July 7, 2003
The Fundamentals of Extremism: The Christian Right in America, edited by Kimberly Blaker, New Boston Books, Inc., Michigan, 2003 - ISBN 0-9725496-0-9 (Cloth) and ISBN 0-9725496-1-7 (Paper).
It is said that 95 percent of Americans believe in god. Though estimates vary, about a fourth of them, some 68 million, belong to born-again or evangelical Christian churches of many denominations and styles -- Catholic, Protestant, Baptist, Pentecostal, etc. -- and half of those claim allegiance to fundamentalist Christianity. Galvanized by the January 22, 1973 US Supreme Court case guaranteeing a woman's right to choose -- Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (see http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/) -- Christian fundamentalists embarked on a 30-year long crusade that has led them to violent actions, infiltration of local governments and organizations, domination of school boards all over the country, increasing power within the Republican party and substantial influence in the three branches of the federal government with the avowed goal to transform the United States into a Christian nation -- which it is not -- and ultimately into a theocracy. That Mr. Bush, a born-again Christian, could well be in a position to select one or more justices for the Supreme Court, especially if he is re-elected in 2004, is proof enough of the seriousness of the situation. The danger that these extremists pose to the future of the United States as a secular nation governed under laws elaborated by men and women pertaining to its polity and evolving with the society at large, and not according to Biblical literalism, which is what the fundamentalists are seeking, makes Kimberly Blaker's The Fundamentals of Extremism essential reading.
This meticulous analysis of the Christian Right is a collaborative effort. Ms. Blaker, an ardent supporter of the separation of church and state and a syndicated journalist and writer (see The Wall), worked with five experts on Christian fundamentalism: Edwin Frederick Kagin, an attorney and founder of Camp Quest, a summer camp for children of atheists and freethinkers; Bobbie Kirkhart, a retired teacher and social worker with abused children and President of Atheist Alliance International; John Suarez, a former professor of psychiatry and a member of the Board of Trustees for Americans United for Separation of Church and State; Herb Silverman, a Distinguished Professor of Mathematics and National Board Member of the American Humanist Association; and Edward M. Buckner, Executive Director of the Council for Secular Humanism.
Each author examines a particular aspect of the fundamentalist movement in the U.S.: its history that can be traced back to the 18th century New England Puritans and the Mayflower Compact; its underpinning ideology regarding children and education (with horrendous consequences), and the role and conditions of women (also with appalling consequences); its use of violent tactics and association with the American militia movement, the correlation between crime and fundamentalism, and its hatred of secular humanism; the concerted efforts to gut the First Amendment of the Constitution and to tear down the public school system; its momentous political, deeply conservative strength and the methods used to achieve political power toward the open objective to redefine the USA as a white-only Christian Nation -- and the stealthier goal to impose a new anti-democratic system, namely a theocracy based on the "rule of god" (theonomy).
While the authors repetitively remind the readers that all fundamentalists do not advocate violence or share the beliefs of the ultra-conservative Far-Right they document with extensive research the dangers posed by the Christian Right and they draw a stunning and alarming picture of the extreme views held and objectives pursued by leaders of the Christian Right such as Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Ralph Reed, James Dobson, Gary Bauer, Oliver North, Randall Terry, Phyllis Schlafly, et al. "Given the present situation," writes Mr. Kagin, "the potential for religious right-wing power and control of the American government becomes something beyond a matter of academic interest. Officials at the highest levels of government in the United States are actually attempting to advance fundamentalist causes. If religious authoritarians gain enough power, it may become a matter of survival." (p. 45)
The hard core of the Religious Right is anti-science, anti-environment, anti-public education, anti-choice, anti-feminism, anti-gay and lesbian rights, anti-sex education, anti-free-speech, anti-pornography, anti-affirmative action, anti-welfare, anti-civil rights, anti-evolution, anti-interracial relationships, anti-tax, anti-AIDs funding, anti-pluralism, anti-liberalism, anti-other religions, anti-scientific research, anti-secularism, anti-modernity... They are in fact inherently anti-democratic.
