Another superb work by renowned but long-absent political journalist FitzGerald (Vietnam: Spirits of the Earth, 2002, etc.), this one centering on the roiling conflict among American brands of Christianity.
The author opens with a brief revisitation of a moment when progressive evangelicalism seemed ascendant: the presidential campaign of Jimmy Carter, which soon gave way to a reborn kind of hidebound Christianity in the form of the anti-humanist Christian right, “declaring holy war against ‘secular humanism’ and vowing to mobilize evangelicals to arrest the moral decay of the country.” Thus ever it has been, from the burned-over revivalism of the 19th century to the latest religio-revanchisms from Colorado Springs or Lynchburg. By FitzGerald’s account, this revival of the right truly has been a revival, for after the Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925, “most informed people thought fundamentalism dead.” However, through rightists such as Billy Graham, fundamentalism was reborn as a political force. FitzGerald traces the culture wars that have since riven the country to the divisions between liberal and right-wing visions of Christianity as well as larger elements of society. In the 1960s, she notes, “most conservative Christians were horrified by the counterculture, but a number of young evangelical ministers, most of them Pentacostals, saw the potential in it for conversions.” Granted that many of the converted became conservative themselves and that the Christian right is, in the author’s view, mostly a reaction against the social revolution of that era, what has happened since is truly fascinating: the right wing of evangelical American Christianity has made a devil’s bargain with politicians such as the sitting president, who claimed the Bible as his favorite book but “did not seem to remember even a verse of it.” In making that bargain, it also may be making a last stand, since millennials are abandoning religion in droves, and those who do go to church are “on the whole more sympathetic with progressive positions than with those of the right.”
Overflowing with historical anecdote and contemporary reportage and essential to interpreting the current political and cultural landscape.