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November 11, 2012
The New American Theocracy; Moonies, Catholics and the Bottom Up Responses to Them; Part 2 of the F. Clarkson Interview
By Rob Kall
fundamentalism, top-down marriage, Moonie owned institutions, visa abuse, comparisons between Moonies and the Catholic Church, historic and contemporary theocracies, how they're evolving and the bottom up responses to them
::::::::This interview transcript has been broken into three parts. This is Part 2 Part 1 of the interview can be found here.
Thanks to Don Caldarazzo for help editing the transcript.
Here's the link to the audio interview: Frederick Clarkson, on Rev. Moon, the Moonies and Something New and Worse
The reach and depth of Reverend Sun Myung Moon into the US is incredible. We learn about it, and a new, very scary religious organizaiton that we really need to keep an eye on.
Mass Unification Church Wedding flickr image By Jedimentat44
Interview Date: September 5, 2012
Rob: Welcome to the Rob Kall Bottom Up Radio Show, WNJC 1360 AM out of Washington township, reaching metro Philly and south Jersey; sponsored byOpEdNews.com with our podcasts archived at both iTunes, at OpEdNews.com/podcasts. If you're looking for them at iTunes, just look for my name, "Rob Kall," K-a-l-l.
My guest tonight is Frederick Clarkson. He's a senior fellow at Political Research Associates in Somerville, Massachusetts. He's a longtime observer of the religious right. including Reverend Moon, and that's what we're going to be talking about--at least starting the conversation tonight.
Reverend Moon passed away and Frederick Clarkson had this to say about him. "Reverend Sun Myung Moon was the most pernicious, anti-Democratic figures in the United States in the latter half of the 20th century. Moon hated America. He hated our tradition of individual rights and independent thought. He hated democracy and said he wanted to replace it with a theocracy under his own rule." Pretty tough stuff. It goes on, "Although many would be loathe to admit it, Moon has been a central figure in the development of the modern American Conservative Movement since the 1960s; from Richard Viguerie's direct mail operation, to the religious and political empire of Jerry Falwell."
Welcome to the show.
Start of part 2 of the interview
Rob: Well, one of the reasons I wanted to have you on the show was to talk about fundamentalism in general. But first, I want to do a station ID. This is the Rob Kall Bottom Up Radio Show, WNJC 1360 AM out of Washington Township, reaching metro Philly and South Jersey; sponsored by OpEdNews.com . If you forget the name just Google (search) "liberal news" or "progressive opinion," and OpEdNews.com will come up first. It's not something you can buy, it's something you earn.
The show basically attempts to explore aspects of Progressive politics, and I call it the Bottom Up Radio Show, because I believe we're in a transition from a top down world that started when humans changed from a million years of indigenous tribal society to civilization, to a top down world. Now we're transitioning back to a bottom up world, that has been catalyzed by the internet.
Now, my guest tonight is Frederick Clarkson. He's a senior fellow at Political Research Associates. He's a longtime observer of the religious right, including Reverend Moon and it was the death of Reverend Moon the other day that inspired me to invite him.
Now, what I wanted to know from you, in terms of just the religious right in general, is to get an idea of top down religion versus bottom up religion. I remember back--was it the 60s or the 70s when Moon was pushing people in the United States--his Moonie followers, which I think they disappeared after awhile, at least in the U.S. Maybe I'm wrong.
Frederick: No, they're around. They're just not as visible as they used to be.
Rob: He would get 1,000 people to get married that didn't even know each other. He would just say, "You marry this one. You marry this one. You marry this one," and they would get matched up and married as Moonie marriages! Where does that fit into the Moonie picture, and then we're going to transition to talk about top down bottom up religion a bit? What happened to all those Moonies?
Frederick: Well, a lot of them are still Moonies. Some of them wandered off. Some people get in pretty deep and other people are in kind of shallow. And most of the marriages of that nature didn't last. But it wasn't just 1,000 at a time. There were mass weddings at RFK stadium, and Washington, and at Madison Square Garden. So, we're talking about many thousands of people at a time. And not just in the United States, in various places around the world. Now, Moon claims millions of followers but truly by any effort to reasonably count, whether you're a critic or journalist or pro-Moon academic, whatever you happen to be, nobody can find more than a few thousand in the United States right now. So, it's just something that didn't last and didn't work.
