Sinners on the counterattack

The panic may strike in the shelter of a Starbucks, when a customer realizes that a quote from evangelical superstar Rick "The Purpose Driven Life" Warren is printed on some of coffee cups.

This would cause any latte-sipping liberal to mutter "Oh my goddess" and worry about legions of Focus on the Family donors invading Wiccan book clubs in Unitarian sanctuaries from sea to shining sea.

Does thinking about this give you sweaty palms? If so, writer Robert Lanham of New York City believes you may be suffering from "Evangophobia."

"It's a healthy fear. ... The evangelical right isn't the new counterculture. It's the new mainstream culture," notes Lanham, in his book "The Sinner's Guide to the Evangelical Right."

"Worst of all, many evangelicals aren't content watching The 700 Club and attending laser-light projections of the crucifixion at the local megachurch. They want to transform the culture you consume to fit their standards. ... And compounded by the fact that evangelicals often share similar goals with conservative Jews, Catholics and Bill O'Reilly, we may soon witness a ratings' sweeps plotline where Will marries Grace after attending a gay deprogramming class."

Lanham realizes that evangelical politicos haven't won many national victories on the hot-button issues that worry him the most -- gay rights and abortion. Nevertheless, he is convinced that alliances between conservative believers and secular conservatives have resulted in "trickle down" policies on taxes, health care, environmental laws and strategies in the Middle East.

"Fundamentalists of every kind," he said, "keep clinging to beliefs that can be very destructive. They are advocating religious teachings that divide people, rather than bind them together. ... They are always on the attack and if we don't buckle down, the next thing you know, they will be running the country -- again."

It helps to understand that Lanham grew up in a non-dancing Southern Baptist home in Richmond, Va. Things got even worse, he said, when he was a teen-ager and his parents joined the kind of Pentecostal flock that "used live camels in the Easter pageant."

Virginia Commonwealth University beckoned, where Lanham majored in English and religion and soon discovered that his activities on Fridays and Saturdays were trumping beliefs he had been taught on Sundays. Before long he was writing "The Hipster Handbook" and his fiction trilogy "Pre-Coitus," "Coitus" and "Aftermath."

The new book on evangelicals contains more of what Publisher's Weekly called his unique brand of "caricature assassination." Thus, there are angry mini-profiles of alpha males like Dr. James Dobson ("The Evangelical Pope"), Tim LaHaye ("The Evangelical Stephen King") and the young Joel Osteen ("The Evangelical P. Diddy"). Along the way, he mocks the doctrine of the Trinity, rips into the Gospel of John and, with a note of sadness, confesses that liberal mainline churches have become fading enclaves for

"old people and pansies" who use hymnals.

Lanham stressed that he really doesn't hate evangelicals, conservative Catholics, Orthodox Jews and other traditionalists. He does, however, believe that most evangelicals are guilty of "dumbing down the faith" and consuming shoddy Christian consumer goods that deserve ridicule. Thus, his list of modern evangelical commandments includes statements such as:

* "Thou shalt live in the suburbs, eat at the Olive Garden and wear clothes made from polyblend fabrics."

* "Thou shalt become aware of pop culture trends eight years after the fact and co-opt these trends for Christian culture."

* "Thou shalt own a support the troops car magnet, a fish bumper sticker and/or an embroidered flag sweater."

* "Thou shalt not speak ill of they neighbor, unless thy neighbor is gay. Then it's okay."

The key, said Lanham, is that he -- along with many others on the religious left -- cannot accept the ancient belief that the Christian Gospel is the unique pathway to salvation. This is the kind of doctrine

that he believes creates fear and division.

Also, in the wake of the Sexual Revolution, there is one issue that towers over all others today.

"It does seem that the evangelical right has set out to repeal the values of the Woodstock generation," he said. "The key issue is gay rights. I decided that I couldn't stand back and let the James Dobsons of this world continue to attack gay people. That's the issue that has made people like me want to take the gloves off and fight back."