Chris Hedges: Christian Heresy

This talk was given ahead of Easter Sunday on Holy Thursday at a protest at Princeton Theological Seminary demanding the removal of hedge fund billionaire Michael Fisch as chair of the seminary’s trustee board.

Blessed Are The Protesters – by Mr. Fish.

By Chris Hedges
The Chris Hedges Report

We are not here to debate the moral squalor that defines the life of the hedge fund billionaire and chair of the seminary’s trustee board, Michael Fisch.

We are not here to denounce him for the personal fortune, reportedly worth at least $10 billion, a fortune he built preying on the poorest among us, those families that went into debt to pay his prison telecommunications company’s exorbitant fees which charge up to $15 for 15-minute calls, fees that see families across the U.S. pay $1.4 billion each year to speak to incarcerated loved ones. 

We are not here to decry the pain he and his corporation ViaPath, formerly Global Tel Link, caused to hundreds of thousands of children, desperate to speak to an incarcerated mother or father, to tell them about school, or that they miss them, that they need to hear their voice to know everything will be okay, that they are loved.

We are not here to contrast the lives of these children, bewildered at the cruelty of this world, living in dilapidated apartments in inner city projects, with the feudal opulence of Michael Fisch’s life, his three mansions worth $100 million lined up on the same ritzy street in the East Hamptons, his art collection worth over $500 million, his Fifth Avenue apartment worth $21 million and his four-story Upper East Side townhouse. So many luxury dwellings that sit empty much of the time, no doubt, while over half a million Americans are homeless.

Greed is not rational. It devours because it can. It knows only one word — more.

No, we are here today to call out the Pharisees that run this seminary, the ones who speak about loving the poor, the oppressed and the marginalized, in the abstract, but who really love the rich, including the rich who make their fortunes by exploiting the families of students in prison I teach in the Rutgers college degree program, students, many of whom should have never been imprisoned, who are victims of our system of neo-slavery.

We are here today to call out the liberal church, so quick to wrap itself in the cloak of virtue and so quick to sell virtue out when it conflicts with monetary interests and requires self-sacrifice.

Alexander Hall at Princeton Theological Seminary. (Djkeddie/ CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons)

Is it any mystery that the liberal church is dying? Is it any mystery that its seminaries and divinity schools are contracting and closing? The church bleeds itself to death sustaining moribund institutions and paying the salaries of church bureaucrats and seminary presidents who speak in the empty and vague gibberish that Lee Walton, the president of Princeton Theological Seminary, uttered when presented with the fact that Michael Fisch, and all he stands for, is antithetical to the Christian gospel.

This false piety, and the smug arrogance that comes with it, is killing the church, turning it into a museum piece. 

Is Black Lives Matter a commodity, a piece of branding, or does it mean we will stand with those Black and Brown and Asian and white bodies in our prison gulags and internal colonies?

This seminary may have removed the name of Samuel Miller — a slaveholder who used the gospel to perpetrate and defend a crime of Nazi-like proportions —from the seminary chapel, albeit only when students protested, but it embraces a billionaire who makes his fortune fleecing incarcerated men and women who work 40 hour weeks in prison and are paid, when they are paid, little more than a dollar a day.

Prisons are modern day plantations, and not surprisingly, a multi-billion dollar a year business for oligarchs such as Michael Fisch. 

Crushing the Social Gospel 

Eugene Debs in 1918, shortly before being arrested for sedition. (Wikimedia Commons)

The wealthy industrialists in the 1930s and 1940s poured money and resources into the church, including seminaries such as Princeton Theological, to crush the Social Gospel, led by Christian radicals and socialists. They funded a brand of Christianity — which today is dominant — that conflates faith with free enterprise and American exceptionalism.

The church has gone down the rabbit hole of a narcissistic how-is-it-with-me form of spirituality. The rich are rich, this creed goes, not because they are greedy or privileged, not because they use their power to exploit others, but because they are brilliant and gifted leaders, worthy of being lionized, like Bill Gates or Jamie Dimon, as oracles.

This belief is not only delusional, but Christian heresy. The word heresy comes from the Greek verb hireo, which means to grasp or to seize — to seize for yourself at someone else’s expense. You don’t need to spend three years at Harvard Divinity School as I did, to figure out Jesus did not come to make us rich. 

