Righteous: Dispatches from the Evangelical Youth Movement by Lauren Sandler
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I probably shouldn't read this type of topical nonfiction. It relies fairly heavily on the idea that some ominous cultural or political activity is getting bigger and bigger and is about to threaten our Very Way of Life. But while I am a naturally anxious person, I'm totally on to these yahoos that need to make me believe that swine flu/homophobes/feminists/Republicans/immigrants/China/Muslims/etc. are about to bring about some sort of dystopian future. I get that there are threats in the world, and people with whom I completely disagree. And people with bombs and guns and stuff. But fear is counterproductive. It's not a good basis for a worldview. It does, however, sell lots of books and magazines.
The author of this book is talented -- she writes engagingly about the young evangelicals. She looks at many different parts of the whole: "alternative" ministries reaching out to pierced and tattooed types (I like to think of them as Bedazzled) with slang-filled but still very conservative messages; the home-schooled ultra-conservative politicos at Patrick Henry College who are looking to take over Washington; the evangelicals in the military that believe God brought about the Iraq and Afghan wars so that they can bring Christianity to the Middle East; the goth church in Texas run by Jim and Tammy Faye Baker's son; the folks trying to get "intelligent design" into the public school curriculum; Stephen Baldwin and the Extreme Tour; and many more. And it's alarming stuff. She interviews many people along the way, and I found myself arguing in my head with many of them. How can you believe women are to be subservient? Why do you think other people must believe as you do? Why must this be a "Christian nation" -- there are people of all faiths here.
I think the author did a good job of showing how religion was of personal comfort to many of her subjects, while still decrying their political views. (She made no bones about being alarmed by the whole movement.) She notes that evangelism is clearly popular because so many young people are unclear about how to have meaning in their lives, feeling disconnected from their communities. But she wants her readers to be really freaked out and, basically, to create something similar on the left. She calls for the secular liberals to have their own versions of the Christian rock festivals, skate ministries, political colleges, and self-help books she describes here, only with life-affirming messages from the left wing. Oy.
I'd try something a bit more basic. How about public programs and educational institutions that support the health, safety, and growth of our citizens? How about some regulations that prevent Wall Street banks from putting our economy in the toilet? How about an economy that does not depend almost entirely on the consumption of consumer goods for its "health"? Fanaticism, fear, and intolerance are often born from insecurity, poverty, poor education, or economic instability. Maybe if our country did a better job of supporting its most vulnerable citizens and working toward fairness and justice, we'd all be a little less susceptible to the fear mongers.
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