Dan DeCarlo is a freelance writer living in Washington D.C.
The American alt-right, though it has received a significant amount of attention from the media since its ascendency to the spotlight began in 2015, is still a largely misunderstood phenomenon. This is especially true with regards to the role religion plays in the movement, which has been, and continues to be, quite significant.
The alt-right religious impulse, in general, has manifested itself in two primary forms: a tendency to what can be termed “neo-paganism” and another toward forms of “traditional Christianity,” in particular, what is frequently referred to as “high church Christianity.” The neo-pagan impulse, best represented by groups like the Wolves of Vinland, while interesting and ultimately a purer distillation of the actual philosophy of the alt-right—with its hatred of Christianity’s “slave morality,” “pathological altruism,” and “un-European Jewish origins”—is of less interest to us here, as it comprises a far smaller percentage of the alt-right’s actual adherents than those drawn to more traditional forms of Christianity.
Regarding the “Christian alt-right,” it is important to note that it is almost exclusively an aesthetic phenomenon and not a theological one. Actual Christian theology, in general, is quite hostile ground for the theories of scientific racism (sometimes referred to as “sociobiology” or “human bio-diversity”) and blood and soil “volkism” favored by the alt-right to take root. The aesthetic aspect of Christianity, however, is a different story, and presents far fewer barriers to entry.
One of the alt-right’s primary preoccupations is “restoring” or “saving” “Western Civilization,” a rather vague and ill-defined concept which seems to exist in the alt-right imagination largely as a kind of composite or mashup of medieval cathedrals, Renaissance sculpture, nineteenth-century landscape paintings, and descriptive passages from J.R.R. Tolkien.
This composite of “Western Civilization” is frequently used as a placeholder for another foundational Alt-Right concept: “whiteness.” Though originally intended only to refer to the peoples of Northwestern Europe (“Anglo-Saxons,” “Aryans,” etc.) and consciously excluding Southern and Eastern Europeans, the term has been unprincipally expanded by the contemporary alt-right to include all people of “European heritage.” However, despite any pretentions to the contrary or the tangential influence of the Nouvelle Droite, the alt-right is ultimately a profoundly American movement and this is reflected in their peculiar concept of “whiteness,” which, in the American context, has always simply indicated someone who wasn’t “black” or “colored,” and, more importantly, someone who shared the cultural and linguistic characteristics of the postwar suburban bourgeois.
The alt-right thus finds traditional forms of Christianity appealing to the extent that they are perceived as being vessels for the representation or preservation of “Western Civilization” and thus, “whiteness.”
Another facet of traditional Christianity which appeals to the alt-right is the aspect of what is sometimes referred to as “social technology” or social control, particularly regarding the role of women in society—traditional forms of Christianity, in general, tend to place a strong emphasis on upholding more defined and rigid gender roles and also promoting large families. Hence its appeal to the alt-right, a movement which, in addition to the aforementioned characteristics, also is notable for its general anxiety (which borders on obsession) about the emancipation of women as well as the continuation of the “white race.”
Yet despite this apparent affinity between the alt-right and traditional forms of Christianity, it should be noted that it is ultimately a relationship which is doomed to fail. The Christian message of love, faith, and the equal worth of all human beings regardless of race or sex is, and always will be, irreconcilable with the racialist reductionism, crude Nietzscheanism, and will to dominate which are at the core of the alt-right’s philosophy.
Nonetheless, we should expect “Alt-Right Christianity” to continue to gain traction, especially as the United States continues to polarize along political and tribal lines and as individuals continue to look for a way to establish a solid sense of meaning and identity in the midst of what Zygmunt Bauman famously referred to as the chaos of “liquid modernity.”