The bitter tears of the American Christian supermajority

Chase Madar writes: The most persecuted minority in the United States is not Muslims, African-Americans or immigrants. It’s our Christian supermajority that’s truly oppressed.

Verily, consider three anecdotes from the past few weeks.

On March 2, three Baptist ministers in Akron, Ohio, arranged for the local police to mock-arrest them in their churches and haul them away in handcuffs for the simple act of preaching their faith. A video was posted on YouTube to drum up buzz for an upcoming revival show. A few atheist blogs object to uniformed police taking part in a church publicity stunt, but far more people who saw the YouTube video (24,082 views), in Ohio and elsewhere, took this media stunt as reality — confirmation of their wildest fears about a government clampdown on Christianity. [Continue reading...]

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Richard Rodriguez on what the Left has lost by rejecting religion

Salon talks to Richard Rodriguez about his new book, Darling: A Spiritual Autobiography:

Let me read a line to you from late in the book, and if you could explain it a little bit. You say, “After September 11, critical division in America feels and sounds like religious division.” Where are you going with that?

Well, it seems to me that there are two aspects of that. One of them is that I think that increasingly the left has conceded organized religion to the political right. This has been a catastrophe on the left.

I’m old enough to remember the black Civil Rights movement, which was as I understood it a movement of the left and insofar as it was challenging the orthodoxy of conservatives in the American South. White conservatism. And here was a group of protestant ministers leading processions, which were really religious processions through the small towns and the suburbs of the South. We shall overcome. Well, we have forgotten just how disruptive religion can be to the status quo. How challenging it is to the status quo. I also talk about Cesar Chavez, who is, who was embraced by the political left in his time but he was obviously a challenge to organized labor, the teamsters and to large farmers in the central valley.

So somehow we had decided on the left that religion belongs to Fox Television, or it belongs to some kind of right-wing fanaticism in the Middle East and we have given it up, and it has made us a really empty — that is, it has made the left really empty. I’ll point to one easy instance. Fifty years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered his “I have a dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial. And what America heard was really a sermon. It was as though slavery and Jim Crow could not be described as a simple political narrative; racism was a moral offense, not simply an illegality. And with his vision of a time “when all of God’s children” in America would be free, he described the nation within a religious parable of redemption.

Fifty years later, our technocratic, secular president gave a speech at the Lincoln memorial, honoring the memory of the speech Dr. King had given. And nothing President Obama said can we remember these few weeks later; his words were dwarfed by our memory of the soaring religious oratory of fifty years ago. And what’s happened to us — and I would include myself in the cultural left — what has happened to us is we have almost no language to talk about the dream life of America, to talk about the soul of America, to talk about the mystery of being alive at this point in our lives, this point in our national history. That’s what we’ve lost in giving it to Fox Television.

So here’s the flip side of that. You write about the “New Atheism” emerging from England, catching on here. How is it new and why does it seem like a dead end to you?

It seems to me that the New Atheism — particularly its recent gaudy English manifestations — has a distinctly neo-colonial aspect. (As Cary Grant remarked: Americans are suckers for the accent!) On the one hand, the New Atheist, with his plummy Oxbridge tones, tries to convince Americans that God is dead at a time when London is alive with Hinduism and Islam. (The empiric nightmare: The colonials have turned on their masters and transformed the imperial city with their prayers and their growing families, even while Europe disappears into materialistic sterility.) Christopher Hitchens, most notably, before his death titled his atheist handbook as a deliberate affront to Islam: “God Is Not Great.” At the same time, he traveled the airwaves of America urging us to war in Iraq — and to maintain borders that the Foreign Office had drawn in the sand. With his atheism, he became a darling of the left. With his advocacy of the Iraq misadventure, he became a darling of the right. [Continue reading...]

As an Englishman in America who is frequently reminded that Americans are indeed suckers for the accent I retain, let me add a cultural footnote whose validity I can’t document but about which I am nevertheless convinced.

It’s on the origin of American crassness: it comes from England. Bad taste — we invented it.

From the English perspective, civilization has always been something that came from somewhere else.

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Ret. Gen. Boykin promotes End Times view of war in Syria

Mother Jones: Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin, a top executive at the influential Family Research Council, has joined the chorus of religious conservatives touting the Syrian conflict as a prelude to Armageddon. On Wednesday, Boykin appeared on Prophetic Perspectives on Current Events, a talk show hosted by dominionist preacher Rick Joyner (see the video above). The pair discussed a passage in Isaiah 17, which predicts Damascus will be reduced to “a ruinous heap.”

