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Sunday, October 1, 2006
The Lex Files - The Truth is Out There... Way Out There

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October 01, 2006

Book review: "Kingdom Coming"

This book review appears in the Ideas section of the print edition of today's N&R.

KINGDOM COMING: The Rise of Christian Nationalism in America. By Michelle Goldberg. Norton. 210 pages. $23.95

The American Taliban is real. It is powerful. And it is probably going to make this country worse before things get better.

That’s the message of Salon.com writer Michelle Goldberg’s important book about “Christian nationalism,” or Christian Reconstructionism — a movement that believes the Constitution and laws of the United States should be replaced with Old Testament law. What does that mean? At least one adherent says in the book that a strict reading of the Second Commandment’s ban on graven images might well mean the end of cinema.

I wish I could tell you Goldberg’s wrong. But I’ve been following the movement since first learning about it while covering religion more than a decade ago, and I know independently that she’s not.

And I wish I could say she’s exaggerating; as she notes, the subject is “hard to discuss without sounding shrill and hyperbolic.” But if anything, she downplays the disturbing ramifications of her own reporting: The movement, to paraphrase the late Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, intends to use the political system to write an American suicide pact.

Christian nationalism resembles past U.S. revivals in emphasizing the literal truth of the Bible. But as Goldberg writes, it extrapolates from that truth a practical political program, and it has hitched that program to the Republican Party, whose upper levels now are replete with movement adherents in and out of government.

In contrast to the Enlightenment, the movement claims “supernatural sanction” for its earthly goals, conflating Scripture and politics. And anyone who doesn’t agree can expect to become, at best, a second-class citizen.

The movement’s steps toward realizing its goals have included:

  • Demonizing homosexuality. Goldberg claims that because public racism has become unacceptable, gay men and lesbians have become “the other” against whom Reconstructionists must unite.

  • Emphasizing creationism over evolution, to discredit not just evolution but “the very idea that truth can be ascertained without reference to the divine.” That way, even the looniest ideas can be given a patina of respectability if justified in religious terms.

  • Seeking to both weaken and delegitimize the judiciary, in some cases by going so far as to call for the assassination of Supreme Court justices with whose rulings they disagree. (U.S. Sen. Jon Cornyn, R-Texas, said at a gathering of Reconstructionists in 2005 that he could understand how Christians could be so angry with courts that they might want to kill a judge.)

  • Seeking to ban not only abortion, but also most forms of birth control, ostensibly because they “cause abortion” (they don’t) but actually because Reconstructionists approve of sex, even within marriage, only for procreation.

  • Using tax dollars, in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments, to fund “social services” from faith groups that undergo no cost-benefit analysis or oversight.

Religious though it claims to be, Christian nationalism, Goldberg writes, has lied about its actions and intentions and has used illogic or false historical claims to try to defend them. While he was president of the Christian Coalition, Ralph Reed bragged about his movement’s stealth tactics and dishonesty, saying that political opponents would be “in a body bag” before they knew what happened.

The movement even lies about Scripture. One adherent is quoted as saying that Sodom and Gomorrah “were boiled in oil because they were gay.” No, many authorities think that Scripture says the cities were destroyed because their denizens tried to gang-rape angels disguised as human travelers.

And adherents just don’t get that the United States has the world’s most lively and vibrant religious marketplace precisely because there is no state religion here.

Identifying the illogic does no good, Goldberg points out: If any movement belief is objectively discredited, those doing so are dismissed as “biased,” and the paranoia and self-righteousness of the group only grows.

Add to the lying and the illogic a staggering amount of hypocrisy. Just a couple of examples:

  • The movement now has adherents in government who are providing its faith-based social programs with billions in tax money, yet many Reconstructionists (and many other conservative Christians) continue to claim that they are being “persecuted.”

  • Goldberg shows that the movement, apparently for purely mercenary reasons, has aligned itself with the Rev. Sun-Myung Moon, head of the Unification Church and a convicted felon who has openly called for “theocracy to rule the world” and claims, in direct contradiction to orthodox Christianity, that Jesus “failed” because he never attained worldly power.

Goldberg says the movement must be opposed because it would destroy what is greatest about America. She’s right.

