Slouching Towards Bethlehem: Putin, Religion and the Second Coming of Fascism

Comparison with Nazis is so overdone that there's even a name for it: Godwin's Law. Still, the parallels with Putin's Russia right now are so very tempting: after the collapse of its empire a fumbling, nascent democracy creates an opening for a ruthless strongman who stokes the nation's wounded pride and promises to restore it to greatness. Once elected, he throws his opponents in jail or worse, seizes whole industries for his accomplices, stamps out independent media, builds up a hyper-masculine image for himself, persecutes gays and minorities, and manipulates religion and history to rekindle a national mythology. All that's missing is a little mustache.


To top it all off, he destabilizes a neighboring country then concocts an emergency as a pretext for invasion. A war-weary world reacts with outrage but prefers "peace in our time" to serious confrontation.

It is tempting. But let's dodge a violation of Godwin's Law and instead look at what really matters: the alarming resurgence of religious fascism around the globe.

Although Islamist terror has (for now, at least) faded as an American nightmare, Islamofascism shows no signs of receding. In Afghanistan, the Taliban sends wave after wave of suicide bombers into the streets in a murderous attempt to scare voters away from the polls. In Nigeria, the Islamist Boko Haram employs similarly brutal tactics to impose a fascistic separatism. President Goodluck Jonathan, however, is too busy defending his signing of a law that criminalizes gay relationships and advocacy to do anything much about it. Nigeria thereby joins a string of sub-Saharan nations that, under the influence of American evangelists, have passed harsh anti-gay bills.

Turkey, once a bright flicker for liberal democracy, is lurching toward Islamic fascism under the Erdogan regime. In Greece, the far-right Golden Dawn party embraces both the Greek Orthodox Church and its pagan Nazi roots. India, too, appears heading toward religious fascism of a Hindu variety.

Astonishingly, fascism is on the rise even in heart of Europe. France's National Front is resurgent. Although the party of Jean-Marie Le Pen makes a pretense of secularism, it is largely mis en bouteille rightwing Catholicism. Gallic anti-Semitism is neatly demonstrated in its campaign to force pork on Jewish and Muslim schoolchildren.

Right here, from the redwood forest to the Gulf stream waters, this land is seething with homeschooled, Bible-fueled, media-tooled religious fascism. People who loudly condemn the oppression of women under Islam in, say, Saudi Arabia, will watch "19 & Counting" blissfully unaware that it is part of a radically oppressive cult movement.

As Vyckie Garrison, a brave and intelligent woman who came to her senses and got the hell out, attests, the teachings of reactionary churches in America can match anything the Saudi imams proclaim.

Women are created to be "helpmeets" to the men in authority over them (husbands, fathers, older brothers) ~ they are to be submissive and yielding. Their primary sphere of influence comes from their role as wives and mothers. The woman's home is her ministry and her children are her mission field.

The so-called Quiverfull movement has trapped thousands of women and children in a patriarchy that Abraham would find familiar. Yeah, that Abraham. The one who impregnated his slave-mistress along with his wife and thought God wanted him to cut his son's throat to prove his loyalty.

It's bad enough that most Americans see the faraway mote of female oppression in the Islamic eye but overlook this beam in our own backyard. How can it be that even terror plots go unnoticed if only they come with a Made-in-the-USA label?

The FBI recently busted Robert James Talbot Jr., of Katy, Texas, charging that he and fellow members of the American Insurgent Movement were planning to blow up mosques, police stations, and possibly even the White House. The neo-fascist group allegedly obtained C4 military-grade plastic explosives to carry out their sick dreams. Had they been Muslims, rather than targeting Muslims, even CNN might have had to shift away from the missing Malaysian airliner to cover the story.

So, what are we non-fanatics to make of all this? First, let's be clear: this is not all "religion's fault." There is a gradient between religion and politics, and fascism grows more on the political side. But, its roots are invariably in a religious or quasi-religious myth about a perfect past that never existed.

That's because fascism is inherently reactionary. In our time, the reaction is against progress in the liberation of women, children, ethnic, racial, and sexual minorities, as well as men walking away from their traditional masculine roles. Not everyone can accept that. Let's face it: Change scares the bejesus out of some people, so they cling to a myth of a better past. That's what Fox News banks on.

But this is not just another Murdoch media opportunity. The peculiar blend of fear, ignorance, mythology, and outrage that progress stirs also creates an opportunity for would-be tyrants to ascend. Hence, Putin, Erdogan, Le Pen, and any number of rightwing religious leaders of our own. As the Hobby Lobby case shows, when they say "liberty," they mean their unfettered right to dominate you in the name of their God.

Today, virtually all forms of fascism fit the bill for Old Time Religion. To defeat it -- and defeat it we must -- distinctions must be made. It's not Russians, Afghans, Muslims, Jews, or Christians per se who constitute the threat -- it's a virulent, fearful ideology wielded by power-hungry psychopaths. Old Time Religion is marketed under many brand names but the bottle under the label contains the same toxins in every case: fear, submission, unquestioning loyalty, reverence for the past, defense of tribal honor, and hatred of outsiders.

Most followers of mainstream religion and most adherents of secularism reject these views. We concur on progress, reason, science, liberal democracy, tolerance of harmless differences, and faith in the future. That is what the new fascists want to destroy, and this is why, now more than ever, we need a Good Faith Alliance. You can take a first step by signing on here.