Book Review: The Power Worshippers by Katherine Stewart

I wish that I could rejoice in the fact that today, I write my first ever blog post reviewing a book by a woman, but the fact is, after reading it, it feels as though there is little to be joyful for. Don’t get me wrong, I truly believe that it would be greatly beneficial for the future of America and of our global society if everyone read The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism, but at the same time, I hated it.

The Power Worshippers contains twelve chapters taking you deep within the history and ideology of Christian nationalism, also known as theocracy or dominionism. You will learn about the rise of one of the movement’s grandfathers, R. J. Rushdoony, who fought against the abolition of slavery in the United States in the 1800s and how his writings have influenced key figures in Christian nationalism to this day. You’ll later see how this racist agenda paved the way for segregation at places like Bob Jones University and how right-wing advocates fought for their “rights” to keep schools separate. Once blatant racial segregation became less socially acceptable, these nationalists turned to abortion, which they had previously supported, as the target of their hatred. (Which is statistically shown to be prevented more effectively by having comprehensive sex education and access to contraceptives than by being outlawed, but this is one of many instances that show how little these people actually care about truth.)

While you learn this history of the Christian nationalist movement, Katherine Stewart will introduce you to its biggest names along the way. Be prepared to meet Ralph Drollinger, who has led White House bible studies and advocated for corporal punishment; Paul Weyrich, who essentially combined Republican nationalism with religion following Brown v. Board of Education; Jim Domen, who convinces Latinx Americans to vote for white xenophobes; David Barton, who fabricated the entire myth that America was founded on Christian principles; Bill Dallas, who, largely singlehandedly, influenced literally millions of Christian Americans to vote for Donald Trump in 2016; and more.

No matter who you are or what you believe about religion as a whole, I hysterically urge you to read this book. (It came out only in 2019, so it is still expensive, but I promise you it will be worth the money.) That’s why I’m leaving the summary there and turning instead to how this book influenced my whole worldview.

Before reading any books about the subject, I didn’t know much about Christian nationalism. The words mostly just called to mind Facebook rednecks posting pictures like this one, claiming that “Jesus is guiding Trump; Democrats and Satan are trying to stop him!” It’s concerning, to be sure, but it was too easy to sum up Christian nationalism in this way and view it only as a fringe belief held by a few weirdos that also think the earth is flat.

I first learned about Christian nationalism in more detail when reading Andrew Seidel’s The Founding Myth. Seidel explained why these people are actually a force to be reckoned with and not just clueless hillbillies. Many of them really do believe the narrative that America was founded on Judeo-Christian principles to which we ought to return. Seidel is entirely correct in this analysis, and his book is very important in acting as a source for determining what parts of America’s history are true or not. The section of The Founding Myth dedicated to juxaposing the Bill of Rights with the Ten Commandments was clever and extremely telling in how the two go together like oil and water, but after having read The Power Worshippers, I don’t know if The Founding Myth is really going to do as much good as Seidel hopes.

Like Seidel, Stewart is articulately arguing against Christian nationalism, which is necessarily going to require debunking claims and denouncing the beliefs of many radical alt-right Christians. This will appear anti-theistic to some, but I don’t think it is; Stewart never even tells the reader her religious beliefs. On the other hand, as is his prerogative, Seidel states at the beginning of The Founding Myth that he is an atheist. He also shows open disdain for the Old Testament, and as I said in my review of his book, it sometimes felt like it was about “why Christianity is fundamentally immoral and at times repulsive,” and was “reminiscent of my time reading Dawkins’ The God Delusion and Hitchens’ God is Not Great.”

I’m still an atheist, and I still agree with the overall arguments of The God Delusion and God is Not Great, even if I myself would never use the harsh language that they did—at least not anymore. But regardless of what I think about the existence of God, I really don’t think that antitheistic arguments will dismantle Christian nationalism. All that really does is divide us atheists against people with whom we have more similarities than differences, and who are trying to fight the same fight that we are.

