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Christian Nation: A Novel
By Frederic C. Rich
A Conversation with Author Frederic C. Rich
Q. What is your novel, CHRISTIAN NATION, about?
A: The novel is fundamentally about the danger of complacency in the face of religious fundamentalism. It shows how the Christian right could obtain power, and what they would do with it if they got it. The Christian right has worked for more than three decades to acquire political power in America; they've already succeeded in high jacking one of our two major political parties. So the book begins with these facts, and then tells a fictional story: a story of how, influenced by extreme fundamentalists, the Christian right could succeed in implementing a theocratic agenda in America, and what life would be like if they succeeded. CHRISTIAN NATION also challenges the reader to think about how they as individuals would react if this started to happen; the book is fundamentally about personal responsibility in the face of a great social or political evil.
Q: You say theocracy. Isn't that a bit extreme? What do you mean by theocracy?
A: I mean a state where law and policy are based on the sacred texts of a single religion, and government officials purport to speak to and for God, thus claiming the mantle of divine authority. A Congressman from Georgia, Paul Broun,said the other day that he regards "the Holy Bible as being the major directions to me of how to vote in Washington, D.C." Sarah Palin claims that she talks to God and then tells us what God wants. When the people in control of the country think the same way, you've got a theocracy.
Q: You just mentioned Sarah Palin. What is her role in the novel?
A: Although the book is fiction, it records the Christian right's quest for power quite accurately up to a point, and then speculates about what could have happened if a certain event had turned out differently. In this case, my counterfactual is that McCain/Palin, and not Obama/Biden, won the 2008 election. It easily could have happened. Then, what really makes things interesting is that McCain dies within a few months of the inauguration, and Sarah Palin becomes President. Just think about it—this easily could have happened, too.
Q: The novel makes lots of references to the rise of fascism in Germany. Are you saying the Christian right are like Nazis?
A: No, but I am saying that extremist ideologies flourish in the soil of economic suffering, national self-doubt, fear and distress. And yes, the conditions in Germany in the 1930's—in which fascism was able to take root in a perfectly sane, well-educated country with a large middle class—are similar to what we might suffer here with economic mismanagement and some bad luck. Let's not forget the extent to which fascism flourished in America during and after the Great Depression. Most authoritarian regimes take power in free elections in conditions of great social and economic distress.
Q: Why did you decide to write CHRISTIAN NATION?
A: Over the Bush years, there were a series of moments, like watching President Bush explain to the nation why the Federal government would seek to ban stem cell research, when I had a strong sense that our own home-grown brand of religious extremism was driving policy and politics. This really scared me. But it wasn't until Sarah Palin was selected by Senator McCain that I was moved to act. I knew quite a bit about Palin's fundamentalist religious beliefs, her extraordinary ignorance, and her lack of competence, so her nomination really astonished and scared me. I decided I had to do something.
Q: There have been many non-fiction books about Palin and the theocratic aspirations of the Christian right. Why write a novel?
A: You're right. I devoured great books by Chris Hedges, Michelle Goldberg, Jeff Sharlet, Max Blumenthal, Kevin Phillips and others. They are first rate journalists and scholars, and the story they told about the political aspirations of the Christian right was terrifying. But I couldn't believe how little impact those books had. Most of my friends in New York are great readers, and politically active people, yet none of them knew about dominionism, reconstructionism or the theocratic theologies that inspire growing numbers of evangelicals. They didn't know about the hostility to the separation of church and state. And none of them understood how strong the movement was, or how much progress it has made in acquiring control of the Republican Party, many state legislatures, and influential positions in Washington.