It Can’t Happen Here?

New Novel Explores Imposition Of A ‘Christian Nation’ On America

Americans United, September 2013

Fred Rich is an attorney in New York who has just published his first novel, Christian Nation. In this intriguing “what if,” Rich presents an alter­native version of recent U.S. history: It’s an America where the McCain/­Palin ticket wins the 2008 election, and McCain’s death shortly thereafter leads to a Palin presidency and a slide toward theocracy.

            Rich discussed the book with Church & State recently.

Q. You’re a successful lawyer who specializes in project financing. This is your first novel. What possessed you to write this book?

A. John McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin shocked me. When she started insisting that America is a “Christian Nation” where all laws are and should be based on “God’s law” and the Bible, I started to do some research about what she meant. It was then that I found out about the breadth and depth of Christian nationalism, what the movement really wants and how profoundly they have influenced American politics. I felt I needed to do something and decided to try to tell the story in a different way.

Q. You obviously know a lot about Religious Right groups and how they operate. What non-fiction sources did you use to educate yourself while writing Christian Nation?

A. My primary sources were American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America and Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle both by Chris Hedges; Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism by Michelle Goldberg; The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power by Jeff Sharlet; American Theocracy by Kevin Philips and Republican Gomorrah by Max Blumenthal. In promoting my novel, I have done everything possible to direct people to these important books.

Q. Talk about the title of your book. Here at Americans United, we hear all the time that America was founded to be a “Christian nation.” Why isn’t it?

A. Political pundits have started to use the term “dog-whistle politics” to refer to the use of language that is assumed by the majority to mean one thing, but is only truly “heard” or correctly understood by a particular group. “Christian Nation” is one of those terms. When Palin, U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee, Rick Perry and others say that the U.S. is a “Christian nation,” most Americans think that simply means that over its history the majority of Americans have been Christian, and thus that Christianity has given our country many of its traditions and influenced its culture – all of which is, of course, true.  But that’s not what it means at all, or what is understood by the broad evangelical community. To them, it means the realization of America’s destiny to be a shining “city upon a hill,” a godly Kingdom in which God’s law as revealed in the Bible remains the source of all law.

It is a country in which politicians like Palin talk to God and tell the rest of us what He wants. To certain extremists, it also means a country in which Christians – evangelicals in particular – have “dominion” over all institutions of civic and political life, which they believe is a predicate to the second coming of Christ.

Q. Two obvious literary antece­dents to your book seem to be Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Were there other fictional works that inspired you?

A. Those were the main ones but also Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America, where he uses a counterfactual – Charles Lindbergh becoming president in 1940 instead of Franklin Roosevelt – to animate his alternate history.  I suppose the book is most like Lewis’ book, since it is written contemporaneously with the problem and constitutes a plea to “not let it happen here.” My book differs from Margaret Atwood’s haunting book in that it outlines a practical path to the theocratic future, as opposed to just being set in a strange and unlikely future and leaving you to wonder how we got from here to there.

Q. People probably tell you all of the time that while your book is entertaining, it’s too fantastic and the scenario outlined could never happen in America. How do you respond to that?

A. It’s interesting – only people who have not read the book tell me that. That’s the mental place where we all start – it’s where I started.  It’s where the characters in my book start. I don’t argue with that or tell readers they are wrong. Instead, chapter by chapter, incrementally, with the ebb and flow of politics – with an unlucky combination of bad decisions and bad luck – a scenario starts to unfold under which the broader group of the “Christian Right” (perhaps 70 or 80 million Am­er­icans) buys into the agenda of the fundamentalists, the legal protections against authoritarianism are ever so gradually eroded and before long we find ourselves in a bad place. Most people who read the book find it totally credible, not believing that it will happen but convinced that it could happen.

Q. Some political analysts believe that American society is changing and that the Religious Right is on the ropes. What are your thoughts on this?

A. Too many of us in the big cities and “blue states” indulge in the wishful thought that the 2012 elections signal at long last the ebb tide of Christian fundamentalism in American politics. I certainly hope so. But that’s not what it looks like in much of the country. In what Garry Wills has called the “great bait and switch,” Tea Party politicians elected to tame deficits have instead unleashed a tsunami of conservative social legislation in the state legislatures, including by his count – in the first quarter of 2012 alone – 944 separate bills and amendments dealing with abortion and contraception. And most disturbingly, the Southern Poverty Law Center reports what they called a “stunning” rise in extreme right hate groups and militias.

