Saturday, October 01, 2005

If You Think the Religious Right is a Problem....

There are lots of things to be done.

One of the first things to do --- is to learn more about it.

The Christian Right is one of the most successful political movements in American history. Yet people's level of literacy about the subject is often, well, shockingly low. The Christian Right is the dominant faction in the GOP. There are reasons for that. But few seem to know what those reasons are. If we are going to have intelligent conversations about all this, let alone be able to have coherent discussions about what to do, we need to have more people who share a common base of knowledge and the language necessary to have meaningful conversations. After many years, I know that useful knowledge and conversation in this area can be hard to come by.

So here is my up-by-the-bootstraps, do-it-yourself program for coming up to speed: books, magazines, conferences, videos, blogging -- and a radical idea.

Pick any three books: Among general interest books, I will certainly recommend my own. Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy; but also Facing the Wrath by Sara Diamond; The Most Dangerous Man in America and Why the Religious Right is Wrong, both by Robert Boston. Current hot and excellent books are With God on Their Side by Esther Kaplan, Losing Moses on the Freeway: The Ten Commandments in America by Chris Hedges; and The Republican War on Science, by Chris Mooney. For the academically inclined: Rightwing Populism: Too Close for Comfort by Chip Berlet and Matthew Lyons; Roads to Dominion, by Sara Diamond; and With God on Our Side, by William Martin.

Pick one or both magazines: Church & State; The Public Eye. (Yes, other publications cover the religious right periodically and well. Most recently Harpers has had some important coverage, and an upcoming issue of Mother Jones has good stuff. Max Blumenthal's articles in the The Nation online are not to be missed, nor are Bill Berkowitz columns for Working Assets. But for regular coverage, its the monthly Church & State and the quarterly Public Eye.)

Read Blogs devoted to this subject: Talk to Action, DefCon blog; Dark Christianity, Religious Right Watch, Frederick Clarkson, Chip Berlet, and for more general discussions of politics and religion, Street Prophets.

Attend Conferences: These are, unfortunately, few and far between. The Texas Freedom Network has one going on this weekend. The National Cathedral in Washington, DC has a good looking conference October 13-15 that is mostly about progressive religious values, (which is not really to be confused with learning about the religious right, but there will be some of that). And finally, there is one focused on understanding the Christian Right, sponsored by the Graduate Program at the City Univeristy of New York and the New York Open Center.

Dominionism, Political Power & the Theocratic Right

Dominionism is an influential form of fundamentalist religion that believes that in order to fulfill biblical prophecy, "godly Christians" must take control of the levers of political and judicial power in America in the near future.... Just how has this religious ideology gained influence in Congress, American political culture, and in shaping U.S. policy in the Middle East and on the environment? What can be done to alert concerned citizens to the theocratic impulse growing in their midst? The goal of this seminar is to examine the power and influence of a religious and political movement that questions the separation of church and state, and that aims to establish a biblical society governed by biblical laws.

Chip Berlet, Senior Analyst, Political Research Associates; co-author, Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort; Frederick Clarkson, author, Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy; Michael Northcott, teaches Christian Ethics, University of Edinburgh, Scotland; author, An Angel Directs the Storm: Apocalyptic Religion and American Empire; Esther Kaplan, author, With God on Their Side: How Christian Fundamentalists Trampled Science, Policy and Democracy in George W. Bush's White House.

Friday October 21 7:30-9:30pm & Saturday Oct. 22 10am-6pm $85; $50 students

Friday October 21 7:30-9:30pm $15

Saturday October 22 10am-6pm $75

Click here to register.

View and Discuss Videos & DVDs: A DVD of highlights from a previous CUNY conference from last April Examining the Agenda of the Religious Far Right is available for $19.95. It features Karen Armstrong, Joan Bokaer, Joseph Hough, Robert Edgar, Hugh Urban, Chip Berlet and Frederick Clarkson. (212) 219-2527 / Theocracy Watch has produced a very useful educational piece which is available on video or DVD. It can be downloaded for free or ordered by mail. Why not get a group of people together for a showing and discussion?

Consider a Radical Idea: Follow the above program and then do the same thing with religious right sources. Its a good thing to have some direct experiences of the people, books, periodicals and events of the religious right. In fact, I would argue that there is no substitute for it. One of these days, I will write up a beginner's program for how to do this.

But in the meantime, try some or all of the above. Ideally, do them with others, perhaps as a reading and discussion group. I would add that when we launch the scoop-based version of Talk to Action, the above resources will be listed along with others, and whenever there are interesting events, we will announce them -- and of course chew over whatever happens. Many of the people mentioned in this post will be frequent contributors at Talk to Action. You can think of it as a rolling conference on the religious right and what to do about it; how to talk about it; comparing notes on what works, what doesn't, and why. We want to learn lessons from our mistakes and failures. And we want to celebrate and tell the stories of our victories -- and it will be important to have many such celebrations, won't it? As I often say, this is one of the central struggles of our time.


Blogger Chris Ortiz said...

Mr. Clarkson, you repeatedly make the same errors that virtually every other critic of Christian Reconstruction makes. You keep lumping us all together with the Falwells, Dobsons, LaHayes and Robertsons. We have nothing to them and they have nothing to do with us.

Finally, some more responsible bloggers are taking the time to actually attend one of our conferences to hear us directly. One such blogger posted his thoughts:

We would join you in much of your criticism of the Religious Right, but it speaks of dealing with a journalistic slack hand to repeatedly mix us in with the likes of Falwell.

Chris Ortiz
Director of Communications
The Chalcedon Foundation (founded by Rushdoony)

6:44 PM  
Blogger Frederick Clarkson said...

