You may recognize William Donohue as the one-man Catholic anti-defamation league, in a state of perpetual outrage. He is notorious for his sound bites and press releases, fired off in response to any insult to the Catholic Church. But in a new book, Secular Sabotage: How Liberals Are Destroying Religion and Culture in America, the president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights gets in more than a few sound bites. Donohue believes that the very concept of moral truth is held in contempt by too many who have a leading influence in the popular culture and — well, you get the idea from the book’s subtitle. Bill Donohue took some questions from National Review Online’s Kathryn Jean Lopez on the occasion of the book’s release.
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: What is secular sabotage?
WILLIAM DONOHUE: It is a determined effort on the part of radical activists to upend the Judeo-Christian tradition.
LOPEZ: Is it really fair to blame “liberals”? What does that even mean?
DONOHUE: As I say in the opening chapter, I am not blaming all liberals. Just the extremists.
LOPEZ: You cite one former Democrat who refers to the Democratic party as “the Anti-Christian party.” Can that even pass a laugh test after the clearly Christian display we saw last weekend surrounding the death of Senator Kennedy?
DONOHUE: Your colleague Ramesh Ponnuru called those who support abortion “The Party of Death.” David Carlin, a longtime Democrat, feels betrayed by his former party and wrote a book about it. A lot of people missed what happened on Saturday: Only a handful of priests were in procession at Kennedy’s funeral. Normally, there would have been about 300 — these processions go on for at least a half-hour. But not for Teddy. That was deliberate, and it was justified.
LOPEZ: When you look around at the Republican party, religious conservatives seem to be doing their part to destroy religion and culture with their infidelities, crimes, and other sins. Is that your “Christian party”?
DONOHUE: Personal failings have nothing whatsoever to do with policy decisions. It is not the Republicans who ask Catholic universities to put a drape over the name of Jesus before the president agrees to speak. And it is only the Democrats who align themselves with the most anti-Catholic group in the nation — Catholics for a Free Choice. Besides, I’m not a Republican.
LOPEZ: How are Catholics guilty of self-sabotage?
DONOHUE: Left-wing priests, laypeople, and nuns who promote abortion, gay marriage, and the like are termites.
LOPEZ: Yet you report that these folks who are eating away at the foundations are no longer thriving. Are dissidents really a dying breed?
DONOHUE: Yes. Young people may be indifferent, but they are not joining orders of priests and nuns that seek to radically restructure the Catholic Church. If they join at all, they join the most conservative orders of priests and nuns.
LOPEZ: Why should anyone who is not Catholic care about the Catholic League and anything you have to say?
DONOHUE: Non-Catholics should care about the Catholic League for the same reason they should care about any anti-defamation or civil-rights group: It offends American values whenever any racial, ethnic, or religious group is trashed for no reason other than to elicit some sick, visceral response. Criticism is one thing. Insulting, demeaning, and disparaging commentary is quite another.
LOPEZ: Why does the president of the Catholic League devote a chapter to Protestants?
DONOHUE: To demonstrate that the saboteurs are gunning for Christianity, as the first chapter says. Had I left out Protestants, the work would have been incomplete. Also, while I am president of the Catholic League, this is not a Catholic League publication. Therefore, I am free to say what I want as a sociologist.
LOPEZ: What on earth are you talking about when you write: “There is something bizarre going on when the average student studying to become an auto mechanic is far more likely to believe in God than the average student studying to become a minister”?
DONOHUE: That was not an exaggeration. Talk to anyone who is in the divinity schools, or just read the books they are assigned. It is hardly a secret that the mainline Protestant denominations are dying out, and one of the reasons is the mutiny that exists in the divinity schools. As I pointed out, leading Christian voices do not believe in the Bible.
LOPEZ: What is “the new atheism” and what drives it?
DONOHUE: The new atheism is an aggressive, dogmatic attempt to undermine the Judeo-Christian ethos. What drives it is hatred. They are not shy about admitting it.
LOPEZ: Is it fair to refer to its leading lights as the “Four Horsemen”?
DONOHUE: That was what one prominent Catholic called them. He is entitled to his opinion.
LOPEZ: It’s got to have some resonance, doesn’t it? Christopher Hitchens, after all, had a bestseller.
