“This may be the darkest time in our history.”
These were the words of Bob Edgar, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches (NCC) at a two-day conference at the City University of New York this past weekend, referring to the “threat” of religious fundamentalism. But in a world where Islamism currently represents the greatest persecutor of human rights and freedoms, Edgar wasn’t referring to public stonings, forced marriages, forced gender segregation, honor killings, or female genital mutilation throughout the Islamic Middle East. In a conference entitled, “Examining the Real Agenda of the Religious Far Right” and co-sponsored by CUNY and The Open Center, he was referring to Christian fundamentalism, a force that the participants of the weekend bash at CUNY see as a tremendous threat to democracy.
That’s right, don’t worry about al-Zarqawi and Osama bin Laden, or the murder and mayhem carried out worldwide by their order and with their blessing. The real threat to freedom and liberty, it turns out, is Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and the seditious propaganda of Tim LaHaye, author of the best-selling apocalyptic fiction series Left Behind. While these Christian leaders may not be perpetrating violent terror and suicide bombing attacks against innocent civilians, including women and children, by the thousands, they have, well, created quite a stir about the death of Terri Schiavo. And that’s bad. And it’s dangerous. Even worse: they have convinced President Bush to support faith-based initiatives.
It’s time, therefore, to get serious about the real enemy.
This two-day conference at CUNY was, of course, nothing new for the Left. Left-wing intellectuals have a long tradition of building desperate and absurd parallels to cover up the mass slaughter perpetrated by the totalitarian tyrannies that they venerate. During the Cold War, therefore, yes, Stalin may have been bad, but Joe McCarthy was worse. Now there’s a new line in the post-Cold War era: yes, theocracy and religious fundamentalism exist in the Middle East, but the Christians in the United States are much worse.
As always, of course, while the Left loves these abstract theoretical absurdities, it is always weakest when it comes to concrete examples. The conference, for instance, centered in on the urgent threat of “Dominionism,” otherwise known as “Christian Reconstructionism.” This is a small and unorthodox interpretation of Christianity that insists the Mosaic Law has never been abrogated and must be legislated in every nation in the world (including America). It must be stressed that this is a tiny, insignificant sect with adherents numbering perhaps in the tens of thousands worldwide; none are prominent leaders in the Republican Party.
Participants of the conference, however, discovered that Dominionism is a growing movement in Protestant Christian evangelicalism that encourages active participation in politics in order to eventually dominate the American political process. Stealthily advanced by such organizations as James Dobson’s Focus on the Family, Pat Roberston’s Christian Coalition, and Jerry Falwell’s revived Moral Majority Coalition (the original shut down years ago), Dominionism represents the attempt of the Religious Far Right to use legal democratic means to establish a full-blown theocracy. For example, by cutting funding to social programs, the government leaves social well-being in the hands of faith-based initiatives, which can choose which groups they want to help – naturally they’ll turn everyone away who isn’t a fundamentalist Christian. These are the subtle, and legal tactics of the Dominionists. Unless the Dominionists are stopped, presenters at the conference warned, they will turn the U.S. into a theocracy.
And then, of course, there is reality.
One can’t help from wondering: what’s the actual basis for the need to fear this supposed threat – especially since its “advocates” (Falwell, Robertson, Dobson, etc.) have explicitly committed themselves to religious pluralism, which necessarily brings with it opposition to Dominionism itself? (Dominionism would not allow any faith that denies God the Father to practice openly.) Opening the conference, Joan Bokaer, founder of TheocracyWatch.org, warned that prominent “Dominionists” or “Christian Reconstructionists” – interchangable terms – will lie in public forums (the scoundrels!), professing an innocent Republican agenda. That is to say that while Republican senators Bill Frist and Rick Santorum may vaguely be part of the supposed conspiracy to make the U.S. into an exclusively Christian country and to implement Old Testament law, there’s no way of proving it.
