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Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy Paperback – March 1, 1997
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Frederick Clarkson's Eternal Hostility provides a chilling road map to a growing movement whose roots go back to the founding days of the country. Clarkson asks the reader to consider what it would be like if having an abortion was punishable by death, if gays and lesbians were thrown into jail, or if our constitutional rights were replaced by biblical law. In a stunning analysis, Clarkson debunks the "objective" bestseller Culture Wars to reveal a tract written by a rightwing church elder. =20 Chastising liberals and the left for failing to recognize the depth of the threat to liberty, Clarkson argues that we must develop a coherent response to a well-organized effort aimed at overthrowing democracy. When he exposes the aims and strategies of such diverse Christian zealots as the "Promise Keepers" and the Unification Church of Sun Myung Moon, remember that it was Clarkson who first to exposed the Christian Coalition's plans to take over the Republican Party, plans which have largely succeeded in several states and was actually seen as it was acted out on television in the 1996 Texas Republic Convention. Clarkson was also the first to expose how elements of the Christian Right were encouraging the formation of citizen "militias" almost five years before the Oklahoma City bombing propelled the militia movement into general public awareness. Eternal Hostility is a warning bell in the night and is essential reading for any secular humanist or freethinker needing to be aroused from a complacency that "it can't happen here" -- because it has, it is, and it may well succeed if enough good men do nothing to stop it. -- Midwest Book Review
About the Author
Frederick Clarkson is a widely published journalist, author and lecturer who specializes in the Radical Right.
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However, the U.S. faces powerful forces that declare America a Christian nation.
Face the facts: only 60 percent of eligible Americans have registered to vote and only half of them bother. Thus, a small fraction of the voters, perhaps 16%, say who rules over us and what the rules are. A small minority of registered voters can turn the tide! (pp. 20-21.) The ubiquitous church voter guides tell it all.
Clarkson scourges many right-wing leaders and organizations, but his treatise on Moon is particularly frightening. (pp. 45-75.)
Reconstructionism, says Clarkson, seeks to replace democracy with a theocracy based upon old testament biblical law and is used by charismatic Christians, home schoolers, libertarians, and the religious right in general. (pp.77-78.) Some adherents even call for death and the stripping of civil rights for those who do not accept their biblical viewpoints! The proposed system would not be much different from the Islamic model except there would be a different knucklehead in charge.
The reconstructionist see the U.S. Constitution and public education as a barrier to theocracy. Indeed, there are now almost enough Republication governors to call for a new Constitutional Convention, something Clarkson did envision.
Elements of the Christian right often refer to their detractors as demonic. (p. 125.) Even Trump referred to Hilary as the devil, goofiness that probably gained him a few more votes.
The pre-election Graham association periodical the Decisions Magazine made it clear that the choice was between God and Satan.
(Everyone who contributed to the Shoebox business was sent a copy, prior to the Presidential election. That was a lot of politicking.)
Spiritual warfare, which includes physical death for satanic/demonic forces, was often discussed.
In the final chapter, Clarkson summed up the strategy of the Christian right succinctly. This is followed by five strategies to save democracy. I hope the next decade Has better luck with that than the last one.
This is a good basic history and should be a must read. However, I am only giving it four stars because it is already old and does not, therefore, recognize the inroads the Christian right has made since the book’s publication.
Consequently, the usual practice in well reasoned dissertation inherent in "telling them what you're about to tell them, telling then then telling then what you told them" caught him off balance with early references to "stealth campaigns" (i.e. organizations with demonstrated purposes different than what they say they are and hiding the intolerant aspects while playing up the Christian "brand") seeming harsh... because he was not familiar. He was the type of person to whom things he could not know personally did not exist or could not be comprehended. He felt that the book contributed to alienation and his $0.02 was the Interfaith Alliance should not recommend or endorse it.
On the other hand, the premature references to concepts for which a fuller development was deferred until later was not so bothersome to me. If one bookmarked any unclear references then continued reading their meanings became sufficiently apparent. Each point made about the religious right was backed up by examples. One might question the degree of prevalence of any reference but not that it supported the assertion being offered which was unassailable.
One recurring theme was that the religious right is fraught with ideological fissures, are smaller than they blow themselves up to be, but carry disproportionate influence of which he cites abundant examples -- tactics by which small numbers pressure businesses to dissociate with those they claim to persecute them and those that leverage churches as voting blocs and skirt the thin separation of church and state as it relates to tax-exempt status. Claims to persecution are analyzed and dissected.
