Tom Perrotta on “The Abstinence Teacher”

Perrotta:    We’re at a moment of real flux in this because when I wrote the book “The Abstinence Teacher,” I wrote it as a kind of reaction to the 2004 election and to that sense I had at that point that there’s just this yawning cultural divide between the blue states and the red states and that we’re living in two entirely separate realities and what I wanted to do is try and get those two realities into one town, sort of create a kind of microcosm of the culture where… By the time the book came out in 2007, I don’t think I was alone in feeling like the culture war had sort of died down.  There’d been that watershed election in 2006 where the Democrats had kind of taken over the house.  You know, Bush had gotten so mired in the debacle of Iraq that his social agenda kind of fell apart.  There’d also been a series of scandals involving, you know, the Reverend Ted Haggard, Mark Foley, all these sort of guardians of morality on the right, it once again exposed themselves as, you know, hypocrites to some degree or other.  But by the time…  And then a year went by and McCain is running.  He’s running as the one Republican who didn’t seem to have a very strong cultural and social conservative agenda, but then he picked Sarah Palin to be his running mate and you could just see that that sort of latent culture war just flared back up.  It was just right in front of us.  There are all these sort of angry social conservatives who just have been deeply frustrated because they’d been marginalized in the Republican Primaries.  But in that period between, you know, around 2007 there was this real sense that the monolithic voice of the Evangelical Right had started to break down.  You know, it was as if like these Liberal Christians who’d been hiding for years just suddenly came out and said, hey, wait a minute, you know, Jesus wasn’t just talking about sexual morality.  Jesus was talking about poverty.  Jesus was talking about being stewards of the earth, you know and there was a…  And I think that’s still going on.  I think that the Evangelical Right doesn’t have the clout that it used to have but it would be wrong to think that it just went away.  It’s there but it’s not going to dominate the Republican Party the way it did in the sort of Karl Rove, George Bush manner and the one thing that happened as a result of writing this book was I heard… I got e-mails from a lot of Christians, but in a way it’s not surprising.  They’re Liberal Christians who I think were sympathetic to the way that I wrote about the character Tim who is a guy who, is in a sense have been saved by religion but he’s struggling to really figure out how he can leave his life in a Christian way.  So it’s not, you know, it’s hard and it’s a struggle and certain things make sense to him and certain things don’t.  I means, he’s a kind of searching Christian figure and I didn’t get a whole lot of flak from the far right because I just don’t think they read novels.  I don’t think they read novels like this, for sure, but I did get a lot of really interesting responses from Liberal Christians who I think felt like a lot of the book rang true to people that they’d known and struggles that they’d had with them.  You know, trying to live a Christian life but also, you know, have a kind of more flexible or tolerant set of moral standards, particularly around sexual issues.

Tom Perrotta taks about his latest book and religious and moral values in the United States.

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