Michelle Goldberg – Kingdom Coming

November 17, 2006

Michelle Goldberg is a freelance writer who has reported from all over the United States, as well as from Jordan, Egypt, Iraq, Israel and the West Bank. In her writing, she focuses on the role of ideology in politics, and has reported extensively on both sides of America’s intensifying culture wars. In 2002, after a year of traveling and reporting in India and East Asia, Goldberg moved to New York City and took a job as a news and politics reporter with Salon.com, where she covered all aspects of the political right, from the neocons to the theocons. In addition to Salon, Goldberg’s work has appeared in publications including Rolling Stone, The New York Observer, The New Republic online, The Guardian, The UTNE Reader, Newsday and other newspapers nationwide. She was a columnist for the San Francisco Bay Guardian and for Shift Magazine, and has taught at New York University’s Graduate School of Journalism. She is a fellow at the Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion, which is one of the organizations here at the Center for Inquiry.

In this discussion with D.J. Grothe, she talks about her acclaimed book Kingdom Coming, and about religious-political extremism in America today and its anti-scientific agenda, the origins of its opposition to gay rights, the use of “secular humanism” as a Religious Right organizing principle, and about the future of “Christian Nationalism.” She also talks about the recent midterm elections and the history and effects of the Religious Right in American and world politics.

Also in this episode, Lauren Becker returns to offer some thoughts about Richard Dawkins, J. R. R. Tolkien, and the lure of fiction.

This is point of inquiry for Friday, November 17th, 2006. 

Welcome to Point of Inquiry, I’m D.J. Growthy Point of Inquiry is the radio show and podcast of the Center for Inquiry, a think tank collaborating with the State University of New York at Buffalo on the new science and the public master’s degree. CFI also has branches in Manhattan, Tampa, Hollywood and Washington, D.C.. In addition to 11 other cities around the world, every week on this show, we look at some of the pressing questions of society and we look at them through the lens of rationality and science and reason, focusing mostly on three research areas. First, we look at pseudoscience and the paranormal. Second, alternative and complementary medicine. Third, on secularism and religion. The intersection of religion and science in our society. We look at these areas by drawing on CFI, his relationship with the leading minds of the day, including Nobel Prize winning scientists, public intellectuals, social critics and thinkers and renowned entertainers. Before we get to this week’s guest, I want to welcome new center for Inquiry campus groups that have joined with us or we’ve helped start foundings since last week’s show. These are new groups at Dakota State University, at Grand Rapids Community College, at Grand Valley State University, at Appleton East High School. It’s hard to organize on high school campuses, but we welcome high school students who want to get involved with us. And at Kent State University. So to the new groups that are working with us on college campuses or to any of you who would like to work with us, you can get more information about this at Campus Inquirer dot org. Before we get to this week’s guest, Michelle Goldberg, I’m joined in the studio by Lauren Becker, who has a word for us about faith and reason. 

