For all that's been written in recent years about the Christian Coalition, Promise Keepers, and other conservative evangelical movements in the United States, perhaps the most important institution among them--James Dobson's enormously popular radio program Focus on the Family
--has not received its due from secular observers. Paul Apostolidis hopes to change that with Stations of the Cross
. This is an academic treatment, and the first chapter begins with a deadening line: "Marx famously concluded his Theses on Feuerbach by declaring..." Yet there's plenty of rich thought on these pages for readers interested in the Christian Right and willing to plow their way through some jargon.
In a useful introduction, Apostolidis describes Dobson's rise and appeal: he's not a Pat Robertson or Jimmy Swaggart-like figure, but a bestselling child psychologist who devotes much of his airtime to parenting advice rather than politics or sermonizing. In addition, his "almost complete avoidance of the medium of television has been instrumental to his image as the one conservative evangelical leader with class and a clear conscience." Apostolidis is certainly no fan of Dobson's--this is a left-wing critique, and at times an extremely negative one. Yet he strives for objectivity. Even when he's discussing something he clearly finds troubling--such as Dobson's views on "curing" homosexuals--he doesn't resort to a condescending tone of irreligious judgment. He does, however, suggest that Dobson's rhetoric of Christian compassion is out of step with a politics of rolling back the welfare state and battling racial preferences. And, interestingly, he proposes overcoming Christian conservatism not with secularism, but with a form of liberal religiosity. There's a more accessible book to be written on this subject, but the analysis in Stations of the Cross is original enough to make it worth reading, especially by followers of People for the American Way and similar organizations. --John J. Miller
“Apostolidis’s application of dialectical criticism to the evangelical radio program Focus on the Family is theoretically innovative and politically daring. Reading Christian conservatism as cultural critique, he discerns in its narrative structures the same utopian desire for ethical autonomy that animates ‘left’ criticisms of our post-Fordist social order. No apologist for the New Right but a democratic provocateur, Apostolidis challenges progressives to set aside their secular disdain for evangelicalism and consider how its powerful cultural idiom might provide intellectual and political radicalism with a new voice.”—Lisa Disch, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities
“Paul Apostolidis’s excellent study Stations of the Cross: Adorno and Christian Right Radio provides one of the sharpest analyses yet to appear of the Christian right and its media politics. The book is also an important contribution to critical theory, applying and reconstructing T. W. Adorno’s approach to cultural criticism. Focusing on James Dobson’s Focus on the Family, Apostolidis skillfully dissects the program’s messages, politics, and effects, producing a first-rate study of contemporary conservative religious culture.”—Douglas Kellner, UCLA