Cover image of "Deer Hunting with Jesus" by Joe Bageant, a book about America's class war

Balance, schmalence — Joe Bageant tells it like it is about class war in America.

Here, for example, is the author holding forth on “the business class, that legion of little Rotary Club spark plugs . . . vital to the American corporate and political machine. They are where the institutionalized rip-off of working-class people by the rich corporations finds its footing at the grassroots level . . . They are so far right they will not even eat the left wing of a chicken.”

Written at the peak of George W. Bush’s reign in the White House, Deer Hunting With Jesus is a jeremiad on the sorry state of American society today. The heroes in Bageant’s chronicle of woes are the small-town, working-class folks of northwestern Virginia. These are the people who have taken it on the chin from globalization, which has turned them into commodities in the competitive, low-wage job market, never more than one or two paychecks away from homelessness. As Bageant tells it, they love their guns and religion, and they vote Republican because they’e been hornswoggled by empty-headed ideologues.

Deer Hunting With Jesus: Dispatches From America’s Class War by Joe Bageant ★★★★☆

This book is about as far from a coherent analytical study as it’s possible to be. Deer Hunting With Jesus is a pastiche of essays on life in and around Winchester, Virginia, where Bageant grew up on the wrong side of the tracks and has returned after a career as a magazine editor, transformed into a fire-breathing liberal, perhaps to retire. In chapters on wage slavery, trailer life, small-town Republican politics (“Republicans by Default”), guns and hunting, Christian extremism, the military, and health care, Bageant spares no one from his devastating wit. You can just hear the guy holding forth at a bar after one two many Jack Daniels’.

In “The Covert Kingdom,” Bageant skewers Christian fundamentalism. The central character in this tale is the author’s brother Mike, pastor of an “independent Baptist” church who proudly tells him “‘I helped cast out a demon the other day, Joey. I wish you could have been there.'” One strain of fundamentalism comes in for special scrutiny: the evangelicals who “would scrap the Constitution and institute ‘Biblical Law,’ the rule of the Old Testament.” Prayer in the schools? These folks already have that in their own Christian madrassas and “Bible colleges.” What they want is a theocratic state. Scary stuff!

A consistent left-liberal orientation

Throughout Deer Hunting With Jesus, Bageant displays a consistently left-liberal political orientation. At one point, he even refers to himself as a socialist, though perhaps ironically. However, he parts ways with most of his readers on gun control. If there’s any space for a different perspective in your mind on this hot-button issue, Bageant will open your eyes. In “Valley of the Gun,” he cites what sounds like very compelling research that negates the value and the need for gun control, which admittedly is a futile pursuit in a country with as many guns as people. Thought-provoking!

If you have difficulty understanding why so many working-class Americans vote Republican, Deer Hunting With Jesus will clear up the confusion.

For further reading

This is one of the books included in my post 10 enlightening books about poverty in America.

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