Now, in the stadium marriages, somebody who you'd never met and didn't know, and from a different country and a different language and a different background would be matched up: a Hungarian with a Kenyan. It was like that, but people believed that "this was the match that God intended for them."
Now, they weren't allowed to consummate the marriage. They were immediately sent out to do missions for four years before they could even have sex or be together in any way, and when they were together, of course they didn't even know each other, let alone speak the same language. So, it just didn't work. Now, that of course is the ultimate top-downism. A lot of people were used, because if they were legally married in the United States, there was access to passports. If they were on missions, they could transport money, be involved in this or that project in various countries, depending on what the need was.
One of the institutions I should've mentioned was, the University of Bridgeport Connecticut was acquired by the Moon organization when they fell on hard times. Suddenly they had a University, and there were student visas available to move people around the world too. This is ultimate top down political chessboard stuff, and people's lives being used as pieces.
Rob: He owned the university. Do they still own that university?
Frederick: They do indeed. They have several universities in different places. They didn't quite get the big global network with universities that they aspired to in Moon's lifetime. But they do have a couple of them, at least one in Korea.
Rob: Wow. Tell me more about how they used this.
Frederick: How they use it? Well, if you need to have somebody come to the United States, a student visa's a great way to come. So, they become a student at the University of Bridgeport, and they do what they do; if you need to send them to Africa or Europe, well, you take a semester in Europe. It's a great way to move people around. Having a university is a way of having respectable conferences where you can bring people in and put [on] a veneer of respectability; pay them a lot of money. Senior politicians, and journalists, and academics participate in conferences--not just at the university but if the Washington Times sponsored something in Washington, they could get former President George H.W. Bush to show up, for example. Having these kinds of assets that purchase respectability within the culture: universities, prominent media outlets, prominent businesses; creating religious institutions and publishing houses--all the features of culture they're able to turn into a pretty organic network to wage influence in the United States and in other countries.
Rob: Now of course, Moon didn't start this idea. It seems to me the Catholic Church has been doing it for a real long time.
Frederick: Sure, there's nothing new under the sun. There are, of course, differences in the way different institutions do these things.
Rob: Absolutely, but when I think about it, I wonder how much the Catholic Church does this kind of stuff, too. Isn't it transitioned from talking about Moon, to talking about top-down religions and the influence of religion on politics?
Frederick: Well, yeah. I think that we see the kind of top-downism that you're talking about, in say the debate about the contraception rule in Obama's health plan: requiring employers to provide contraception coverage in their employee plans. Now, the Catholic Church takes great exception to this, saying that all of their institutions and the one that they essentially control--it's a violation of their religion freedom to have to provide coverage of say, oral contraceptives. Now, it gets interesting, because, well okay, if it was just the church, you might do it that way, or even a church-controlled seminary or something that actually has something to do with the core religiosity itself. You might say, "Okay, that's a good argument there." And in fact, the Obama administration compromised and said, "Yeah, that's a good argument. We'll buy that." But, what the church and even some of their Evangelical allies are arguing is that degree of control should extend to sensibly secular universities and hospitals that are affiliated with them, but not necessarily controlled by, the church. And many of the employees are not even members of the Catholic Church or other affiliated churches. So, this is an aggressive effort to declare control over the very definition of religious freedom; not just for themselves, but for everybody who touches anything [of] which they have any kind of significant influence. This is really something extraordinary that we've never seen before in our culture, and it's a desperate attempt to reach out for control in places that arguably has never been done before.
Rob: Now, the Christian right and also the more conservative Jewish right often attack Islamism and worries about Sharia law. When I say they worry about Sharia law, they worry about it being imposed on the United States, and different religion being imposed on the United States. It seems to me that Reverend Moon has--through his resources, billion dollars spent and invested in business and media and influence, and covert operations--had an immense influence on the way that we live and the way our culture functions.
Rob: And I wonder whether that's not also the case for other organizations that are not seen as so far outside the mainstream, like the extremist religions on the right--the fundamentalist religions in this country.
Frederick: Yeah, there are absolute theocratic intentions on the part of many religious right organizations, not /
Rob: / That's the word I was looking for, theocratic. Yes.