But they sure are pro-death penalty, pro-guns and pro-hate, as there's much destruction and little love in the agenda of these extremists. As Randall Terry once said, "I want you to just let a wave of intolerance wash over you. I want you let a wave of hatred wash over you. Yes, hate is good . . . Our goal is a Christian nation. We have a Biblical duty; we are called by God to conquer this country. We don't want equal time. We don't want pluralism." (p. 25) "Stoning is the form of death penalty favored by Christian Reconstructionists," writes Mr. Buckner. (p. 218) This form of cruel punishment, which is unconstitutional (but these people would abolish the Constitution in a minute and replace it by the Bible...), is corroborated by Mr. Silverman who cites William Martin, the author of With God on Our side: "[A] theonomic order would make homosexuality, adultery, blasphemy, propagation of false doctrine, and incorrigible behavior by disobedient children subject to the death penalty, preferably administered by stoning." (p. 177)
The book is filled with astonishing citations that demonstrate the virulence of the Christian fundamentalists and the negative and destructive character of their agenda. Some come from unsuspected quarters. Take for instance this direct attack against the First Amendment: "The 'Wall of separation between church and state' is a metaphor based on bad history, a metaphor that has proved useless as a guide to judging. It should be frankly and explicitly abandoned." This comes not from Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson but from William H. Rehnquist, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court! (p. 154)
The crisis is real. For three decades now, they have organized grass-roots campaigns, registered voters by the millions and helped elect the most conservative and reactionary members of the US comity to local, state and national offices. The body politic in Washington is permeated with people of enormous power who support and espouse the fundamentalist views of the world. Attorney General John Ashcroft, House Majority Whip Tom Delay, Sen. Rick Santorum (third ranking Republican), Sen. Bill Frist (Senate Majority Leader), Sen. Mitch McConnell (Senate Assistant Majority Leader), Sen. James Inhofe (Chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee), Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert and Majority Whip Roy Blunt are just a few figures standing at the top of the iceberg who are aligned with the Christian fundamentalists. Over 40 senators and 170 House representatives are one way or the other allied with the religious right.
One issue that is regrettably missing in Ms. Blaker's otherwise excellent work is the correlation, if any, between the rise of Christian fundamentalism and the crisis of neo-liberalism (aka capitalism) which has plagued the industrial "First" World in the past three decades and has significantly worsened world-wide in the last few years. There's undoubtedly an objective alliance between the country's conservative elites and the Christian Right but, somehow, one has to wonder who is controlling whom, the Christian Right or the elites? Is there a real symbiosis among them or do the fundamentalists serve a larger agenda that is managed and choreographed by more powerful interests? Vice President Dick Cheney may look quite amenable to the fundamentalist agenda but one presumes that he, and his wife Lynn, would part company with the stoning to death of their lesbian daughter... Islamic fundamentalists in Afghanistan and the Taliban regime came to be out of the Carter Administration and Zbigniew Brzezinski's grand design to trap the former Soviet Union into its own Vietnam-like quagmire. Another administration, that of Mr. Bush, took them down at a whim in the same fashion the Clinton administration took care of the Aryan Nation, David Koresh's cult and Randall Terry's Operation Rescue fanatic killers. These extremist groups would not operate for long without the funding from the likes of reclusive ultra-conservative Richard Mellon Scaiffe. Surely enough, Mr. Bush, when compared to Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell, looks quite moderate. It reassures the suburbs; and it obfuscates the fact that once upon a time the catholic hierarchy supported a man named Hitler. Ms. Blaker and all see a bottom-up development but they fail to investigate the possibility of a top-down process. One hopes that they will look into this issue in a future edition of this excellent evaluation of the Christian fundamentalists.
Notwithstanding this analytical lapse, the efforts of Ms. Blaker and her collaborators to alert the American people to the dangers posed by the Christian Right are laudable. The book is well documented with 900 notes and provides a scary assessment of the religious right. It is worth reading for anyone who wishes to understand one of the constituencies Mr. Bush relies upon to stay in power for another four-year term. That one or more Supreme Court Justices may be in the balance should send people to read this book, talk to their friends and neighbors and run to the polls in November 2004.
The Fundamentals of Extremism: the Christian Right in America, edited by Kimberly Blaker, New Boston Books, Inc., Michigan, 2003 - ISBN 0-9725496-0-9 (Cloth) and ISBN 0-9725496-1-7 (Paper).
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