Q. Days before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on marriage equality, several prominent Religious Right leaders issued a statement asserting that any ruling furthering same-sex marriage would be illegitimate and implied that they would strongly resist it. How far do you think these groups might go?

A. The “Freedom Federation,” a broad spectrum of about 200 groups, wrote, in part, “While there are many things we can endure, redefining marriage is so fundamental to the natural order and the true common good that this is the line we must draw and one we cannot and will not cross.”  And what does not crossing that line involve?  They explained:  “[I]f the government redefines marriage to grant a legal equivalency to same-sex couples, that same government will then enforce such an action with the police power of the State. This will bring about an inevitable collision with religious freedom and conscience rights. We cannot and will not allow this to occur on our watch.”

The Christian right is telling us that gay marriage and its “enforcement” by the state is an act that contravenes their own “religious freedom and conscience rights.”  When a gay couple gets married and lives in happy monogamy for the rest of their days, they argue, this constitutes a constitutionally and morally unacceptable infringement of the “religious freedom and conscience rights” of fundamentalist Christians, and thus something against which we can expect them to struggle – righteously – until they are once again “free.”  How far do I think they will go if they succeed in redefining the issue as an infringement of their own rights of religious freedom? All the way.

Q. Have you had any reaction from followers of the Religious Right?

A. Putting aside internet rants and insults, there have been a few comments challenging the idea that the evangelical political movement’s goal is theocratic. I understand these. Many self-identified “evangelicals” and “born-again” Christians do not share the agenda of the fundamentalists. I acknowledge this. But one of the lessons of history is that fundamentalists pose the greatest threat to their co-religionists – moderate Christians may have the most to lose by not calling out fundamentalists as the fanatics they are. I have been really pleased that so many moderate Christian ministers and theologians have praised my book.

Q. What can Americans do to prevent the kind of scenario outlined in Christian Nation from happening?

A. First and foremost, take it seriously. Everything depends on that. No one will be motivated to vote, speak or act to stop Christian fundamentalism if he or she believes they are a bunch of cranks. Listen to what they say, consider the possibility that they mean it, think about how fanatical movements have seized power throughout human history, and accept that our democracy, which strong, is not invulnerable. You will have noted that the book’s web site, www.readchristiannation. ­com, has a page called “Take Action,” in which I urge readers to join AU and similar organizations and do something. I will be very disappointed if a reader finishes my book and is not motivated to act.

Q. Is there anything you would like to add?

A. Only to thank everyone at AU for being among the first to understand this problem, for being relentless in their defense of separation of church and state and for doing what they do every day.

“Frederic C. Rich’s book, Christian Nation: A Novel

10 Great Things About America That Drive Conservatives and the Religious Right Insane

by Rob Boston, AlterNet, May 15, 2011

Religious Right groups and their frequent allies in the Tea Party talk a good line about respecting American values, but much would change if they had their way. They seek not to restore our country to some Golden Age (that never existed anyway) but to recreate it – in their own fundamentalist image.

An America rebuilt along Religious Right lines would be a very different place. And to get there, the theocrats among us first have to tear down some features of American life – some of which are longstanding. Here are ten things about the United States that drive Religious Right groups crazy:

1. Our history debunks Religious Right mythology: American history stands as a rebuke to the Religious Right. America’s founders established a secular government with freedom of religion and its necessary corollary, separation of church and state, built into the First Amendment. A “Christian nation” was not what the founders sought. How do we know this? They said so. Think about it: If an officially Christian nation had been the intent of the founders, the Constitution would prominently include that concept. It doesn’t.

And those Religious Right claims that separation of church and state is a myth? They’re a crock. As James Madison put it, “Strongly guarded…is the separation between Religion and Government in the Constitution of the United States.” Madison ought to know. He’s considered the Father of the Constitution and was one of the primary drafters of the First Amendment.

2. We support science: While polls show some confusion over issues like evolution, most Americans are big fans of science and are quick to rally around the latest medical breakthroughs and cutting-edge technology. Many religious people in America long ago reconciled their faith with modern science. But the Religious Right remains stubbornly insistent that any science that conflicts with its literalist interpretation of the Bible must go.

Religious Right activists hate science because it casts doubt on their narrow worldview – a worldview that teaches that all answers are found in a rigidly fundamentalist interpretation of an ancient religious text. To the Religious Right, evolution and the Bible can’t co-exist. They refuse to read the scriptures in a metaphorical or symbolic context. Since, to the Religious Right, evolution undercuts the Bible, evolution should not be taught in public schools.

