God and Country
by Monique El-Faizy (Bloomsbury)
by Jeffery L. Sheler (Viking)
by Lauren Sandler (Viking)
The prevailing belief that “moral values” were the decisive factor in George W. Bush’s 2004 victory evidently set many a book proposal in motion, and now, just in time for the midterm congressional elections, we have a crop of books that take the measure of “evangelical America.” El-Faizy and Sheler, journalists who were raised as evangelicals but subsequently moved away from the church, visited many of the same locations—the Saddleback megachurch; Colorado Springs, the “evangelical Vatican”; Wheaton College; Christian-rock concerts—and deliver remarkably similar verdicts: evangelicals are a normal and unthreatening component of the American mainstream. Sandler, a self-described “unrepentant Jewish atheist” whose book focuses on evangelical youth culture, is considerably less sanguine about evangelicals’ burgeoning clout, but offers the most interesting conclusion: a call for the return of wonder, fellowship, and authenticity to the secular public sphere.
Welcome to the Homeland
by Brian Mann (Steerforth)
Mann, a public-radio reporter, produces one of the best books to date on the putative red-blue divide by focusing on interpersonal micropolitics (much of the book consists of a running dialogue with his more conservative brother) as well as macro trends that often get left out of the debate (the fact, say, that atheists and agnostics are the fastest-growing religious groups in the country) and that complicate the dominant perception of politicized evangelical hordes rising in lockstep.