The Good: FUNNY, Easily the funniest thing I've read in a long time, educational
The Bad: Hard to say, it's an enjoy-or-not type book
The Basics: In a take-it or leave-it style humor book, Robert Lanham exposes the Religious Right in the U.S. with hard facts and great satire.
In Star Wars (A New Hope) Obi-Wan Kenobi tells Luke Skywalker "You've just taken your first steps into a much larger world" after first exposing the boy to the Force. The Sinner's Guide To The Evangelical Right is like that for non-politically minded, non-dogmatic people with or without faith who want to learn about the co-opting of the U.S. government and culture by the Christian Right movement. As someone who has listed Ralph Reed as an enemy of the State for the last twenty years, most of what was in this book was not new to me, but it offered a stunning view into a society I am not a part of and, frankly, scares the hell out of freedom-loving americans who want to live in peace and harmony.
The Sinner's Guide To The Evangelical Right is essentially a handbook, a reference material, for those unfamiliar with the Evangelical Right on the Religious Right movement. Rather disarmingly, the book starts off with quotes from supposedly devout individuals and humor from author Robert Lanham that sucks the reader right in. Lanham defines what the Evangelical Right movement is, devotes chapter after chapter to important personalities in the movement, and describes in detail the organizations of the movement and their origins and goals (both professed and practiced). Lanham walks the reader through the often bizarre world of the Evangelical Right where religious doctrine is bastardized with flashy marketing into a multi-billion dollar a year business enterprise.
And he does it well. Even as he educates, he breaks up the book with quotes from Evangelical characters along the spectrum. The Sinner's Guide To The Evangelical Right is remarkably well-researched. All of the significant players, like Ted Haggard, James Dobson, and Ralph Reed are exposed in the book. Information on Mega-churches is extensive and remarkably well fact checked. His information on such Mega-church pastors as Joel Osteen, Creflo Dollar and Rick Warren indicate an extensive amount of research.
But this is, obviously from the title, not simply an educational text. This is high satire. Even as he exposes the movement, Lanham makes witty jokes, hilarious asides and scathing remarks about his subjects.
The chief weapon in this book is humor. As Lanham describes how the poor and middle-class fall for schemes that take a great deal of their money away to create churches that seat tens of thousands and make millions of dollars a year, he pokes fun at the diabolical genius' that create such schemes. From the opening of the book with its prayer for protection by Bibleman (who is, it is revealed later in the book, a real character in the Evangelical pop culture) and the pictures of Tinky-Winkie and Spongebob, this book is unrelentingly funny. In all honesty, there are times this book made me laugh out loud. I cannot remember the last book that made me do that. It's such a rare thing. The Sinner's Guide To The Evangelical Right made me do that.
Now, to the difficult part. It's hard to have your culture attacked. People who review this book are liable to fall into one of three camps: 1. The enlightened, politically active individual with a sense of humor who enjoys great satire and who will know much of what is in this book, but will enjoy it because it reminds them of the importance of the strength of their convictions and the importance of defeating this movement that is bent on ruling the U.S., 2. The politically-naive who had no idea about the Evangelical Right who are likely to read this book, laugh occasionally, doubt a lot and come away horrified at how the "religious leaders" of the most extreme kind are utilizing their influence to exert power and control over the masses. These people are likely to join the #1s after reading this, and 3. The members of the Evangelical Right who will likely find this book blasphemous and horrifying.
To that third group, I must say this: Welcome to Our Side. As I said, it's not easy to have your culture attacked. I am very sensitive to that. No one likes to have their belief system exposed, torn apart, satirized or demonized. The Sinner's Guide To The Evangelical Right does some of those things and to members of that group, they might feel like the book is doing the rest. This is a great example of "Do unto others." The Evangelical Right has spent the last thirty years waging a "culture war" (which Lanham describes in his book) and The Sinner's Guide To The Evangelical Right exposes that and while it pokes fun at it using irony, satire, sarcasm and hyperbole, the target is ripe for parody. After decades of telling others how to live, it's refreshing to see someone fighting back. And if members of the Religious Right don't like that, well, now you know how the rest of us (who I call Americans) have been feeling for decades. The U.S. was founded on a principle of freedom both individual and religious. In cases where the two clash, the Founders were quite clear: let people believe what they want and the State ought to leave them alone.
So, if you are in the third group and you actually pick up The Sinner's Guide To The Evangelical Right and don't like what you read, think hard about the movement you belong to. If you don't like others making fun of you for the way the movement represents you, stop being part of a movement that tries to tell everyone else how to live their lives!
And, in closing, I wanted to say that while many in the Evangelical Movement might not be hampered by such things as facts, Lanham clearly is. His writing style clearly delineates between when he is being factual and when he is making a joke. With that in mind, it's easy to read The Sinner's Guide To The Evangelical Right with an open mind, a sense of humor and a thirst for knowledge and come away . . . enlightened, if not happy.
For other political books, please check out my reviews of:
Keeping Faith - Jimmy Carter
Godless: The Church Of Liberalism - Ann Coulter
Do As I Say (Not As I Do) - Peter Schweizer
For other book reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!
© 2011, 2006 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
| | |