Hurrah for Alan Jacobs at the fabulous American Scene for alerting me to this excerpt from Laura Miller's new book in which she visits Wheaton College, Illinois. (Wheaton is Billy Graham's alma mater and the college at which Jacobs teaches.) Miller's book is about how a religious sceptic can still lose themselves in Narnia, but it's her comments about evangelicals that concern me here:
I arrived at a different historical moment, just before the midterm elections of 2006 took Republican hubris down several notches. By that time, the GOP had enjoyed control of the White House and Congress for six years. The religious right claimed responsibility for a decisive portion of that electoral success, and was threatening to withdraw its support if it didn't see more progress on its pet issues: abortion, gay marriage, the injection of religious beliefs into the education system. Like most blue staters, I regard evangelicals with a fascinated dread; these are fanatics who believe that the world is 6000 years old, the Second Coming is imminent and the proper place for women is in the home. If they were really honest, I’m sure a lot of them would like to see my unrepentant gay friends tossed into reeducation camps, or worse. Somehow, these people had taken over the country, and since no one seemed able to stop them, we might soon find ourselves living in a version of the fundamentalist dystopia Margaret Atwood depicted in "The Handmaid's Tale" -- a book I had once dismissed as hysterical and didactic!
This, of course, is pretty much the view most foreigners have of the religious right too. It is never difficult to persuade editors that what the paper needs is another story illustrating the weirdness of American religious life. The loopier and kookier the better. Everyone enjoys these stories, not least because they allow the reader to feel comfortbly superior to the Bible-crazed freaks depicted in the story. (The same is true, to a lesser extent, of stories about gun enthusiasts). Just who are these people?