Dear Mr. Ortiz,

Methinks you doth protest a little too much. Either that, or you are just not familiar with my work. I have heard a number of Reconstructionists directly, attended conferences, and read many a major and minor work. I admit I have not been to a Reconstuctionist conference lately, although I would certainly like to.

I consider the Reconstructionist and dominionist movement to be an important part of the wider Christian right. I know for a fact that your movement and specific authors have influenced those whom you name, even as there are very important differences among all of them and certainly among all of them and the core of the Reconstructionist movement. I also appreciate that many of your movement are rightfully appalled by the excesses of some of the more unprincipled leaders of the Christian Right; their alliance with the Bush administration; it's anticonstitutional tendencies and actions; and its outrageous corporatism. Doctrinal leaders are often disappointed by the choices made by those influenced by their doctrines. I don't blame you. That said, Chalcedon still brags about having once been named by Newsweek as being the premier think tank of the religious right (or words to that effect.) It was a bit of an overstatement even then, but there is a kernel of truth that cannot be denied -- which carries forward today. As Robert Billings, one of the founders of the Moral Majority once said, 'Without Rushdoony's books, none of us would be here.' It might be fair to say that as a movement, you are lying in a bed of your own making, even as some of those who have been part of it, have come to regret it.

That said, I welcome any thoughts, information or corrections that you may have to offer. I always feel that I have much to learn, and so I am open to information and ways of viewing things that I might not have considered. However, you will have to do a lot better than statements like "We have nothing to [do with] them and they have nothing to do with us." (Get a clue about who you are talking to.) And you will have to do a lot better than holding up an alleged "more responsible blogger" who on closer inspection turn out to be a member of the religious right by any reasonable definition, even if he has defected from the main organizations and leaders -- after 15 years. One could, by your standard, say that there are more are more responsible Communications Directors, but what good would criticizing your job performance do?

I know that you and others have some criticisms of some elements of the Religious Right and even voice them from time-to-time. We might even agree on some of those criticisms and even some issue areas -- albeit for different, but sometimes overlapping reasons. I will admit that I have not sought to make systematic study of your movement's criticisms of the Christian Right, although I have read some in passing, including a recent complaint by Gary North. If there are some published pieces you can point me to, I will read them with interest, and might even write about them.

But it is unlikely that you will succeed in getting me to not speak of the Christian Right in the broadest sense to include the Reconstructionist movement or dominionionsim, since I view politics and religion differently than you do -- and to attribute that to journalistic slack will not win you any points in these parts. For today, I am choosing to believe that your comment is merely the excess of someone who seeks understanding, but who does not himself yet seek to understand. I hold out hope that you will give it a try.

Mr Ortiz, as the Director of Communications of the Chalcedon Foundation, I want you to know that I am always interested in learning what distinctions you make, why you make them and will take that into account in my thinking and my writing. That said,I cannot promise any more than any other writer, that I will always see things as you do or phrase things as you would.

1:24 AM  
Blogger Chris Ortiz said...

Mr. Clarkson,

I apologize for my tone. I should not have written to you on the fly as I did. I rarely comment on blogs and should have put more thought into my comments before making them.

I forgot how kind a person you were. I attended the Open Center conference in April of 2005 and saw first hand your desire to maintain a civil dialogue. I'll keep that in mind from here on out.

Rather than continue a lengthy discussion I'll see you in NYC on Oct. 21-22. I'll be flying out along with Mark Rushdoony (president of Chalcedon) and Martin Selbrede (vice-president). If you and some of the others would like to take any time to talk that would be the best time to do it.


5:24 PM  
Blogger Jay Rogers said...

I was the publisher of a Reconstructionist influenced newspaper, The Forerunner, . I contribute to Reconstructionist magazines and even produced one of the few videos available on the topic, God's Law and Society. (See the above web site.)

The prevailing view among most of the CR's that I have interviewed is that the movement is dead. I don't agree with that, but this is the view. Many of the founders of the movement have either died in the past few years or have renounced the label or have sought to be identified within broader movements.

So it is interesting to read the hysterical reaction of the left. Most evangelicals have never even heard of the terms: theonomy, postmillennialism, presuppositionalsim and Reconstruction. Although I would like to think the movement is as "dangerous" as the left likes to think, this is impossible given the low profile of Reconstruction in recent years.

First, Christian Reconstruction stands for societal reformation through regeneration and conversion not through a top-down coercion. We believe with the Psalmist that the people will "volunteer freely in the day of the Lord." This means that one day we will arrive at a Christian social order, but it will be founded by consensus, not through an "Ayatollah regime" as some think of "theocracy."

We believe that the kingdom of God has been advancing gradually for the past 2000 years, sometimes with declines, but ultimately a Christian culture will become the rule rather than the exception. Christian rule will come through families, schools, businesses, churches, and various Christian organizations that will do the work of Chrisitan charity on a grassroots level.

The misunderstanding is that most today expect a socialized federal government program to perform such works of social reform, therefore they think that Christian Reconstruction must be focused all on politics.

Reconstructionists as a rule do not look to civil politics to solve the problems of the world. Some in the so-called "Chrisian right" are misguided in this way, but they will soon see the futility of looking to politics as a Savior, when they ought to be looking to Jesus Christ.

We do believe in Christian dominion in politics, but only as a limited representational power.

And even if seizing political power were the goal of CR, then such societies always ultimately fail. Centralized tyrannical power is not a practical solution. We only have to look at the history of dictatorships to see that this is true.

So when those on the left talk about the "danger" of Christian Reconstruction, really they are resisting the right of a free people to practice religion and form Christian associations that will work to better the society and lessen the intrusion of the federal government into our lives.

9:32 AM  
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