This past October had the envious job of representing the Center for inquiry. At two stops on Richard Dawkins speaking tour, where he discussed evolution and his new book, The God Delusion, I’m happy to report that the reception for him and his ideas was overwhelmingly positive. Picture thousands of people migrating to the University of Kansas to hear a biologist give a talk about evolution. The place was packed, standing room only in Oregon. So many people showed up. The bookstore had to make a hasty change of venue and moved us all to a hotel ballroom three blocks down the street to accommodate the crowd. I wish you could have seen it. Hundreds of atheists walking through downtown Portland, each with that silver mirrored copy of The God Delusion under their arm, hoping they might get an autograph from a biologist. So when I returned to Amherst, elevated by such encouraging experiences, I was surprised to discover that a whole host of people had written derogatory and spiteful reviews of the book and of Richard Dawkins himself. Many of them carried this theme, as expressed by Terry Egleston and his write up for the London Review of Books, quote, Imagine someone holding forth in biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the book of British birds. And you might have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology. The point being, I guess, that Dawkins is a biologist and not a theologian and therefore he has no right to talk about God. To be fair, we scientists do not look too kindly on theologians who try to talk about biology. So at first glance, this might seem like a valid argument. But listen to how this expert theologian who is really an English professor goes on to talk about God, the God he bemoans. Dawkins just doesn’t understand, quote, For Judeo Christianity, God is not a person, nor is he a principal, an entity or existent. He is rather the condition of possibility of any entity whatsoever, including ourselves. He is what sustains all things and being by his love. And this would still be the case even if the universe had no beginning, because the universe is God’s. It shares in his life, which is the life of freedom. This is why it works all by itself. God is the power that allows us to be ourselves. Like the unconscious, he is closer to us than we are to ourselves. He is the source of our self-determination. This, according to Eagleson, is traditional doctrine, and he chastises Dawkins for not knowing it. But I have to tell you this. God is nowhere in the Bible which has led me to the following questions. What does it mean to be an expert in something that you made up? Is it possible for someone else to be intimately familiar with a character that you’ve created in your head? As we’ve said before, there are so many definitions of what God is. It’s become clear that he is a creation of ours rather than the other way around. Far from traditional doctrine, these riffs about God are at best a kind of fan fiction spinoffs where people have stolen characters. They like God and Jesus from somebody else’s story. The Bible and thrown them into a whole other universe of their own creation. I know a little bit about this because like Egleston, I am also an expert about something that someone else made up. Now, you all have been very kind to me. So I hope I don’t disappoint you too much to confess that I, too, was an expert about the Lord. No, not that one. The Lord of the Rings. And I have to tell you, these arguments about the nature of God are an awful lot like the disagreements we ringer’s have about the nature of a Balrog, which it must be admitted are about as useful as the arguments theologians have about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Sure, these discussions are a blast at cocktail parties. But you know what? If a tree falls in a forest, it will make a sound because sound waves are air in motion. And you can bet that tree is moving air whether you’re there to hear it or not. It’s time to stop wasting energy on these artificial questions and move on. These games should be played for entertainment only, not for purposes of investment. Though they are fictional, the stories we create, the stories that move us, the stories we believe in are a reflection of our psyche and they expose deep seeded ideas that otherwise we might not fully realize we have. In his critique, Eagleson continues giving us pieces of his story and reveals this alarming belief. Quote, The Christian faith holds that those who are able to look on the crucifixion and live to accept the traumatic truth of human history is a tortured body might just have a chance of new life, but only by virtue of an unimaginable transformation and our currently dire condition. The resurrection. Those who don’t see this dreadful image of a mutilated innocent as the truth of history are likely to be devotees of that bright eyed superstition known as infinite human progress. What? Allow me to paraphrase. According to this expert, because some people killed an innocent person in a violent way. Two thousand years ago, Christians believe that killing and violence are all that humans are capable of. And if you believe otherwise, you must be one of those foolish, stupid people that think this condition can change and even improve. The great irony, of course, is that he’s calling this crazy story a truth of history. But ask anyone who benefits from indoor plumbing every morning, and I’m sure they’ll tell you that the historical trend of humanity has been one towards progress. Okay, that’s a great example. How about this instead? Talk to an independent woman. A child with a free education. A freed slave. A cancer survivor. Ask them if they think it’s possible to improve the human condition. Because I respond to a different kind of story. I find Eggleston’s narrative not only offensive but dangerous. You see, one of the most profound insights I gained from the Lord of the Rings was the importance of hope in Tolkien’s saga. The most tragic characters were good people who turned bad because they lost hope. Boromir Denn, author, Fadin Saruman. They all presumed that they could see the outcome of this story. They despaired of what they saw. And it caused them to do all the worst things for all the right reasons. The good guys, the heroes recognized repeatedly that they could not see the end. They did not know what was going to happen. So they kept struggling. They kept working, trying to do all the right things, hoping that things would get better. Tolkan, always the clever wordsmith, gave us a big clue about this lesson when he gave the king the hero Aragorn, the childhood name of Isdell, the Sindarin Elvish word for hope. When creators of a religious narrative operate from a base assumption that humans are well base and cannot improve, they presume to know the end of the story and create a natural state of despair. Life becomes something to be saved from. There is no hope in a world view like this that it is deep in the psyche of all people who are waiting for salvation. And if tokens hunch is correct, it leads good people to do bad things. But it’s not just dangerous that people believe this story. It’s also really sad because it’s just a story that somebody made up, one that actually goes against all the evidence of experience, cultural history and biological history, the belief that the human condition is fixed in a dire condition. That our story has already been written and is only being acted out. This is the ultimate anti evolution story. In reality, all the evidence shows that things can and will get better if we keep working and trying to do the right things. Richard Dawkins, of course, gets this, and that’s why they are coming to get him as an outspoken proponent of evolution and human potential. He is to them. The editor from hell. The ultimate fact checker who has clearly and precisely ripped their story to shreds. Good scientists ever replacing bad ideas with good ones understand that we do not know the end of the story. We can’t even accurately predict what will happen tomorrow. And in this, there is a great possibility and great hope. Yes, human beings are capable of terrible and violent acts. But we are also responsible for creating good deeds, great beauty and enduring love. This is not made up. It is the true human story. Eagleson and his fellow believers have created a story that works only if we deny progress and we’re not buying it anymore. The world is weary of these expert theologies based on despair. It’s about time we scientists started telling the story of hope. 

