- - Tuesday, January 3, 2017

I recently finished reading Treason, a political thriller authored by Newt Gingrich and Pete Earley. This book served as a sequel to his first, Duplicity. Both novels are published by Hachette. 

I enjoyed the pace and plot of both novels and I think you will too. But what really piqued my curiosity was the subtle infusion of spirituality and theology into the storylines. Both books deal with the threat of radical Islam—external dangers to the body. But the characters also deal with doubts and their often conflicted response to moral situations—internal dangers to their soul.

What follows is Mr. Gingrich’s response to my Q&A about the faith element of his novels.

WSL: The overwhelming majority of people in the world are religious, not secular. And yet, novels – especially thrillers – often don’t infuse their characters with religious motivation and backstory. But your novel’s characters do. Was this intentional from the very outset of the writing? 

Gingrich: A major purpose of writing Duplicity and Treason was to let readers know how deeply different our enemies among the Islamic Supremacists are from the rest of us. We want people to understand that the motivations and the reasoning of our enemies are deeply felt beliefs and are very powerful. All too many of our secular analysts and reporters cannot grasp the power of religion in motivating and guiding people.

WSL: Major Brooke Grant, the central heroine of the novels, grew up as a pastor’s kid – until they were killed on 9/11. She was then taken into the home of her Uncle Frank Grant — Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. By the time your novels open, she is characterized as a person whose faith was shattered by her parent’s deaths. Without giving any of the story away, in Treason we see Brooke and her Aunt Geraldine having conversations during a time of great duress. Geraldine is obviously a woman of Christian faith and encourages Brooke to take confidence that “Jesus is with us. He isn’t going to let anything happen to him that is not supposed to happen.” Shortly after that, Brooke even prays briefly while alone. 

Brooke’s spiritual pilgrimage, though only a minor part of the plot, does seem to be an area of growth for her. Even as she is battling radical Islamic terrorism in both novels, she also has this inner spiritual struggle that originated in the problem of evil: “How could God have allowed her parents to be killed by religious extremists?”

How can a person who has seen first-hand just how messed up the world can be, still maintain faith in God? What role does spirituality have in leading us through global challenges? 

Gingrich: There are a number of powerful works from Holocaust survivors who had to deal with the question of how God could have permitted such evil. Of course, the great tradition of African-American religious beliefs in America had to survive the pain and humiliation of slavery and then of segregation. That is one reason many of our greatest spirituals are about enduring and having faith in a better future.  And, of course, Christianity is a religion founded on martyrs beginning with the sacrifice of Christ and extending through many of the early saints.

We believe it would be far more natural for an older generation African-American woman to be deeply religious than for her to be purely secular or atheistic.

WSL: How have your own historical reflections on “Reagan, Poland, and Pope John Paul” affected your novels, with their emphasis on the need for more than just bullets to overcome evil?

Gingrich: Callista and I found the experience of making the documentary “Nine Days that Changed the World” to be life-changing. Exploring the Pope’s nine-day pilgrimage home to Poland was a profound experience.  Pope John Paul II’s injunction “be not afraid” is simply liberating and so much stronger than “have courage.” The spiritual revolution in Eastern Europe, which George Weigel wrote about brilliantly, certainly shaped our thinking. That was reinforced by the book we wrote and the documentary we made entitled “Rediscovering God in America.” If you read the book or see the documentary, you will never see the monuments quite the same again.

WSL: Near the end of Treason, Congressman Stanton gives some advice to a colleague: “Never underestimate the American people’s willingness to forgive. This great nation of ours was settled by people seeking second chances and redemption. Forgiveness is in our blood, and we appreciate someone who gets up after they get knocked down. You can come back from all of the negative press and attacks, but only if you talk directly to the people and speak to them from your heart.”

Would you elaborate on that theme, especially to the idea that these words seem autobiographical? I mean, we all could speak about needing second chances and redemption, but most novelists have not been Congressman—as was the character speaking those lines.

Gingrich: My personal experience has been that Christianity is a religion of forgiveness and the American people have big hearts and a deep desire to give their neighbors a second and even third chance. Our generosity is real and is a part of the very fabric of our society.

WSL: Though you finished your manuscript for Treason before the 2016 general election, do you see any correlation between those lines and what we just witnessed regarding the election?

Gingrich: There are fascinating parallels between forgiveness in Treason and in 2016. Because people believed Trump was sincere and authentic, they forgave him a lot.  Because Clinton refused to be authentic, it was very hard for her to ask for forgiveness.

WSL: At the end of Treason, Grant was asked: “How could we have been so easily fooled?” She said, “Because we are Americans. We believe people are good and decent until they show us otherwise. It is one of our greatest virtues and our greatest vulnerabilities.”

In the real world, will the vulnerability side of this equation be our undoing? How can a deeper understanding of sin shape national and domestic security policies?

Gingrich: A free society and a free market economy both operate on faith. You have to believe most of your fellow citizens will keep their word, or the entire system falls apart. Thus, democracies will always be slower to recognize threats than dictatorships. That bias is compounded by the desire of free people to think the best of other people and give them the benefit of the doubt.

On other hand, once convinced we have no choice free societies can mobilize more completely and fight with greater courage and ruthlessness than a dictatorship.

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