It’s worth a shot to try and explain why Christian nationalism is un-American, as Seidel successfully did, but the problem is that Christian nationalists know that and don’t really care. They certainly aren’t acting in accordance with American values. They’re barely even Christian. This theocratic movement is its own animal. Nationalists imply (or outright declare) daily that they want to establish Christianity (but only their narrow brand of fundamentalist Christianity) as the national religion, which millions of less dogmatic Christians understand is detrimental to our nation’s integrity.

A pastor named Chris laments to the author, “Shouldn’t we show compassion to people regardless of how they identify? They, too, are made in God’s image. We find in Scripture the imperative to love our neighbors and care for the least of these. That is by far one of the clearest messages we receive. . . . I don’t see myself pastorally having an obligation to the U.S.A. I see my obligation as being to the kingdom of God.”

Throughout the time that Trump has spent dividing our nation, I have seen progressive Christians echoing this idea dozens of times. They emphasize that everything radical Republicans stand for is in opposition to the attitudes and teachings of Jesus, who is said to have argued with religious authorities, helped and healed the sick and poor, offended the rich, and gotten executed for not agreeing with the national religion.

This just goes to show that this fight isn’t a case of Christians versus atheists. It’s the ultra-wealthy, meticulously calculating Christian nationalist minority who believe that they are more worthy of power versus those of us fighting for some semblance of equality. We who oppose religious dominionism do so not to erode “religious liberty” but to establish equality: equality of race, religion, reproduction, marriage, gender, and more. We all just want to have a fighting chance at getting and keeping basic human rights.

I’ll be honest: finishing this book the day after the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg left me feeling really hopeless. Books like this always end with some bleak attempt at sounding optimistic, but I cannot now unsee how Christian nationalism is inherently tied with everything happening politically in the US right now. On the Supreme Court, Justice Ginsburg fought for the rights of the disabled as well as women in the military, in the workplace, and in reproduction. I would venture to say that the majority of Christian nationalists are staunchly against everything she stood for.

None of us by ourselves can singlehandedly prevent the impending theocracy, but we should all strive to be, as Justice Ginsburg said, “Someone who used whatever talent she had to do her work to the very best of her ability. And to help repair tears in her society, to make things a little better through the use of whatever ability she has.”


Click here to donate to Americans United for Separation of Church and State. AU “is a nonpartisan educational and advocacy organization dedicated to advancing the separation of religion and government as the only way to ensure freedom of religion, including the right to believe or not believe, for all.” I personally am a member of the Freedom from Religion Foundation, but after learning what I’ve learned about how best to fight religious nationalism, I’ve also joined AU, as it is more welcoming of religious people who also oppose nationalists—not just atheists. This blog isn’t affiliated with them in any way, but I wholly believe in what they do, so I hope you will join me in supporting them.

11 thoughts on “Book Review: The Power Worshippers by Katherine Stewart

  • It is scary reading about this subject. Another book you may be interested in is by Anne Nelson and entitled ‘Shadow Network’. Personally, as a person who believes in God yet not a traditional or evangelical christian, I find it disturbing there are so many people who truly want to force their so-called christian values on everyone and make national policy of it. Thanks for your review on this book. It is actually on my reading list.

    Liked by 1 person

      • The way of Christ is narrow…and the things done by “Christians” who add to the faith (in this case a political ideology) have consistently brought shame to the name of God. But I know I will be frustrated because I suspect there will be no attempt to delineate the actions of these unfaithful Christians (because they add another lover—political ideology—to their faith) from the sound and pure teachings found in the Bible.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I believe that things done by Christians drive more people from it than anything else. I’ve been there. So, I don’t doubt the sincerity of believers. From the 1940s until now, the public image of Christianity and religion have suffered. There are things done on television now that would have drawn harsh criticism then. The message has changed but the scripture remains the same. What happened?

