Monday, December 10, 2012

BkRev: Goldberg's Kingdom Coming

Michelle Goldberg, Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism, New York, W. W. Norton, 2007 (adding an Epilogue to the 2006 edition), 253 pp.

In Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism, investigative journalist Michelle Goldberg has two main purposes. The first is to raise an alarm about the threat from Christian Nationalism. Much of the book focuses on conservative political assaults and modern liberal responses, which are subjects outside the scope of The Main Event. However, Goldberg's description of Christian Nationalism exposes the movement's roots in supernaturalism and mysticism, particularly the notions of God's revelations in holy scripture as guides to personal and political action.

The Christian Nationalism movement advocates mysticism—for example, when a preacher encourages his flock to have faith—but its advocacy is only one element in a stream of other, narrower activities such as campaigns to create or abolish laws, organize efforts to raise funds for a new church building, and sermonize about the need to follow God's commandments. The rule of inverse interest applies: The more fundamental the concept, such as reason or mysticism, the less time is spent talking about it. Though not intended by the author, part of the value of Kingdom Coming is demonstrating that point.

Goldberg's second purpose is to suggest, to her audience of "liberal" activists, actions they could take to counteract the threat. Some of her suggestions could be useful to activists for reason, egoism, and capitalism as well, but again that subject is outside the scope of this review for The Main Event.

THREE ISMS. What is Christian Nationalism? Goldberg's answer involves two other, related isms. The best way to understand these three ideas is to move from the general to the particular. The general doctrine that sets a context for Christian Nationalism is Judeo-Christian dominionism, the belief that Jews and Christians have a God-given right to rule this world. (Dominionists cite Genesis 1:26-27 for justification.) Christian Nationalism is an application of that world-wide principle to a particular country, the USA. It is the political belief that the USA was founded by Christians for Christians. One element of Christian Nationalism is Christian reconstructionism, which is the belief that Christians should replace “American civil law with Old Testament biblical law,” says Goldberg. (p. 13)

By citing their holy scripture—whose authors were mystically inspired to write a text which contains ethical principles mystically revealed by God—Christian Nationalists are demonstrating the fundamental role of supernaturalism and mysticism in their worldview.

STRUCTURE OF THE BOOK Chapter by chapter, the author shows that, by applying their mystically acquired ethical principles, Christian Nationalists are:
- Intending to end secularism (Ch. 1, “This is a Christian Nation”).
- Threatening the rights of homosexuals (Ch. 2, “… The Political Uses of Homophobia”).
- Assaulting science (Ch. 3, “… Intelligent Design and the War on the Enlightenment”).
- Hijacking the welfare state (Ch. 4, “The Faith-Based Gravy Train”).
- Attacking sexuality (Ch. 5, “… the Abstinence Industry”).
- Undermining constitutional checks and balances that protect the separation of Church and State (Ch. 6, “… The War on the Courts”).

As the table of contents suggests, the author and the Christian Nationalists she examines are focused on "social issues," not economic issues.

THE AUTHOR'S APPROACH. Goldberg makes her descriptions of the ideas of the Christian Nationalists vivid by describing a string of individuals who advocate those ideas—their physical appearance, their clothing, their setting (in a church, for example), and their careers as activists. Her descriptions include explanations of the special terms that Christian Nationalists use in their thinking and in speaking to others:

Michael Farris, the founder and president of the evangelical Patrick Henry College calls his campaign to turn Christian homeschooled students into political cadres Generation Joshua. The name has a very specific biblical … meaning. Joshua was Moses's successor as leader of the Israelites; … Joshua led them in seizing the holy land. … Farris's Generation Joshua … [is] imbued with an Old Testament dream of exile redeemed by conquest. The holy land is America as Farris imagines it. The enemy is America as it exists right now. … As Farris wrote in his book Generation Joshua, the homeschooling movement ‘will succeed when our children, the Joshua generation, engage wholeheartedly in the battle to take the land. … [Winning will be very difficult because this] is the land of MTV, Internet porn, abortion, homosexuality, greed, and accomplished selfishness‘ he observed. (pp. 1-2)

A CONSERVATIVE CHRISTIAN SUBCULTURE. One of the benefits of a close reading of Kingdom Coming is seeing in detail the breadth and depth of an ever-growing conservative Christian sub-society and the conservative Christian subculture it produces. Many conservative Christians, of course, work as employees of religiously neutral companies, alongside atheists, agnostics, pagans, Muslims, and "liberal" Christians. As Goldberg demonstrates, however, a growing number of conservative Christians—especially the activists—work for other conservative Christians in organizations that advocate for conservative Christian ideals or produce Christian cultural products such as videos and books. In their nonworking hours, these conservative Christians can then socialize with other conservative Christians in churches that have large congregations. Their children—often in large families—meet mostly other conservative Christian children through their Christian school networks

In effect, these conservative Christians are slowly supplanting rather than converting the "liberal" world around them. For serious students of history familiar with the long, slow process of Christians supplanting pagan society in the Late Roman Empire, the process of supplanting is more disturbing than any particular ballot victory conservatives may enjoy.

RECOMMENDATION. Kingdom Coming is entertaining and informative for anyone who wants a closer look at a major—and still developing—stream of mysticism in the USA today. Goldberg's documentation is not scholarly, but it is thorough enough to allow serious readers—including specialized activists—to pursue narrower interests such as the fight over evolution, the movement against gay marriage, and the conservative Christian plans to remake the USA into a theocracy.

Especially valuable for pro-reason activists would be reading Kingdom Coming before reviewing the 4.5 hour series of lectures by Brook and Ghate, "Cultural Movements: Creating Change" on the ARI website (PARTICIPATE, ACTIVISM, right column):

Burgess Laughlin
Author of The Power and the Glory: The Key Ideas and Crusading Lives of Eight Debaters of Reason vs. Faith, described here.

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