Goldberg on the radical Christian right
Salon.com contributing writer Michelle Goldberg is the author of Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism, just out in paperback from W.W. Norton. On Tuesday night she spoke at the Berkeley Public Library, and I interviewed her afterward.
Goldberg’s book is about a radical movement within evangelical Christianity that goes far beyond the standard issues of opposition to abortion and gay marriage. The Dominionist movement, as she identifies it, wants nothing less than to remake American society along the movement’s own “Biblical principles.”
Interview after the jump.
In the middle and late 20th Century, there was a certain commonality of experience and content in a public school education. Do you believe the degradation of public education and the rise of home-schooling among conservative Christians creates a climate where anti-democratic movements can flourish?
Yes, exactly. The movement is aggressively hostile to public education, and hostile to the idea of paying taxes to support public schools. And with “No Child Left Behind,” there’s been a decline of history teaching because teachers are stressing reading and writing so their students can pass the national test. What’s been lost is a common, agreed-upon history, so that (the movement) can perpetuate all kinds of frauds like creationism.
When I go around the country I hear of local examples of the potency of this movement — instances of creationism being taught as science in public schools, or classes taking a supposedly secular approach to “The Bible as literature” in which the curriculum was actually created by the National Council on Biblical Curriculum in Public Schools and based heavily on the work of David Barton.*
The right also carps about “cultural relativism,” but this Dominionist movement is profoundly relativistic. It behaves as if, outside of scripture, there is no truth, only power. They treat everything as if there are no facts, only ideology, so they can distort history in the most ludicrous ways, such as saying that America was founded as a Christian nation, or talk about the “Christian kindness the settlers extended to native Americans.” They speak of the 1950s American nuclear family as if it were something that had always existed, instead of some anomaly. In their ideology, the doctrine of the separation of church and state was something that was introduced 100 years ago by secular humanists [instead of being found in the First Amendment].
You speak of the radical religious right “infiltrating” American society, but don’t they use the same kind of language to talk about liberals and secularists?
When I use that word, I’m quoting Gary North, a leader of the Christian Reconstructionist movement, who said in 1981, “Christians must begin to organize politically within the present party structure, and they must begin to infiltrate the existing institutional order.” It’s hard to talk about Christian nationalism as a danger without sounding apocalyptic. It resembles some quasi-fascist movements, but that’s not the same thing as saying that America is on the verge of fascism.
In addition to the threats to the separation of church and state and the other threats to the Constitution you speak of, the Constitution has also been threatened by the Bush administration’s attempts to expand the power of the executive branch.
Yes, Bush’s contempt for democracy extends far beyond his contempt for the First Amendment. Right now, the (radical Christian right wing) is about the only constituency Bush has left.They’re sticking with him on the war in Iraq, possibly for their own eschatological reasons, though I’m not one of those who thinks Bush went to war in Iraq to hasten Armageddon. I do think there has been a systematic erosion of institutions — the movement is not a cult, but a triumph of organizing. The means are legitimate, even if the ends are not.
* David Barton is the head of WallBuilders, an organization which, according to its website, “is an organization dedicated to presenting America’s forgotten history and heroes, with an emphasis on the moral, religious, and constitutional foundation on which America was built — a foundation which, in recent years, has been seriously attacked and undermined.” Barton’s online bio says his goal is to “communicate the truth regarding our country’s religious roots.” — Ed.