American women, including American nuns are far more outspoken than they are in other places, and not as controllable as they are in other places where more traditional male hierarchies still prevail. The clash is coming, and I don't pretend any great insight as to what the outcome will be, but the Sisters have a lot at stake, like their pensions--their right to even be a part of the Catholic Church, and they stand to lose a lot if they take the kind of stand that many of us would like them to take. You know, "Go nuns. Stand up for your rights. Speak up to those guys." But if they do, if they continue their stance, the Church will find a way to suppress and to silence them, and pick them off one by one. The Church is big and patient, and has been around a long time, and doesn't brook descent gladly.
Rob: Well, that takes me back to this bridge between Reverend Moon and the Catholic Church--not so much directly between him, but how both of them have been working ceaselessly with enormous resources to influence government, the media and what have you. What can you tell me more about the Catholic Church and its efforts to influence politics and media?
Frederick: Well, I think one of the interesting trends is that the church in the United States had to be careful for most of our history, because the United States was dominated by Protestants and Evangelicals and Fundamentalists, who thought that the Pope was the Anti-Christ (or might be), and Anti-Catholicism was a serious trend among the Nativist kinds of figures through most of our history. It's really only been in the past decade or two that the Catholic Bishops have begun to become more directly political in the United States. And they're always working their influence behind the scenes and were more powerful than it seemed, but to be overtly political, to point their finger at the President and the politicians, to call them out and deny them opportunities to speak at their colleges or to call John Carey 'not a Catholic,' and [say] the Catholics shouldn't vote for him: that kind of thing. It's just extraordinary. The church is flexing its muscles in the United States in a way that it never has before.
The bishops are arguably more out of touch with their own members than they realize, and certainly out of touch with most of American electorate. But for the most part, our media are cowed by the bishops. They're afraid to be too critical. They're afraid to point out the degree to which the bishops are overstepping, and they're afraid of being called bigots, and they're afraid of being boycotted. And the fear is palpable among politicians for similar reasons. We have not really learned how to stand up to hierarchical bullies, such as the Catholic bishops.
Rob: How do we?
Frederick: Well, for one thing we need to learn how to do it. It's not enough to say, "Well, they shouldn't ought to do that, by golly," and then get mad. How do we organize ourselves as a religiously plural society? Some of us are religious, some of us are not, lots of different points of view, but we survive, because as a culture and as a constitutional democracy, because of the rights of individual conscience, a cultural religious pluralism, and the constitutional doctrines of separation of church and state.
We have to experience that idea so deeply in our bones that it's second nature to us. If we can do that, and we can converse with one another about these things thoughtfully, to understand our formidable adversaries well, and without ridiculous hyperbole name-calling, then we can craft good strategies that will work and have lasting impact. Right now, I don't know of anybody who's actually doing that.
Frederick: Well, I take that back. I mean, there are good people in good in good organizations like, say, American United for Separation of Church and State or the Interfaith Alliance--
Rob: Wait wait wait. I couldn't hear what you just said. Wait, wait. You said it too fast. What American organization?
Frederick: Americans United for Separation of Church and State. It's been around since--I believe since at least the 1940s. The Interfaith Alliance--there are a number of good organizations that think in these terms. However, they're not as well known as they should be, and to take it into the political arena, and into the media more aggressively than they have--There's only so much you can do as a non-profit tax-exempt organization that expects to keep your tax status while you're doing controversial things. So, more of us need to embrace the kind of thinking of organizations like that, that respect religious pluralism and separation of church and state, and do everything they can to advance those ideas. But frankly with people screaming at each other all the time about whether churches should be tax exempt, you know, or whether there should be any religion in public life--all this kind of stuff--they're distractions. Most of us don't know enough about the subject to even have a good conversation, and we owe it to ourselves and to each other to begin to have that conversation. We get the kind of knowledge we need to have so that we can really so that we can really stand for the values we're supposed to have.
Rob: Wait a second. This makes sense to me that there are a lot of distractions out there and that's the way they want it. What should the conversations be about?
Frederick: Well, one thing would be about, well who exactly are these people we call the religious right? Who are the Catholic bishops, and what are they really about? Know the adversary. Most of us know more about the opposing baseball or football team than we do about the major religious and political figures in our own constitutional democracy, right? That's one thing.
We need to know the adversary and we need to know who our friends and allies are. Atheists and progressive religious people, for example, are not opposed to one another. They actually stand for the same thing--the rights of individual conscience and separation of church and state, right? So, people should not be so suspicious and hostile towards each other over religious differences and particularly between religious and non-religious people. You know? Not all religious people are conservative, and not all non-religious people are progressive. It just doesn't work that way. Those are a few things.
We can begin to understand what it means to have a politics that addresses these kinds of things constructively, and it's been a horrible thing to see A-list bloggers screaming about the American Taliban. Name calling and calling people Nazis and the Taliban, people we send troops overseas to go kill is not a way to have a constructive adversarial politics in the United States. That makes no sense. We have to stop the demonization, and the labeling, and the name calling. We can't even have a conversation among ourselves, let alone people we might begin to persuade.
Rob: If you'd like to give people a "takeaway" from this conversation--you're starting on a new project now, right? You're a senior fellow at the Research Associates?