Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement That Shattered the Party Hardcover – Sep 1 2009
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"With scarcely more than a pith helmet, a notebook, and a tattered copy of Escape from Freedom, Erich Fromm’s great study of authoritarian psychology, the dauntless Max Blumenthal set forth years ago to explore the dank forests of American Christianism. Now he has returned to civilization, bringing back a fine collection of shrunken heads and a riveting account of a religio-political subculture that’s even weirder than you thought it was. Republican Gomorrah is an irresistable combination of anthropology and psychopathology that exerts the queasy fascination of (let’s face it) something very like pornography."
“A brave and resourceful reporter adept at turning over rocks that public-relations-savvy Christian conservative leaders would prefer remain undisturbed.”
—Rick Perlstein, New York Times Book Review
“Max Blumenthal’s bold and brash reporting style should not overshadow his keen understanding of the extremist ideology that passes for “conservatism” in America today. A witty writer who thinks for himself, he shows the mainstream media where the story is, not vice versa. And his short videos have transformed the conservative crack-up into must-see TV.”
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For me reading Max Blumenthal's Republican Gomorrah is a look into a mirror. That might be because Blumenthal extensively interviewed me and drew rather heavily on my book "Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back" as a reference for his in-depth exposé of what has gone so very wrong with the Republican Party. He's on my turf so I happen to know he's telling the truth as its not been told before. But there's more.
Republican Gomorrah is the first book that actually "gets" what's happened to the Republican Party and in turn what the Republicans have done to our country. The usual Democratic Party and/or progressive "take" on the Republican Party is that it's been taken over by a far right lunatic fringe of hate and hypocrisy, combining as it does, sexual and other scandals with moralistic finger wagging. But Blumenthal explains a far deeper pathology: it isn't so much religion as the psychosis and sadomasochism of the losers now called "Republicans" that drives the party. And the "Christianity" that shapes so much "conservative" thinking now is anything but Christian. It's a series of deranged personality cults.
Th e Religious Right/Republicans have perfected the method of capturing people in personal crisis and turning them into far right evangelical/far right foot soldiers. This explains a great deal that otherwise, to outsiders, seems almost inexplicable--the why and wherefore of "Deathers" "Birthers" et al. Blumanthal brilliantly sums up this pathology as:
"...a culture of personal crisis lurking behind the histrionics and expressions of social resentment. This culture is the mortar that bonds leaders and followers together."
Tracing the thinking of the fathers of the Republican Party, including my dad, the late Francis Schaeffer, who I teamed up with when I was a young man to help launch the Protestant wing of the "pro-life" movement, along with other such as Rousas John Rushdoony and the philanthropist Howard Ahmanson -- who used to donate generously to my far right work -- Blumenthal explains where the current Republican Party came from. He also details who it's foundational thinkers were, and just why it's still so dangerous. (A threat proved again this summer as the gun-toting fringe derailed the health care reform debate.)
He has their number. For one thing this book -- at last! -- will forever put James Dobson where he belongs: onto the top of the list of the American n ational rogue's gallery of mean-spirited, even sadistic, cranks.
Blumenthal first came to my attention when he was doing his in-depth reporting on Sarah Palin. He was a guest on a TV program I was on too. There was something accomplished and in depth about the quality of his reporting on religion that I hadn't seen from other progressive sources. I've been following his work since. Blumenthal understands the philosophy, psychology and religion of Religious Right figures like Palin, Dobson, Robertson et al in a way that no other reporter (with the exception of the always amazingly perceptive Jeff Sharlet author of <em>The Family</em>) does.
Now, having read Blumenthal's book I know why he seems to really understand the nuances of far right religion. No one else has ever investigated this subject with as much insight into the psychological sickness that is the basis of the Religious right's power to delude other people who are also needy and unstable.