The world is under assault today by religious extremists to invoke their particular notion of God to try and control what others think and do. One magazine is dedicated to keeping you up to date with analysis that cuts through the noise and the surprising courage to appear politically incorrect. That magazine is Free Inquiry, the world’s leading journal of secular humanist opinion and commentary. Regular contributors include Richard Dawkins, Wendy Kaminer, Christopher Hitchens, Peter Singer and Sam Harris. Their views are reasoned, thought provoking and to some, unpardonable, infuriating. Subscribe to free inquiry today. One year, six controversial issues for 1995. Call one 800 four five eight one three six six or visit us on the Web at Secular Humanism, Dawg. 

I’m pleased to have Michelle Goldberg on point of inquiry this week. She’s a freelance writer who’s reported all over the United States, as well as from Jordan, Egypt, Iraq, Israel and the West Bank. One thing she touches on a lot in her writing is the role of ideology in politics. And this has led her to report extensively about both sides of America’s increasingly intensifying culture wars. In 2002, after a year of traveling and reporting in India and East Asia, she moved in New York City and took a job with Salon dot com as their politics reporter. It was at Salon dot com that she covered all the aspects of the political right, from neocons to theocrats. She was one of the first to expose how a tiny, far right Catholic sect convinced Bush to cut off support for the United Nations Population Fund, a fund at the United Nations which promotes reproductive health care and safe childbirth to the Third World. She wrote about faith based abstinence only education in crisis pregnancy centers and about the right wing attempts to take over the federal judiciary. In addition to Salon, her work has appeared in publications including Rolling Stone, The New York Observer, New York, New Republic, The Guardian and the United Kingdom Buttner Reader. Newsday and other newspapers nationwide. She was a columnist for the San Francisco Bay Guardian and for Shift magazine and has taught at New York University’s Graduate School of Journalism. She’s a fellow of the Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion, which is one of the organizations here at the Center for Inquiry. She’s on point of inquiry today to talk about kingdom coming, the rise of Christian nationalism. This is an acclaimed book looking at religious political extremism in America today. And throughout the book, she argues that Christian nationalists believe that the Bible is literally true, but more than that, they seek to advance their views politically. Welcome to Point of Inquiry, Michel. 

Hi there. Thank you so much for having me. 

Michel, you first got interested in the religious right when you were in high school here in Buffalo, New York, during that pushed organized Christian conservatives around abortion at that time. Right. 

Well, it wasn’t just to organize them. I mean, my first political experience was when people would stay, you know, with their arms length around the clinics while members of Operation Rescue would throw themselves to try to break through the line. 

So it was really a quite violent confrontation that then years later, that tragically violent when Bernard Slepian was murdered. 

So, I mean, I’ve changed a lot since then. I was very kind of angry. Noted teenager. I have grown a little bit more dispassionate, but my. 

Berthon counters with this movement definitely sparked a lifelong interest. 

Were you an evangelical Christian as a child, a Jewish, a. No. And where are you coming from, world view wise that got you so involved in exploring this as a reporter? 

Well, you know, my family is are secular Jews. And so my first encounter with this movement was standing on the lines, defending the clinic during Operation Rescue. Then I went off, I went to graduate school. And it was years later as a journalist that I got interested in looking at the broader movement, because until then, my only encounters with them had been the kind of violent side of the movement. 

Right. So you started looking at it through this lens of the anti-abortion activists. But abortion isn’t the only issue that’s so useful for Christian conservative leaders to organize their base around. And you went on to explore some of these other topics. One you treat in your book is gay marriage, gay rights. You call it the mobilizing passion for the religious right. A couple of questions about gay rights, gay marriage. One, why is it such a hot button issue? And do you think that recently with so many prominent Republicans coming out as gay, you think that’s going to slow down the momentum that the religious right gets from rolling up their base around this issue? 

