April 6, 2006

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America, Fascism, and God, by Davidson Loehr (Chelsea Green, 2005, 140 pages)

Freedom isn’t free, says Davidson Loehr. Freedom of religion, in particular, will cost you.

A graduate of Chicago Divinity School and a veteran of Vietnam, Loehr now ministers to a large Unitarian congregation in Austin, Texas.

Whether it’s a Falwell-style anti-intellectual or a hypocritical religious liberalist demanding not to hear the words “soul” “God” or “miracle” in a sermon, Loehr reviles any sort of fundamentalist. He worries that the country is moving toward fascism (a word he takes the time to analyze for its true meaning), which he sees as simply political fundamentalism.

The problem as he sees it is that such fundamentalism is in our very nature: we instinctively gather into in-groups, keep out the out-groups, and follow an alpha male. So we join a big church or political group, scorn all others, and do whatever our charismatic leader tells us. This Loehr calls our “default setting that all civilizations have tried to raise us above.”

Of course it is easier to get depressed about this than to change it.

“I don’t know the next step. I’m not a political activist; I’m only a preacher,” Loehr writes – which is especially discouraging given that just prior to this, he passes on some advice from Michael C. Ruppert (though Loehr does wave a vague grain of salt in Ruppert’s general direction), suggesting that we all stop dealing with news media that leave us “angry and exhausted.”

At this point, I’m feeling more angry and exhausted than anything else as a result of reading America, Fascism, and God. The list of scary things Loehr expects to happen in the next few years, like government control of the internet and restrictions on free speech, is dispiriting.

But the book is not exactly a mope-athon. Loehr advances one concrete proactive idea: we must “reverse the authority of churches and believers.” From now on, we judge the churches, they don’t judge us, and the same goes for politics.

It’s not so much that the truth has been hidden from us as that we have paid too little attention, Loehr says; as an example, he relates the story of Nariyah, a young woman whose testimony convinced six U.S. senators to change their votes from nay to yea on the first Gulf War – she turns out to have been a complete liar, her story concocted by an ad firm.

Loehr fears “how effectively we can be deceived and misled during the atmosphere of war.” His Sept. 23, 2001, sermon includes the line, “I don’t know what facts or stories will be invented or buried this time, but it will happen again.” Yes, September 23, 2001.

Google “living under fascism” and you’ll discover countless links to a November 2004 Loehr sermon, one that’s included in the book. It’s been passed around a lot. B+

Lisa Parsons


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