Alluding to the Mormonism of Republican candidate Mitt Romney, Sharpton grandly told his audience not to worry, because Romney would be defeated by “those who really believe in God.” Lazy chuckles from the crowd. But within hours, the Romney war machine had mobilized: the candidate went before the cameras complaining of “religious bigotry,” appealingly casting himself in the role of maligned believer and forcing the reverend into a blustery self-defense.
Worse, the suitability of Mormonism in a presidential candidate — a tricky area for Mitt — was suddenly off the table as an issue: which of Romney’s conservative opponents would want to be on the same side, even for a second, as Al Sharpton? Score one for the Mormonator. Hitchens, meanwhile, preened in triumph. He glittered with delight: here, on the front page, was the sort of low-brow tribal god-squabble that gave meaning to the subtitle of his book: “How Religion Poisons Everything.”
Hounds of Hell
Next, consider the fate of Ted Haggard. In 2005, the then-pastor of the New Life Church and chairman of the National Association of Evangelicals was interviewed-slash-confronted by Dawkins for a documentary on religion called The Root of All Evil? Filmed at the New Life compound in Colorado Springs, it was a leering, lip-curling encounter, a showpiece of contempt, in which the atheist Dawkins accused the Biblical literalist Haggard (somewhat tautologically, perhaps) of knowing nothing about evolution, while Haggard suggested that Dawkins’s grandchildren might one day “laugh at him” for his belief in natural selection. “You wanna bet?” snarled Dawkins, his mad-scientist eyebrows standing quill-like in fury. The pastor then threw Dawkins and the camera crew off his land, uttering the classic creationist retort: “You called my children animals!”
The events that have since overtaken Haggard do indeed bear the distinct imprint of what creationists call the argument from design. What more perfectly appointed doom could there be for an evangelical preacher than that he be revealed as a drug-snorting patron of male whores? Haggard, his ministry in ruins, was last seen emerging from three weeks of faith-based counseling with the declaration that he was now “completely heterosexual.” The infidel Dawkins has meanwhile sailed into riches and best-sellerdom. Even Mike Jones, the escort with whom Haggard shared his meth-romps, looks set to have a hit this summer with his upcoming kiss-and-tell I Had to Say Something: The Art of Ted Haggard’s Fall (Seven Stories). “My muscles seemed to be my biggest attraction,” writes Jones. “Until I took off my pants.” Truly, the Lord works in mysterious fucking ways.
Or maybe not so mysterious. If there was one thing Jesus hated, it was a hypocrite: “For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged, and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again” (Matthew 7:2). And atheism at its leanest is the bullshit-detector of all bullshit-detectors, scouring the complacent from their comfort zones. I cite once more the exploits of Hitchens, who on May 16 was invited to represent the constituency of the impious on the Jerry Falwell memorial edition of Fox News’ Hannity & Colmes. Ranged against him was as Pharisaical a crew as can be imagined: the bad-cop/even-shittier-cop team of Alan Colmes and Sean Hannity, the oily Ralph Reed (Republican strategist, former director of the Christian Coalition, friend of Jack Abramoff), and, of course, the ghost of the just-departed Reverend Falwell.