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.