Some of the disagreement between Peter Laarman and me derives from our different perspectives. I wrote about the latest Christian right from the perspective of a historian who—odd as it may seem these days—was trying for a little detachment. Laarman responds from the perspective of a theologically liberal clergyman and social gospel activist. Yet a difference in sensibility also lies at the center of our disagreement. Unlike Laarman, I am not viscerally appalled because many Americans choose to be Protestant fundamentalists or evangelicals. Thus I feel no need to reduce their beliefs to social-psychological symptoms, to ridicule them as members of the “Church of the Galloping Christ (or whatever),” or to join in the comfortable left ritual of being “particularly exercised” by their beliefs.
If Laarman were less exercised, he might do better explaining why during the past three decades millions of evangelicals and fundamentalists have moved from apathy to right-wing activism, and why millions more have shifted from routinely voting for liberal Democrats to routinely voting for conservative Republicans. According to Laarman, these changes are the product of an “unprecedented degree of cultural desolation.” Overwhelmed by the “trashiness and weightlessness of popular culture” and lacking “face-to-face conversations” that would provide emotional succor and enlightened dialogue, vulnerable men and women turn to “totalizing” megachurches....
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