Well, let me start with the first issue. I mean, I think there’s a couple of different reasons why it’s become so central to the religious right’s ideology. And part of it is just because this is a movement that really needs an enemy. Protestant nativist movements have arisen in American history against Catholics, against Jews, against African-Americans. None of those are now considered an appropriate target. The movement want very much to shed its association with white supremacism, and in fact, it wants to claim the mantle of the civil rights movement, even though people like Jerry Falwell were very much opposed, the civil rights movement, what was happening. And they’ve obviously made this alliance with Catholics over issues like abortion and gay marriage. You know, and the movement is close to has embraced this Bilo Semitism because of Christian Zionism and its have theological protheses about the role of the Jewish people in the second coming. 

Right. Evangelicals are looking at the Holy Land as something they need to support because of their eschatology, their fear, even time events. They’re very pro Jewish in that sense. 

And so they need an enemy. And the two things that have surfaced, this idea of just kind of secular humanism, but then a more concrete version of that or more concrete demonology is around the homosexual agenda. And it’s not just about gay people. I mean, when you listen to the way some of these ideologues describe the homosexual agenda, it has this kind of all encompassing, subversive conspiracy that is weaving its tentacles into every aspect of life and government. It’s very much like other kind of scapegoating, conspiracy theories that we’ve heard before. So that’s, I think, the first part of it. 

So these prominent Republicans coming out as gay could be seen to be just as part of that homosexual agenda? 

Well, in fact, it has. There has been a number of things written in the right wing press or, you know, kind of circulating in the right wing media that conservatives have been done in by this homosexual underground right within their own movement, that they’ve been kind of infiltrated by the homosexual agenda. There was something that you heard about in the wake of Mark Foley and some of these aides who had been warning about him. 

There was all of these articles saying that the homosexual agenda has, you know, infiltrated the Republican Party. And that’s why our agenda has been put on the back burner throughout the last year of the Bush administration. So that’s part of it. But then the other part of it. Is that the anxieties about marriage being threatened? I think our legitimate anxieties. I mean, sometimes those of us who live on the coasts and who are opposed to this movement kind of chuckle at the fact that the movement to preserve the sanctity of marriage is inevitably strongest in the states at the highest levels of social pathologies that have the highest divorce rates, the highest violence rates, the highest rates of unintended pregnancy is about it. Wedlock pregnancies of drug abuse. I mean, really, you name it. And so it can seem really hypocritical. But another part of that, I think, is that these demagogs are speaking to a really genuine anxiety. People really do feel like their marriages are imperiled, like their social bonds are falling apart. And that’s obviously not because of the homosexual agenda, but they’re kind of giving them a place to focus all their anxieties on. 

They look around and see these social ills and they wonder why they’re having problems in their marriages or so many people in their church are having problems and they say it’s because of this homosexual agenda. 

Yeah, exactly. You know, in the book I write about going to the so-called Covenant Marriage ceremony in Little Rock, Arkansas, which is it was put together by Mike Huckabee, who’s the governor touted as a possible presidential candidate in 2008. And him and the local evangelical leader went all over the state recruiting churches to bring big delegations of people to this mouse event where Mike Huckabee and his wife converted their marriage into a covenant marriage, which is basically a kind of marriage that they have in a couple of states that the Christian right has pushed that precludes no fault divorce. Their marriage is they’re basically very hard to get out of. It’s like another legal status. 

So it’s like a super marriage where it’s not a normal civil marriage. 

Don’t want anything. Was a huge rally with all these people, some of them wearing wedding vows or even wedding gowns. 

And they all like Mike and Janet, did their vows and the crowd repeated after that and, you know, the wives promising to submit to their husbands. And there was this kind of tacit understanding that this was also a kind of anti-gay marriage rally, although people didn’t even talk about homosexuality when I did, asking people who were there, you know, why are you here? Do you plan to convert your marriage into a covenant marriage? A lot of people like that. They didn’t even really know what covenant marriage was. 

They just thought that they were they are standing up against homosexuality so that you we’ve explored a little where the fear of the homosexual and courts agenda is coming from. I think there is a homosexual agenda. It’s a pro gay agenda to get gays and lesbians more accepted in our society. 

