Blood and Faith

Christianity in American White Nationalism

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Damon T. Berry
  • Syracuse, NY: 
    Syracuse University Press
    , September
     2017.
     284 pages.
     $29.95.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9780815635321.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

Blood and Faith seeks to explain how and why some white nationalist groups have shifted their religious alignments away from Christianity and embraced either new religious movements of their own creation or racially-charged esoteric traditions. Author Damon T. Berry suggests that racial protectionism has motivated various white nationalist groups to reject Christianity. Racial protectionism refers to “obsession with white survival,” and according to Berry, “it forms the basis for white nationalists’ worldviews and constructs an animating ethic that shapes and informs their thoughts and actions” (3). Throughout the book, then, Berry traces the ways in which Christianity became “a problem in American white nationalism because [Christianity] strains the primary obligation and driving moral principle to protect the white race” (3).

Despite this language, which indicates a phenomenological approach to the subject, Berry takes an intellectual-historical approach. He focuses on the writings of influential white nationalists because racial protectionism “more often takes…shape in combating perceived cultural and ideological contamination. These efforts at ideological purity mirror the fetishizing of so-called biological racial purity and give rise to an orientation in which the one is imagined as linked to the other” (3). Berry is thus less interested in the on-the-ground impact of white nationalist religion(s) than in the ideological development of non-Christian white nationalist religion(s).

The book’s six chapters can be divided into two sections. The first three chapters focus on key figures in the history of white nationalism in America, and the last three chapters on thematic issues. The first chapter describes Revilo Pendleton Oliver’s gradual realization that both Christianity and political conservatism were ineffectual ideologies for the protection of the white race. The second chapter highlights William Pierce and Cosmotheism, a racially focused new religious movement in which whites physically and metaphysically advance to godhood. Like Oliver, Pendleton and Cosmotheist theology requires that whites abandon Christianity in order to protect their race. Ben Klessen’s Creativity is chapter four’s focus. Creativity threaded racial protectionism into a comprehensive religious theology that demanded physical, mental, and spiritual commitment to whiteness. Berry limits his analyses almost exclusively to the writings of the three subjects of these chapters.

The next three chapters examine key proponents of three different white nationalist communities that have embraced non-Christian religiosity. The fourth chapter examines racialized Odinism, which seeks to return whites to a purer, primitive state unadulterated by so-called “Jewish Christianity.” The next chapter introduces several “esoteric” traditions, the term used here to mean “a diverse group of ideas about accessing sometimes hidden and usually transcendent forms of knowledge that are often imagined to be related to some sense of a primordial tradition” (129). The final chapter examines pan-European racial protectionism, which Berry suggests is now the “primary obligation in the new imagined racial community” of the United States (156). Again, these three chapters focus on the writings of key figures in these movements. The book ends with both a conclusion that concisely summarizes the book’s argument and an epilogue that reflects on white nationalism and the Donald Trump presidency.

Blood and Faith offers an excellent introduction to the thinking of several key figures in American white nationalism, and it contributes to the field by explaining why some white nationalists have rejected Christianity when historically most have embraced it. Blood and Faith suffers, however, from some organizational, methodological, and theoretical problems. In terms of organization, the book’s introduction skips important information, such as the author’s definition of race and racism, and it fails to offer much-needed historical context. These things appear nearly halfway through the book, so readers may be advised to read pages 74 to 77 as part of the introduction. Methodologically, Berry’s decision to do intellectual history is admirable, but he often claims that his subjects were influential in white nationalist circles without offering any evidence or advice for further reading. For non-experts, this makes it difficult to understand the impact of his subjects within white nationalist movements. For experts, this means that the author’s early phenomenological claims remain unexplored and unproven.

Berry does not engage meaningfully with theoretical material on race and religion in the United States. In fact, he neither articulates his theoretical approach to religion nor defines the aspects of religion he discusses. It is therefore difficult to glean the exact nature of white nationalists’ criticisms of religion––were they criticizing institutional Christianity, popular Christianity, Christian theology, politicized Christianity, or something else? And what made white nationalist new religious movements religions and not, say, ideologies?

Berry also does not discuss the interconnection of race and religion in United States history, which limited the depth of his analysis. Berry briefly cites Charles Long’s Significations (Fortress Press,1986) to bolster Berry’s argument that racial protectionism serves mythic functions. But Berry seems to miss––or at least engage with––Long’s larger point that racialization was a kind of religious (re)orientation and arguably religious in itself. Similarly, Sylvester Johnson’s work on racialized religion would have been immensely helpful in adding to Berry’s argument because much of what Berry describes seems to be, from a phenomenological perspective, racism as religion. Blood and Faith will give readers familiar with the literature on race and religion in the United States much to think about, for Berry’s most helpful contribution the field is the way his material forces us to ask the question: is racial protectionism a religious orientation? 

About the Reviewer(s): 

Joshua David Urich is a doctoral candidate in American Religious History at the University of Texas, Austin.

Date of Review: 
January 29, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Damon T. Berry is assistant professor in the religious studies department at St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York. He has published articles in the Journal of Hate Studies and Security Journal.

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