3. America has a tradition of tolerance: Yes, we’ve fallen short of complete tolerance from time to time, but at the end of the day, most Americans believe in treating their fellow citizens decently, even if they have different religious or philosophical beliefs. But to the Religious Right, tolerance is entrance ramp on the highway to hell.

The idea that religions should strive to get along is dangerously close to the idea that all religions are on equal footing. This is bad, so says the Religious Right, because it leads people into “error” – that is, an embrace of any religion that’s not fundamentalist Christianity. Tolerance is ridiculed because it dares to suggest that a Unitarian, Buddhist, Jew, Hindu, Pagan or atheist might have an equal claim on truth alongside a fundamentalist.

4. We have a secular government: To the theocrats of the right, secular government, secularism and secular anything is the bogeyman of the moment. If you doubt it, just listen to some of our leading politicians (assuming you have the stomach for it). To most people, it just makes sense for government to remain neutral on theological disputes – remember the Middle Ages? To the Religious Right, such neutrality equals hostility toward religion and a “war” against Christianity.

Ironically, there is one place where the Religious Right backs secular government: Muslim nations. Those should be secular, of course – but only as a prelude to adopting fundamentalist Christianity.

5. The U.S. Constitution has endured: The Religious Right and the Tea Party claim to revere our basic governing document, the Constitution. So why do they treat it like a first draft? Just consider the list of amendments they’d like to add: pro-school prayer, anti-abortion, “parental rights,” fetal personhood, “traditional marriage,” the list goes on.

Why does the Religious Right distrust our founders? Maybe because the founders weren’t fundamentalists, and they dared to believe that the Bible could speak metaphorically yet still contain wisdom and insight. Consider this quote by Thomas Jefferson (from a letter to Benjamin Rush, May 21, 1803): “To the corruptions of Christianity I am indeed opposed; but not to the genuine precepts of Jesus himself. I am a Christian, in the only sense he wished any one to be; sincerely attached to his doctrines, in preference to all others; ascribing to himself every human excellence; & believing he never claimed any other.”

6. The nation has a legacy of freedom of religion: To the Religious Right, “religious freedom” means the right to use their religion to run other people’s lives. When it comes to groups they don’t like, ideas like liberty and freedom suddenly evaporate.

Consider the controversy over the proposed Islamic center in lower Manhattan and efforts to block construction of a mosque in Murfreesboro, Tenn. Normally, once religious groups comply with local zoning laws, get the necessary permits and so on, they can build houses of worship where they please. Yet Brian Fischer, a columnist with the American Family Association, argued recently that the Constitution grants religious freedom rights only to Christians and said we can legally shut down mosques. Where does this appear in the Constitution? It doesn’t. Fischer made it up.

7. Americans support reproductive rights: The ability to control your own body when it comes to reproduction is the ability to control your own destiny. It’s a big no-no to the Religious Right. God is supposed to control your destiny. Who are you to interfere with His plans? Although most people think of this issue in terms of abortion, it’s worthwhile to look a little deeper. Increasingly, access to birth control is on the chopping block as well. (See attempts to defund Planned Parenthood and bills in the state laws granting pharmacists a right to refuse to fill prescriptions for the pill.)

Throughout recorded history, religious prudes have been obsessed with sex lives of others. They clearly have issues. There’s just something kind of icky about it.

8. Gay people live here: Where to begin? Not only will gay people not stay in the closet or become straight, now they want to get married! You can be sure that Bible Belt fundamentalists, who have the highest divorce rate in the nation, aren’t going to stand for that assault on the sacred institution of marriage.

The bile the Religious Right spews toward gays is unfathomable. You have to call it what it is: Hate. And as polls show increasing numbers of Americans backing same-sex marriage, it’s only going to get worse.

9. Most kids go to public schools: These godless hotbeds of secular humanism actually receive tax funding! They’re known to teach evolution, and some even dare to talk about how they human reproductive system works in Biology class. Since not everyone has the time for home-schooling, it’s best to distribute vouchers, says the Religious Right.

Here’s Tim LaHaye, author of the popular series of apocalyptic potboilers “Left Behind” on public education: “I have a pet concern, and I think it is the concern of everyone in this room; and that is we are being destroyed in America by the public school systems of our country. And it was Abraham Lincoln who said, essentially, let me educate the children of this generation and they will be the political leaders of the next generation. And, folks, we have let the enemy come in and take over the greatest school system in the history of the world.” (So, Tim, what do you really think?)