Oh, sure. There’s obviously an agenda. There’s a kind of equality agenda. What there isn’t is this agenda to ban Christianity to jail preachers who say that marriage should only be between a man and a woman to indoctrinate children and recruit them into homosexuality in schools because gay people can’t have children. So they have to recruit. These are the kind of conspiratorial components of the phantasmagorical homosexual agenda. 

Right. And debates on gay marriage that I’ve done myself. I often hear the canard from interlocutor’s that, look, if gay marriage is made legal, then the government will force pastors to let gay people come into their church and get married. But that’s not part of the gay agenda, right? 

Of course, it’s a total conflation of civil and religious marriage. And I’m actually not sure how much people really believe that it’s a rhetorical device. 

Yeah, you you were talking about how the Christian nationalists and pretty soon I want to get around to defining Christian nationalism. But you were talking about how they in quotes, they need an enemy to organize around. You talked about homosexuals being one of the enemies. 

Oh, I should add that I think you’re right that that losing some of its potency. I mean, it was certainly less potent in 2006 than it had been in 2004. 

Right. Arizona did not pass the statewide constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. 

Right. Which was so important because, you know, usually this movement is not that used to being defeated on these issues electorally. When that does happen, it’s so important because it removes the chance for them to kind of demagog about activist judges subverting the will of the people. You know, this makes it clear that the will of the people is not with them. Right. 

So you were talking about enemies of the Christian nationalists and you mentioned secular humanism here at the Center for Inquiry’s headquartered, the Council for Secular Humanism, North America’s largest organization for ethical, non-religious people. And the council is often the target of well organized activists. To decry not only secular humanism in society, but go on to argue that it’s the single greatest threat to the survival of our republic and that it’s the state supported religion in the public schools, has that kind of argumentation, has that push lost some steam? Is that why they’re going and finding new enemies? 

Most people don’t really understand what secular humanism is. It’s not quite as easy to kind of get people up in arms about it. Right. 

But this broader idea that you talked about, the idea that secular humanism is a religion that needs to be in the interest of fairness, countered with kind of equal deference to Christianity in the public schools, is, I think, a very insidious and effective notion. I just came back from Texas and in Texas, the Texas Freedom Network has documented eleven school districts that are teaching this kind of Christian nationalist curriculum, which has this revisionist history. It talks about the kind of historical truth of the book of Genesis. It’s the kind of entire ideology taught under the guise of a kind of history of the Bible core verse, saying they’re presenting the other side of the coin if secular humanists have had their day in the schools. 

Now it’s time for Christians to have a reign of radical relativism. 

It’s the same kind of radical relativism that underlies the intelligent design debate, basically saying that there is no neutrality, there is no such thing as neutral knowledge. There’s really only opinion. Right. And so it’s very interesting because the right has kind of decried moral relativism and decried postmodernism, but then they engage in it. 

Yeah, absolutely. So they’re saying that since schools are not overtly advancing the Christian biblical worldview, that then they are necessarily indoctrinating students in the religion of secular humanism. 

Yeah, that is the argument. You hear it all the time. 

I want to talk more about secular humanism. Maybe in this larger context, Visa v Christian nationalism, it seems like every one of the hot button issues in our society, stem cell research, cloning, gay rights. We were talking about the role of religion in the public square. It’s often pitted secular humanist versus religious extremists or let’s say political, religious people. It seems like there’s always one point of view that is marshaled by science. The scientific outlook. Maybe you say the secular humanist outlook. And then another point of view that is diametric to that put forth by the Christian political activists. 

This is a democracy, though, where everyone’s entitled to their own opinion. Don’t Christian nationalists have every right to organize their people, try to change the country as they want to see the country? 

Absolutely. One of the things they try to make clear in the book is that most of what they’ve done is not illegitimate. I mean, there’s been some kind of stealth tactics early on in the Christian Coalition organizing in terms of running candidates, but only really telling their religious supporters what they stood for and then surprising everybody when they got onto the school board or whatever. That aside, yeah, mostly they’ve engaged in the same kind of legitimate political organizing that any faction should. And they’ve just outorganized everyone else. 

Why is that? Michelle, why have they done so much better at organizing than secular progressives or even conservative secular people? There are a lot of conservatives who are alarmed by this Christian nationalism. Why are the Christian nationalists. Your term for them? Why are they so successful at organizing? 