In another time and place the despicable (and sometimes tragic figures) Blumenthal describes would be the leaders of, or the participants in, local lynch mobs, or the followers of the Ku Klux Klan. But today figures such as James Dobson, Pat Robertson, (the late) Jerry Falwell, Newt Gingrich, and Sarah Palin have led a resentment-driven second American revolution, not just against Democrats and progressives but against the United States of America itself. And this group of outsiders (in every sense of that word ) now control one of our major political parties.
As I explained to Blumanthal when he interviewed me, one of the reasons I left the far right movement in the 1980s was because I perceived20it becoming the bedrock of anti-Americanism. The worst things got the better we right wing activists liked it. We loved crisis. We<em> manufactured </em>crisis! Crisis (public or personal) would force the country to embrace our radical solution: a radical turn to Old Testament law that would put homosexuals to death, see adulterers stoned at the city gates and so forth.
There were exceptions to the hard edge, my late father Francis Schaeffer was one. And Blumenthal (in his chapter on Dad and I) describes how my father was a compassionate man who opened his ministry to all before something "snapped" after the Roe v. Wade decision when he became a leader in the pro-life movement.
But with a few exceptions (like my late father) most of the people described in Blumenthal's book have no "other side" to them. They are the sick bedrock of what, at any moment, may become a full-blown American fascism. (Sharlet has done great work on showing how these Religious Right folks have also invaded the US Military, especially the chaplaincy ranks.)
My one -- very slight -- criticism of Republican Gomorrah is that Blumenthal neglected to do something that would have bolstered his arguments and given them deeper credibility: introduce a bi t of paradox and nuance into his book. He could have made a better case for the left by frankly looking at some of the extremism on the left that has played into the hands of the cynics who control the Religio us Right: for instance the the way Roe v. Wade was (in the view of many liberal pro-choice advocates) a tactical mistake preempting what was already happening in states including California and New York, in terms of legalizing abortion, and thereby galvanizing the culture war as we know it. And in the same vein perhaps when it comes to the current ethics of abortion and porn Blumenthal's case would be stronger if he had pointed out that there are many progressives, who have serious moral qualms on these issues as well.
That said Blumentha's case against the Religious Right is breathtakingly damning. What these folks want -- to destroy our pluralistic democracy and replace it with theocracy -- appears so far-fetched to most Americans that unfortunately their agenda is not taken seriously. The great service Blumenthal performs is to not only enlighten those who didn't grow up in the movement (as I did, sad to say) but to offer a genuine warning as to the seriousness of what these people will unleash if not stopped, then stopped again and again--because they are here to stay. And they just happen to control the republican Party!
Why should Blumenthal's book to be taken seriously? Take it from this former "insider" he knows what he's talking about. Hi s thesis is less about politics than about the deviant psychology that people like Dobson have cashed in on by feeding delusion, victimhood and failure as a means through which to build a political movement. What Blumenthal reveals20is the heart of the most dysfunctional and truly dangerous -- not to mention armed -- darkest reaches of our country.
What should we "do"? Read the book! Then fight like hell to keep Republicans out of power come what may. And maybe (note to progressives!) be a little less critical of President Obama and a little more grateful that he's in the White House!
Once in a while a book comes along about which one can say: If you love our country read this! Republican Gomorrah is one such book. One other thing: if you know any sane Republicans that would like to save what's left of their party <em>beg them to read this book</em>. If you have to beg them in the name of Jesus!
Blumenthal has done an impressive amount of meticulously documented research and has unearthed much new information. He identifies Francis Schaeffer as the original source of much of the philosophy behind the Family (as the movement is known among its adherents), and recognizes the heavy influence of James Dobson, Rousas John Rushdoony, and Howard F. Ahmanson in its propagation. As the Family has gained power it has attracted politicians like Tom DeLay and Ralph Reed until, in the 2008 election, it was actually able to dictate the choice of a supremely unqualified candidate as the Republican vice-presidential nominee.
