Why Books Are Like Bin Laden and Hitler
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Tue Jan 23, 2007 at 04:21:22 AM EST
Rabbi Daniel Lapin, long a figure on the religious right, has a warning for his conservative Christian friends:  books now on the shelves in the nation's book stores threaten them like Osama Bin Laden and Adolph Hitler. At least a little. Or maybe a lot.

Lapin says they are part of a "propaganda blitzkreig" -- one that puts TV talk show host Bill O'Reilly's claimed war on Christmas to shame: The war is on Christianity itself. Well, at least, you know, the right kinds of Christians. Lapin writes in the World Net Daily:  

The war is against those who regard the Bible to be God's revelation to humanity and the Ten Commandments to be His set of rules for all time.

Phase one of this war I describe is a propaganda blitzkrieg that is eerily reminiscent of how effectively the Goebbels propaganda machine softened up the German people for what was to come.

There is no better term than propaganda blitzkrieg to describe what has been unleashed against Christian conservatives recently.

Consider the long list of anti-Christian books that have been published in recent months. Here are just a few samples of more than 30 similar titles, all from mainstream publishers:

"American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America"

"The Baptizing of America: The Religious Right's Plans for the Rest of Us"

"The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason"

"Piety & Politics: The Right-wing Assault on Religious Freedom"

"Atheist Universe: The Thinking Person's Answer to Christian Fundamentalism"

"Thy Kingdom Come: How the Religious Right Distorts the Faith and Threatens America"

"Religion Gone Bad: The Hidden Dangers of the Christian Right"

What is truly alarming is that there are more of these books for sale at your local large book store warning against the perils of fervent Christianity than those warning against the perils of fervent Islam. Does anyone seriously think America is more seriously jeopardized by Christian conservatives than by Islamic zealots? I fear that many Americans believe just that in the same way that many pre-World War II Westerners considered Churchill a bigger threat than Hitler.

I am not familiar with all of these books, however the ones I am familiar with are clearly dissimilar. For example, Sam Harris' The End of Faith, a screed against "moderate" religion is in no way comparable to Barry Lynn's passionate defense of religious liberty and separation of church and state in Piety & Politics:  The Right-Wing Assault on Religious Freedom which is different from Thy Kingdom Come, Randall Balmer's critique of the religious right and defense of evangelicalism in light of its historic support for separation of church and state.

Lapin makes no specific criticism or address any of the content of any of these books except to list them, lump them together and denounce them. Rather, he claims that conservative Christians are paying insufficient attention to these books, and that is like failing to appreciate the rise of Hitler.

Earlier in the piece, he declares:

Heaven knows there was enough warning during the 1980s of the intention of part of the Islamic world to take yet another crack at world domination. Yet instead of seeing each deadly assault on our interests around the world as a test of our resolve, we ignored it. We failed the test and lost 3,000 Americans in two unforgettable hours.

I am not going to argue that what is happening now is on the same scale as the examples I cite above, but a serious war is being waged against a group of Americans. I am certain that if we lose this war, the consequences for American civilization will be dire.

The he goes on to again to decribe these books as an anti-Christian "propaganda blitzkrieg" worthy of the work of Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels.

These are the kind of strawman arguments, red herrings and smear tactics that cheapens, coarsens and destroys civil discourse across the political and religious spectrum. Lapin's purpose is not to discuss any actual issue raised in these books, or to identify problems with any of them. He addresses none of their arguments. His purpose is to engage in an ad hominem attack on the character of the authors. He claims, without substantiation, that they are engaged in a vicious Hitlerian and Bin Ladenesque attack on Christianity.

But let's consider one of the book authors for a moment. Rev. Barry Lynn is a minister in the United Church of Christ, a mainstream protestant denomination.

I was a long time ago persuaded by the doctrines of Chritianity, others have taken different spiritual paths and have come to different conclusions.  I respect the fundamental human right to make a spiritual choice different from my own.  Only church state separation can guarantee that.... Religious Right leaders like Jerry Falwell have accused me of being 'anti-Christian.'  My support for separation comes not because I hate faith, but because I embrace it.

But Lapin claims:

Fervent zealots of secularism are flinging themselves into this anti-Christian war with enormous fanaticism. If they succeed, Christianity will be driven underground, and its benign influence on the character of America will be lost. In its place we shall see a sinister secularism that menaces Bible believers of all faiths.

Lynn tells the following story on the first page of his book,

On January 23, 2003, Falwell told me on CNN's Crossfire that if I really read the Bible I'd be a conservative.  I told him I did read it and to prove it I'd be happy to come down to his church in Lynchburg, Virginia, any Sunday and preach all of his services.  Falwell replied, "I wouldn't trust you to preach the gospel out on the corner.

Falwell and allies like like Lapin understand that Christians of the historic mainline churches who believe in religious freedom and separation of church and state are a threat to their theocratic political ambitions. Lynn continues:

It is time to take the Savior back, repudiate the Middle Ages and rebuke the power hungry theocrats among us. It's time to rescue religion from the death grip of the Religious Right. It's time to reassert the wisdom of the Founding Fathers who gave us the separation of church and state.

It's time to rally all Americans around that standard. And when I say all Americans, I mean everyone-- Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Wiccaans, pagans, nonbelievers, humaists the unaffiliated, and others.