And given the many benefits of the Enlightenment to humanity, any movement that opposes it must be made to meet the highest possible burden of proof of utility and benefit.

But, perhaps because Goldberg describes herself as a secular Jew, she critiques the movement only from a secular, political viewpoint. As an observant, if flawed, Christian, I’m happy to critique it in Christian terms as well:

  • Leading Reconstructionist figure R.J. Rushdoony called democracy “the great love of the failures and cowards of life” — precisely the people with whom Jesus spent most of his time.

  • Conflating scripture with government is pure political idolatry, a massive violation of the Second Commandment.

  • The movement perverts the good news of the Gospels into such notions as preventing girls from being vaccinated against the virus that can cause uterine cancer because it might lead them to think it’s OK to have sex. Its policy proposals would increase human suffering just to make movement adherents feel righteous. Jesus had something to say about that, too, and it wasn’t, “You go!”

  • Then there’s all that bearing false witness.

The Christian nationalist movement isn’t just a threat to the United States. It’s also a complete betrayal of almost everything Jesus Christ ever stood for.

But both the Christian nationalists and I know what the solution is. They need to get on their knees. They need to confess. They need to repent. They need to beg Almighty God for forgiveness for their sins and blasphemies. And they need to do it today.

And if the rest of us value our freedoms, we need to be very, very careful whom we vote for.

Staff writer Lex Alexander won the 1997 Wilbur Award for outstanding coverage of religion in American daily newspapers. Contact him at 373-7088 or lalexander@news-record.com.

Posted by Lex Alexander at October 1, 2006 07:21 AM

Comments

Great review, Lex!

You mentioned that there are a lot of Christian Reconstructionism people in government.

Who are they? Can you name names?

Posted by: David Wharton at October 1, 2006 11:38 AM

That was a question I was about to ask as well, David. This sounds like an attempt by Lex to take one premise, that of Christian Nationalists as he refers to them, and confuse it with all religious voters who vote Republican.

So explain, Lex, who is running for office now or in the past who "believes the Constitution and laws of the United States should be replaced with Old Testament law."?

This is politics disguised as journalism, but unfortunately for Lex, we aren't that stupid to fall for it.

Further, once again Lex has crossed the line between being a news writer and an editorialist. JR says there is a clear line between his news division and the opinion section, but this is obviously no longer the case or he wouldn't allow a news writer to write an opinion piece- especially one that transparently tells people how to vote to avoid the threat he outlines.

JR, if you read this, what do you say now?

Posted by: Samuel Spagnola at October 1, 2006 01:15 PM

Spag, I don't see a problem with a news reporter like Lex writing a book review and expressing opinions in it. It's not the case that reporters shouldn't editorialize -- they just shouldn't do it in news stories. I though Lex's review was both passionate and informative.

But I really do wonder whether my party is "replete with [Christian Reconstructionist] adherents both in and out of government."

Replete means "full of," and if that's true, I want to know who these people are, and what constitutes an "adherent." I've been a Republican for a long time, and I haven't met any of these people.

Posted by: David Wharton at October 1, 2006 04:44 PM

David, he crossed the line with his little blurb about remembering this when you vote. That is advocacy.

As far as these "adherents", the story is meant to convey that most if not all Republicans are "adherents" that we should be concerned about when we vote. That was the whole point of this story. The rest was just window dressing.

Posted by: Samulel Spagnola at October 1, 2006 07:13 PM

Sam, it's not a story, it's a book review, where it is customary and accepted for reviewers to express their views, even to be advocates.

Given that, I'm wondering whether Lex has stretched things a bit with the quote I included above.

Waiting for specifics ...

Posted by: David Wharton at October 1, 2006 07:30 PM

David, I appreciate your defense. Sam has had a problem in the past with my expressing an opinion on ... well, anything, really. He doesn't seem to grasp that opinion is part and parcel of the blogging medium.

Sam: "David, he crossed the line with his little blurb about remembering this when you vote. That is advocacy."

Yeah, Sam, I advocate keeping the United States a constitutional republic and oppose changing it into a Mosaic theocracy. You're welcome to believe that expressing that opinion somehow makes me a less ethical journalist, but I'd say the burden is on your to prove how that could be the case.

