Excerpt: In these times magazine

Saving Secular Society

By Michelle Goldberg

Whenever I talk about the growing power of the evangelical right with friends, they always ask the same question: What can we do? Usually I reply with a joke: Keep a bag packed and your passport current. I don’t really mean it, but my anxiety is genuine. It’s one thing to have a government that shows contempt for civil liberties; America has survived such men before. It’s quite another to have a mass movement—the largest and most powerful mass movement in the nation—rise up in opposition to the rights of its fellow citizens. The Constitution protects minorities, but that protection is not absolute; with a sufficiently sympathetic or apathetic majority, a tightly organized faction can get around it.

The mass movement I’ve described aims to supplant Enlightenment rationalism with what it calls the “Christian worldview.” The phrase is based on the conviction that true Christianity must govern every aspect of public and private life, and that all—government, science, history and culture—must be understood according to the dictates of scripture. There are biblically correct positions on every issue, from gay marriage to income tax rates, and only those with the right worldview can discern them. This is Christianity as a total ideology—I call it Christian nationalism. It’s an ideology adhered to by millions of Americans, some of whom are very powerful. It’s what drives a great many of the fights over religion, science, sex and pluralism now dividing communities all over the country.


I am not suggesting that religious tyranny is imminent in the United States. Our democracy is eroding and some of our rights are disappearing, but for most people, including those most opposed to the Christian nationalist agenda, life will most likely go on pretty much as normal for the foreseeable future. Thus for those who value secular society, apprehending the threat of Christian nationalism is tricky. It’s like being a lobster in a pot, with the water heating up so slowly that you don’t notice the moment at which it starts to kill you.

If current trends continue, we will see ever-increasing division and acrimony in our politics. That’s partly because, as Christian nationalism spreads, secularism is spreading as well, while moderate Christianity is in decline. According to the City University of New York Graduate Center’s comprehensive American religious identification survey, the percentage of Americans who identify as Christians has actually fallen in recent years, from 86 percent in 1990 to 77 percent in 2001. The survey found that the largest growth, in both absolute and percentage terms, was among those who don’t subscribe to any religion. Their numbers more than doubled, from 14.3 million in 1990,when they constituted 8 percent of the population, to 29.4 million in 2001,when they made up 14 percent. “The top three ‘gainers’ in America’s vast religious marketplace appear to be Evangelical Christians, those describing themselves as Non-Denominational Christians and those who profess no religion,” the survey found. (The percentage of other religious minorities remained small, totaling less than 4 percent of the population).


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Excerpt: SALON.COM

Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism
Across the United States, religious activists are organizing to establish an American theocracy. A frightening look inside the growing right-wing movement.

By Michelle Goldberg


A teenage modern dance troupe dressed all in black took their places on the stage of the First Baptist Church of Pleasant Grove, a suburb of Birmingham, Alabama. Two dancers, donning black overcoats, crossed their arms menacingly. As a Christian pop ballad swelled on the speakers, a boy wearing judicial robes walked out. Holding a Ten Commandments tablet that seemed to be made of cardboard, he was playing former Alabama Supreme Court justice Roy Moore. The trench-coated thugs approached him, miming a violent rebuke and forcing him to the other end of the stage, sans Commandments.


There, a cluster of dancers impersonating liberal activists waved signs with slogans like "No Moore!" and "Keep God Out!! No God in Court." The boy Moore danced a harangue, first lurching toward his tormentors and then cringing back in outrage before breaking through their line to lunge for his monument. But the dancers in trench coats -- agents of atheism -- got hold of it first and took it away, leaving him abject on the floor. As the song's uplifting chorus played -- "After you've done all you can, you just stand" -- a dancer in a white robe, playing either an angel or God himself, came forward and helped the Moore character to his feet.

