Thursday, July 13th, 2006
As a resurgent Taliban takes over large swatches of Afghanistan, changing that nation’s social mores, educational curriculum, and legal system, many Americans would be shocked to discover how massive and powerful the new American Christian Taliban has become. So powerful, in fact, that it could be argued it’s taken over large portions of the federal government, several state governments, and thousands of county and municipal governments.
Indeed, billions of dollars of your and my taxpayer dollars are today being diverted to GOP-affiliated ultra-rightist so-called Christian “charities” across the nation, without even the benefit of enabling legislation in many cases. As Michelle Goldberg writes in “Kingdom Coming”:
“The diversion of billions of taxpayer dollars from secular social service organizations to such sectarian religious outfits has been one of the most underreported stories of the Bush presidency. Bush’s faith-based initiatives have become a spoils system for evangelical ministries, which are now involved in everything from prison programs and job training to teenage pregnancy prevention, supplanting the safety net that was supposed to catch all Americans. As a result of faith-based grants, a growing number of government-funded social service jobs explicitly refuse to hire Jews, gay people, and other undesirables; such discrimination is defended by the administration and its surrogates in the name of religious freedom. Bringing the disposed to Jesus Christ has become something very close to a domestic policy goal of the United States government. And all this has happened with far less notice or public debate than attended the removal of Terri Schaivo’s feeding tube or the halftime baring of Janet Jackson’s breast.”
What Goldberg brilliantly reveals in this wonderfully readable and thoroughly researched book is the extent and reach of the Christian Nationalist movement in the USA — what is rapidly becoming a theocratic shadow government, intent on nothing less than rolling back the Enlightenment of the late 17th and 18th centuries, and replacing it with something that very resembles the Puritanism of Oliver Cromwell, a pseudo-Christian version of the Islam of Osama Bin Laden.
I say “pseudo Christian” (although Goldberg does not - she doesn’t engage in theological debate in her book) because for most people like myself who were raised as Christians, the Christian Nationalists propound a form of church/state merger, and an essential theology, that is completely at odds with the Jesus of the Sermon on the Mount and Matthew 25 (”feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit those in prison, heal the sick,” etc.).
Instead, their Jesus is a muscular militarist who hates gays, is the first to see and condemn sin in others, and finds salvation not in poverty and charity but in building multi-million-dollar ministries, living high, and preaching that all problems are solved, all sins redeemed, all diseases cured (both physical and political) by simple belief in His name. This Jesus hates science, wants to use the power of the state to finance his ventures and punish his enemies, and wants to use the power of police, prisons, and courts to enforce his rigid view of everything from the role of women in society to the sanctity of the American flag.
This is not the Jesus that most Christians know, but it’s the Jesus in whose name a powerful and unrelenting movement is working to establish a theocracy in America. This Jesus is so far from the Biblical Jesus, in fact, that most in the movement refers to Him in His role — Christ — rather than His name - Jesus. The Jesus of the Bible, after all, had long hair, was homeless, hung out with social misfits, and preached poverty, pacifism, and mysticism. Hardly appropriate company for wealthy and powerful men like Falwell, Robertson, and Bush.
To write “Kingdom Coming,” Michelle Goldberg went from coast-to-coast deep inside the Christian Nationalist movement. Ninety percent of the book is storytelling — fascinating and often chilling — from these visits to everything from small rural churches to political-strategy conference calls with the most powerful men in America.
In a thoroughly dispassionate way, Goldberg walks the reader through Christian Nationalism from the level of the grass roots to the Astroturf to the offices of Bill Frist, Rick Santorum, and George W. Bush.
The final chapters of the book include one of the most lucid calls for a liberal response to Christian Nationalism I’ve read anywhere, and strategy outline that should be read by every progressive in America.
This is one of those books you can’t put down, in part because of Goldberg’s storytelling and reporting skills, but in larger part because it lays bare a truly frightening view of the future these folks have in mind for you, me, and the rest of America. And how shockingly close they already are to realizing their goals.
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