The liberal church committed suicide when it severed itself from this radicalism. Radical Christians led the abolitionist movement, were active in the Anti-Imperialist League, defended workers during bloody labor warsfought for women’s suffrage, formulated the Social Gospel — which included campaigns for prison reform and educational programs for the incarcerated — and were engines in the civil rights and anti-war movements.

The socialist presidential candidate  Eugene V. Debs spent far more time quoting the Bible than Karl Marx. His successor, Norman Thomas, was a Presbyterian minister.

These radicals were not embraced by the institutional church, which served as a bulwark of the establishment, but they kept the church vital and prophetic. They made it relevant. Radicals were and are its hope.

James Baldwin, who grew up in the church and was briefly a preacher, said he abandoned the pulpit to preach the Gospel. The Gospel, he knew, was not heard most Sundays in Christian houses of worship. And today with ministers wary of offending their aging and dwindling flocks — who are counted on to pay the clergy salary and bills — this is even truer than when Baldwin was alive.

James Baldwin Mural, 167th Street subway station, New York. (Kathy Drasky/Flickr, CC BY 2.0)

This is not to say that the church does not exist. This is not to say that I reject the church. On the contrary. The church today is not located inside the stone buildings that surround us or the cavernous, and largely empty houses of worship, but here, with you.

It is located with those who work in prisons, schools and shelters, those who organize fast food workers, who serve the undocumented, who form night basketball leagues in poor communities, as my divinity school classmate Michael Granzen did in Elizabeth, New Jersey, and who are arrested at anti-fracking and anti-war protests. 

Billionaires like Michael Fisch will never fund this church, the real church. But we do not need his money. To truly stand with the oppressed is to accept being treated like the oppressed. It is to understand that the fight for justice demands confrontation.

We do not always find happiness, but we discover in this resistance a strange kind of joy and fulfillment, a life of meaning and worth, one that mocks the tawdry opulence and spiritual void of billionaires like Michael Fisch, those who spend their lives building pathetic little monuments to themselves.

We must remain rooted in this radicalism, this commitment to the crucified of the earth. We must always demand, even at the cost of our own comfort and safety, justice. We may not always triumph over evil, but our faith means evil will never triumph over us.

Chris Hedges is a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist who was a foreign correspondent for 15 years for The New York Times, where he served as the Middle East bureau chief and Balkan bureau chief for the paper. He previously worked overseas for The Dallas Morning NewsThe Christian Science Monitor and NPR.  He is the host of show “The Chris Hedges Report.”

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29 comments for “Chris Hedges: Christian Heresy

  1. James Keye
    April 12, 2023 at 11:22

    The role of religious process is no different today than it was in a Paleolithic village. The discovered and reasoned reality is never discovered by everyone, but must be designed in a foundation of belief to be spread over distance (other minds) and time (other generations). The biophysical was the original teacher: the hands-on reality of daily experience organized into the human imagination ‘maps’ of these experiences that required motive structure other than the neurological and hormonal motivations of the body. The hierarchy of primate social structure adapted and expanded into imagined forces of nature that sustained belief as sourced beyond the person: sourced in ancestors, in mythical ‘original’ ancestors, in objects of attributed powers.

    Today, we no longer have the daily experiences of ecological life, but we have philosophers and thinkers that attempt to discover how we need to believe and act in the present conditions of life. They must meet the same conditions of sourcing the beliefs they espouse into imagined forces of nature. But today there is no guide beyond human desire, no way to attach belief and action from belief to the biophysical realities upon which life depends. In this way we are utterly adrift.

  2. T Wood
    April 12, 2023 at 00:07

    I have great respect for Hedges’ good work in the world. When it comes to religion, however, I think he is trying to have it both ways.

    The aspect of the Christian Church that he takes aim at here (that being their warm embrace of the psychopathic rich) is an inevitable consequence of structured, hierarchical religious systems.

    As such, the only appropriate action is to disavow and dismantle these structures. He is reinforcing the very same thing that he criticises by insisting upon a “real” Church underneath all the wealth and corruption.

    Christianity and Capitalism fit together like hand and glove. By aggressively discouraging critical thinking, Christianity directly serves the Power Establishment that Hedges opposes.

    I’ll add that his bizarre hostility towards atheists is also counter-productive, and he eggreigously mischaracterises us as fascists of some sort.

    The only kind of religious thinking that is useful to us today is the ancient worldview of animism. The Christian Church went to great lengths to destroy it, and we are still grappling with the resulting horrors.

    • Valerie
      April 12, 2023 at 09:35

      Well said T Wood. “Resulting horrors” indeed.

