Michelle Goldberg, Kingdom Coming; The Rise of Christian Nationalism (New York: Norton, 2006), 242pp.
Has America finally had enough of the divisive, fear-mongering politics of the religious right? The drubbing that Republicans took in the mid-term elections (November 2006) might suggest so, but it's probably too early to tell. In the mean time, Michelle Goldberg, a self-described secular Jew and "urbanite," adds her warning to the growing literature on political evangelicals, about 80% of whom voted for President Bush. Goldberg acknowledges that Christianity and what she calls "Christian nationalism" are two very different things, and that the latter by no means represents all evangelicals. She also admits that in her travels from coast to coast most of the evangelicals whom she met were thoughtful and amiable people.
But that's no excuse, she says, for their revisionist history (America as a "Christian nation"), pseudo-science (young earth, intelligent design), their assault on the judiciary, simplistic ethics (stem cell, abstinence, homosexuality), confusion about church and state, and their overall Manichean worldview that the President himself articulated to the entire world after 9-11: "Either you're for us or against us." I fully share her concerns and her frustrations, if not her fear that our political system is about to collapse from the weight of misguided evangelicals. Her book was written before some notable bench marks that might hint at a decreasing influence of the religious right— the fall of Ted Haggard; the broader outlook of the National Association of Evangelicals that has, for example, shunned the likes of Dobson on environmental concerns; David Kuo's book Tempting Faith that documents just how little genuine interest Republicans have in evangelicals except to exploit their vote; important evangelicals like Jim Wallis (whom she mentions) who have been extremely critical of the capitulation of the faith to political ideology; and, let's hope, the common sense of mainstream Americans reflected in the November 2006 elections that defeated candidates like Ralph Reed and Rick Santorum.
As with Randall Balmer's missed opportunity (Thy Kingdom Come), I fear Goldberg's hand wringing and shrill tone will lose some of her audience, and that's a shame because she's written a good book. It doesn't help, for example, for her to complain that some people have blamed gays for the Nazi Holocaust when she herself repeatedly quotes Hannah Arendt's The Origins of Totalitarianism and compares conservative evangelicals to Germans under Hitler. Still, I was glad I read her book, even if it depressed me to read about believers sucking up to Caesar.