Eternal Hostility: Why God votes Republican
A generation ago, Americans had more faith in the political process--except for fundamentalist preachers, who told their congregations to avoid worldly corruption and stick to spiritual concerns. Now, many citizens find politics too corrupt to bother with--but a new cohort of preachers is pushing their flocks the deepest waters of the political swamp.
Frederick Clarkson's new book, Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy (Common Courage Press, $15.95) tells the stories behind this story, naming names and citing sources. It all boils down to an ugly grab for power--and, so far, it's succeeding.
The good news is, the wanna-be theocrats have more than a few weak points of their own, including internal divisions and a program which runs against some deep American traditions. As Clarkson puts it, religious right-wing extremists are "neither a juggernaut nor a joke," they can be beaten, if effectively exposed and opposed.
Just who are the new ultra-Christians? Eternal Hostility looks at both the well-known (televangelist Pat Robertson, radio psychologist James Dobson, Unification church leader Sun Myung Moon, Promise Keepers honcho Bill McCartney) and the obscure (notably the "Christian Reconstructionists" who provide much of the ideological framework used by the bigger names).
The "Biblical Law" these extremists want to impose upon America is taken from the bloodiest parts of the Old Testament. The death penalty would be liberally applied, for sins including heresy, witchcraft, astrology, adultery, "sodomy or homosexuality," striking a parent, and (for women) abortion or "unchastity before marriage." As for biblical concepts like compassion, mercy, non-judgmentalism, etc.--well, these aren't that kind of Christians.
Clarkson demonstrates some alarming links:
The problem with Clarkson's book may be that it doesn't go as far as it should. For example: between them, Dobson and Robertson are broadcasting into the ears of X millions of Americans, effectively controlling Y per cent of their votes (Dobson alone collects at least 100 million of their dollars each year).
Have these numbers been calculated precinct by precinct? Have they been analyzed in tax-free "non-political" organizations, then applied in purely partisan campaigns? Is there any connection to the recent Congressional takeover by the Republican right wing?
We might as well ask, Do the Gators play on Florida Field?
Eternal Hostility doesn't tell this story, for the good reason that such projects, though obvious in outline, are well-kept secrets in operational detail. The long-delayed probes of "Christian Coalition" campaign scandals (now the focus of three distinct investigations) have begun to uncover the sort of well-supported paper trail where Clarkson does his best work. His future reports should be most interesting.
(As for those investigations: true scandal connoisseurs may welcome the return to the spotlight of Oliver North, whose failed run for the Senate seems to have been managed with North's famous traditional respect for the laws. However, the pretty face of Ralph Reed won't be as much in the cameras as in the past, since by miraculous coincidence Reed has announced his resignation as Christian Coalition expediter to focus on his new enterprise as a professional campaign consultant. Ralph's fans might be consoled to hear that Jack Kemp and Dan Quayle are rumored to be among his prospective clients.)
There are ten chapters and 50 pages of notes here, and Clarkson packs a lot into them. He doesn't pad his text with rehashing old, well-known scandals or anecdotes: we read that Moon's Unification Church continues to process new recruits with food and sleep deprivation as well as "thought-stopping" techniques, but we don't hear the detailed stories of individual Moon followers.
Nor does Clarkson say much about the Council for National Policy, an umbrella group including most of the theocrats and many other right-wing leaders, which keeps its meetings as secret as possible. He barely mentions the racist right, the Catholic Church, or secular propagandists such as Rush Limbaugh.
Eternal Hostility collects reports and analysis Clarkson first published in many venues, mainstream and alternative. Though he worked for a time with Planned Parenthood's clinic defense team, this book proves how much can be achieved by a dedicated individual journalist with a clear focus; it puts many other reporters to shame.
Still, we need a comprehensive overview of "Christian" extremism. Clarkson offers the next best thing: his "Resources" section includes good listings for books, activist groups and Web sites confronting the rightist assault. (Sara Diamond's Spiritual Warfare and Roads to Dominion are the best histories of this movement, by the way.)
Beyond that, Eternal Hostility provides strategies for defending America from a movement that, after all, has only a limited grip on perhaps 10 or 15% of the population. That's enough to swing elections when the majority doesn't turn out to vote; but progressive alliances have defeated Christian Rightist campaigns from New York to San Diego.
The theocrats have many weaknesses, from their penchant for distorting history (frankly called "Christian revisionism") to the harshness of their demands (very few, even among clinic picketers, would really like to see every woman who's had an abortion publicly executed along with her doctor and clinic staff).
Much of the super-Christians' political success is due simply to low voter turnout--an organized 11% can dominate an election when only 20% participate. The atmosphere of cynicism and confusion promoted by mainstream media (not to mention anti-realistic entertainment such as Rupert Murdoch's X-Files program) plays a big part in immobilizing the majority, leaving the field open for sly manipulators.
Democracy may be in danger, but it also holds the seeds of its own (pardon the expression) salvation. Just bringing people out of their chairs on any issue, from clean air and water to racial justice and better schools, can overthrow the political preachers' minuscule leverage.
Christianism may be defeated by its own success. "Christian music," "Christian thrillers," "Christian textbooks" - from faith to lifestyle to marketing niche, the fish logo is being eaten away by capitalist dynamics as inevitably as were the "back-to-nature" dreams of the '70s. The 1992 collapse of Pat Robertson's KaloVita, "The Good Life Co." multi-level marketing scheme, after which Robertson reimbursed thousands of disappointed distributors of overpriced vitamins, "American Whey" drinks, and "Sea of Galilee" skincare products, may be a harbinger of things to come.
As their political efforts become entangled with the Republican party, and their "purist" leaders like Randall Terry accuse political operators like Reed and Robertson of selling out, many fundamentalists are likely to conclude that earlier generations were right all along: healthy religion has nothing to gain and everything to lose by being caught up in endless games of power, money, and ambitious egos.
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