THE BACK PAGES

Code word: God bless America

According to a spate of recent tomes, the Christianist takeover of the U.S. is imminent

MARK STEYN November 27 2006
THE BACK PAGES

Code word: God bless America

According to a spate of recent tomes, the Christianist takeover of the U.S. is imminent

MARK STEYN November 27 2006

Code word: God bless America

According to a spate of recent tomes, the Christianist takeover of the U.S. is imminent

MARK STEYN

THE BACK PAGES

books

More and more, I wonder whether lefties mean it, any of it. Take Rosie O’Donnell. The other day, one of her co-hosts on The View was musing on current events and opined, “If you take radical Islam and you want to talk about what is going on there you have to...”

And at this point Rosie interrupted. “One second. Radical Christianity is just as threatening as radical Islam in a country like America where we have a separation of church and state.”

Does she really believe that? That “radical Christianity” is “just as threatening” as “radical Islam”? These terms are imprecisely defined. You get the feeling that to Rosie O’Donnell, “radical Christianity” is pretty much Christianity—or at any rate any Christian denomination without an openly gay bishop. Still, it’s hard to imagine even Rosie would feel “just as threatened” by an evangelical Protestant church opening up next door as by, say, a Wahhabi madrasa.

But who knows? The left’s preference for phantom enemies over real ones is such a feature of the current scene one assumes that for a few of them at least it has to be genuine. To the likes of Miss O’Donnell, “radical Christianity” affords opportunities for moral equivalence theory unseen since the Cold War. Pierre Hassner of the Center for International Studies and Research got the ball rolling shortly after 9/11. “It’s nonsense to say, ‘We’re the force of good,’ ” he scoffed. “We’re living through the battle of the born-agains: Bush the born-again Christian, bin Laden the bornagain Muslim.”

And, if that’s the choice, the lefties know whose side they’re not on. Plugging my new

book in the Great Satan in recent weeks, I’ve taken to dropping by the local Borders or Barnes & Noble just to check if the thing’s in stock. And praise the Lord (if Rosie will forgive the expression), you can usually find it in there somewhere, though you have to wade past a huge front-table display of tomes about the imminent Christianist takeover of America: The Theocons: Secular America Under Siege by Damon Linker, Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism by Michelle Goldberg, American Theocracy by Kevin Phillips, etc. “Christianist,” by the way, is a neologism of Time’s Andrew Sullivan, and his own meditation on The Conservative Soul also addresses some of these questions. Damon Linker’s book is the funniest, albeit unintentionally. “Theocons” are like neo-cons, only not Jewish but sinister Catholics with a well-advanced plan to conscript American conservatism for a political project that will transform the nation beyond recognition. They were the ones who spotted George W. Bush as the perfect stooge for their Christianist coup and then surrounded him with Jews to confuse the media. Oh, sure, go ahead, laugh. But it’s hard not to warm to an author who describes the United States as “the world’s God-intoxicated hegemon” with such implacable plonking earnestness.

Alas, other than that, Linker’s book is a

rather lame attempt at score-settling. A few years ago, he used to work at Richard John Neuhaus’s magazine First Things. Somewhere along the way, he and Father Neuhaus fell out, Linker drifted left, and decided that his old boss was waging a “stealth campaign” to inflict upon the U.S. “a future in which American politics and culture have been systematically purged of secularism,” and in which the constitution will be rewritten to bring it into line with “the moral and sexual world view of the Vatican.” That’s quite the ambition. American religiosity is for the most part strikingly un-Roman, and Father Neuhaus himself finds the evangelicals a bit of a bore, what with their “forced happiness and joy” and “awful music.” But so far the conspiracy seems to be going swimmingly, with the Supreme Court claiming to have discovered a constitutional right to sodomy, and its fellow jurists in Massachusetts having legalized gay marriage. That’s exactly the kind of cunning distraction you’d expect these theocons to come up with to throw the rest of us off the scent.

By now, the alert reader will have spotted that Linker’s book is called The Theocons— i.e. plural. So it can’t all be down to Father Neuhaus, sinister though he is. So Linker rummages around for a few sidekicks in the plan to wipe out secular America, and comes across Michael Novak, Robert P George and George Weigel. I like a conspiracy theory as much as the next chap, but Weigel is an un-

likely peg on which to hang it. He’s the author of an excellent biography of the new Pope, God’s Choice, and also of one of my favourite books of recent years, a slim volume called The Cube and the Cathedral. The title contrasts two Parisian landmarks—the cathedral of Notre Dame and the giant modernist cube of la Grande Arche de la Défense, commissioned by President Mitterrand to mark the bicentenary of the French Revolution. As la Grande Arche boasts, the entire cathedral, including spires and tower, would easily fit inside the cold geometry of Mitterrand’s cube. And that’s the question Weigel’s

book addresses: in modern Europe, how did the cube (the state) come to swallow the cathedral (the church)?

Which is, of course, the exact opposite of Damon Linker’s thesis—that, thanks to Weigel and others, in America the church is about to swallow the state. Of these two scenarios, one has already happened, and the other seems to have been concocted out of thin air by opportunist lefties. As proof of how advanced the theocon takeover is already, Linker invites us to consider the difference between two speeches: in 1962, in his address to the nation during the Cuban missile crisis, President Kennedy concluded with the scrupulously non-theocratic “Good night.” But in 2001, in his address to the nation after Sept, ll, President Bush had the effrontery to ask the Lord to “bless the souls of the de-

parted” and to wrap things up with “God bless America.” “Something has happened to the United States during the past four decades,” concludes Linker, darkly.

At the risk of offending Linker, God Almighty. Insofar as anything happened during those four decades, it was this: prayer was banished from public schools, the separation of church and state became an ever wider chasm, and Americans deserted mainline Protestant denominations for evangelical churches. In other words, the overzealous attempt to purge religion from the public square drove many Americans toward more

effective vehicles for their faith. As for the difference between the 1962 and 2001 speeches, it’s simple: those 3,000 “souls of the departed.” Indeed, to attempt to acknowledge the deceased without invoking the deity would have sounded very weird, as weird as that hollow 9/11 memorial in Ottawa which (much to Linker’s taste presumably) avoid-

ed all mention of God. Or as weird as the peculiarly ferocious objections by European politicians to referencing the Continent’s Christian inheritance in the preamble to the EU’s constitution (since rejected). A former Swedish deputy prime minister dismissed the proposal as “a joke”; a French socialist called it “absurd”; Scandinavia’s largest newspaper said it would be a “huge mistake.”

The post-Christian Europe George Weigel writes about is a fact: it is the spiritual vacuum into which Islamism has poured. But the radically Christianist theocon takeover of America is a ludicrous fantasy. Yet it’s the latter hogging the prime real estate at bookstores across the land. The existence of this thriving new sub-genre is a more telling comment on the times than anything in the books themselves. M

NOTRE DAME Cathedral and la Grande Arche de la Défense