With Christopher Hitchens no longer around, the poison exuded by Robertson failed to meet with the same potent anti-venom as Gerry Falwell received when he fell from his perch, never to return to it.
How we miss the Hitch.
The author of God Is Not Great and self-proclaimed member of the United Front Against Bullshit used his pen as a vial housing a vaccine derived from ink which he would readily inject into the brains of religious haters. It worked a treat without ever pretending to be a cure as was underscored by performances that suggested the religiously deranged became ever more crazy after Hitchens assailed them with his acerbic wit and piercing logic.
But it wasn’t the work of Hitchens I thought about when I learned that Robertson had, from the perspective of the humanity he so hated, gone off to a better place. It was Kingdom Coming by Michelle Goldberg.
It is over a decade since I read this book. When I did it was the first in a trio. Creationism's Trojan Horse and The Devil In Dover would follow shortly, each in their own way illuminating the hellish worldview of Christian fundamentalism.
Although Goldberg has moved on to cover other areas in her journalism, and Katherine Stewart is now the go to person on the topic, she still offers commentary and insight on the phenomenon. Recently in the New York Times where she writes a twice weekly column she penned a piece: Whose Version of Christian Nationalism Will Win in 2024? in which she warned, ominously, of the impact Christian nationalism could have in the 2024 presidential election, characterising the Republican Party as one:
whose state lawmakers are falling over themselves to pass book bans, abortion prohibitions, anti-trans laws, and, in Texas, bills authorizing school prayer and the posting of the Ten Commandments in classrooms.
Kingdom Coming is only dated in terms of the facts on the ground. It is definitely not conceptually from a different time, discerning a very dangerous religious phenomenon able to get a free pass from scrutiny largely because of the immense focus that had been placed on Islam. Meanwhile the hillbilly Taliban has been steadily streaming down from the hills and into the centres of power, storming them if need be.
As a sect, the Christian right in the US, while far from harmless, was largely viewed as a barmy army for Jesus, sometimes proclaiming to have superior “jeans”, the result perhaps of a fascination with the biblical Levi, supposedly the son of Alphaeus, as any practiced scripture squawker might remind us. But like any religion that manages to access political power, the Christian right in America poses a threat to democracy mega times greater than anything the Mob or organised crime was capable of matching. Christian nationalism is not content to sit in the wings on the receiving end of presidential flattery but little action by White House incumbents.
Christian nationalism is the term used by the author to identify a religious movement that feels America was founded as a Christian state. Think Sam Harris's Letter To A Christian Nation. All else must defer to it. The concept of separation of church and state was a liberal myth held in place by activist judges. Christian man must not only have dominion over the animal kingdom but over all other religions - women as well. Scripture and politics are as one, ideational pluralism a disease. Goldberg flagged up a culture where in the view of one writer a:
fundamentalist can now go practically from cradle to grave without having to be exposed to conflicting ideas or having to learn to live with people different from themselves.
Michelle Goldberg set out to write the book during the first term of George Bush as US President. Bush was widely regarded as intellectually limited but now seems a cerebral giant compared to Donald J Trump, where the J stands for Genius. At least he didn't yet tell us it stood for Jesus even if some of his followers think it does.The rise of Trump paralleled the rise of Christian nationalism and the religious right, a phenomenon which sought a zero sum game in which its ascent would be matched by the descent of tolerance and diversity.
Central to her work was the clarifying of the concept of Dominionism which similar in ways to Islam held that its own believers were adherents to the only true religion which conveyed on them the right to rule over those of all other faiths and none.
Goldberg’s odyssey took her across the US biblical belt where paradoxically many citizens don’t believe in evolutionary biology despite the presence of so many Neanderthals. In courtrooms, classrooms, churches, military centres, homes, conferences, she figuratively slept with the enemy, easing them into the type of pillow talk that is subsequently revealed in Kingdom Coming. It is a world where elected senators do not want liberal judges impeached, but impaled. Gays are hated, science abjured, evolution - the work of the devil.
Goldberg's book might have been viewed by some as alarmist when it was published, that America was too liberal, too secular to permit the vista she sketched to become a reality. Now, having surveyed the trainwreck that Trump engineered, the book banning, the reversal of Roe Wade, the enhanced religiosity of the Supreme Court, Goldberg more and more looks more like a secular prophet.
Michelle Goldberg, 2006, Kingdom Coming – The Rise of Christian Nationalism. Published @ WW Norton. ISBN-13: 978-0393060942