The performance ended to enthusiastic applause from a crowd that included many Alabama judges and politicians, as well as Roy Moore himself, a gaunt man with a courtly manner and the wrath of Leviticus in his eyes. Moore has become a hero to those determined to remake the United States into an explicitly Christian nation. That reconstructionist dream lies at the red-hot center of our current culture wars, investing the symbolic fight over the Ten Commandments -- a fight whose outcome seems irrelevant to most peoples' lives -- with an apocalyptic urgency.


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Order the Book

Kingdom Coming:
The Rise of Christian Nationalism

By Michelle Goldberg
Paperback, 224 pages
Publisher: W. W. Norton

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PRAISe for kingdom coming

“Michelle Goldberg has done the impossible. She's written a serious, scathing, eye-opening expose of the ongoing takeover of our country by rightwing Christians– and somehow managed to make it witty, funny, and humane. If it were satire, Kingdom Coming would be hilarious. Unfortunately, it's all true – things are even worse than you thought. Read it while you can!”

Katha Pollitt, columnist, The Nation ; author, Virginity or Death! : And Other Social and Political Issues of Our Time

“America’s theocrats have to be seen, heard, and read to be believed. Not all of us have the acute senses, stamina, guts and intelligence to uncover these forces of unreason and tyranny directly, so we rely on scouts. Michelle Goldberg is one of our indispensable scouts, and Kingdom Coming is a brave and important book. If you cherish plurality and reason, read it to get the bad news—and to restore your faith in journalism.”

Todd Gitlin, Professor of Journalism, Columbia University, and author of The Intellectuals and the Flag

“Michelle Goldberg ventured into the heartland of American fundamentalist extremism -- and returned to warn us of the authoritarian ambitions that lie behind the moralistic posturing of the religious right.  Every patriot who still cherishes the freedoms we inherited from the nation’s founders should read her book.”

Joe Conason, author of The Hunting of the President, Big Lies, and The Raw Deal


“Michelle Goldberg takes us on an eye-opening journey through the Christian right grass- roots, from the evolution battles in Dover, Pennsylvania to Roy’s Rock in Alabama and beyond. Along the way, she makes a devastating case that underlying this movement’s campaigns against abortion or gay marriage is a tremendous will to power, an ambition to achieve Christian domination of our public life and laws. Kingdom Coming offers a stark warning that our democracy is under attack from within.”

Esther Kaplan, author of With God on Their Side: George W. Bush and the Christian Right


 “Kingdom Coming reveals just how thoroughly our national discourse has been corrupted by the mad work of religious literalists.  Goldberg demonstrates — elegantly and persuasively— that tens of millions of our neighbors are working each day to obliterate the separation between church and state, to supplant scientific rationality with Iron Age fantasies, and to achieve a Christian theocracy in the 21st century. This is a terrifying and necessary book.”

Sam Harris, author, The End of Faith


“A chilling and lucid investigation into the rise of Christian extremism in America, as well as a how-to guide for thinking Americans who wish to preserve their civil liberties against the coming onslaught. An important book.”

Julia Scheeres, author of Jesusland

“Tocqueville said in 1840, 'Various forms of religious madness are quite common in the United States.'  Michelle Goldberg demonstrates that various forms of religious madness are still quite common. Tocqueville thought that American democracy could contain the danger. Can it still? Only with an effort. That is Michelle Goldberg's well-illustrated and eloquently expressed point, and she is right to make that point, and we had better pay attention.”

Paul Berman, author of Terror and Liberalism and Power and the Idealists


“Michelle Goldberg provides a critical wake up call for all Americans about a coalition of right wing Christian conservative groups determined to remake the United States into a Christian nation ruled by their conception of Jesus' will. Every American who cherishes religious freedom, civil liberties and the separation of church and state must read Kingdom Coming.”

Abraham H. Foxman, National Director, Anti-Defamation League; author, Never Again? The Threat of the New Anti-Semitism

“Michelle Goldberg takes us on a superbly reported inside tour of the far-out Christian Right, distinguished by its contempt for democracy in this world in the hope of total victory over nonbelievers in the world to come. This book should scare every American who cherishes our secular Constitution and its separation of church and state. ”

Susan Jacoby, author of Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism