaders know what they’re doing; Trump states the convenient, obfuscating truth when it’s opportune.
The Lord detests lying lips, but he delights in people who are trustworthy. (Proverbs 12:22)
Since when are Christians overt supporters of abtruseness?
Oh wait … we groom ourselves for using ambiguity to cover our own embarrassments. Perhaps practicing such in our faith communities makes us susceptible to accepting such behavior from our government leaders. I could list a litany of examples of how churches muddy the waters, but I don’t mean to distract from my main point. So I’ll give just one: Many churches describe themselves as “welcoming” to the queer community, when what they mean is, “We think of ourselves as welcoming, while how our behavior actually makes queers feel is irrelevant to us. Who cares if they actually feel loved and accepted so long as we feel loving and accepting? We’ll tell the world we’re welcoming and expect them to believe our story and feel victimized when/if they do not.” People with more power and agency in a system creating their own reality (and trying to fit others into it) is the foundation of fascism. Perhaps we’re all better at it than we hope or want to be.
When people call authoritarian leaders out on their lies, the leader has three options, all of which they employ: 1) keep lying and dominate the news cycle until the lies are repeated enough to become truth for many, 2) label those holding them accountable liars — or fake news, if it’s press [there will be an entire blog post in the future dedicated to villification of the press], and 3) undermine the authoritativeness of facts, which is not unrelated to the previous two. By undermining the authoritativeness of facts, I mean disparaging sources of facts: legal investigations, scientists and scientific studies, experts and specialists in various fields. In other words: indulging a rampant spirit of anti-intellectualism.
If my computer screen goes blank, I’m inclined to call a computer specialist for help. If my temperature shoots up and I have severe pain, I’m inclined to see a medical doctor. I follow these peoples’ instructions for how to recover my files, or my health, because they’ve studied such things and I can trust — at least to a good extent — their knowledge over mine. So why, when historians and political scientists who have studied fascist regimes are practically screaming at us to BEWARE of the early warning signs of fascism in the U.S. right now, are we inclined to ignore them? Well, because they’re “liberals, elititsts, and progressives.” They get labelled such so as to allow people to disregard their warnings as malicious schemes meant to disempower the leader.
Christians must be sober in assessing truth. We should check facts and sources before spreading potential untruth. Why? Because we follow a God of Love.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
We may not yet be a fascist regime, but we are playing with the same toys in the sandbox.