Most of the media coverage after his death dealt extensively with his homosexuality and radical politics. He claimed, for example, that President Franklin D. Roosevelt knew in advance of Pearl Harbor and that President George W. Bush knew in advance of the September 11, 2001 attacks. Many also mentioned his antipathy to Christianity.

But the true nature of Gore Vidal’s theological protest was largely, if not totally, missing from the national coverage. In his 1992 Lowell Lecture at Harvard University, Vidal attacked, not just Christianity, but the very notion of monotheism.

In his essay “Monotheism and its Discontents,” based on the lecture at Harvard, Vidal perceptively and blasphemously blamed the existence of a binding sexual morality on monotheism.

“The great unmentionable evil at the center of our culture is monotheism,” Vidal asserted, “From a barbaric Bronze Age text known as the Old Testament three anti-human religions have evolved – Judaism, Christianity and Islam. These are sky-god religions.”

He went on to describe the “sky-god” as patriarchal and jealous. “He requires total obedience from everyone on earth, as he is in place not just for one tribe but for all creation.”

He claimed that America’s founders were “not enthusiasts of the sky-god,” but that devotees have had an inordinate influence throughout most of the nation’s history. “From the beginning, sky-godders have always exerted great pressure in our secular republic,” he argued. “Also, evangelical Christian groups have traditionally drawn strength from the suppressed.” He blamed the “sky-godders” for “their innumerable taboos on sex, alcohol, gambling.”

In one scathing paragraph he pressed his case:

“Although many of the Christian evangelists feel it necessary to convert everyone on earth to their primitive religion, they have been prevented – so far – from forcing others to worship as they do, but they have forced – most tyrannically and wickedly – their superstitions and hatred upon all of us through the civil law and through general prohibitions. So it is upon that account that I now now favor an all-out war on the monotheists.”

He was not reluctant to state his main concern:

“The ongoing psychopathic hatred of same-sexuality has made the United States the laughingstock of the civilized world. In most of the First World [Europe], monotheism is weak or nonexistent, private sexual behavior has nothing at all to do with those not involved, much less with the law.”

Christians should pay close attention to Gore Vidal’s argument, but the mainstream media have almost uniformly ignored it. The obituaries have celebrated his literary gifts and noted his radical political ideas and rejection of Christianity, but not his call for “all-out war on the monotheists.”

We should realize that Vidal’s rejection of monotheism, though blasphemous, was truly perceptive. He was certainly correct that a binding and objective morality requires a monotheistic God who both exists and reveals himself. He was also correct in pointing to the fact that a secularized Europe has largely abandoned a biblical morality when it comes, most specifically, to sexual behavior.

Gore Vidal was a controversialist, but in making this argument he was simply saying aloud what many others in his social class and literary circles were thinking. He outlived most of his contemporaries and critics, but he lived a tragic life and he died a tragic death. Christians, sobered and saddened by the legacy of this “slashing literary provocateur” must not miss the troubling parable of Gore Vidal and the Sky God. It tells us a very great deal about the intellectual world Gore Vidal now leaves behind.

Michael Dirda, “Gore Vidal Dies; Imperious Gadfly and Prolific, Graceful Writer Was 86,” The Washington Post, Wednesday, August 1, 2012.

Charles McGrath, “Gore Vidal, Prolific, Elegant, Acerbic Man of Letters, Dies at 86,” The New York Times, Thursday, August 2, 2012.

Gore Vidal, “Monotheism and its Discontents,” in The Decline and Fall of the American Empire (Chicago: Odonian Press, 1986-1992), pages 73-88.

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Publication date: August 6, 2012