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James Baldwin and the 1980sWitnessing the Reagan Era$
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Joseph Vogel

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780252041747

Published to Illinois Scholarship Online: September 2018

DOI: 10.5622/illinois/9780252041747.001.0001

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“To Crush the Serpent”

“To Crush the Serpent”

The Religious Right and the Moral Minority

(p.93) 4 “To Crush the Serpent”
James Baldwin and the 1980s

Joseph Vogel

University of Illinois Press

This chapter draws on Baldwin’s final major essay, “To Crush the Serpent” (1987), to examine the rise of the religious Right and Baldwin’s alternative vision of morality. In the 1980s, Baldwin recognized, a major transformation had occurred in the sociopolitical functions of religion. His critique adapted accordingly, focusing on the ways in which religion (particularly evangelical Christianity) had morphed into a movement deeply enmeshed with mass media, conservative politics, and capitalism. 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. In “To Crush the Serpent” Baldwin narrows in on the definitions and uses of the sinner or transgressor in the context of Reagan-era obsessions with the body and sexuality.

Keywords:   James Baldwin, religious Right, Moral Majority, Jerry Falwell, Evangelical, 1980s, Ronald Reagan

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