This book intrigued me on several levels. As a white Southern male in my early 50s, I have witnessed much of the Family's rise. I remember Francis Schaeffer being avidly discussed among young conservatives at my college during the 1970s, and recall the very heavy handed Republican efforts to co-opt the votes of people like me which began in 1980 and have continued to the present. I resented then and still resent today their assumption that my heritage and my faith would incline me to vote for their bigoted and racist platform, and feel deeply ashamed that so many who have a similar background to mine could be manipulated into giving them their support. The chapters dealing with Christian Reconstructionism and Dominionism are excellent guides for understanding those movements and their connections to the GOP. I also found the chapters detailing the hypocrisy and financial and/or sexual pecadillos of these men and women who claim to be doing the Lord's work highly interesting, if sometimes sickening. It would be all too easy to sneer at such churlishness and dismiss it out of hand, but that would be a mistake.
With our country so deeply divided, and with civilized debate and rational discourse rapidly disappearing, books like Republican Gomorrah make invaluable reading to those of us who are dumbfounded by the profound ignorance now so much on display in town hall meetings, "tea parties", and most unfortunately in Congress itself. Republican Gomorrah reveals the mechanisms by which so many honorable religious Americans have been woefully and deliberately misinformed and manipulated into supporting cynical politicians who care nothing for true faith and values. Americans who are truly concerned for the future of our country need to read Republican Gomorrah and be aware that the Republic has much to fear from those who wrap themselves in the flag and wave the Bible in the air.
I also grew up in the evangelical culture. With the exception of my immediate family, most of my relatives are part of Christian right. I graduated from a conservative, evangelical college where, as one of the few politically liberal students, I probably met more gay and lesbians than I later did at my Ivy League graduate school. As Max Blumenthal shows in his book.....this is not a strange coincidence.
I was born into an evangelical home, as were my parents. In fact, most of the hundreds of evangelicals I met at church or college were the second, third or fourth generation of conservative Christians. I left the evangelical world at age 22 and have spent years wondering what makes it so angry and reactive. Main-line Protestants and Catholics have their own faults and odd tics. Ditto for the reform and conservative branches of Judiasm. But with the exception of certain fundamentalist Muslims, none of these groups seem to have the same weird, sado-masochistic vibe of the Christian right.
In fact, evangelical Republicans act so much like untreated trauma survivors or dry drunks that I've really come to view them more as a psychological phenomenon as opposed to a religious movement. They're obsessed with gays, pornography and sexuality because, as Blumenthal shows, so many are closeted gays, porn addicts and/or men who can't relate to women in a healthy, equal way.
It's a very strange sub-culture. Conservative Christians tend to cut themselves off from a huge spectrum of human emotions (with the usual dismal, whack-a-mole results.) They insist on ignorance, attempting to shackle any natural intellectual curiosity. In order to remain in a conservative Christian world, you have to censor your thoughts and emotions to the point where the result is a serious case of arrested development.
Which is why so many right-wing Christians can't seem to think or process feelings like normal adults. Instead they operate in a very child-like world of good or evil, heaven or hell, salvation or damnation, all or nothing, with us or against us. Which is why they're absolutely fixated on creating scapegoats (Commies, gays, liberals, Islamic terrorists, dark-skinned people, feminists, hippies, or whatever else is handy.) as a way to project their fears and darkness onto some other group.
This is not a new sub-culture---these people have been part of the American landscape for hundreds of years. What's new is their seizure of a major political party and being able to rule one of the largest, most powerful countries in the world, certainly from 2000-2008 and probably going back to the Reagan presidency as well.
I'm a former tribe member and I'm still asking....why are they like this? What's the point of this mass phenomenon of violent psychological self-mutilation? What the hell are they so afraid of?
Max Blumenthal is the first reporter who goes deep enough into the movement to ask these kind of questions. It's a phenomenal, riveting, hilarious and yet deeply serious analysis. You won't be able to put it down.