10. We fund NPR and PBS: Sure, the Religious Right and the Tea Party said they wanted to cut off funding to public broadcasting to save a few bucks, but in reality, they just don’t like the elitist, left-wingery of “All Things Considered” and “Masterpiece Theatre.” Snobs listen to and watch that stuff!

Don’t even get them started on the Muppets. Bert and Ernie have a suspiciously close relationship. ‘Nuff said.

Of course, there are many other things the Religious Right dislikes about our country – consider women’s rights, for example. For all of their flag waving, some supporters of the Religious Right just don’t sound too happy to be here. I doubt they plan to leave soon, so we can expect they’ll keep working to change our nation. Be warned – this list is just a start.

Rob Boston is the assistant director of communications for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which publishes Church and State magazine.

© 2012 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
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The Constitution of the United States of America

Constitution is inherently progressive by John Podesta and John Halpin,, October 10, 2011 - Progressives disagree strongly with tea party views on government, taxation, public spending, regulations and social welfare policies…
…As progressives, we believe in using the ingenuity of the private sector and the positive power of government to advance common purposes and increase freedom and opportunity…
Coupled with basic beliefs in fair play, openness, cooperation and human dignity, it is this progressive vision that in the past century helped build the strongest economy in history and allowed millions to move out of poverty and into the middle class. It is the basis for American peace and prosperity as well as greater global cooperation in the postwar era…
Our original Constitution was not perfect. It wrote women and minorities out and condoned an abhorrent system of slavery. But the story of America has also been the story of a good nation, conceived in liberty and equality, eventually welcoming every American into the arms of democracy, protecting their freedoms and expanding their economic opportunities…

Our Fill-in-the-Blank Con­sti­tu­tion By Geof­frey R. Stone, New York Times, April 13, 2010

The Constitution, the Bible and the Fundamentalist-Modernist Divide by Julie Ingersoll, Religion Dispatches, January 7, 2011

Religion and the Constitution: The Triumph of Practical Politics by Martin E. Marty , The Christian Century March 23-30, l994

The Ungodly Constitution: How the Founders Ensured America Would Not Be a Christian Nation By Susan Jacoby, Progressive Radio Network, June 19, 2012

The Tea Party’s Real Constitutional Philosophy, Drew Courtney/Miranda Blue, People For the American Way, January 5, 2011

America is not a Christian nation

A New Religious America — How a “Christian Country” Has Become the World’s Most Reli­giously Diverse Nation

America Does Not Have a Religious Identity

America Is Not a Christian Nation and Never Has Been: Why Is the Right Obsessed With Pushing a Revisionist History?

America is not and its Christians should not want it to be a Christian Nation by John Marty – It is a Christian-influenced nation, and much of that influence has been and is for the good. “Christian” would mean “named after Christ (Jesus)” who emphatically said his kingdom was not of this world, so a “Christian nation” would be against his wishes as described in the gospels. The 80+ percent of us who claim to be Christian have plenty of opportunities to make use of Christian resources, but “naming rights” and “legal definition” would do a disservice to nation and Christian faith.”

Why the Christian Right Believes It Has Once-in-a-Decade Chance to Impose Its Radical Worldview on America

Holy Writ — Tea Party evangelists claim the Constitution as their sacred text. Why that’s wrong

Let­ter to the Dan­bury Bap­tists from Thomas Jef­fer­son, 1802  “Believ­ing that reli­gion is a mat­ter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship…their Leg­is­la­ture should make no law respect­ing an estab­lish­ment of reli­gion, or pro­hibit­ing the free excer­cise thereof, thus build­ing a wall of sep­a­ra­tion between church and state.”

The Treaty of Tripoli – June 10, 1897 – Article XI of the treaty was a proclamation that the “Government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion, as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselman (Muslims).”
Upon signing the treaty Adams issued a statement which said,  “Now be it known, That I, John Adams, President of the United States of America, having seen and considered the said Treaty do, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, accept, ratify, and confirm the same, and every clause and article thereof.”