Well, part of it is that they’ve got a 30 year head start. Right? This is something that’s been kind of going on for 30 years. What’s interesting about the way it’s evolved is that it’s kind of gone through a series of iterations. Each one more decentralized than the last. I mean, you had the Moral Majority, which was this kind of national organization that set out fliers and, you know, mailings and at rallies. Then, you know, 10 years later, you had the Christian Coalition, which, because it came out of the ashes of Pat Robertson’s presidential campaign, had this really extensive local infrastructure and was able to make real inroads into the Republican Party at the grassroots. 

Right. This is Ralph Reed doing precinct Christianity. 

Exactly. Think was Ralph Reed said he’d rather have a thousand school boards in the presidency. Right. I’m getting that quote right. That’s the gist of it. So you had this very dispersed organizing. Very, very effective. And now that new generation of that are these so-called Patriot pastors networks where you have these kind of circles of megachurch pastor, there’s less of a kind of mediating organization between the religious leaders and the kind of organizing that’s going on. 

So besides the fact that this has been a concerted effort for 30 years, very well-funded, you know, with some very, very smart people behind it, I think they benefit from the fact that there is very little other kinds of social in. Rupture in America anymore. In which to organize people in a lot of the places where these megachurches are most popular and are growing the fastest. There’s just no other kind of community space. Mm hmm. And so that’s where you meet people. That’s where your kids are going. They care. They are. Maybe you’re going to the gym. They’re a lot of them at bowling alley. They might have a Starbucks bookstore single night, all these different things. It’s kind of one stop shopping for everything that could be missing in your social life or any kind of extracurricular need that you might have. And so it’s a very, very powerful venue for political organizing. I mean, maybe the only analog that used to exist on the progressive side would be Union Hall. And there’s just not really anything like that anymore. I mean, there are progressive religious institutions, but they’re not taking orders from the Democratic National Committee in the same way that some megachurch pastor literally will dial into these conference calls and get kind of political marching orders from figures in Washington. 

Right. There are no progressive Christian footsoldiers. There are conservative Christian footsoldiers. Right. 

I mean, there certainly are progressive Christian activists who are starting to kind of wake up and get alarmed. And I meet them all the time. They’re not taking marching orders and they’re not they don’t want to see their churches turned into auxiliaries of a political party. 

All right. So let’s get down to it. What are the beliefs of Christian nationalists? And are you really saying that they’re looking to take over the country or they’re just looking to influence policy in a direction more conducive to their worldview? 

Well, the first question I would say. 

I use the phrase Christian nationalism to differentiate between the movement. I’m talking about an evangelical Christianity as a whole, because at Angelical, Christians make up about a third of the country. And I’m not trying to tarle of them with this brush. Christian nationalists actually don’t even make up a majority of evangelicals. I think you could probably estimate that they make up between 10 to 15 percent of the population. And I would define it more as a political ideology than as a that is a theology. It has a revisionist history. It claims that America was founded as a Christian nation, that the founders never intended to separate church and state, and that that this kind of fraud that’s been perpetrated by secular lefties in the last hundred years, the title of one of the more popular revisionist history written by a guy named David Barton, who used to be vice chairman of the Texas Republican Party, is the myth of separation. And, you know, Rick Scarbro, a Texas pastor, is very active in this movement. He’s written a book talking about separation of church and state being called A Lie, introduced by Satan and fostered by the court. And so the movement and its ideologues believe that the institutions of American life need to be kind of re Christianized so that America can reclaim its former glory. And you were talking before about how they see secular humanism. They see the absence of religion as itself a religion that needs to be countered with equal power and an equal voice or at least an equal voice for Christianity. 

So you see how in terms of what their aims are. There’s a small sect that truly does want to institute at the ocracy, and some of their thinking has been quite influential. 

These are people like Rushdoony and others. But you’re not saying that all Christian nationalists now to make a theocracy? 

Absolutely not. I mean, forget the theocrats are a very tiny minority even within this movement. 

What they really aim for is, I think, a country where where Christianity and Angelical Faith will have a major role in policymaking and also a major role in national identity. So that one of the things I say is that other people will be allowed to practice their religion as they see fit, as long as they kind of know their place. If you don’t mind, I could read you something that gives what I think is kind of one of the best summations of their ideology. Please do it. This is the Family Research Council, which is kind of major organization in Washington. Their writing is kind of furious statement after a Hindu priest was invited to give an invocation before Congress. They wrote, While it is true that the United States of America was founded on the sacred principle of religious freedom, for all that liberty was never intended to exalt other religion to the level that Christianity holds in our country’s heritage. Our founders expected that Christianity and no other religion would receive support from the government as long as that support did not violate people’s consciences and their right to worship. They would have found utterly incredible. The idea that all religions, including. Paganism be treated with equal deference. Well, and so you see this play out. One of the things that I think is most difficult to get across is that you see this play out in a lot of ways that fall far, far, far short of theocracy. But that’s still represent a kind of change in the way the country works. People who are sympathetic to this movement have been given all kinds of jobs within the federal bureaucracy where they’re shaping policies in ways that are sometimes subtle, sometimes not so subtle. 

