This is a novel I’ve been wanting to talk about for a long time. Granted, I’m not that much of an intellectually political type (hell, on only an English major in college right now), but I’m also a sucker for dystopian novels, especially if it’s relevant to the times we’re in. And with a controversial US Presidential election nearing, I thought it would be right to talk about Frederic C. Rich’s political thriller novel, “Christian Nation”.
Before anyone starts to have a heart attack, I should mention that I have absolutely nothing against religion, yet I do not condone violence or hate in the name of any God. Any religion that wholly believes in taking other people’s rights away is no religion, but why don’t I get started on the review before I begin a flame war on religion, right?
The funny thing about this novel is that people either love or hate “Christian Nation”, critics and average readers alike. Critics seem to praise it as a look into a possible future, but others see it as a fictional work that seems too focused on the politics than characters. Many aren’t even sure whether or not to call this a good read for the average bookworm. For me…I kinda like it, but not as much as others say. There are plenty of things that work, and some that make you scratch your head sometimes.
So what’s “Christian Nation” about then? Through the format of a memoir being written by the narrator, a former lawyer simply called Greg, we begin in an alternate universe where John McCain wins the 2008 US Presidential election, yet sadly passes away not long after taking office. Left with Sarah Palin as the newest President of the United States, America is suddenly put under martial law after a devastating terrorist attack.
One of many who oppose the new laws being suggested (like anti-LGBT, anti-abortion, pro-Biblical teaching in school, and a tight grip on Internet freedom) as well as the dominionist movement taking over American politics is Greg’s best friend named Sanjay, a rich Indian gay man who runs a political website called ‘Theocracy Watch’.
What follows is the slow and steady transformation of America as the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave into just that…but for dominionist Christians, aka the extremely far right winged citizens who say the earth is only several thousand years old and that America is destined to only be a ‘Christian nation’ by the Founding Fathers. But how did this happen? And how could we allow religion to be corrupted in the name of taking totalitarian power?
And how come the author never gives Greg a last name?
Probably the biggest complaint many people have with this book is that honestly…it feels like reading a text book in a high school classroom. To be fair, while the characters are good and the pacing is well-addressed (which I’ll get to later), most of the time it feels less like a coherent story and more as an excuse for Frederic Rich to write a psychological analysis on Christian dominionism.
Now don’t get me wrong; there is a story here that is told brilliantly, and Rich obviously did his homework on politics and religious issues as well as give a lawyer’s perspective on how a democracy can become a totalitarian theocracy such as the one in this book. I especially love how Rich writes in how not only is religion not to blame for the movement, but how people corrupted said beliefs for their benefit and others.
Instead of a revolution overnight, we have a President who preaches religion and appoints Justices to the Supreme Court (such as the ever-controversial Alabama Judge Roy Moore), a terrorist attack that pulls America under martial law, the need for ‘religious freedom’ (*cough* 1st Amendment! *cough, cough*), continuous news coverage being twisted politically, and a generation that slowly accepts the current administration’s actions as right. It’s extremely fascinating, and the way Greg talks about how he and Sanjay experience everything up close makes you wonder how much one thing can lead to another like dominoes. We learn how it happened, but also why it happened.
The characters are also pretty interesting, even if our narrator isn’t the main focus of the story. While Greg is the writer of this memoir and tells the story, Sanjay and the entirety of America are the real main characters. Greg is supposed to be the witness to all of this chaos happening, and is supposed to make sense of the weirdness and horror happening to American freedom and democracy.
Despite that, the guy’s not entirely bland. He’s intellectual and secular, but does not like to boast like Sanjay (who is OBSESSED with being anti-theocracies), he’s kind but has limits, and is very firm on what he believes in while keeping a low profile. He’s sort of like a random witness to this thing.
Even the ‘villain’ in this is just wonderful. This would be a man named Steve Jordan, a politician who secretly manipulates Palin and her administration into setting the stones for an American theocracy. The way this guy operates and works off of criticism is what makes you both awed and feared of him. Any criticism you have for him leads to a response that leaves you speechless. He’s a genius of politics, practically a man similar to Moriarty, a literal Napoleon of politics.
I wonder if Rich has ever considered a prequel?
So yeah, from what’s I’ve said, this seems like a solid book right? It has a good pacing with what happens, has a good grasp on what it’s trying to tell, and is relevant to the times of political and religious strife (makes me wonder what Trump would think of this alternate universe, right? XD).
However, that doesn’t excuse the fact how much Frederic Rich loves to preach how evil religious politicians are! The key to tackling an issue such as religious totalitarianism is that you must make the characters, especially the antagonists and their followers, as human as possible. Don’t make them a cardboard cutout like a “Pure Flix” film does secular characters.
I know I’m probably getting worked up over nothing, but I dislike how Frederic Rich writes in whole chapters on how being religious and a politician is a bad thing, all while including updates in how this universe’s time is different from ours. Honestly, if Frederic Rich wants us to be more invested in “Christian Nation” instead of feeling like it’s homework, he should’ve focused more on the character’s lives and how they’re impacted by it.
Let me take that back; we see how Sanjay and Greg are impacted, but we aren’t experienced by it. We aren’t caught a closer glimpse of his and Sanjay’s lives outside of exposition and minimal dialogue. How interesting would it be to know how Greg and Sanjay live outside of Theocracy Watch, especially in the final half of the novel?
So…yeah, this is a very mixed bag for me as well. There are so many problems for a reader going in, but the elements written well are too good to ignore. What’s my opinion on this then? Well, if you’re a sucker for tragic dystopian books, or a look at alternate universes and know how they go to hell, or are into reading secularist textbooks, this will be your perfect read. I liked it enough because of its ideas and the pacing, but I wanted to know more about the characters, especially since the ending is honestly bittersweet and like a gothic tragedy.
Drenched with a sense of foreshadowing and inked with political strife, Frederic Rich’s “Christian Nation” is a book that will either leave you confused or wary of the future.
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