This past weekend a big conference titled Examining the Agenda of the Religious Far Right was staged in New York. Over 500 people participated including numerous reporters and documentary film makers. Conference participants heard an unusually diverse range of critical perspectives on the religious right. I was honored to be among the speakers — but I spent alot of time in very worthwhile listening.
Those who wanted to be there, but were unable to come, will be pleased to learn that the conference sponsors plan to edit the conference down to an hour long film, which they plan to broadcast and make available on DVD.  A book based on the main conference presentations may be in the works. Those who would like to know what I said, can check out these blog posts (here, here and here) which provided much of the substance of my talk.)

An unexpected highlight for me was meeting novelist Kurt Vonnegut, who was among many notables who had come to hear as distguished, smart and often inconoclastic a bunch of journalists, authors, activists, and academics ever assembled to talk about this subject. Nothing quite like it had ever been done before. We can only hope that it will be done again and again, and all over the country.

A report on the conference by columnist Ellis Henican was featured on page A2 of New York Newsday on Sunday.  “There’s plenty of anger and exuberance and outrage in the room,” he observed. “This is New York, after all, where skepticism is always in style. But [Chip] Berlet might be onto something… something that could actually work in the battle against religious extremists, by whatever name: Don’t insult them. Engage them. And don’t back down.”

“The group… gathered for the weekend at the CUNY Graduate Center on West 34th Street. They’re some of the brightest minds and shrewdest strategists among people who look with alarm at the collusion between Christian evangelicals and Republican politicos. The word theocracy keeps coming up.”

The Washington Times, the famously unprofitable pet project of Rev. Sun Myung Moon, a longtime advocate of theocracy himself, described the event as a gathering of “Secular humanists and leftist activists” who were maybe engaging in “conspiracy theories.”

The conference was unique in a number of ways. It was not focused on single issues, although many were discussed. It was not sponsored by an organization with a particular institutional interest or point of view to promote or justify, although several presenters were affiliated with institutions that specialize in this area. It was open to fresh and interesting perspectives, and did not insist on unanimity or conformity. It was mostly about information and analysis, but it also emphasized ideas for action — something the attendees made clear they wanted more of.

Rev. Bob Edgar, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches, speaking at the opening session on Friday night, offered a quote that stayed with me. He said “we are the prophets, the disciples, and the leaders we have been waiting for.”  People came looking for answers, and they got some. But Edgar is right. As citizens, it is up to us to determine the outcome of the central struggles of our time.

[Crossposted from]

0 0 votes
Article Rating