There is no question that the Christianity and the politics and world view of Barry Lynn and Jerry Falwell are diferent -- but not Hitler or Bin Laden different. And while there are certainly some recent atheist-authored books that do infact severely criticize Christianity and religion in general, there is no evidence of these books having any effect on Christianity -- whether the Christianity of Falwell or Lynn. Rather, they are reasonably part of robust public debate and a rehash of ancient arguments. There is also no evidence that any of the authors are even associated or agree with one another, let alone organized in any way. All we have is Lapin's false and wildly overwrought characterizations.

Meanwhile, such scare tactics by the likes of Fawell and Lapin are not new. Scaring people by demonizing atheists and more recently, "secularists" (which is religious right code for atheists, and everyone else who disagrees with them who are, well, atheists, or close enough anyway), is a tradition of rightwing demagoguery with roots in the McCarthy period and farther back in opposition to the Enlightenment. What really scares the religious right is not atheist authors: they are far more alarmed by authors like Lynn and Balmer who knowledgably and thoughtfully persuade Americans of the problematic nature of the religious right and offer a vision of a religious pluralism and respect for the rights of the individual to believe as they will. This has great resonance in American society, which has not yet sufficiently embraced the theocratic visions of the leaders and intellectuals of the religious right. And that is why they are lumped together with unnamed "fervent zealots of secularism" and declared to be like Osama Bin Laden and Adolph Hitler. "I would advise you," Lapin writes, "not to underestimate the power of books to alter the behavior of the American public."

But there is more to the story that Lapin would rather we not remember.   Last fall I wrote:

Toward Tradition, one of the leading organizations of the Jewish element of the religious right is going out of business due to it's involvement in the still unfolding Abramoff scandal . Abramoff had been as much a part of the life of the organization as the cause of its demise. He served on the Toward Tradition board until 2004 and served two terms as chairman.  It turns out that Senate investigators have shown how Abramoff used Toward Tradition head Daniel Lapin as a sock puppet for his corporate clients, notably the Channel One Network that pipes a little "news" and a whole lot of commercials into American public school classrooms.

The Washington Post reports that a just released Senate investigative report notes that five non-profit organizations laundered money on behalf of Abramoff and his clients, and probably violated their non-profit tax status as well.

The report includes previously unreleased e-mails between the now-disgraced lobbyist and officers of the nonprofit groups, showing that Abramoff routed money from his clients to the groups. In exchange the groups, among other things, produced ostensibly independent newspaper op-ed columns or press releases that favored the clients' positions.
Officers of the groups "were generally available to carry out Mr. Abramoff's requests for help with his clients in exchange for cash payments," said the report, issued by the Democratic members of the Senate Finance Committee after a one-year investigation.

Abramoff has pleaded guilty to fraud and conspiracy and is cooperating with federal investigators in the ongoing influence-peddling probe that has resulted in seven guilty pleas and convictions.

The report states that the groups probably violated their tax-exempt status "by laundering payments and then disbursing funds at Mr. Abramoff's direction; taking payments in exchange or writing newspaper columns or press releases that put Mr. Abramoff's clients in a favorable light; introducing Mr. Abramoff's clients to government officials in exchange for payment; and agreeing to act as a front organization for congressional trips paid for by Mr. Abramoff's clients."

The groups are Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform; the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy, which was co-founded by Norquist and Gale Norton before she became Secretary of the Interior; Citizens Against Government Waste; the National Center for Public Policy Research, which was a spinoff of the Heritage Foundation; and Toward Tradition, a religious group founded by Abramoff friend Rabbi Daniel Lapin.

Lapin, whose group was at the center of some of the most infamous lobbying schemes with Abramoff, told the committee that he was shutting down the Seattle-based nonprofit because of negative news coverage related to Abramoff.

The report itself is rich with details. The report shows via email traffic how Abramoff could count on Lapin to write columns that would cast his clients in a favorable light.


The tag line at the end of Lapin's World Net Daily column, reads: Scholar, author and Jewish community leader Rabbi Daniel Lapin is president of the national organization Toward Tradition.

... and you know how we feel about them!

by Frederick Clarkson on Tue Jan 23, 2007 at 04:27:16 AM EST

I personally have several of the books on this list, including Chris' Hedges American Fascists, Randall Balmer's Thy Kingdom Come, and Rabbi James Rudin's The Baptizing of America. I have also read the books by Barry Lynn and Mel White. To call them anti-Christian is a gross exaggeration. What would be more accurate is to call them anti-Christian Right.   Balmer, Lynn, White, and Rudin make it clear that their viewpoints are informed by their religious faith.

by khughes1963 on Tue Jan 23, 2007 at 06:57:16 AM EST

I'm surprised that Richard Dawkins' excellent book The God Delusion wasn't on that list if for no other reason than the title alone.

by Len on Tue Jan 23, 2007 at 06:01:43 PM EST
You'll note that he has a longer list, he says, of 30 books. I imagine that it will show up in some form at some point.

BTW. Debates and discussions about theism vs. atheism are absolutely off topic on this site. Just a reminder.

by Frederick Clarkson on Tue Jan 23, 2007 at 06:52:07 PM EST

if Rabbi Lapin finds himself collaborating in a book-burning?

by nogodsnomasters on Tue Jan 23, 2007 at 10:54:30 PM EST

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