Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Keeping Cool

The Dominionists are coming! The Dominionists are coming!

Some contemporary Paul Revere's of the internet write breathlessly about the Christian Right as if the advocates of theocracy have all but won. They conflate a sense of urgency about the situation or concern about the "agenda" of the Christian Right, with the inevitability or even the imminence of victory. I am writing this from the perspective of over twenty years of researching and writing about the Christian Right -- and up front I want to say -- don't believe everything you read. As the song goes in West Side Story: "stay cool, boy."

Has the Christian Right gained great political power? Yup.

Should we take it seriously? Yup.

Do we have a lot to learn? Yup.

Is it over? Far from it.

One more quickie Q&A.

Does this movement have a theocratic political agenda? Yes they do, although most of its leaders deny it, and certainly most conservative Christians would not agree with the more theocratic or "dominionist" elements. They have, however, been sold on a form of historical revisionism that claims that the U.S. was founded as a "Christian nation," and that this legacy has been stolen -- stolen! -- by those who would betray God and the original intentions of the Founding Fathers. This is a powerful myth. And it is but one element of why the Christian Right is the best organized faction in American politics.

But politics is about many things, and it is always in motion. Many people have a tendency to freeze certain perceptions about political realities in thier minds -- hence the danger of getting the notion of the power of the Christian right fixed in one's mind such that one cannot see outcomes other than a Christian theocracy and a looming inquisition. The truth is that this is the stuff of B horror movies.

Well, OK. There is also The Handmaid's Tale. (Margaret Atwood's novel is much better than the movie.) But whether this tale of a future corrupt theocracy is a warning or a prophesy is entirely up to us.

But there are reality-based ways of evaluating the Christian right. And there are a lot of people who have spent a lot of years acquiring the kind of knowledge that will be useful in this time.

Meanwhile, let's consider that the polls are way down for the GOP -- and that the Christian Right that has bet everything on electing Christian Right pols via the Republican Party and that they may be in for a drubbing in 2006.

But whatever the next elections may hold, the doomsaying style of thought, analysis and writing about the Christian Right, can be deeply discouraging to the point of actually diminishing the capacity of opposing political forces to win elections. Can those who feel all is already lost be able to imagine victorious political and electoral outcomes? Can they participate in civic life with imagination and what John F. Kennedy used to call "great vigor" if they feel hopeless and defeated?

This kind of problem is not new, it just takes on different forms anc character in the age of the blogosphere. In my book Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy, I devoted a whole chapter to the tendency in political and journalistic circles to treat the Christian Right as either a juggernaut or a joke. (There is less of the latter these days, but a good bit more of the former.) I particularly dissected the way that the media hyped and exaggerated the strength and power -- first of Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority organization and later Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition. Its not that these organizations were not strong and important at the time of these articles, its that they were not nearly as strong as reporting often made them out to be, and they had weaknesses that reporters often did not dig enough to see.

One of the key Christian Right strategists of the era, Colonel Donor (his name, not his rank), later marveled about this. "It was true," he wrote of the late 1970s and early 1980s, "that the Christian Right... was viable and growing; but the media consistently gave the few national Christian Right organizations credit for larger budgets, more memberships, and more 'muscle' than actually existed. Memberships and financial strengths were routinely inflated by both the media and the Christian Right organizations themselves. But the media needed a good story in 1980," he continued, "and the emergence of the Christian Right seemed to be as good as any."

There are many players on the Christian Right, just as there are in any other sector. It can seem overwhelming to take it all in. It can be even harder to discern what is important from what is not. Thanks to the Bush administration, we all know the consequences of "flawed intelligence." And while we know that there is a vast difference between errors and lies, what Colonel Doner is talking about above -- is lies by Christian Right leaders that were printed as fact by the media. (And lets not get huffy about the mainstream media here, the alternative press was not immune from these kinds of errors.)

So lets keep a cool head. (And I say this as someone who is running a fever and gulping chicken soup as I write.) There are many pitfalls in understanding and evaluating the Christian Right in all of its manifestations.

Here are a few pointers from my experience.

Don't confuse the agenda with the outcome.

Consider the sources of whats reported, and who is doing the reporting.

Don't be afraid.

As Franklin Roosevelt said in his first inaugural address: "The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself."

In short, let's not pyche ourselves out.

Let's learn the things we need to learn to understand, and better contend with formidable opponents.

Let's stay cool.

This is the second in a series of essay based on themes taken from Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy. The first was "The Dems Could Take a Cue from Jefferson."

[Crossposted from FrederickClarkson.com]


Blogger dogemperor said...

One of the things, actually, that I have to work hardest at...is not panicking. (The fact there are communities and more and more awareness *does* help in that, believe it or not)

Then again, in my own case, part of why I do tend to, well, get jumpy is because I *do* suffer from PTSD directly related to having survived 25 years in a dominionist household (including physical/mental/emotional/spiritual abuse), and seeing what's going on and *knowing* what they have planned *does* cause me to flash back unpleasantly to my own childhood. In many ways I feel like they're trying to pull me back into that mess.

And frankly, it makes me mad as hell. >:(

Sometimes I wonder if other folks have to deal with this, and sometimes I frankly envy people who are joining the antidominionist/pro-freedom movement who *haven't* been in dominionist groups. (You don't get the fun of watching the news and being reminded of horrors from your own life. :P)

...Part of how I work through it, oddly, is by posting things (and again, I apologise if I *am* occasionally ranty about it!) to show people that, yes, they have a legit reason to be afraid...also to give some info that people who haven't been "on the inside" with dominionist groups might not know...but also because we still have a hope in hell of stopping things before it gets as bad for *everyone* as it was for me as a kid growing up in a dominionist household.

The fact people have rallied around Zach, the fact people are getting more involved in taking their country back from the dominionists...does give me hope. I still get scared watching the news. But I know there are folks working to keep that from happening.

12:51 PM  
Blogger Frederick Clarkson said...

I am one of those who did not grow up in domionism, but having been in this for a long time, I certainly understand the hurt of many of those who did.

I certainly agree with you that it is important to spread awareness of the agenda, methods, beliefs of the domionionists and thier allies. I am sure that the knowledge you have, however painfully gained, will be very important as we all go forward together.

How to take knowledge from all sources and all of its forms, and turn it into something that helps to empower people to act is what much of my work is about -- as is that of the dedicated people who are contributing time, knowedge, talent and money to making TTA happen.

I hope we will give you hope as well.

1:30 PM  

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