We had been led astray by what social scientists call the secularization thesis: that as societies become more modern, they become less religious. Many writers, readers and academics expected that this must be occurring in the U.S., and we continued to believe it, long after it became evident that the U.S. wasn’t following the pattern that might be true in parts of Europe or Canada. I wanted to understand what it looked like as writers tried to register the unforeseen return of politically muscular religion—how they recognized it or misrecognized it, and, as people who are generally secular and liberal, tried to criticize its politics.
The Da Vinci Code, meanwhile, vilified the Catholic Church, but I show that it should better be understood as an attack on Protestantism, and particularly on the authority of the Bible. It was a woefully ill-informed attack on the Bible, but its target was the reliability of Scripture, which is far more important to fundamentalist Protestants than it is to Catholics.
One big misconception is that the literary paradigms of multiculturalism and postmodernism would be natural antagonists of the Christian Right. It turned out that conservative Christians could love aspects of both these things. Teaching evolution in public schools, for instance, has been likened to a genocide of Christians, disrespectful and murderous of Christian identity.
Writers like Barbara Kingsolver (in The Poisonwood Bible), Marilynne Robinson (in Gilead), Ishmael Reed (in Mumbo Jumbo), Gloria Anzaldúa (in Borderlands/La Frontera) and Philip Roth (think The Plot Against America) translated their critiques of conservative Christian politics into the language of multicultural disrespect for identities. But as it turned out, this language was also being used by conservative Christians themselves, as with the notion that the religious sensibility of bakers is being offended when they have gay customers ordering a wedding cake.
Although liberals often think that identity politics has been a great driver of progress, I try to remind everyone that it’s actually through human rights claims–not identity claims–that progress has been made in the courts on desegregation, teaching evolution, reproductive rights, and now gay marriage. The success of multiculturalism in literature and academia made us misrecognize the rise of the Christian Right for what it was: it was a minority social movement, but one that made particular legal claims on people outside of it. When writers used the logic of multicultural identity to critique the politics of the Christian Right, they were misapprehending the phenomenon.
The same holds true for postmodernism. It’s too easy to think of the uncertainties and indeterminacies of postmodernism as being naturally opposed to the theological certainty of the fundamentalism that is the backbone of the Christian Right. But what I try to show in my book is that postmodern uncertainty is not an obstacle to faith, but an invitation to it.
This is the lesson of a novel like Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49, a metaphysical detective story that shows us how being uncertain about our knowledge and the world forces us all to make faith decisions. In fact, there are a number of issues-evolution, Bible criticism, climate change, sex education, even supply-side economic policy-where conservative Christians have embraced the postmodern uncertainty undercutting consensus expert knowledge. In If God Meant to Interfere I try to show how postmodern literature couldn’t really face down the Christian Right, since it was already entangled with what I call “Christian Postmodernism.”
I try to be fair in my treatment of the Christian Right, but obviously there will be arguments and ideas in my book that conservative Christians will disagree with. They won’t like that I point out that the historical genealogy of the Christian Right lay back in segregation, and before that, in slavery. Writers like Toni Morrison are aware of this fact, and it’s the reason that one outsider who examined the Christian Right-Margaret Atwood in _The Handmaid’s Tale-_was paying such close attention to slave narratives when she imagined her Christian totalitarian dystopia.