          Those ‘healing ministries’, those ‘prosperity gospels’ preachers, and a strong desire for Christian nationalism; money, and power override any thoughts of salvation and Christ-like service to community. Those scenes in the White House of leading Christians doing obeisance to Trump are the most obnoxious display of whoredom, and I don’t think I can rank the GOP as being worse.

          What is the public supposed to think? What does the rest of Christianity think? We make our judgments based on what we observe. There is no way for the rest of society to delineate the sects. It is the responsibility of the church to make those judgments.

          What I observe is a very corrupt church doing everything in their power to insert themselves into the government. They declare that it is not only their right but their obligation to make Christianity the religion of the state. They make their claim that we are a Christian nation from our founding. That is a lie. It is not a misunderstanding of the document. The founders decidedly made sure there was no room for religions and their multitudes of gods to have constitutional recognition.

          The constitutional freedom of religion is the most inalienable and sacred of all human rights
          Thomas Jefferson

          The end of democracy and the defeat of the American Revolution will occur when government falls into the hands of lending institutions and moneyed incorporations.
          Thomas Jefferson
          I chose this quote because history proves that religion follows the money.
          Religion and politics follow capitalism. It shows. Christianity and Capitalism will join in controlling the government if one cannot out-flank the other.

          Project Blitz is a long-range plan to bring about a Theocracy in our time.
          This may be the scariest thing you see or hear about from the White-Right-Christian-Nationalist. Take a look. This probably will shock most Christians I know.

          Click to access Project%20Blitz%20Playbook%202018-19.pdf

          Like

  • Thank you for the review and for a couple of books to add to my btr stack. I am reading Woodward’s ‘Fear’ right now and I had to lay aside ‘The God Delusion to pick that up.

    Two comments I want to make, maybe three. 🙂

    It’s the ultra-wealthy, meticulously calculating Christian nationalist minority…
    This is true. It was the case with the early Roman Catholic Church: the wealthy could, and did buy the papacy. I have read a lot about the church in the dark ages when the church ruled the world. They were ruthless in maintaining their control through the crusades and onward.

    This is all we can expect from a new theocracy. I don’t mind being a little harsh with Christians and Republicans. They are the enablers of those who would return us to the dark ages.

    “None of us by ourselves can singlehandedly prevent the impending theocracy…”
    This is true, also. Humanists, atheists, agnostics, etc. have argued against religion since it’s invention. Democritus, Epicurus, Lucretius…
    I belong to FFRF, Friendly Atheist, and a few more Atheist groups. I don’t really know what small numbers we represent, but with Democrats and all minorities coming together with the same objectives, we are a good majority of the voting public. I did not include Christians or other religions by name because I think that if they are sincere in their commitment to the gods, the onus is on them to correct the direction they are taking behind Fundamental, White Nationalist, and Evangelicals.

    O. K. I’m through, for now. Thanks again.
    Teach the children to read.
    Summum Bonum The greater good

    Liked by 2 people

      • I had to come back to this post to thank you for making me aware of this book. At the time I said it would just have to go on my list of books to read. As it turns out, I was looking for another book when this popped up as a sample, with audio. (Amazon?) I listened to maybe a page of the audio and it suddenly went to the front of the list. I am reading it now. I thought I knew a little bit about what was going on between church and GOP. Turns out I was right. I knew a very little bit.

        I just wanted to come back and thank you again.

        I also checked out a post your husband made almost a year ago. “Pokemon is Satan’s creation.” Well, something like that.

        Ignorant men always imagine that he who speaks to them of things which they do not understand, is a very wise and learned man. This is the true principle of the credulity of nations, and of the authority of those who pretend to guide them.
        …. Jean Meslier

        A Roman Catholic priest, who, after a pastoral service of thirty years at Etrepigny, Champagne, France, wholly abjured religious dogma, and left as his last will and testament to his parishioners, and to the world, to be published after his death, the following pages entitled, Common Sense.

        It is hard for me to imagine a man preaching a doctrine/dogma he did not believe, for thirty years. He did write a letter of apology to his parishioners, though.

        Liked by 1 person

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