exercises in compound storytelling

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Robert Boston: The Most Dangerous Man in America?

I've waded into Robert Boston's 1996 book The Most Dangerous Man in America? Pat Robertson and the Rise of the Christian Coalition. Boston is one of the main characters at Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, and makes a lot of his living out of critiquing and criticizing the Christian Right.

I have to admit that in 1988 I mostly ignored Pat Robertson's run for President. I was in college at the time, and it had already been made clear to me that the sitting Vice President, George H. W. Bush, was God's man for the job. In retrospect I'm not sure why: Bush wasn't really "one of us," as we found out three years later in Wichita; he was "one of them:" the country club Republicans who didn't share our values, except for the ones we'd learned from them.

Pat Robertson, on the other hand, wasn't "one of us" either: he was a Charismatic of sorts, and in 1988 we were still too Fundamentalist to think Charismatics were real Christians like us. Never mind the fact that he was in principle a Baptist. At the time I think we thought he was an ordained minister, and as such already had a calling, and shouldn't have been running for public office. As Boston points out, however, Robertson isn't quite several things: he graduated law school but didn't become a lawyer, and he started a television ministry without being an ordained minister or pastoring a church.

But as Boston also points out, Robertson was sort of a transitional figure between Jerry Falwell and James Dobson, and as such is of historical significance, even if that history isn't very pleasant.

This isn't a great book so far. Boston is honest about where he stands: he thinks Pat Robertson is dangerous, is afraid of him, and wants you to be scared of him too. He tends to cite as sources a lot of articles he wrote or his organization produced, and as such weakens the authority of a lot of his claims; he doesn't apparently speak Christianese, or Evangelicalese, or whatever, so he tends to misunderstand the meaning of certain aspirational "God is on our side" claims. And he misses the point of the ways in which terms like "Christian nation" are used.

Unfortunately people like Boston are the only sources who cover the sordid aspects of modern conservative Christian politics: the campaign finance issues, the credibility issues, the amoral political operatives, the smears, etc. The Christian Right has with rare exception (Cal Thomas and Ed Dobson's Blinded By Might) been unreflective and un-self-critical, always claiming the moral high ground but never quite occupying it. So I'm stuck reading books like Boston's to understand the history of figures like Robertson.

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