Repent, Ye Sinners… or Maybe Not 

New humor book appeals to anyone who’s getting really nervous about the political power of the religious right

A fair case can be made that the cozy relationship between the Christian right and the current administration has done more to hasten the End of Days than any jihad could.
A fair case can be made that the cozy relationship between the Christian right and the current administration has done more to hasten the End of Days than any jihad could. So humorist Robert Lanham’s new book, The Sinner’s Guide to the Evangelical Right (New American Library, 272 pp., $12.95), should find a receptive audience among citizens increasingly weary of preachers who jump into bed with people they shouldn’t—figuratively or otherwise. Lanham’s last book, The Hipster Handbook, catalogs the idiosyncrasies of the coolest of the cool. This time, his target is those evangelical Christians who have a personal relationship with both Jesus Christ and the commander in chief. Essentially, The Sinner’s Guide is a facebook. Hilarious caricatures, drawn by Jeff Bechtel (who also illustrated The Hipster Handbook), introduce a rogue’s gallery of TV preachers and right-wing Christian activists. Benny Hinn, James Dobson, Ted Haggard et al. are parodied alongside a group of real-life evangelical parishioners, the latter of whom Lantham uses as “tour guides.” Lanham describes megachurch pastor Rick Warren, for example, as an “evangelical Jimmy Buffett.” Warren wrote The Purpose Driven Life (the best selling hardcover nonfiction book in history) and favors Hawaiian shirts and sandals while tending his 22,000-member flock. “He’s ministered to leaders such as George Bush, Bill Clinton and Rupert Murdoch … though some of the aforementioned, obviously, are still going to Hell,” writes Lanham. The trouble with The Sinner’s Guide is that it’s like shooting fish in a barrel. Most Americans know that evangelists such as Jim Bakker and Pat Robertson are pompous fools, so making fun of them at this point seems redundant. And what of those believers who genuinely find comfort in the more conservative reaches of faith? Lampooning them alongside charlatans like Trinity Broadcasting’s Paul Crouch is unfair and downright cruel. The author rightly claims, however, that “Evangophobia” (the fear of evangelicals) is on the rise in America. But a phobia is an irrational fear, and despite its occasionally clubfooted humor, The Sinner’s Guide makes one important point: There’s nothing irrational about being afraid of the religious right, which despite being an easy target, remains a dangerous power base in American politics.

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