Saturday, August 3, 2013

No one likes a dictator.

I'm am going to have to preface this post with some boilerplate. I try very hard to avoid expressing personal views on here, as A) this blog is mainly for keeping track of what I've read, and B) this is a very public forum, and I generally don't expose my views en masse. However, due to the nature of the book I'm reviewing, things may slip. You have been warned.

Goodreads suggested I might like Frederic C. Rich's Christian Nation. I reserved a copy at the library and started delving into what is an at times very uneven alternate history/future novel that explores what might have happened had McCain won the presidency in 2008.

We start with our narrator, Greg, announcing that he's sitting at an old typewriter not hooked up to the "Purity Web" at the behest of Adam, his host at a remote lodge in Pennsylvania. Greg tells us bits of things to come, such as the fall of Manhattan and the death of Sanjay before delving into the past before the alternate timeline splits from the real one. We hear of Greg's college days, becoming a lawyer; we hear of his roommate, the gay Indian Sanjay, who teaches Greg Yoga and how their friendship continued after college as Greg starts working for a large firm in New York, while Sanjay starts a Social Network. We meet Greg's girlfriend, Emilie, who works for Credit Suisse. Emilie, who dosn't much like Sanjay, and more or less is the voice of disbelief as Sanjay starts delving deeper and deeper into the relationships of Fundamentalist Christianity and the political world.

As the election closes in 2008, McCain wins. McCain turns the horrid economy over to advisers, preferring to concentrate on foreign relations.  Then, not long into his presidency, McCain has a stroke in Russia while trying to barter with their premier. Palin makes an ass out of herself trying to get the body back from Russia. A few more foibles happen, leading most everyone to encourage her to resign. Then 7/22 happens. (7/22 involves terrorist cells launching SAMs from isolated areas outside of major airports in about 7 major cities.) As such, Palin is able to focus on that as she prepares to run for a second term. Which she wins.

Sanjay sells the social network for a very large profit and forms Theocracy Watch, devoted to exploring the relations between Fundamentalist Christians and politics.

And we witness, as Palin declares Martial Law in the wake of 7//2, doing her best to deport Muslims, as Steve Jordan moves into the White House, as the USA is declared to be a Christian Nation. We watch as Jordan becomes president, and the insidious ways various rights start getting stripped at the Federal level. It's a long process, and filled with worst case scenarios. (Seriously. 2 Supreme Court justices die. One of cancer, one in a car accident. Stuff like that.) And then comes The Blessing. Which is 10 general statements ("Covenants") with 50 specific points groupeld between them. ("Blessings".) (An example: III. The Nation devoutly recognizes the authority and law of our Lord Jesus Christ. [Covenant] 8. The American Constitution is a divine gift and shall be strictly construed. The Constitution shall be interpreted in accordance with the higher law of the Bible. [Blessing].) (pg 181)

This passes through a largely Evangelical congress, only to be challenged by Theocracy Watch. When three specific cases get through and overturn the law, Congress impeaches the judges.

It gets uglier. Gay people become outlawed over time. Many escape into Canada. Anyone not married by 30 is presumed to be gay and then sent to re-education camps. Jewish folks unwilling to convert to Christianity in accordance with a literal interpretation of Revelation are sent to Israel (which is aided by the US for the same reason as wanting the Jewish folks to convert.)

We get into the second American Civil War, with Manhattan being the last place standing. We see the fall of Manhattan, we see the forced conversion of the rebels, and we see the dawn of the Purity Web, which keeps track of what you do online, who you talk to, etc. (Think Big Brother in a cell phone type devices.)

I'm leaving a lot out, mainly because there's much covered in the narrative. And it's filled with real world quotes by real world movers and shakers, only in a different time. (Included is by my town's own Rod Parsley, who's World Harvest Church is not one of my favorite places. This has much to do with being told by an usher that my contribution the offering wasn't enough.) We hear about the folks homeschooling so their kids don't get exposed to secular ideas. We hear about The Family and other organizations that are trying to insert religion into politics. Most of which I was aware of, even if I do tend to think like Emilie, that the American electorate is not so ignorant as to elect folks who want to install a theocracy at the national level. Then I look at folks like Mom's Congressman and shudder.

While I'm sure some folks will assume a huge liberal bias in the writing (and there is to some degree), I'd also point out that he has some very conservative ideas in there, particularly when dealing with Saudi Arabia. (Without the US supporting the Saudis, the Shias pretty much take over the region.)

I'll also say that much of the anti-gay sentiment from the antagonist in this book ring true for me. Hatred cloaked in words of love is still hatred. One of my most unusual stories concerns the Pride event in Missouri I went to, where James River Assembly of God and some other allies stood on one side and a group of Neo-Nazi's stood on the other. Us poor gay folks, rather outnumbered, did our best to enjoy the barbecue at the 3 bars sponsoring the event.

Really, this narrative reads a bit like 1984 by George Orwell or The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood. The difference being that rather than being set directly in a totalitarian dystopia, we instead see how one is built. Rich does his best to show us how a minority can destroy a civilization in the name of saving it, much like Hitler or Stalin.

It's a good read, although the people who would most benefit from reading it probably won't.