We were talking before we started recording about Title 10 in this new appointment of Bush’s right title. 

Ken is the program that kind of provides contraceptive and reproductive health services to poor and uninsured women all over America. It was signed into law by Richard Nixon. 

I mean, it was, you know, for a long time program that enjoyed bipartisan support. And Bush has just appointed to oversee this. A guy named Eric Keroack, who is on the Medical Advisory Council, the Epsilon’s clearing out, which is the Sioux Falls Group. That’s when they Leslee Unruh, who is really the driving force behind the attempt to criminalize all abortions in South Dakota recently. And he’s also the medical director of A Woman’s Concern, which is a network of anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers, S.P.C.A. For listeners who don’t know where these kind of anti abortion centers that masquerade as women’s health clinics, they often have people in white coats kind of looking like medical professionals, but they really exist solely to dissuade women from getting abortions and a woman’s concern. I mean, the guy’s a medical director of an organization that. Distributes false information about women’s health and about contraceptives. The website claims that abortion increases the risk for breast cancer by 50 percent. That’s been, Shelden, by the vast, vast majority of reputable scientists and studies to be completely untrue. The website says that 50 percent opposed the Board of Women report experiencing emotional and psychological disturbances lasting for months or years. Obviously, there are women out there who regret their abortions, but all of the psychological studies shows that on average, there’s very little psychological fallout. Although there certainly is for some individual. 

And what’s even more disturbing, I think, is that Carol Charolette is not opposed to abortion or at least this organization of which his medical director is very, very opposed to contraception and safe sex, which is what he’s going to be overseeing in his new job. They write on the Web site, if you were on a plane and the pilot got on the intercom and told you that there was a 15 percent chance the plane would not make it to its destination and have a fatal crash. Would you get off that plane? And that’s what they kind of use as the metaphor for it, for having sex with condom. 

Wow. So this is another example of how Christian nationalism is having an effect on government, if not making it a Christian government, at least getting more Christians of this ilk in positions of power. 

Well, I don’t think this is it’s preposterous to say that there’s a legitimate debate between, say, evolution and intelligent design. 

It’s the degradation of reason and empiricism in all kinds of facets of our national life. 

I find it interesting you look around the history of 20th century political affairs in America and two of the 20th century’s leading conservatives. Three, I guess, were secular atheists. There’s Barry Goldwater, surely. He had no love for Christian conservatives, nor this kind of what you’re calling Christian nationalism. There was Leo Strauss said University of Chicago, father of neo conservatism, and Ayn Rand, both of whom were ardent and our vocal atheists. Why doesn’t this fact, this brute fact of conservatism and secularism having this connection? Why doesn’t that give the Christian nationalists pause as they’ve married themselves to conservatism or the Republican Party? 

First of all, I mean, I don’t think that they see their antecedents as these kind of three role conservatives. And I would say that, you know, I don’t know much about Leo Strauss, but I believe that although he didn’t kind of terrorists these myths in self, he was a believer in perpetuating them. 

Right. In using them to mobilize political power. But that fact, if I were a Christian nationalist or let’s say a Christian and evangelical whose pastor is telling me to go out and vote knowing that Leo Strauss, an atheist, tells his neo con followers, hey, use religion to mobilize these Christians, it’s a way we can amass longstanding power that would give me pause. 

I would seriously doubt that very many of them are bothering themselves about the kind of contradictions in. 

Working with Strathewen. But beyond that, I think that they see themselves as having a kind of entirely different intellectual tradition. 

And they see perhaps the neo cons as being appendages to that, rather than seeing themselves as the kind of duped foot soldiers of a largely secular ideology. 

Mm hmm. Do you think that Christian nationalism in general, this movement you’re talking about in the book? We’ve had a conversation about is it losing steam? Last year, they lost their push in Dover, Pennsylvania. And this year, even if they were able to get their base out to the polls, they didn’t tip the election in favor of the Republican Party, right? 

