From Altar Magazine
By Patti Smith
I once knew someone who prided himself on being a communist. He would tell his political affiliation to everyone, including (if the opportunity presented itself) the guy delivering pizzas. In fact, my ex-friend really wasn’t so much as a communist as a person who liked to stir up trouble. The way that he would tell people over and over again of his communist leanings drove me nuts and stuck in my memory. So when I started reading Davidson Loehr’s American Fascism & God: Sermons from a Heretical Preacher, and when I noticed he kept identifying himself as a "heretic," I groaned out loud and prepared myself for a long book. I was sure that I was in for a book by a guy who wouldn’t actually live up to what he proclaimed to be, like my former friend. To my delight, Loehr quits the heretic rhetoric after his introduction and delivers a book full of various sermons he has given at his Unitarian Universalist church in Austin, Texas. The book offers reprints on sermons focusing on four topics: God, fascism, America, and honest religion. Perhaps the most powerful sermon, not surprisingly, is the one that was given immediately after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Loehr starts the sermon talking about his initial reaction to the 9/11 attacks as one of "kill the bastards," whoever they are! While much of the rest of the sermon focuses on how to respond to the attack when he later came to see the problem in thinking only of vengeance. This was the first sermon that I read, and the gut-wrenching honestly made me like Loehr instantly. I appreciated his honestly. Among the more interesting sermons are the ones that inform us about the soullessness of corporations (comparing them to the zombies in Invasion of the Body Snatchers), another challenges us to rethink our concept of God, and the final essay cries out for religion to save itself from its followers, to paraphrase the bumper sticker.
"'Heretical' preacher calls U.S. 'proto-fascist'"
By John Goodspeed
The Star Democrat
October 14, 2005
In recent years the mainstream media I patronize have paid more attention to right wing preachers than they have to your average Christian. So here's a new book of sermons by Davidson Loehr, a preacher I'd describe as left-wing, sort of. Almost certainly not a communist, probably not even a socialist, maybe a New Deal Democrat, although he wasn't born until 1942.
Loehr is definitely against our current Republican federal government and the U.S. invasion of Iraq. He's described in his book's subtitle as "heretical" and on the cover as "senior minister of the [640-member] First Unitarian Universalist Church" in Austin, Texas (of all places). He served as a combat photographer in Vietnam and experienced a shot fired in anger at him from 15 feet by a North Vietnamese officer who apparently missed Loehr because he (the Vietnamese) was shot dead almost simultaneously by two nearby U.S. soldiers.
Loehr worked as a musician and carpenter after the war in Vietnam. "After returning in 1967," he writes, "it took almost 20 years, before I would acknowledge that we had absolutely no business in Vietnam, that the lives of our soldiers were lost for no decent purpose, and that the million or more Vietnamese we killed were the victims not of a just war, but of ignorant and arrogant slaughter."
He holds similar opinions of the U.S. role in Iraq and believes that the U.S. rich and high and mighty and politically conservative and neo-conservative, along with right-wing fundamentalist preachers and literalist Christians, are proto-fascist and are leading U.S. down the path to full-bore fascism-meaning the sort of fascism Benito Mussolini produced in Italy, Francisco Franco produced in Spain (they called it Fascism) and Adolf Hitler produced in Germany (he called it National Socialism). So what is fascism? Here's part of what the new Shorter Rutledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy (see review below) says about it: "Fascist ideology is sometimes portrayed as merely a mantle for political movements in search of power, but in reality it set forth a new version of society, drawing on both left- and right-wing ideas. Fascists stressed the need for social cohesion and strong leadership. They see themselves as offering a third way between capitalism and communism." Davidson Loehr describes himself in America, Fascism, and God as "a religious liberal, but not a Unitarian Universalist. I see this tiny movement as a microcosm of what's wrong with the social and political left in America. Its center is political rather than religious, and it seems to swallow whole every liberal fad that comes down the road. Still, it offers more freedom than any other religious association, and there is probably no other homes as suitable for a heretic like me."
America, Fascism, and God is written by Texas Unitarian Pastor Davidson Loehr. Mr. Loehr has a Ph.D. in philosophy and religion from the University of Chicago. The small book (140 pages) is largely a collection of what the author calls “Sermons from a heretical preacher”. Loehr is freely willing to call himself a “heretic” because he advises us that the word simply means preferring a “choice”.
It was very difficult not to provide a book report rather than a simple review. The author packs a lot of very thought provoking ideas in a very small space. The first section is about God and the flawed literalism that fundamentalists follow. The second section gives a definition of fascism, lists characteristics, identifies those that benefit from it, and explains why we should fear its resurgence today. The third section discusses September 11th and America’s response to it. The preacher then ends the book with a section on honest religion, and reclaiming our highest ideals from religion.
Many aspects of Loehr’s work were very illuminating, such as his description of literalism and the Bible. He was able to demonstrate the clear idea that a religious person should be allowed to grow and “work out their own salvation with fear and trembling.” The section on fascism was particularly frightening. Many people just automatically dismiss the use of the word as name calling. This author succeeded in not only describing fascism but giving current examples of it in our country. I challenge any doubters to read this section and then tell me that we are not in an era of an encroaching fascist state.
I did find several areas where I did disagree with the author. One example is that he apparently did not feel we should have gone to war in Afghanistan. I did agree with that action but believe that the administration did it in a very superficial manner. I also was challenged by some of his arguments on God and religion. While I do agree with his analysis on fundamentalism, I also feel that he went a bit too far on some theological issues. Even at those times in the book, he was very compelling. All of this in a book that you can take in over a single weekend.