  3. L. C. Ng
    April 11, 2023 at 15:47

    Bertrand Russell named two kinds of Christians – professed Christians and professional Christians. He forgot a third kind: genuine Christians like Chris Hedges. Salute!

  4. vinnieoh
    April 11, 2023 at 11:42

    Just wanted to say that I haven’t chimed in because I ended up in the hospital again, since last Thursday. I’ve spent this morning catching up on many of the fine articles and comments from all here. Thank goodness for CN and the community growing around it. Intelligent understanding, consideration, and commentary. I implore all – once again – to read Reinhold Niebuhr’s “Moral Man and Immoral Society.” As relevant today as it was in 1932 and explains why all of our moral energy and agency is sapped by unrealistic beliefs and hopes.

  5. LeoSun
    April 11, 2023 at 10:56

    “AND WHEN WE hear it from the other side,” there is absopknlutely no devotion to the wholly truth. “Greed can make us do embarrassing things.”

    BUT, THIS, IS “RAD!!!” “Billionaires like Michael Fisch will never fund this church, the real church. But we do not need his money.”

    REPEAT The LINE: “We DO NOT need his money.”

    IMO, “This church,” d e f i n e s “CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE,” non-violently refusing to cooperate w/injustice! Spot f/On!!! “To truly stand with the oppressed is to accept being treated like the oppressed. It is to understand that the fight for justice demands confrontation.” CHRIS HEDGES.

    The other church “bleeds itself to death….“ (Read the full context, above, it, too, is spot f/on).

    HEAR! HEAR!! “We must remain rooted in this radicalism, this commitment to the crucified of the earth.”

    Awh, Chris Hedges, ya know it ain’t easy; but, you’re so right on! TY, for “keeping it lit!!!” RADICALS “Make it Rain!!!” A real person is not afraid of trying, “POWER TO THE PROTESTORS.” MR. FISH

  6. Valerie
    April 10, 2023 at 18:50

    “You can always be Christian in your heart, but not at the price of accepting whatever anti-humanistic theology it may spawn.”

    So many anti-humanistic theological things out there. OMGodzilla.

    • LeoSun
      April 11, 2023 at 23:29

      Hi, Valerie,

      Thank You, for “writing!” Feedback (per other commentary). “She wrote a long letter. On a short piece of paper.” Bob Dylan-Margarita. ( hxxps://

      Valerie, I sincerely appreciate hearing from you, i.e., Wednesday, March 22, 2023, WAS “Earth WATER Day!!!” And, beyond, heartwarming “love” for the “Right On!” Review of Brett Dennen’s, “SYDNEY, I’ll Come Running,” ‘Here’s one of the comments from the youtube video:

      “Why isn’t there a video and how come no one has ever heard of this guy? This song should have like 10 million hits.”

      I hadn’t heard it before. It’s a great tune and lyrics. (VALERIE). I, LeoSun, second that emotion!

      And, thumbs up for “L.O.L.”…ditto, ” Et tu, Biden-Harris?” I didn’t know they speak Latin. Mmmm interesting.” L.O.L.

      ”It’s bad; AND, it’s getting worse. Imo, the reason the “Eagle” is NOT wanted in the U.K.”: Lord Byron fits perfectly there. A remarkable poem.” TY, Valerie! Agreed. “BLESSED ARE THE PROTESTERS,” Mr. FISH. Keep It Lit!

      • Valerie
        April 12, 2023 at 09:59

        Most welcome LeoSun. We need as much humour as we can get. You manage to combine seriousness with humour. A gift. Thankyou for the music.

  7. jamie
    April 10, 2023 at 16:41

    What about if the problem is more in our culture’s DNA, in our history, even more in our symbols, which construct us while we reinforce and perpetuate them in different forms. For example, how did the cross became the symbol of Jesus? the cross, which among many symbolic meanings, in the western culture is the symbol of punishment, violence, suffering and evil; why the Christian religion has made it the symbol of a Christ who would sure not wanted to be a reminder of human ugliness, sadness, suffering, sadism, evil, egocentrism; perhaps the circle would have been more appropriate to represent him – unity, infinity, wholeness… Instead, the cross dominates our culture, from the church, to crusaders, to the colonies, even to the nazies and Ukranians, always attached to violence and backed by an apparently supreme ideology, and so violence rises above criticism, justice, critical analysis, human intelligence, peace, love, etc … the point that I want make is that everything wrong we see today is not about an evil individual, about an evil institution or government, it is about the DNA of our culture; that should worry us, it influences anybody and everybody to the point that no one can escape, even foreigners… in fact, many Africans that I have talked to, they do not see Afro-americans as their own, but more as “coconuts”… no matter how many battle we will fight, we will lose if we do not address the characteristics of our culture that has for century changed our cognitive processes, perception and social order