Clarkson provides ample supply of historical references to establish the axis between two ideologies. One if of Christian adherents seeking to erode the separation of church and state because only their Christianity, as practiced, can rectify their view of social problems. The other consists of those who may or may not be Christian or religions but who consider the maintenance of a secular society instrumental to the preservation of religious freedom for all. The historical references clearly expose the revisionism inherent in the often repeated chestnut that "we were founded as a Christian nation."
The facts and assertions in the book are built on a substrata of patterns of thought as they manifest in groups of people. Given that there is no single physical subject to be tested it's certain that what one brings to a reading in their own thoughts will influence their perceptions. One could think of an individual counterexample for each example that is suggested representative of conservative Christianity. That simply outlines the difficulties in and possible resistance to generalization and what one might extrapolate from discrete facts. Given that the Eternal Hostility was written in '96 there has been ample time leave no question about whether there were trends and whether they have continued. However, both the FBI and Southern Poverty Law Center among others track groups and events of concern emanating from them and their metrics definitely support Clarkson's contentions.
Despite Clarkson's examination of the unparalleled activism of the conservative right that activism is fair game. Though it might be interpreted as being seem nefarious it is everyone's right but Clarkson doesn't seem to be judging it but rather what is behind it. Whatever might be said of tactics, Clarkson's points go straight to the heart of demonstrably well-concealed attempts of the conservative Christian organizations to insert religious (code for "Christian") requirements into public life through the political process. He does this in several ways, by exposing affiliation of leaders, the support and approval of more extreme factions and a history of the leaders that he suggests is not known even to rank and file who might be induced to vote for who might be characterized as "stealth candidates" or Trojan horses. He cites extreme and violent acts from a minority of those with Christian conservative affiliation. He also serves up considerable history of significant span up to present time that shine the light on the anti-democratic ideals in inherent in various initiatives coming from the religious right.
On the one hand, it's a typical rhetorical technique to paint the larger group as being as extreme as examples representing only a few suggest and we see this across the political spectrum. It's all a question of veracity and prevalence. But he's very clear in identifying the working parts of a discernable movement that exist in all movements: leadership, a fringe, overlaps with other more extreme organizations. tacit support for and absence of disapproval of extreme acts and practices, and a rank and file having a core Christian identification but never completely in line with the all ideology.
He also delves into the conservatives right's claims to victimhood against what he deems are legitimate challenges made against it's political initiatives. He goes into extensive detail on what constitutes challenges to religious freedom and the difference between those and reasonable political opposition to the more anti-democratic manifestations of conservative Christian movement ideology. He makes a case that conflation of those two things is used as a tactic to insulate the religious right's forays into politics from criticism. It's hard not to see systematic patterns of attempts to erode the separation of church and state and to force anti-democratic elements into our government. He makes it abundantly clear that proponents of the religious right are not for "religious freedom" per se but rather Christian predominance encoded into law.
Many of the notable conservative clergy active in the movement are quoted including Randall Terry who said "Our tax status be damned if it prevents us from proclaiming God's truths." Another pastor was quoted saying "Principle sometimes takes precedence over silly laws." One has do decide for oneself whether these sorts of statements are representative or are cherry picked hyperbole intended to misrepresent the views of the majority among religious conservatives. Clarkson leaves no doubt that those on the religious claim it represents persecution and somehow denies their religious freedom when the light on such fundamentally narrow-minded viewpoints.
Consequently candidates of both political parties are hesitant to attack them on the political playing field. Examples of Bill Clinton and the GOP both declining to disavow support, which in a waffling political way suggests support or lip service to their anti-democratic initiatives. Political leadership flummoxed in attempts to summon any reasonable response except to nurture the appearance that they too are "one of them." He claims that this has led to ceding the definition of the framework of the debate over tolerance itself to the religious right as if it represented not only all of Christianity but all of religion itself.
The book's overriding assertion is that there is an identifiable and dangerous agenda, never quite what it's purported to be, that tracks with a steady increase in violent acts and paramilitary groups. That much is laid out in the books thesis in the opening paragraphs of chapter 1 where he also added that "Behind the media's portrayal of 'fringe elements' a vital but little discussed struggle is unfolding centered on the issue of whether the United States should be a democracy, or a theocracy governed by 'Biblical law'."
All in all, Clarkson handily wins the debate in an organized, well referenced and documented book inasmuch as it can be gleaned from exchanges and the history of appeals made to those in the conservative Christian movement and those concerned about these and other threats to democracy. But in this debate there will be no direct confrontation so books like this one are essential to codifying any understanding of the competing ideologies and potential threats to democracy.
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