In a time of growing Christian nationalism, it is worrying to observe that many similarities exist between some Christianities and fascism.
Christian nationalism is an idea that is becoming a growing specter in the political landscape around the world. Does Christianity in general, or certain manifestations of it, have characteristics of fascism?
Now, please understand that I am not labeling all Christians as fascists. Instead, I am comparing the structure of the Christian church and its ideology with that of fascist regimes.
My interest in this subject was piqued by a short video by Brian Dalton (aka Mr. Deity) entitled “Christo-fascism,” where he made the off-hand comment that Christianity was a fascist enterprise. I took this to be a rhetorical remark, and not to be taken too seriously. But the more I thought about it, the more sense it made, as I shall try to explain.
By definition, Christianity is inherently a “conservative” ideology based on two millennia of tradition and thus slow to change, yet it has characteristics that can align with more far-right ideologies that have emerged in the twentieth century.
Let me now do some comparisons.
Both have a very formal hierarchy with a “Supreme Leader.” For example an “Il Duce” in Italy, and “Der Fuhrer” in Germany during WWII, compared with a “Pope” in Catholicism and “The Archbishop of Canterbury” for the Anglican church. There follows Cardinals, Archbishops, Bishops, Priests and Deacons in Catholicism, and Archbishops, Bishops, Deacons, Vicars, Rectors, and so on in the Anglican tradition. (I emphasize that I am equating Benito Mussolini [“Il Duce” in Italy] and Adolf Hitler [“Der Fuhrer” in Germany] to the Pope, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, but just pointing out the formal structure that Christianity and fascist regimes share).
In recent times in the U.S.A., there seems to be a “Supreme Leader” adopted by evangelical Christians in the form of Donald Trump. It was disturbing to see Trump supporters who stormed the Capital building on January 6th, 2021, carrying flags with the names of Jesus and Trump, with some carrying crosses, and some holding prayers in the Capital building. There were calls for the execution of the then Vice-President Mike Pence, and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.
Both Christianity and fascism are authoritarian in nature (i.e., they are non-democratic). The fascist governments in both Italy and Germany made the laws and expected every citizen to follow them. Non-compliance was treated very aggressively, and such behavior was put down forcibly.
In the Catholic church, the Pope sets down the rules by which Catholics must adhere, and non-compliance can result in ex-communication. The Anglican church has Synods where doctrine is established and compliance is expected from the Church hierarchy and the congregations at large.
Particularly in the U.S.A., many evangelical Christians believe that the country is a “Christian Nation” and should eventually become a “Christian Theocracy.” There seems to be the feeling amongst such evangelicals that W.A.S.P.s (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants) have a “God-given” right to govern.
Many subscribe to the “Dominionism Seven Mountain Mandate” where they believe that Christians should control seven spheres of a community, namely Family, Religion, Education, Media, Entertainment, Business, and Government. Lauren Boebert stated the following in an address to a congregation in Colorado:
“The church is supposed to direct the government. The government is not meant to direct the church. That is not how our founding fathers intended it. And I’m tired of this separation of church and state junk, that’s not in the Constitution. It was in a stinking letter and it means nothing like what they say it does.”
This is particularly shocking, as Lauren Boebert is not just some random Christian, but a sitting member of the U.S. Congress. Furthermore, this directly contradicts the 1st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution which she has sworn an oath to uphold.
Just as disturbing are pastors such as Greg Locke, who maintains, “You cannot be a Christian and vote Democrat.”
Both Christianity and fascism are essentially tribal, by which I mean there is an “us” and “them” mentality, so if you are not part of the “tribe” you are looked upon as an outsider, and treated with suspicion and sometimes downright hostility.
Building on the notion of tribalism and extending it to national borders, we have the idea of nationalism. Nationalism was a big part of the Nazi creed, and promoted the purity of the German race. This promoted the view that other nationalities and races were inferior and needing to be under the “guidance” of their regime.
Christianity, as seen in U.S.A. (especially amongst evangelical Christians), can be fiercely nationalistic. Christian nationalism is a growing threat to those who value secular ideals. Many who advocate for Christian nationalism are anti-immigration.
Both Fascism and Christianity have the tendency to become “cults” and lead some to do whatever is necessary to further the ideals of their ideology. With Christianity, this is exemplified by Jesus, supposedly, stating “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26). In other words, one’s loyalty and obedience are owed exclusively to your leader, even to the extent of dis-owning your family.
This cult-like mentality, in extreme cases, can lead people to carry out atrocities that, under normal circumstances, they would find abhorrent. In Nazi Germany, the Holocaust claimed the lives of six million Jews. However, it must be remembered that these killings were not committed by Adolf Hitler personally, but were carried out by ordinary Germans, many of whom were Lutherans or Catholics. In 1933, the Vatican signed a Concordat with Hitler that removed opposition to the Nazi party in return for control of religious affairs in Germany. It is to be presumed that the Catholic church saw the Nazi party as a bulwark against the “godless” Communists.
Christians, throughout the ages, have committed many atrocities in the name of their religion (for example, the Crusades, the burning of witches, the slaughter of Incas in South America, and so on). There seems to be no limit as to what excesses Christians (and indeed many religious adherents) will undertake if they believe they are doing “God’s work.” As Steven Weinberg famously opined, “With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil—that takes religion.”
Propaganda plays a big part in fascist and Christian “protective” strategies. The Nazi regime in particular was very successful in this area, managing to convince many Germans that Jews were “disloyal” to the German culture, and even portrayed them as sub-human.
Whilst not so vitriolic, Christianity uses propaganda by way of “apologetics” to shore up the edifice that Christianity is a “fact-based” religion and worthy of intellectual consideration. But many forms of Christian propaganda, utilizing often cherry-picked verse and chapter of the Bible, are used to support all the many ideas listed above.
Just to reiterate, I am of course not suggesting that all Christians are fascists. Rather, I am pointing out some worrying similarities that seem evident in both worldviews. And concerningly, in recent times—especially in the U.S.A.—the line between Christianity and fascism has become just a little blurred.
David Austin is a retired Englishman now living in Australia. He is a life-long atheist who moved from being more of an apatheist when he was a guest in a church and was harangued by the pastor. He felt he needed to understand the arguments concerned that he has now studied at great length. As a former Senior Electronics Engineer working mostly in Digital Technology (with a Bachelor of Technology degree), and working in computing for so long, logic is important to his work. He is passionate about church and state separation and is active in secular groups to try to reduce the negative influences of religion in society.