  8. Don Sherman
    April 10, 2023 at 12:58

    I have been working with undocumented immigrants and those who have been detained by ICE in county jails before they are deported have to pay unjust and excessive fees just to say a few words to their loved ones. The Michael Fische’s of the world certainly are not applying Christian principles on their way to their banks with ongotten gains

  9. Zalamander
    April 10, 2023 at 12:21

    Jesus was a communist, that is my belief.

  10. April 10, 2023 at 10:30

    Mr. Hedges, you’ve been my hero ever since I read “War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning.” I hope you will someday write a full book on the connection between the Roman Catholic Church and the U.S. military. I was brought up to revere the first and admire the second, as so many were, but one day, I thought to question why Catholic churches display the American flag. That led to more questions and to the pacifism I embrace today. I admire, too, the passion with which you challenge accepted wisdom that impacts the poor and powerless, especially in relation to incarceration. Thank you.

  11. April 10, 2023 at 09:42

    Agree with you Lester on this comment. On your 1st comment I would point the fingers at the “religious” leaders who persecuted Jesus, not Pontius Pilate. Pontius infact said he finds no fault but gave in to pressure from these “religious” leaders. Regarding this debate of Religious vs. Atheists, I find most people here have a very limited understanding of history or religion. They conflate “Church structure” to all religions. I bet most of these people who blame all religions do not know anything about most of them except for what the media, including Hollywood, teaches them. Most wars were fought for greed and power.

  12. JohnA
    April 10, 2023 at 03:31

    Over the Easter weekend, the Archbishop of Canterbury, head of the Anglican church, asked people to pray for the release of US journalist Evan Gershkovich, arrested in Russia for alleged spying, but made no mention of Julian Assange, held in a maximum security prison in England for the crime of exposing American war crimes. The pope called on the people of Russia to seek the ‘truth’ (aka the western propaganda version) about the invasion of Ukraine.
    There is no end to the hypocricy of the established Christian churches in the western world. As much propagandists for western governments as western mainstream media.

    • Blessthebeasts
      April 10, 2023 at 16:06

      He would have participated in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

    • Susan Siens
      April 11, 2023 at 14:41

      And the Archbishop of Canterbury was formerly an oil executive, which is what apparently qualifies one for heading a church. Who gets ordained in the Anglican church? Men with histories of online fetishism who call themselves Bingo! I am not kidding!

  13. April 10, 2023 at 01:07

    The wealthy industrialists in the 1930s and 1940s poured money and resources into the church, including seminaries such as Princeton Theological, to crush the Social Gospel, led by Christian radicals and socialists. They funded a brand of Christianity — which today is dominant — that conflates faith with free enterprise and American exceptionalism.

    The church has gone down the rabbit hole of a narcissistic how-is-it-with-me form of spirituality. The rich are rich, this creed goes, not because they are greedy or privileged, not because they use their power to exploit others, but because they are brilliant and gifted leaders, worthy of being lionized, like Bill Gates or Jamie Dimon, as oracles.

    The popular Christian minister and self-help writer Norman Vincent Peale, best known for his book The Power of Positive Thinking as well as numerous other books, was one of those preachers whose message was very much in line with conflating faith with free enterprise and capitalism and American exceptionalism.

    As a youth in the late 1960’s I struggled with a lot of difficulties and personal issues and personal unhappiness. Norman Vincent Peale’s book The Power of Positive Thinking was recommended to me, and I read it along with a number of other of his books. I liked some things he said. Some things he said were helpful to me, others not so much. (I would more fully deal with my personal issues later in my life, and Norman Vincent Peale, and Christianity itself, turned out to be of not much help to me, which is part of a longer story.)

    I noted that Norman Vincent Peale was very fond of businessmen, enterpreneurs, corporate executives, and salesmen (usually men in his books).

    Norman Vincent Peale was always politically conservative, and became associated with mainstream-to-right-wing political groups. He signed on early with a group called Spiritual Mobilization, which was a creation of some prominent Protestant ministers, most notably James W. Fifield Jr., who were in league with some of the leading industrialists in the 1930’s, including oil producers and automakers, who opposed Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal.