The Ungodly Constitution: How the Founders Ensured America Would Not Be a Christian Nation By Susan Jacoby, Free Inquirym June 19, 2012

The Truth About Religion in America: The Founders Loathed Superstition and We Were Never a Christian Nation, By Kerry Walters, Free Inquiry, June 15, 2012

5 Founding Fathers Whose Skepticism About Christianity Would Make Them Unelectable Today By Rob Boston, AlterNet, January 10, 2012

Why Is There So Much God in Our Pol­i­tics? The Reli­gious Right’s Theo­cratic Plan for the 2012 Elec­tion By Rob Boston, Church & State Mag­a­zine, Jan­u­ary 6, 2012

Free­dom of and From Reli­gion by Bill Moy­ers, Com­mon Dreams, Feb­ru­ary 16, 2012

What Do We Mean By ‘Judeo-Christian’? By Shalom Gold­man, Jan­u­ary 21, 2011

How Chris­t­ian Were the Founders? by Rus­sell Shorto, New York Times, Feb­ru­ary 14, 2010

Reli­gious tol­er­ance, then and now by Dana Mil­bank, Wash­ing­ton Post, August 17, 2010

Conservatives Want America to be a “Christian Nation” – Here’s What Would That Would Actually Look Like By Adam Lee. AlterNet, October 4, 2011 – …Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry, in an appeal to evangelical voters, said “Christian values” and not “a bunch ofWashingtonpoliticians” should be the touchstone guiding how Americans conduct their lives. …

“America is going to be guided by some set of values,” Perry told a crowd of 13,000 students and faculty members yesterday at a sports arena on the school’s campus. “The question is going to be, ‘Whose values?’” He said it should be “those Christian values that this country was based upon.”

It’s worth calling attention to Perry’s obnoxious rhetorical ploy of using “Christian values” to refer only to his own very specific, right-wing set of beliefs — preemptive war, gay-bashing, tax cuts for the rich, creationism in schools, deregulating corporations, dismantling the social safety net, the standard Republican package — as if he owned or had the right to define all of Christianity. In reality, there’s such a huge diversity of opinion among self-professed Christians past and present that the term “Christian values” could mean almost anything…

Christians have advocated positions across the political spectrum, from environmental preservation to environmental destruction, from pacifism to just war to open advocacy of genocide, from civil rights to segregation and slavery.

This broad range of opinion comes about because the Bible never mentions many of these issues, and addresses others in only vague or contradictory passages scattered throughout its individual books. This gives individual Christians wide latitude to find support in the text for virtually any political position you’d care to name.

However, there’s one area where there’s much less room for debate, and that’s the question of political organization. The Bible sets out a very clear picture of what its authors believed the ideal state would look like…The Bible never even mentions democracy — that concept was completely unknown to its authors. The system of government it enshrines is divine-right monarchy — and not just monarchy, but kingship…the Bible’s ideal government is unequivocally a theocracy: a country where the church and the state are one, where there’s an official religion which all citizens are required to profess, and where law is made by the priests…

The Bible also puts a high value on racial purity…

By the time of the New Testament, much of this had changed…

All these ideas, so clearly advocated in the Bible, are utterly contrary to what this nation stands for. The idea of divine-right kingship is what our founders successfully rebelled against in bringing forth this country.Americais a democracy where the people choose their leaders, a constitutional republic where the powers of those leaders are strictly defined and limited by law.Americais a multicultural, multiethnic nation founded on the idea of welcoming immigrants, the homeless and tempest-tossed of every land. Submission to the established authorities, of course, isn’t an American value: Americans have a long and colorful history of debate, protest, and civil disobedience, and the right to criticize our leaders is sanctified in the Constitution. And most of all,Americais a secular nation with a separation of church and state. We have no official faith, no national church as many European countries still do.

But America’s Constitution is more than just a secular document; it’s literally godless. It doesn’t claim that the ideas it contains were the product of divine revelation….

If America’s founders had meant to establish a Christian nation, this is where they would have said so…

The United States of Americawas the first modern republic that was created on the foundation of reason, without seeking blessings from a god, without imploring divine assistance or invoking divine favor….

What the religious right failed to achieve at the Constitutional Convention, they kept trying to do in the following decades…

Only within the last 50 or 60 years, now that they’ve finally accepted they have no realistic hope of changing it, has the religious right flip-flopped and started claiming that the Constitution meant to establish a Christian nation all along. This staggeringly dishonest, wholesale rewriting of history has become their stock in trade, to the point of having full-time propagandists who obscure historical fact and promote the Christian-nation myth…We, as liberals and progressives, should know better than to accept this falsehood. We have every reason to speak out and uphold America’s proud history as a secular republic founded on reason and governed by the democratic will.