Though he is an avowed agnostic, author Robert Lanham was having second thoughts in an e-mail interview following last week’s mid-term elections.
“Maybe God is in control after all!” Lanham author of The Sinner’s Guide to the Evangelical Right, a satirical expose of religious leaders the likes of James Dobson, Joel Osteen, Ted Haggard and Tim LaHaye, told EthicsDaily.com.
“That said, it’s a crying shame that it took Foley, Abramoff, Haggard, tens of thousands dead in a bungled war, the legalization of torture, the politically motivated outing of a CIA officer, favoritism of the upper class, Abu Ghraib, Katrina, overt cronyism, lies about WMD, illegal wiretapping, the suspension of habeas corpus, Macaca, and global resentment of our policies overseas to make America wake up,” he continued.
Lanham said he is especially delighted that a third of the evangelical population, according to the Associated Press, voted for Democrats.
He was inspired to write the book after the 2004 elections. Reading in the press about how the evangelical right influenced the outcome of the vote, Lanham, who lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., observed that most New Yorkers didn’t know who the media were talking about.
Growing up in an evangelical family in the South, Lanham believed he could shed some light on the evangelical movement “for ‘sushi-eating’ liberals who don’t know the difference between Ted Haggard and Merle Haggard.”
Lanham attended Bon Air Baptist Church near Richmond, Va., as a child. In his mid-teens he joined a charismatic Assembly of God church. He stopped attending church in college.
Lanham, who is now 35, said he began “having moral issues” with many of the Bible’s teachings in his late teens.
“For instance, I believe that saying your team is better than someone else’s is patronizing and divisive,” he said. “Also, I didn’t believe God would punish someone eternally to hell for finite ‘sin’ on earth. That does not seem just to me.”
Like most evangelical ministries, Lanham’s book includes a “statement of beliefs.” They include:
–“Jesus was a progressive liberal.”
–“Jesus hates Christian Rock, Pat Robertson diet shakes and pastors who pronounce his name ‘Jay-sus.'”
–“We’re not anti-family; we’re anti-Bush family.”
–“Christianity is no better than Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam or Judaism. It does kick Scientology’s a** though.”
“I still believe that most of what Jesus had to say was fantastic and inspiring,” Lanham told EthicsDaily.com, “but there is also a lot of troubling stuff in the Bible (genocide, rape, slavery, favoritism) that I have a hard time reconciling.”
Lanham said he didn’t have a particular audience in mind when he wrote his guide for “sinners,” but he did have an agenda: to challenge claims of moral authority voiced by Religious Right leaders like James Dobson.
He coined a term “evangophobia,” the fear of evangelicals, to describe it. “Specifically I’m referring to type of evangelicals who are trying to convert non-Christians and who think the Bush tax cuts were prophesied in the Bible,” he said.
Lanham’s previous books include The Hipster Handbook and Food Court Druids, Cherohonkees and Other Creatures Unique to the Republic. (Food Court Druids, according to the Washington Post, are “those Goth-dressed gamers who play Magic: The Gathering, turn out for Harry Potter book releases, and always hang around the Panda Express. ‘Cherohonkees’ are white people who wear too much Native American-themed garb.”)
Lanham said humor is an effective way to approach the Religious Right for a couple of reasons.
“I think so many people, especially liberals and people that are outside of the evangelical community, are so disheartened by evangelical culture that they don’t even want to touch it,” he said on a recent Webcast interview on DefCon America (the Campaign to Defend the Constitution). “So I think writing a book that is a little bit lighter and a little bit of fun kind of opens up–it made it more accessible to them.”
Second, when things are going on in the evangelical community like Creation Museum being built by Answers in Genesis–with an exhibit featuring dinosaurs wearing saddles, because they believe that dinosaurs and human coexisted–he said, “The jokes write themselves.”
Lanham’s book uses four-letter words and is dismissive of Christian teachings like the Trinity, which he explains by comparing it to Mike Myers playing three different characters in one Austin Powers film.
But he says most of the praise he has received for the book has been from Christians who are more fed up with the Christian right than he is.
“The big surprise I’ve had with this book is the amount of support I’ve gotten from moderate evangelicals,” he told EthicsDaily.com. “I just did a reading in a church in Brooklyn at the request of a liberal (and gay) minister who loves the book. Jay Bakker (Jim’s son) was in attendance. I was also contacted by the Christian magazine Relevant. They’re fans of the book and will be doing a story on me next month.
“I suppose this all makes sense–after all, progressive evangelicals have MUCH more to be angry about when people like Dobson misrepresent the faith than an agnostic like me.”
Lanham said he’s taken the most criticism for attacking Rick Warren, whom he labels “the evangelical Jimmy Buffett,” from Christians and reviewers who say it’s unfair to critique him alongside James Dobson and Pat Robertson.
“I disagree given Warren’s penchant for calling non-Christians ‘godless pagans’ (as he does several times in The Purpose Driven Church) and his statement that all Christians must oppose stem cell research, gay rights and euthanasia,” he said. “He also has compared homosexuality to having sex with a horse, a statement I find offensive and juvenile.”
Lanham said sales of the book have been helped by the Ted Haggard scandal. Lanham spent some time with Haggard in Colorado Springs and discusses him at length in the book. “I’ve become a go-to media expert on Pastor Ted,” Lanham said. “God truly does work in mysterious ways.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.