No. I mean, I certainly think that they have been weakened. I feel much more optimistic than I did when I finished the book. 

And federal office has been across the board on all of these ballot initiatives, be it, you know, gay marriage in Arizona, abortion in South Dakota, parental consent for abortion in Oregon and California, stem cells in Missouri. They lost some of their kind of most stalwart people in Congress. You know, Rick Santorum, John Hostettler, you know, and plus, they’ve been beset with this series of scandals. You know, when I wrote this book, Ted Haggard was still a leading spokesperson for the sanctity of heterosexual marriage. Ralph Reed was still the kind of baby faced boy wonder who had built up the Christian Coalition in name with yet synonymous with Jack Abramoff and Indian casinos and gambling. Tom DeLay was still ruling the House on their behalf. And so there’s certainly been no end of losses and disappointment and demoralization. 


In writing this book, if you look through the archives, there have been obituaries for the Christian right written every couple of years since early 80s after the preacher scandals of the 80s, after Clinton won, after he was reelected. And like I said, this isn’t a majority movement, but. While I certainly think that it’s been weakened, I think it’s unlikely that these challenges and attacks inside of their society are not just going to go away, just as the movement was rejected by the vast majority of Americans when they reelected Clinton. Despite the best efforts of this movement, it didn’t stop the movement from really pushing the country towards the crisis of impeachment. And so I would say that in the same way, this is a movement that at least some of its members are so convinced of their right to rule and have the kind of total illegitimacy of the opposition that it’s hard for me to imagine that they’re just going to kind of pack up and go home. 

I’d like to let our listeners know that you can purchase a copy of Michelle Goldberg’s book Kingdom coming through our Web site Point of Inquiry dot org. Michelle, thank you very much for joining me on Point of Inquiry. 

Thank you so much for having me. 

You’ve seen the headlines, Bill seeks to protect students from liberal bias. The right time for an Islamic reformation. Kansas School Board redefined science. These stories sum up the immense challenge facing those of us who defend rational thinking, science and secular values. What one adviser to the Bush administration dismissed as the reality based community. Who could have imagined that reality would need defenders? The educational and advocacy work of the Center for Inquiry is more essential than ever. And your support is more essential than ever. Show your commitment to science, reason and secular values. By becoming a friend of the center today, whether you are interested in the work of psychology and skeptical Inquirer magazine, the Council for Secular Humanism and Free Inquiry magazine, the Commission for Scientific Medicine, or a Center for Inquiry on campus. By becoming a friend of the center, you’ll help strengthen our impact. If you’re just learning about CFI, take a look at our Web site. W w w dot. Center for Inquiry dot net. We hosted regional and international conferences, college courses and nationwide campus outreach. You’ll also find out about our new representation at the United Nations, an important national media appearances. We cannot pursue these projects without your help. Please become a friend of the center today by calling one 800 eight one eight seven zero seven one or visiting WW w that center for Inquiry Dot Donnette. We look forward to working with you to enlarge the reality based community. 

Thanks for listening to this episode of Point of Inquiry. Join us next week for another discussion about science and reason and free inquiry in society to get involved with an online conversation about the topics of today’s show. Christian Nationalism and the agenda of religious political extremists in America. Go to w w w dot CFI dash forums dot org. Views expressed on point of inquiry don’t necessarily reflect the views of the Center for Inquiry, nor its affiliated organizations. Questions and comments on today’s show can be sent to feedback at point of inquiry dot org or by visiting our Web site. Point of inquiry dot org. 

Point of inquiry is produced by Thomas Donnelly and recorded at the Center for Inquiry in Amherst, New York. Executive producer Paul Kurtz Point of Inquiry’s music is composed for us by Emmy Award winning Michael Quailing. Contributors to today’s show include Sarah Jordan Debbie Goddard and Lauren Becker. I’m your host, DJ Grothe. 

DJ Grothe

D.J. Grothe is on the Board of Directors for the Institute for Science and Human Values, and is a speaker on various topics that touch on the intersection of education, science and belief. He was once the president of the James Randi Educational Foundation and was former Director of Outreach Programs for the Center for Inquiry and associate editor of Free Inquiry magazine. He previously hosted the weekly radio show and podcast Point of Inquiry, exploring the implications of the scientific outlook with leading thinkers.