For me reading Max Blumenthal's Republican Gomorrah--Inside The Movement That Shattered The Party, (Nation Books) is like looking 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.
The 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. Blumenthal 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 its 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 national 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 The Family) 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 Blumenthal when he interviewed me, one of the reasons I left the far right movement in the 1980s was because I perceived it becoming the bedrock of anti-Americanism. The worst things got the better we right wing activists liked it. We loved crisis. We manufactured 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 bit 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 Religious 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. His 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 reveals is 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 beg them to read this book. If you have to beg them in the name of Jesus!
Frank Schaeffer is the author of 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 and the forthcoming Patience With God: Faith For People Who Don't Like Religion (Or Atheism)