As for Reconstructionists, the book does name some names. From the introduction:

  • Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kansas

  • John Ashcroft, the former U.S. senator and George W. Bush's first attorney general

  • Rep. John Hostettler, R-Ind.

  • Wayne Markegard, U.S. Department of Agriculture, North Dakota

Others are named in each of the six chapters.


Posted by: Lex at October 1, 2006 08:55 PM

Sam: This sounds like an attempt by Lex to take one premise, that of Christian Nationalists as he refers to them, and confuse it with all religious voters who vote Republican.

Please point out exactly where in my review you think I'm doingthat, Sam. Because I'm not. And I would not, for the simple reason that Goldberg herself took great pains to draw that very distinction.

Posted by: Lex at October 1, 2006 08:59 PM

Oh, and here's a real-world example of what they're up to.

Posted by: Lex at October 2, 2006 06:58 AM

John Ashcroft has been a lifelong member of the Assemblies of God, which emphasize personal holiness and the pentacostal gifts of the spirit (such as speaking in tongues). Rushdoony is an Orthodox Presbyterian.

Sam Brownback converted to Roman Catholicism in 2002, a church that has explicitly taught since the Second Vatican Council that Church and State should be two separate spheres.

John Hostettler is a deacon in the Baptist Church. (Baptist Jerry Falwell says that Christian Reconstructionism is "scary.")

You're not being very convincing, Lex, and the book you reviewed is seeming more like a conspiracy-theory screed rather than an insightful look into the modern Evangelical movement.

Posted by: David Wharton at October 2, 2006 01:28 PM

David, I'm quite familiar with the various religious denominations. The way you gauge membership in the movement isn't necessarily formal affiliation; it's how the individual acts.

D. James Kennedy is nominally a Presbyterian (PCA), but he's as much a Reconstructionist as anybody.

In any event, read the book and decide for yourself.

Posted by: Lex at October 2, 2006 03:51 PM

Folks.. let's just clam down one minute...

There's no point in picking apart Lex on this. It's really a waste of time. He's written at length about this on his personal blog.

It's his issue that he's investigated BEYOND at length. He knows everything about it and will fight back at every turn. He's planned for this.

Every argument you will make he has planned out counterargument to counterargument to counterargument -- and so on. This is what he DOES.

There is no point in arguing with him.

All I'd say is that for Lex to draw any parallel between the Taliban who kill people over very little to nothing and folks who are religious in the United States who -- as far as I can tell -- don't kill people and haven't yet, just shows how out of whack his priorities are.

Between this crisis and the looming impeachment of Bush that Lex keeps forecasting (through constitutional crisis"ville"), I say just let him blow his hot air and be ignored.

He has credibility when each and every tiny point is argued. He IS right. There is no way to battle him.

But, he has no credibility when it comes to the importantance of his issues. Keep scaring us over the American Taliban Lex. That's going to help everyone take you seriously.

And trying to tie this all to the upcoming elections just makes me laugh...

Good day.

Posted by: Jim Wilson at October 2, 2006 09:32 PM

All I'd say is that for Lex to draw any parallel between the Taliban who kill people over very little to nothing and folks who are religious in the United States who -- as far as I can tell -- don't kill people and haven't yet, just shows how out of whack his priorities are.

I didn't compare Reconstructionists with the Taliban, Jim. However, the author did.

As for the "looming impeachment of Bush," please point to one singe post or comment in which I have "predicted" impeachment.

Posted by: Lex at October 3, 2006 08:15 AM

Between the Reconstructions in the Republican Party and the Elders of Zion in the Democratic Party, we're sure to be following Old Testament Law in America, one way or the other.

Posted by: brian444 [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 6, 2006 10:43 AM

brian444, are you suggesting that both groups are fictional, or making a joke, or what? I'm not following.

Posted by: Lex at October 6, 2006 10:48 AM

A joke: the real life impact of both groups on retail politics in America is precisely the same: none. Conspiracy theorists will disagree.

Posted by: brian444 [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 6, 2006 12:14 PM

Well, Brian, read the book. I can assure you from my own, independent reporting that Goldberg is not making this stuff up. And I am not a conspiracy theorist. Quite the contrary: I'm a big fan of Occam's Razor.

Posted by: Lex at October 6, 2006 12:28 PM

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