Frederick: Absolutely clear, unambiguous theocratic intentions. Now, some would take great exception to my calling it that, but look, you can take an archaic definition of theocracy, meaning a government controlled by the clergy, but everybody I think would agree that the Massachusetts Bay Colony, for example, was a theocracy. Well, the clergy were not allowed to hold offices. The magistrates who were selected there had to be a member in good standing of the church, and in order to be a member of good standing in the church, the clergy had to approve of you, but it was never the clergy itself that ran things. That's what you have substantially in Iran as well. You ostensibly have a constitutional democracy in elections, and you have the clergy standing behind the scenes to veto things. Theocracies, just like democracies can be complicated in terms of how you define them? So, when you're taking specific religious ideas and trying to impose them via the law, that's generally referred to as theonomy: basically the rule of religious law.
So, sometimes there's a distinction without a difference. If you have the Christian right and their Catholic allies trying to say, "Well, it's a violation of our religious freedom to have to allow our employees to have insurance coverage that covers contraception," that's a theocratic idea. That's trying to impose a very singular, specific religious idea onto the way that all of society works for all of its citizens.
Rob: That's about as top down as you can get--trying to impose something on everybody.
Frederick: That's right.
Rob: I'm going to do a sharp transition now. Are there bottom up approaches to religion, even within organized religions? When you look at the Catholic Church it is a massive top down organization that has attempted to impose its will upon everybody. I think that's been going on for centuries, but are there Catholic organizations that are bottom up? Are there Evangelicals that have bottom up aspects as well?
Frederick: Well, the short answer is "yes" to all of that. Not to defend the Catholic Church, which has been hierarchical and done many hierarchical things in history, but it's always been a large and complicated entity, and with vast differences within it. And not everybody is hierarchical, and even the hierarchy can't control every element within the church. And that's just a fact. However, in our recent decades there was a theological movement called Liberation Theology that developed in Latin America, and was very influential in the United States, not just among Catholics. It was very influential among mainstream Protestants and even some Evangelicals. The idea was that Christianity is a religion of the people, and has basic needs and rights of the people at its core. There are Liberation Theology related clergy would go out and organize what they called 'base camps,' in places like Brazil, and get people organized around specific Christian ideas based on good will, and meeting the needs of people and resisting oppression and tyranny where they found it. Now, established political and business interests and land owners didn't necessarily like this way of thinking, and neither did the hierarchy of the church, and particularly under John Paul II Liberation Theology was crushed. Their leading thinkers and writers were silenced and--
Rob: And defrocked.
Frederick: And that was pretty much the end of it. I don't know anyone who was defrocked.
Rob: Oh, I do. Oh, absolutely. We've published--I think his name is Roy Matthew or Ray Matthew. Absolutely. They defrocked a number of them. (editor correction. His name is Matthew Fox.)
Frederick: / Oh, there you are.
Rob: / I do believe the current Pope was one of the people who was one of the point men going after them.
Frederick: Well, it doesn't surprise me, but it does go to the point, that the church is diverse, and that Liberation Theology lives, you know? They didn't entirely succeed in snuffing it out. The books are still read, the ideas are still out there, and people still live by it to the extent that they can. That's true, and that's real. And it's probably the wave of the future. Penny Lernoux, who was the longtime Latin American correspondent for The Nation magazine, and wrote a great deal about this in a wonderful book called The People of God.
Rob: I wonder, perhaps one of the people who is most visible in challenging the church right now from the bottom up, is the nun Sister Simone Campbell, who is literally on a bus tour standing up to the hierarchy of the Catholic Church for her stand on the rights of women and taking care of the poor. I wonder how the hierarchy will end up handling her.
Frederick: Well, it's not just her. She's one person--happens to head network and so she's visible and promoted by Democratic Party interests. However, if you take her out of the picture, there's a whole organization of various orders and Sisters that are the real target. The Vatican couldn't really care about Simone Campbell, honestly. It's the larger issue of the Sisters themselves doing the things that you're talking about: working for poor, standing up for the rights of women, and not necessarily agreeing with the hierarchy on a lot of stuff.
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?
Rob: What's your goal? What's your job there?
Frederick: Well, my job there is to do a number of studies and footnoted articles for the magazine The Public Eye; our study's of the right: different elements of the Christian right over the coming year. And that's what PRA does. It's a think tank that studies the right to inform progressive movements about adversaries and trends.
Rob: What would you be studying in particular? Any particular focus you're going to be taking?
Frederick: Well, we're still figuring some of that out. I'm an expert on the religious right, so it will be something about that. I do have an article coming out shortly about a prominent Latino, religious right figure who's been very influential--pretends to be a moderate, but is really a deeply conservative religious rights figure.
Rob: Who's that?
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