Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Book Review of 'Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism' by Michelle Goldberg

The organized push from radical Christians to dissolve the separation between church and state is currently one of the most potent threats to individual rights in the United States. With Kingdom Coming, Michelle Goldberg presents a detailed intellectual history of Christian nationalism and how it is changing the culture. In particular, if Dr. Onkar Ghate's culture change lecture at OCON 2008 inspired you to do more research on the threat of the Religious Right, Kingdom Coming is an excellent book for further reading.

This book is rich in intellectual history. In the first chapter, Goldberg explains Dominionism, which holds that Christians have the god-given right and duty to be sovereign over one's country, if not the entire world. This idea derives from Christian Reconstructionism, which argues that American law should be replaced by Biblical law.

You will learn about many important figures in the intellectual origins of Christian nationalism. This includes the following thinkers and writers:
  • R. J. Rushdoony, the profoundly influential prolific writer who wrote that homosexuals, blasphemers and unchaste women should be sentenced to death as well as insisted that Jesus Christ would not return until Christians establish a thousand-year reign on Earth. Rushdoony is the father of Christian Reconstructionism.
  • Francis Schaeffer, whose Christian Manifesto argued that history is a contest between two antipodal forces: the Christian worldview and a materialist (secular) worldview, that the U.S. was founded on a Christian Consensus and that any public official who "commands what is contrary to God's Law [abrogates his authority]." Unfortunately, Goldberg only speaks of Schaeffer for a little over two pages.
  • David Barton, a Christian revisionist historian who writes extensively on how the separation between church and state is a myth and that the founding fathers intended for basic biblical principles to permeate public life.
  • Marvin Olasky, a prolific writer who is considered the founder of Compassionate Conservatism. One of Olasky's major works, The Tragedy of American Compassion, argues that there was a golden age of social services provided by churches until the secular government of Franklin Delano Roosevelt made social welfare the government's responsibility. President George W. Bush cites Olasky as his leading influence for funding faith-based initiatives.

This book also thoroughly documents how religion is permeating American culture. This includes, but is not limited to, the following:

  • Many widely-read revisionist history books such as Barton's Original Intent.
  • Textbooks designed to bring Christian science and morality into classrooms such as the intelligent design championing text Of Pandas and People.
  • Television shows that promote Christian ideology such as Pat Robertson's 700 Club.
  • Rock concerts and campus clubs intended to convert and recruit the younger generation.
  • Highly influential political activists such as Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, James Dobson and Ralph Reed and their respective non-profit political organizations.
  • Active Christian think-tanks such as Answers in Genesis, Discovery Institute and the Family Research Council.
  • Media moguls such as the Reverend Sun Myung Moon.
  • Many recent/current legislators with radical religious agendas such as Sam Brownback, Tom Coburn, Jim DeMint, Rick Santorum, Jesse Helms and former House Majority Leader Tom Delay.

After the first, each chapter is organized around a specific political campaigns that the Religious Right has embraced: against gays, for intelligent design, for faith-based initiatives, for abstinence-only education and against "activist" judges. The ongoing war on abortion rights is also thoroughly treated.

My only complaint is that, like a waitress who seasons your food without asking, the author rudely inserts her socialist views throughout the book. She even explicitly celebrates FDR's New Deal for "[bringing] socialism to America." As if everyone who is anti-religion is also pro-socialism! Irritating as this is, it does not ruin an otherwise informative book.

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