Frederic C. Rich's speculative novel "Christian Nation" is about the rise of an authoritarian theocracy in the United States. The author's disclaimer calls the book a "warning" and not a prediction. But as the book's cover says, in a twist on the Sinclair Lewis novel, "It could happen here."
The book opens in 2029. Greg, an ambitious lawyer who also serves as the tale's narrator, has been asked to write his memories of the circumstances and events that led to the nation's condition.
By Frederic C. Rich
W.W. Norton ($25.95).
Greg is a college student in 1998 when the memoir begins. At that point, he isn't too concerned with the direction the country is headed. He details his friendship with Sanjay, his intelligent and charismatic roommate who becomes wealthy by creating a social networking site called "You and I" in the early 2000s.
Sanjay becomes aware of the ultra-Christian Dominionist and Reconstructionist movements -- which do exist in real-life America, though not as formal organizations -- and how they are able to effect national events. In response, he creates and funds a watchdog organization called Theocracy Watch in 2008 after selling You and I. Greg and Sanjay reunite on a professional basis several years later when Greg joins the group as a legal counsel and senses the upcoming confrontation.
Dominionism, as explained in the novel, "holds that Christians need to establish a Christian reign on Earth before Jesus returns for the second coming. Dominionists also believe that Christians in general have a God-given right to rule, but more particularly, in preparation for the second coming of Christ, that Christians have the responsibility to take over every aspect of political and civil society."
Christian Reconstructionism "emphasizes that the reconstructed Christian-led society should be governed strictly accordingly to biblical law." The novel explores the political implications of this religious ideology in the everyday lives of Americans.
Mr. Rich presents some interesting counterfactual material with regard to the growth of the fundamentalist movement in America, as well as background on the key figures in the Dominionist and Reconstructionist sects.
Actual quotes from the movements' leaders pre-2008 make the disturbing, but fictional, material that follows sound all the more plausible in the context of this novel.
In the parallel universe of "Christian Nation," Republican Sen. John McCain is elected president in 2008. Shortly after taking office, the elderly president passes away during a trip overseas due to a cerebral aneurysm. Vice President Sarah Palin is then sworn in as the nation's 45th commander in chief.
With President Palin in place as a fundamentalist ally, Mr. Rich sketches an event in which an incident similar to 9/11 mandates the declaration of martial law.
As the nation draws itself inward, laws ostensibly enacted to safeguard the country also limit constitutionally guaranteed rights. Through media manipulation and shrewd political maneuvering, the normal checks and balances within our democracy break down. The country begins to divide over the rights issues and splits with both coasts on one side and the heartland of the country on the other. Shortly after, a civil war ensues.
Mr. Rich then introduces a pair of clever devices by which the government exerts control over every American citizen. The first is the adaptation of a biblically based set of laws called "the Blessing" that exerts dire consequences on those who do not adhere to them. The government also sets up a system for electronically monitoring the habits and location of citizens called "the Purity Web."
Mr. Rich perceives a very real internal threat in the form of those who adhere to Dominionism, so he portrays them as extremists who operate contrary to the ideals of American liberty and democracy.
This is the first novel from Mr, Rich, a lawyer in New York. His legal background helps make the narrator and main character more believable.
Some of the events that transpire as the story unfolds are extreme by design. The nightmare scenarios in "Christian Nation" would most affect those whose exercise of personal liberty falls outside the scope of how the state defines biblical law.
"Christian Nation" is well written and persuasive, although it doesn't always maintain its momentum. It does achieve its intended purpose by demonstrating how a theocratic government could arise in this country. It has an imaginative plot of a seriously conspiratorial nature. For those who might enjoy a work that entwines political, legal and religious themes, "Christian Nation" is a worthwhile read.
Paul Zotter is a freelance writer living in the South Hills (Zotter533@comcast.net).