Instead, Bokaer pointed to the fact that the Christian Coalition has rated members of the Senate according to their Christian integrity as a guide for voters and found most Democrats lacking. Conservative judges are headed for the Supreme Court, and conservative Christian minister Tim LaHaye’s books are best-sellers. For the hosts of the conference, these are the signs that the Christian far-Right, having supposedly taken over the Republican Party, are on their way to subduing the whole country and rewriting the Constitution. (In point of fact, the Christian Coalition's non-partisan voter guides say nothing about “Christian integrity,” merely noting votes on issues that may interest CC's members.)
So how does the Left plan to fight back? A partial answer to this question was evident in a strong showing from the so-called “Christian Left” at the conference. Bob Edgar, mentioned above, and Joseph Hough, president of Union Theological Seminary, argued vehemently that Christianity has been hijacked by the Religious Right for political ends, and the Left must work to gain back the evangelical community. Thus, the two days were peppered with perpetual statements that this is not an attack on religion, even fundamentalist religion – it is only an attack on religion that becomes political. (And then only when it becomes political in ways leftists dislike.)
Strangely enough, American foreign policy was almost never mentioned throughout the conference. In a break-out session, I asked presenter Hugh Urban, professor of comparative studies at Ohio State, about the connection between the Neocons and the “Religious Far Right.” Isn’t there an ideological wedge? Since such a large section of the Right is involved in fighting for democracy and opposing religious fundamentalism, doesn’t this bode ill for the agenda of Christian fundamentalists in the conservative mainstream? But this question was apparently far too naïve for Urban. Of course, that’s all lip service, he explained. The Neocons aren’t interested in democracy; they’re interested in power. And so it follows, apparently, that they’d be happy to ally themselves with any religious nutcase (who will eventually hijack the conservative cause from the Neocons, anyway).
Just as I wondered why these leftists weren’t frothing at the mouth about American Imperialism as usual, they answered my question. Best-selling author Karen Armstrong argued that it is fear that engenders fundamentalism, “both in the Middle East and in the U.S.” That is, innocent Islamists feared President Bush would kill them; that's why they spent several years of the Clinton administration planning to attack us.
Skipp Porteus, director of the Institute for First Amendment Studies, sounded a note of near-sanity, stating, “We [the Left] have to stop pushing the envelope.” He cited an instance of walking in the East village and seeing homosexual sex being performed on the street. “This is what enflames the Religious Right,” he argued. Not just the Religious Right, Skipp. He continued rather than these tactics, “We have to engage the far-Right in a rational debate.” That would be a first for the far-Left....
The purpose of last weekend's conference was to smear the Republican Party as the party of domestic Theocracy, facts be damned. One of the scheduled participants, Chip Berlet, is a longtime pro-Communist activist and member of the National Lawyers Guild who has smeared FrontPage Magazine as a bigoted institution! One wonders what a public university like CUNY is doing hosting such a transparently ridiculous and partisan political conference.
Underlying the debate is the parallel between two battles waging in the world. As the Left will fights the Religious Right, the Right wages true war on militant Islam (which started the war in the first place). You can tell from the crowd's pious and fervent applause that the conference participants are too lost inside their own rhetoric to grasp how far from reality their ravings are. This doesn’t change the fact that to draw a parallel between the Christian Right and Islamism is not only an exceptionally imaginative intellectual fantasy; it is a profound insult to millions of people of sincere religious faith and a slap in the face to the millions of victims of militant Islam.
Needless to say, this tiny Dominionist sect, the focus of this weekend’s sold-out conference, does not control the Republican Party and likely has zero elected officials within its ranks, although that's the clear implication of this weekend's conference. To say that this bizarre movement runs, or even exerts serious influence the GOP, is the equivalent of saying that Joseph Lieberman's party is run by the Soviet International. And the idea that James Dobson presents a threat to America is obscene in an era in which Islamists are murdering American soldiers and innocent Iraqi civilians by the dozens every day.