“To Crush the Serpent”

James Baldwin, the Religious Right, and the Moral Minority

in James Baldwin Review

In the 1980s, James Baldwin recognized that a major transformation had occurred in the socio-political functions of religion. His critique adapted accordingly, focusing on the ways in which religion—particularly white evangelical Christianity—had morphed into a movement deeply enmeshed with mass media, conservativepolitics, and late capitalism. Religion in the Reagan era was leveraged, sold, and consumed in ways never before seen, from charismatic televangelists, to Christian-themed amusement parks, to mega-churches. The new movement was often characterized as the “religious right” or the “Moral Majority” and was central to both Reagan’s political coalition as well as the broader culture wars. For Baldwin, this development had wide-ranging ramifications for society and the individual. This article draws on Baldwin’s final major essay, “To Crush the Serpent” (1987), to examine the author’s evolving thoughts on religion, salvation, and transgression in the context of the Reagan era.

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