Beliefnet
The other night at a family dinner I heard words that would be music to the ears of the Democratic National Committee. My mother-in-law, an evangelical Christian, lifelong Republican, and faithful voter, wondered aloud whether Christians ought to do away with their SUVs in the name of stewarding God's creation. Then she wondered whether Christians should "shop more thoughtfully," supporting local business and darkening Wal-Mart's door less often. Making sense of herself and her new thinking, she uttered a shocking sentiment: "I dunno. Maybe I'm becoming a Democrat."

She's more likely becoming a Crunchy Con, if not a Red Letter Christian. What she's most certainly not—and would not be even if her politics were not undergoing reconsideration—is a theocrat. She, like countless other evangelical Christians, voted for George W. Bush twice and has put faith in his policies. She wishes America were more God-fearing and moral. She appreciates some public Christian figures and is ambivalent about others. But she, like many of her fellow evangelicals, doesn't hope for theocracy, and she is embarrassed by the Christians who do.

This year, the New Releases section of your local bookstore would like to suggest otherwise. A quick scan of current titles posits a country at the brink of theocratic takeover by the Christian Right: “The Left Hand of God” by Michael Lerner, “American Theocracy” by Kevin Philips, “Kingdom Coming” by Michelle Goldberg, “Thy Kingdom Come” by Randall Balmer, “Why the Christian Right Is Wrong” by Robin Meyers, and a litany of other titles offer a clarion call against the coming Christian storm. Their warning? That America is under threat by Christian nationalists. Fundamentalists are consolidating power, gaining influence, and are poised to cleanse the country of a host of sins, from homosexual unions to a multi-party political system. These would-be tyrants believe the United States is meant to be a nation under God, and they're willing to make it so by force.

Given the seriousness of the situation, the authors of these books are not just reporting; they are on a mission to steer the nation from the Highway to Heaven and back toward . . . what? The Clinton era? The 1960s? It's hard to say exactly, but the books all exude the fear that something went dreadfully wrong when the Moral Majority formed in the late 1970s, and the nation has been headed for Christian totalitarianism ever since.

Cleary, the reelection of George W. Bush in 2004 has inspired a cottage industry of complaint, just as the tense reign of Bill Clinton in the 1990s helped inspire and sell conservative books (and launch the FOX News network). With these books appearing one after the other in a swelling army of criticism against the Religious Right, it's tempting to see them all as basically the same book. Their uniformly shrill titles and subtitles ("How the Religious Right Distorts the Faith and Threatens America," bellows Balmer's) convey the sense of variations on a theme, and indeed, the books have a great deal in common in addition to hysterics.

Last summer, Ross Douthat excoriated a host of these titles in the conservative Catholic journal “First Things,” taking them to task for sniffing out theocracy where none exists and for neglecting to mention the role the Democratic Party played in the formation of the Religious Right. (Douthat and others argue that the Right became Religious only after the Left became Anti-Religious, or at least "self-consciously secular.") The problems don’t end there. In assessing the seriousness of the theocratic threat, the anti-Religious Right books overestimate the influence of some Religious Right leaders (Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell) whose time has passed. They frequently reveal embarrassing religious ignorance, especially in their failure to notice or make sense of some of the biggest phenomena in evangelicalism. You'll find little mention of megachurches or evangelical small group systems, and little notice that evangelicalism is in a Norman Vincent Peale stage, with politically innocuous books like Joel Osteen's “Your Best Life Now” flying off the shelves.
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