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An Atheist Goes Undercover to Join the Flock of Mad Pastor John Hagee

Reposted from:
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In this excerpt from his new book, Matt Taibbi shares his experiences at a Hagee's boot camp for new converts.

The following is an excerpt from Matt Taibbi's new book, The Great Derangement (Spiegel and Grau, 2008). Update: Matt Taibbi has responded to readers concerns about a passage in this excerpt. Response pasted at the bottom.

I pulled into the church parking lot a little after 6:00 p.m., at more or less the last possible minute. The previous half hour or so I'd spent dawdling in my car outside a Goodwill department store off Route 410 in San Antonio, clinging to some inane sports talk show piping over my car radio -- anything to hold off my plunge into Religion.

There was an old-fashioned white school bus in front of the church entrance, with a puddle of heavyset people milling around its swinging door. Some of these were carrying blankets and sleeping bags. My heart, already pounding, skipped a few extra beats. The church circulars had said nothing about bringing bedding. Why did I need bedding? What else had I missed?

"Excuse me," I said, walking up to an in-charge-looking man with a name tag who was standing near the front of the bus. "I see everyone has blankets. I didn't bring any. Is this going to be a problem?"

The man was about five feet one and had glassy eyes. He looked up at me and smiled queerly.

"Name?" he said.

"Collins," I said. "Matthew Collins."

He scanned his clipboard, found my name on the appropriate sheet of paper, and X-ed me out with a highlighter. "Don't worry, Matthew," he said, resting his hand on my shoulder. "A wonderful woman named Martha is going to take care of you at the ranch. You just tell her what you need when you get there."

I nodded, glancing at his hand, which was still on my shoulder. He waved me into the bus.

I had been attending the Cornerstone Church for weeks, but this was really my first day of school. I had joined Cornerstone -- a megachurch in the Texas Hill Country -- to get a look inside the evangelical mind-set that gave the country eight years of George W. Bush. The church's pastor, John Hagee, is one of the most influential evangelical preachers in the country -- not because his ministry is so very large (although he claims up to 4.5 million viewers a week for his Sunday sermons) but because of his near-absolute conquest of a very trendy niche in the market: Christian Zionism.

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