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BOOKS & THE CULTURE Kuo Vadis BY LOU DUBOSE Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction By David Kuo Free Press 283 pages, $25 111.1 here are so many religious pimps, hustlers, and con men in David Kuo’s account of his political career that it reads like a novela picaresca, the Spanish literary genre in which a young man takes to the road and by pluck and luck avoids the adversity embodied in the fascinating but mostly reprehensible characters he encounters along the way. In Kuo’s case, the road led to the White House, where he served as a special assistant to George W Bush, tending the administration’s alliance with the religious right from the Office of FaithBased and Community Initiatives. There really are two journeys in Tempting Faith. Kuo’s religious journey begins when he arranges an abortion for his college girlfriend. A parallel political journey unfolds after a meeting in Colorado with James Dobson, the self-righteous psychologist who monitors the nation’s morals through his Christian group Focus on the Family. Religious journeys are of genuine interest when told by deeply reflective thinkers such as Thomas Merton, Martin Buber, or Hans Kung, whose belief systems transcend religion to work on a spiritual plane. I exploit this obviously unfair comparison to make a point. Kuo is an evangelical Christian. The circumscribed nature of his belief system ensures that it will produce no Seven Storey Mountain, no I and Thou, and no On Being a Christian. It is a transactional Christianity: Acceptance of Christ as a personal savior equates to individual salvation. A long way from the Christianity of Merton and Kung, and meager material for a writer. I saw the two systems collide last year in a courtroom in Pennsylvania, where federal District Judge John E. Jones declared the intelligent-design biology curriculum promoted by religious fundamentalists unconstitutional, religion masquerading as science. An expert witness for the plaintiffs, Georgetown University theologian John Haught, described a God that remains beyond the grasp of most evangelicals. The God of intelligent design seems to be … a kind of tinkerer or meddler who makes ad hoc adjustments to the creation, whereas what I would want a child of mine to think when he or she thinks of God is something more generous, much more expansive, a God who can make a universe which is, from the start, resourceful enough to unfold from within itself in a natural way all the extravagant beauty and evolutionary diversity that, in fact, has happened. To put it very simply, a God who is able to make a universe that can somehow make itself is much more impressive religiously than a God who has to keep tinkering with the creation. Put simply, this generous and expansive God is not evident in Kuo’s faith tradition, so his subplot is a believer’s road trip rather than a spiritual journey. A high school friend dies in a car accident just after he and Kuo were urged to accept Christ. Kuo’s college girlfriend has an abortion, leaving the couple bereft. A handsome youth minister pushes Kuo toward accepting Christ. Kuo accepts Christ as his personal savior, backslides, then returns to Christ’s fold. Which is not to suggest that David Kuo isn’t a devout believer, only that the religious subplot in his book isn’t interesting. The political picaresca set against the backdrop of Kuo’s faith is a far better story. On his road to enlightenment and disenchantment, Kuo encounters hustlers like Dobson; Pat Robertson, who founded the Christian Coalition and the Christian Broadcast Network; Ralph Reed, former executive director of the Christian Coalition; and William Bennett, who left Reagan’s cabinet to become Minister of National Morality. None is without sin, but all are castthe-first-stone guys. A “thug,” is how former Republican Majority Leader Dick Armey correctly describes Dobson. The Colorado televangelist routinely threatens to unleash his multimilliondollar radio and direct-mail operation on elected officials who refuse to promote his religious worldview. Bennett, a former University of Texas philosophy professor and secretary of education, wrote a primer on morality that sold 3 million copies. He’s also been up to his rather ample ass in casino debt that doesn’t square with the simple virtues he is marketing. Reed got a cut of fallen lobbyist Jack Abramoff’s Indian casino deals. Robertson is neither a crook nor a croupier, but he’s so batshit that most evangelicals go out of their way to avoid himin particular after his claim that the tragedies of 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina were God’s wrath visited upon a sinful nation for embracing homosexuality and abortion. Kuo’s entanglement with this crowd begins with Dobson’s making Bush president. Or at least making him the Republican candidate in 2000. At the time, Kuo was swept up in the evangelical resurgence that followed the movement’s collapse when two of its brightest national lights, Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart, were caught in sex scandals. After less than a year at the CIA, Kuo is hired to be what might be described as a Christian content provider for Bennett. When the two men visit Dobson’s corporate offices and stu 14 THE TEXAS OBSERVER JANUARY 12, 2007