DONOHUE: His book was going nowhere until he went on TV slamming Jerry Falwell right after he died. Moreover, the fact that Hitchens, et al., sold many books actually underscores the drama of my book.
LOPEZ: Isn’t it a bit much to write a headline like “Hollywood Hates Religion,” as you do?
DONOHUE: Not when for the past three decades all Hollywood has delivered is anti-Christian, especially anti-Catholic, fare. The one movie Christians loved — The Passion of the Christ — would not have been made save for Mel Gibson.
LOPEZ: Christians are making movies in Hollywood, though. Hollywood’s got a prayer, hasn’t it?
DONOHUE: There are a few encouraging signs.
LOPEZ: You point out in the book that Dan Brown actually claimed during a Today Show interview that The Da Vinci Code was based on reality. This explains why you waged what some might call a crusade against it. But do people really believe such things? Does it really matter?
DONOHUE: Do I believe that Brown believes his own lies? And since when is a PR campaign considered a crusade? And why is it that that word is never used when others protest a movie?
LOPEZ: Do you ever worry that you are just giving someone like Dan Brown added attention when you call him out in attention-grabbing press releases?
DONOHUE: I never attack the Madonna wannabes — just Madonna. Christian-hating artists have begged me to attack them; I never do when they are second-class artists. But when someone as big as Brown strikes, not to strike back would undercut the reason for the establishment of the Catholic League. He already has the press — for me to pretend that I am unaware of what he is doing would be deceitful.
LOPEZ: If you don’t like Penn & Teller, why don’t you just change the channel, Bill?
DONOHUE: That could be said about any aspect of our culture. Why doesn’t CBS allow reruns of Amos ’n’ Andy? Because it does not want to feed anti-black sentiments. If a toxin is in the culture, then attempts to eradicate it should be applauded. Ignoring it is silly.
LOPEZ: How do you know we’re at a “boiling point,” as you put it, “between religious conservatives and secular activists”? What accounts for it?
DONOHUE: In my lifetime, I have never seen our culture more polarized.
LOPEZ: Why does the gay-marriage fight matter?
DONOHUE: Because if they win, then there will be no principled reason to oppose every other conceivable partnership from gaining legal recognition, the net effect of which would be to undermine the special status of traditional marriage.
LOPEZ: You get into why you believe secularists are angry and hostile, but on the cover of your book, you look angry. Are you in perpetual-outrage mode? Is that healthy?
DONOHUE: My publisher decided what the cover should be, and I deferred to the marketing people. Quite frankly, those who like me will not be put off and those who don’t like me will just find another reason not to. So what?
LOPEZ: Do you ever worry about tone?
DONOHUE: I worry that some of the people on my side are such cowards. They adore dialogue. I don’t.
LOPEZ: Was there ever a point when you thought, “A boycott of Disney? That’s just crazy! I can’t do that”?
DONOHUE: The boycott was a success. Our membership shot up and Miramax was forced to split from Disney not long after.
LOPEZ: Bill, what motivates you? What gets you up in the morning and what gets you writing “Critics Love Vampire Priest Film”?
DONOHUE: Duplicity, hypocrisy, etc. That’s a form of injustice that motivates me. When I read that a woman who writes a book about the Danish cartoons for Yale University Press is denied the right to publish the inoffensive cartoons in the book, then that just proves my point. Meanwhile, they all reprint the dung on the picture of the Virgin Mary.
LOPEZ: How does one go about restoring a concept of truth? Isn’t that ultimately what has to happen for religion and culture not to be destroyed?
DONOHUE: The fight against the postmodernists’ assault on truth can only be answered by exposing them and telling the truth. If enough of us do so, we can win.
LOPEZ: What do you pray happens with Secular Sabotage?
DONOHUE: My wish is that those on my side get fired up and become more active in pressing for changes and that those in the middle move my way. As for the secular saboteurs, I couldn’t care less what they think of me. This is not a popularity contest I am engaged in — it is an effort to wake people up and demand an equal playing field. When Catholics are treated by the cultural elites as if they were Native Americans — Hell, I’ll settle for Aleutian Islanders — then I will retire. Which means I’ll probably die in this job.