It Ain't Breaking, But it Will Always be News
One of the reasons the religious right will have staying power as a political and social movment for a long time to come, is the creation of a variety of sustainable institutions that have a vision for the long term. I have been witness to the development of some of them, and have had occasion to write about them from time to time as well.
I was asked to write an assessment of the state of the religious right in 2001, for The Public Eye magazine. It appeared in the Winter issue -- well before 9/11 so distorted our national discourse. But the major themes are as true now as they were then:
Several main trends are evident in the current fortunes of the Christian Right. First, the major institutions of the Christian Right, once bastions of fire and brimstone rhetoric and a transcendent vision of the once and future Christian Nation, have become practitioners of political compromise and coalition building. This is especially true in the case of national electoral politics. Second, the Christian Right has been largely incorporated into the Republican Party apparatus. Finally, and perhaps most important, the Christian Right is now largely institutionalized throughout society. The movement has come a long way in a short time. This is not to say that one of the most dynamic social/political movements of the latter part of the 20th century has necessarily lost its energy and edginess. Nor is it without fractures and schisms. In many respects it is still growing and finding new and distinctive forms and expressions. But the quiet institutionalization of the Christian Right is a far more dramatic, if less visible trend than any single clash in the culture war.
Two items in the news lately stand out as excellent examples. Pat Robertson's Viginia Beach, VA-based Regent University and Tom Monaghan's Ave Maria University, which is still under construction near Naples, Florida.
Regent University is currently in the news because Monica Goodling, a graduate of the law school, figures prominently in the scandals at the Justice Department; and as Max Blumenthal first reported, there are 150 Regent U grads spread throughout the Bush administration. Regent U., now 25 years old claims more than 5,000 students in nine academic schools, two campuses and distance education "reaching around the globe."
Ave Maria University is in the news in part, because its founding dean was fired and suddenly rehired; and because the fledgling school is profiled in the current issue of Mother Jones magazine. Suddenly, the religious right and the consequences of several decades of methodical building for power; creating lasting institutions; making ideological adjustments and inventing new ways of doing electoral politics -- have caught people's attention.
That's a good thing.
Tom Monaghan has been deeply involved in the development of the Catholic Right for many years, and his plans for developing Ave Maria U. have been well-known for a long time, as well as what kind of a school it would be. And Regent U. has been producing lawyers for many years now. Former Attorney General John Ashcroft teaches there. But many otherwise well-informed and thoughtful progressives and Democrats have no idea the role of Regent, of the trajectory of the Catholic right in America, as epitomized by Tom Monaghan.
(While we are on the subject, it is worth noting at least two more: Patrick Henry College, just outside Washington, DC, founded by Chrstian right leader Michael Farris, has received a lot of attention because it caters to students coming out of conservative Christian home schooling, and seeks to shape the views and careers of Chrsitian rightists headed into politics and government. Also Liberty University, founded by Jerry Falwel in Lynchberg, VA in 1971, now has several thousand undergradate and grad students -- including a law school. Now back to our main story.)
According to its web site:
Ave Maria University began as Thomas S. Monaghan’s dream to build an institution of Catholic higher education that would be faithful to the Magisterium and could produce the future faithful educators, leaders, and mentors that our challenged society needs. Through his initial financial donation of $250 million, in partnership with a generous donation of land from the Barron Collier Family in Southwest Florida, the dream began to take shape.
Here at Talk to Action, we have written quite a bit about Catholic Right financier Tom Monaghan. Frank Cocozzelli profiled him and references him often in his ongoing series on the Catholic Right.
As we know, Tom Monaghan has a plan, and he uses his wealth, in alliance with similarly-mind ultra-orthodox Catholic CEOs to lay the foundation for a more theocratic society. Their primary method is to underwrite educational systems steeped in pre-Vatican II notions of Catholicism. The mission of both the Ave Maria University, and Law School, is to churn out future corporate executives, lawyers, judges and political leaders who would increasingly graft his version of natural law principles unto American jurisprudence.
But the news has been the upheaval at AMU, notably the firing of the founding provost, a personal friend of the Pope,and then his rehiring 48 hours later.
Bill Berkowitz reports:
Details of the original firing are still murky. At first it appeared that Fessio, founder of Ignatius Press in San Francisco (the primary English-language publisher of Pope Benedict XVI) and the University of San Francisco's Ignatius Institute, wasn't up to the task of enrolling enough students or raising the necessary money for building the first new Catholic university in the U.S. in 40 years. Then, it seemed that the former student and longtime friend of the current Pope (formerly Cardinal Josef Ratzinger) may have been let go because of his comments to the California Catholic Daily suggesting that homosexuality has biological roots.
But that news apparently came and went after the Mother Jonesstory, well worth a read, went to press:
Essentially, Monaghan plans to draw a line in the sand against a trend he deems evil. Even as the rapidly growing church lists right worldwide and a few rock-ribbed Catholic orders-most notably Opus Dei-are surging, American Catholics are becoming ever more progressive. Thirty-seven percent favor an easing of the church's abortion policies, according to a recent cnn/USA Today/Gallup Poll, and fifty-five percent support the ordination of women. Meanwhile, several Catholic universities-among them Holy Cross and St. Scholastica-have gone so far as to play host to the dread Vagina Monologues.
While politics necessarily takes on a certain short-term urgency, often driven by the crisis du jour in the media, people across the political spectrum are kidding themselves if they think that one or another scandal, such as Ted Haggard, somehow ultimately discredits the religioius right. Additionally, the fortunes of the religious right are not entirely synonymous with the Republican Party, or the outcomes of one or another state or national election. The movement will exist far beyond the lifetimes of everyone reading this blog post, and the tale of these two universties, among others, are among the reasons why.
It is long past time for people concerned about these things to calm way down; it is possible to sustain a sense of appropriate urgency without getting manic about these things. While people have different psychological make-ups, from what I have observed over 25 years is that this is the main way to be able to pay attention to these things in an ongoing fashion and learn to become effective; without burning out.
It is long past time to get very serious; and take a look at how politics might play out over the long run; consider what it will take for constitutional democracy and the values of democratic pluralism to prevail, and even advance in response to the theocratic movements of our time.
If we are serious about the things we say we care most deeply about; the things we feel are threatened or obstructed by the religious right -- it is incumbent on all of us to consider that when Pat Roberston, Jerry Falwell, Phyllis Schlafly, Tim and Bev LaHaye, James Dobson, Don Wildmon, and others of the founding generation of religious right leaders pass from the scene... there are generations of leaders following in their footsteps, and most of their names, we don't even know yet.
I say all this not because I want to present the religious right as a bogey man; too scary to comprehend or too large and powerful to do anything about. I know that is not so: It is comprehensible, and it is no more scary than any other powerful movement in history (get over it), and that there is much we can do. And if I was not confident of what I am saying, I would not be here telling you about it. I would have filled my bank account and found a nice beach resort to hang out at and watch it all go down. But if you are still reading, odds are, you think a lot like me and a lot of other people who are thinking along similar lines.
Take a few deep breaths. We are in this for the long haul.
It Ain't Breaking, But it Will Always be News | 4 comments (4 topical, 0 hidden)
It Ain't Breaking, But it Will Always be News | 4 comments (4 topical, 0 hidden)