    Peale was close friends with Presidents Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, and was especially close to the Trump family.

    Many of his quotations were often echoed by evangelists and televangelists such as Billy Graham, Jerry Falwell, Robert Schuller, and Pat Robertson, and by secular motivational speakers.

    See the article at


  14. Rafael
    April 10, 2023 at 00:05

    Eugene Victor Debs: Statement to the Court Upon Being Convicted of Violating the Sedition Act | September 18, 1918

    Your Honor, years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.

    • Valerie
      April 10, 2023 at 20:35

      What a statement. To which i can relate.

  15. lester
    April 9, 2023 at 17:37

    Many of us talk about Jesus and revere Pontius Pilate with our deeds.

    • JonnyJames
      April 10, 2023 at 12:41

      Christian fascism that Mr. Hedges has written about turns the teachings of JC on their head. Thieving from the poor, blaming the poor, mass murdering innocent people overseas, racist and xenophobic attitudes, supporting corrupt politicians, etc. are regularly promoted in different guises by so-called Christians. I’m not a christian, but Jesus is said to have warned about religious hypocrisy among his followers as well as the religious establishment (Pharisees, Sadducees etc.)

      Religious perversion is to be expected: for thousands of years religion is all too often just a front for twisted political and ideological agendas. However, I have of course met many genuinely kind and caring people from all sorts of religious backgrounds: Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, Christian, Indigenous etc. Chris Hedges is one of my favorite Christians.

  16. John
    April 9, 2023 at 16:06

    Christianity is swamped by internal contradictions which is why I am no longer a christian. The greatest of these, also its greatest heresy, is the church structure which is criticized here. This church exists to teach “and explain” the words of God. If they really believed Jesus of Nazareth was God then how could they believe they can improve upon the words of God.

  17. rgl
    April 9, 2023 at 14:14

    Religion is the bane of civilization. A mindset that says ‘we can do whatever we wish, hurtful, destructive or immoral because at the end the magic sky-guy will alight to put all things right’ is deluded, dangerous and very destructive. How many lives has the ‘church’ – the original house of ill-repute – destroyed? Religion brought us the Salem witch hunts and indeed the dark ages. Religion retards the acquisition and use of natural law.

    • Valerie
      April 9, 2023 at 16:26

      Absolutely agree rgl. It also is the cause of many battles and wars.

    • lester
      April 9, 2023 at 17:35

      Rgl, the irreligious have been every bit as bad, ever since the French Revolution and its Reign of Terror. Violence and the lust to dominate are human, not merely religious.

    • D.H.Fabian
      April 9, 2023 at 19:40

      You clearly haven’t read the Book, and don’t understand the difference between those who just call themselves Christians and those who work hard to live according to Christ’s teachings. In what church(es) have you heard such talk? The churches I’ve attended through life have always taught humility, as well as our responsibilities to work for peace, aid the poor, avoid judgementalism, and to pray for wisdom.

      • firstpersoninfinite
        April 10, 2023 at 00:22

        I don’t know what the “Book” is, but I’m assuming it’s the Bible you are speaking of, much of which describes activities that are capital crimes in any society we care to call a society. “Those who just call themselves Christians” are the only Christians who run the show now I’m afraid, and they don’t plan to share their earthly power with any true believers in Christ. Even Nietzsche said there will always be people who need to be Christians. He understood that was the case, so “working hard to live according to Christ’s teachings” is completely understandable at all times. However, the people using Christianity to virtue-signal their acceptability in dicing and slicing the earth into unalterable profit margins can’t be separated from those pursuing a true Christian faith in any meaningful way. It’s a distinction without meaning except inside the individual heart. It’s like saying that an authoritarian power using the pseudo-science of eugenics to pursue the undoing of a specific ethnicity within their midst is really just waiting for the right thesis to come along which will explain their incontrovertible data. You can always be Christian in your heart, but not at the price of accepting whatever anti-humanistic theology it may spawn.

        • Newton Finn
          April 11, 2023 at 02:08

          “The book” most relevant here is Tom Holland’s “Dominion.” Reading it reveals that the most cogent criticisms of Christianity–indeed, the most compelling arguments for atheism–are themselves unwittingly grounded in the revolutionary values of the gospel. Numerous Tom Holland videos provide a glimpse of the stunning truth laid bare in his book, which has shaken the foundations of our intellectual world and accordingly become a must-read for anyone who takes issue with checkered Christian history or practice. We know not what we think.

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