Religion Dispatches today features an article on the rise of the rhetoric of violent insurrection among members of the Christian right during the last few years, and particularly in the wake of the health care law and HHS mandate controversies (which of course ties back into conservative opposition to abortion).
Eric Metaxes is featured as one prominent example: An evangelical Christian who can appear with Barack Obama at the National Prayer Breakfast, and then shortly thereafter make Godwin's law breaking comparisons between the United States today and Nazi Germany.
Of course, as the article points out, Metaxas's book, while popular, has been panned by actual Bonhoeffer scholars, and not the least of the problem is Metaxas's unhistorical and theologically problematic attempt to transform Bonhoeffer from what he was -- a reluctant participant in a conspiracy against a genuinely diabolical regime -- into a standard issue American evangelical culture warrior. This is why Clifford Green accused Metaxas of "hijacking Bonhoeffer".
But, as the article points out, this is hardly the worst of it. There are others who are more directly suggesting that conservative Christians should take up arms against the allegedly repressive government of the United States. Fr. C. John McCloskey is another example:
In his original essay, McCloskey’s avatar, Fr. Charles, explained how “the great battles over the last 30 years over the fundamental issues of the sanctity of marriage, the rights of parents, and the sacredness of human life have been of enormous help in renewing the Church and to some extent, society.”
McCloskey’s literary device allows him to avoid openly seditious language, while suggesting that conservative Catholics and allied evangelicals should prepare for civil war. Now a Research Fellow at the Faith and Reason Institute, which published his update, McCloskey repeated his vision of “the secession of the ‘Culture of Life’ states from the United States, precipitating a short and bloody civil war that resulted in a collection of the Regional States of America.” He also says that the Church of “2030” was “much smaller... and nary a dissenter to be seen.”
While there’s certainly no indication that anyone is following McCloskey’s script, if they did it would not be the first time in recent history that fiction was used to help people to imagine scenarios for domestic terrorism and insurrection. The neo-Nazi novel The Turner Diaries, which opens with the blowing-up of a federal building, has infamously been used as a blueprint for white supremacist revolution in the U.S. for a generation—Tim McVeigh had a copy when he was arrested.
The reference to McVeigh is a cautionary note. As the saying goes: It's all fun and games until someone loses an eye. It's one thing to wield this kind of rhetoric from the comfort of a position as an author who is invited to share a stage with the President of the United States. It is one thing to offer these kinds of parables from the position of someone who isn't actually planning to lift a finger to bring about the kind of bloodshed and anarchy that they are so evidently hoping someone else will bring about on their behalf. It is another thing to stand in the midst of the chaos unleashed by anarchy and civil war and attempt to deal with the fallout. Little children should not play with high explosives. And from the perspective of both theological insight and personal bravery neither Metaxas nor McCloskey are much more than little children.
And the Nazi analogies are Exhibit A that this is so. Particularly Metaxas, who allegedly researched his book on Bonhoeffer, should understand the vast differences between the situation in the United States today, and that under the Nazis in the 1930s. That he should so blithely wield the Nazi analogy suggests a serious flaw in either his historical research or his rhetorical honesty. Probably both.