exercises in compound storytelling

Friday, January 22, 2010

Max Blumenthal: Republican Gomorrah (part three): terrible times in the last days

Last night I wrapped up the second half of Max Blumenthal's book Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement that Shattered the Party.

This was fairly unpleasant reading: Blumenthal talked about the personal lives of various Christian leaders and their children, various Republican men and their sexual behavior, including various illegal activities, the question of whether a man who has sex with other men is a homosexual, etc. Then he devotes an entire section of the book to the significance of Sarah Palin.

This is pretty sordid stuff; I got really tired after a while of Blumenthal's descriptions of pornography, sex acts, etc. I suppose I should have expected this, however, from a book with the word "Gomorrah" in it.

I also got tired of Blumenthal's rhetorical flourishes; he often characterizes a person or organization organization in a way that isn't accurate and typically involves a value judgment or a particular interpretation of history (was Francis Schaeffer really the godfather of Dominonism? Is Youth With A Mission a Dominionist group? etc.) and footnote factual claims on each side of the flourish without doing anything to suggest why his characterization is accurate.

I finally decided that Blumenthal is just a muckraker, and I shouldn't expect anything more from this book. It's not a good book, Blumenthal doesn't apparently understand what he's seeing, he apparently doesn't understand that when James Dobson talks about "The Family" he's talking about an idealized nuclear family and not the group that sponsors the National Prayer Breakfast (or just doesn't care), he evidently thinks abortion and pornography are morally neutral or even beneficial, etc. etc.

All that being said, I wish I could find a version of this book that had been fact-checked a bit more carefully, and was written for a centrist rather than a left-leaning audience: he covers a lot of political ground, mentions, contextualizes, and connects a lot of names, and at least mentions every high-profile scandal in the Christian Right (and many in the Republican Party) for the last twenty years. He at least name-checks a lot of the things about the current state of the Christian Right that really bother me, including
  • The connections between Sarah Palin and Third Wave Pentecostalism
  • Anything and everything having to do with the Council for National Policy
  • Purity balls (do these things really exist?)
  • The continuing unacknowledged influence of Rousas John Rushdoony
  • The various sexual scandals and the way Christian Right leaders respond to them
  • The fact that the "movement" has more to do with making Christians into Republicans (and not, say, the other way around)
Unfortunately Blumental makes a mess of this book; I almost wonder if it was intended to inoculate people on the Christian Right against criticism, rather than it's apparent intent to diagnose a real problem on the right.

Blumenthal's basic premise, that the Republican Party is popular with the Christian Right (or perhaps the other way around) because the Christian Right alternately tells fear stories and offers the prospect of a "magic daddy" who can keep everyone safe at the cost of their freedom. This is unfortunately something Blumenthal assumes rather than proves, and it colors his analysis to its detriment. He doesn't compare it to any other fear and magic stories popular in political circles (collective action, labor unions, the New Deal, the Great Society, the free market, etc.) and as I've noted earlier he always seem to be reaching for connections that don't quite make sense.

I'm glad to have this book behind me; I'll probably take a break from religion and politics for a little while before wading back into my history of Fundamentalist Christianity/history of the Religious Right reading list again.

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