Bourbon Cowboy

The adventures of an urbane bar-hopping transplant to New York.

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Location: New York, New York, United States

I'm a storyteller in the New York area who is a regular on NPR's "This American Life" and at shows around the city. Moved to New York in 2006 and am working on selling a memoir of my years as a greeting card writer, and (as a personal, noncommercial obsession) a nonfiction book called "How to Love God Without Being a Jerk." My agent is Adam Chromy at Artists and Artisans. If you came here after hearing about my book on "This American Life" and Googling my name, the "How to Love God" book itself isn't in print yet, and may not even see print in its current form (I'm focusing on humorous memoir), but here's a sample I've posted in case you're curious anyway: Sample How To Love God Introduction, Pt. 1 of 3. Or just look through the archives for September 18, 2007.) The book you should be expecting is the greeting card book, about which more information is pending. Keep checking back!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

More on Where Evangelicalism Might Be Going

Here's a link to a smart article by one Jeff Sharlet, responding to the New York Times "Evangelical Crackup" piece that ran this past weekend. (Looks like an interesting site, too.) Sharlet's take, to boil down considerably, is that just because evangelicals are leaving politics, or spurning the current Republican base, they're not likely to leave Republicanism, conservatism, or start voting Democratic. (It's significant that even in the NYT article, most of the GOP-fleeing interviewees talked of voting independent rather than Dem.) This squares with my own sense of things: evangelical Christianity is sturdy precisely because in many ways it's unmoving. (And, as I will mention in my book, it's essentially easy to grasp, and comes in a [for-better-or-worse] consumer product form: try this religion and your problems will be solved!)

But things ARE moving, and I think a discussion on the last few days of Talking Points Memo has it about right. They have to choose between the moralities of Giuliani or Huckabee, and they tend to be going Giuliani.

Evangelicalism tends to take its pet moral stances a few at a time, inflating almost all of them to an importance that the Bible doesn't actually back. The temperance movement, for example, practically made the Gospel synonymous with the destruction of alcohol, even though this is practically impossible to square with scripture, forcing the worshipper to draw two or three stories from the whole Bible (Noah getting drunk, a single verse in Proverbs...) against the quite clear evidence that Jesus drank quite freely (the wedding at Cana, e.g.). Evangelicals in the South were against civil rights as firmly as if the Bible encouraged slavery--which the New Testament doesn't actually encourage or discourage per se; it's just part of the background, like owning camels. (Chuck Smith of Calvary Chapel, among others, use this same assumption of private property to suggest that the Bible teaches free market capitalism.)

Modern evangelicals are against a ban on alcohol and against de facto segregation nowadays because those principles became impossible to culturally defend, and they moved on to other things. (Evangelicalism is always conscious of its own cultural relevance, and chooses its fights accordingly.) When Roe vs. Wade was passed, it seems hard to believe now, but evangelical Christians mostly didn't care. It wasn't until the Moral Majority's rise in around 1980 that abortion and homosexuality touched a nerve that translated into political power, just as poverty and alcoholism had done at the turn of the century. And now, I think just possibly, things are changing again.

While I agree with Sharlet that evangelicalism isn't actually dying or vanishing, it's hard to read the New York Times "crackup" article, or the bookshelves heavy with Donald Miller, Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, and now Kinnaman, et al., without thinking that evangelicalism is certainly shaping itself into something slightly new. My suspicion is that, judging from the popularity of Giuliani among evangelicals who wouldn't have even touched a pro-life pro-gay candidate in the past, evangelicals are dropping sexual purity from their public-works agenda, and focusing more on xenophobia and anti-Islamism. (If Huckabee gets the nomination, I'll eat my words. There seems little risk of that.)

This is, however, a bad sign. Not that anti-sex rhetoric is great either, but I suspect a good part of Giuliani's appeal is not that he's moral, but that he's a fearless pursuer and wielder of raw power in the name of control, and the Christians who started by worshiping Jesus the peaceful servant will wind up worshiping the Old Testament God of wrath and blood vengeance that Jesus is supposed to have abolished. It's entirely possible that by the end of this next election cycle, rather than learning David Kuo's lesson about the dangers of power, and the spiritual risks of political entanglement, evangelicalsm will emerge muddier, angrier, and uglier than ever. Let's hope not; Jesus could use some representatives.

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11/25/2007 12:08 AM  

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