On my recent book tour in the US, I became aware of two American celebrities I’d never heard of before. One was the brilliant satirist Stephen Colbert, whose book ‘I Am America (And So Can You)’ is a huge bestseller; the other was Joel Osteen, pastor of the Lakewood super-church, where forty-seven thousand people worship on a weekly basis. (Lakewood wasn’t always a church. It used to be the home of the Houston Rockets basketball team.) Osteen’s book ‘Become A Better You’ was everywhere – the first print run was three million – and Osteen seemed to be promoting it every time I turned on the TV.
It is, perhaps, unfair to come to the conclusion that there is some kind of cultural civil war going on in the US, using only the bestseller lists as evidence. Katie Price and Ian McEwan, who both sell lots of books in the UK, would probably struggle to find common ground at a dinner party, although my feeling is that they might not actually come to blows, and that Katie would respect McEwan’s work, especially the bits that involve Keira Knightley. It’s difficult to see how Colbert and Osteen co-exist, however. Colbert’s politics can be deduced from his astonishing, and buttock-clenchingly brave, speech at the White House Correspondents’ dinner last year.
Joel Osteen is a socially conservative, pro-life Southern evangelist, so it seems unlikely that he’ll be out campaigning for Hillary Clinton. Surely sooner or later the followers of these two media personalities are going to have to divvy up the country? I hope the liberals get to keep California.
I saw one woman buy the Osteen book, at Bush International Airport in Houston. She was sobbing. She ran into the airport bookstall, tears rolling down her face, and went straight to the hardback bestsellers pile. My guess is that she’d just been dumped, somewhere between gates 15-17, and there’s an awful warning to feckless American men here. Dump your girlfriends or wives and they will turn evangelical, and possibly start World War Three. Whatever the problems in your relationship are, put up with them.
Tom Perrotta, the author of Little Children and Election, has written a very good novel about liberalism versus Christianity entitled ‘The Abstinence Teacher’. It’s funny and convincing and timely, and anyone who is mystified by the state of the States should read it when it’s published here next year. You won’t find any answers, because there aren’t any. But you might end up understanding a little more.