“One of the scriptures that has never been fulfilled and has to be fulfilled before this age can end is that Damascus will be destroyed, never inhabited again,” Joyner explained. “What in the world could cause a city to be destroyed and never inhabited again?” Boykin didn’t hesitate. “One of the ways Damascus could be destroyed, never to be re-occupied, would be through a chemical attack,” he replied. ” So let’s just take a scenario: The Free Syrian Army takes Damascus and Bashar al-Assad is in a desperate mode now…. What would be his final act? Well it may very well be to unload all his chemical weapons on the population center there in Damascus. Destroy the city and destroy it in a way that he just kills maybe millions of people. But the byproduct is that he has residue there that could make Damascus uninhabitable and for a very long time.”

This is not the first time Boykin has embraced the notion that war in the Middle East will lay waste to the Syrian capital—and pave the way for Jesus’s return. He recently wrote an endorsement for Damascus Countdown, a fictionalized account of the looming biblical conflict by best-selling author Joel Rosenberg. And he has spoken at several of Ronseberg’s annual Epicenter Conferences, which explore the Middle East’s role in biblical prophesy.

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The God conservatives worship

Paul Froese writes: In recent decades, “big tent” conservatism has seemed on the brink of collapse, its poles buckling under competing constituencies with “values” voters in one corner pitted against fiscal conservatives in the other. Discussions among academics and media pundits suggest these are two distinct categories of Republicans—the former made up of mainly working-class white evangelicals and the latter historically comprised of higher-income whites. Republican politicians must seek the favor of both special interests, appealing not only to traditional social issues—gay marriage and abortion—but also to economic fare such as reducing government and lowering taxes.

This distinction is central to Thomas Frank’s engaging analysis of the popularity of conservatism in the American Midwest in his 2004 bestseller What’s the Matter with Kansas? Frank championed the narrative that working-class Americans vote against their economic interests, having been lured into the GOP tent largely with what he sees as insincere religious rhetoric. “The people at the top know what they have to do to stay there,” writes Frank, “and in a pinch they can easily overlook the sweaty piety of the new Republican masses, the social conservatives who raise their voices in praise of Jesus but cast their votes for Caesar.”

However compelling this dichotomy may be, it is a false one. As a researcher and social scientist, I have found that economic perspectives are indelibly tied to religious cosmologies. Voters need not choose between God and mammon. Instead, they tend to see their money, the market, and the economy as a reflection of their God.

This finding is a rarity in the annals of social science, where the division between economic and social interests is often reinforced. Pollsters and social scientists think in terms of variables, some measuring economic opinions and others indicating various forms of religiosity. These two are often correlated but their ongoing association is rarely tested directly. Though classical theorists such as Max Weber have famously demonstrated the constant interplay of economic and religious ideologies, contemporary social scientists seldom ask people directly about how their economic position informs their religion, or vice versa. In fact, we often assume that working-class evangelicals struggle to either prioritize their economic interests or remain committed to their religious ethics.

In 2005, I, along with a team of researchers at Baylor, began surveying American religious beliefs, values and behaviors. Last fall, our third installment of the Baylor Religion Survey was released. Our combined research, which included polling from Gallup and dozens of detailed one-on-one interviews, suggests that value and economic concerns are becoming increasingly hard to disentangle. In fact, for many white evangelicals, religious and economic spheres are conceptualized as two sides of the same coin. They describe their worldview as one in which the spiritual and the material are mutually dependent and interactive. And the popularity of this worldview cuts across social class.

This compatibility of social and economic concerns has become apparent, of course, in the Tea Party movement. While Tea Partiers were initially cast as die-hard fiscal conservatives, the movement’s pious rhetoric — along with subsequent polling data — indicated that religious concerns were central to its popularity. Ultimately, the Tea Party movement revealed the extent to which religious and economic beliefs meld in the minds of many frustrated Americans.

To put this more concretely, approximately 31 percent of Americans, many of whom are white evangelical men, believe that God is steering the United States economy, thus fusing their religious and economic interests. [Continue reading...]

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Texas’s war on history

Katherine Stewart writes: Don McLeroy, chairman of the Texas State Board of Education from 2007 to 2009, is a “young earth” creationist. He believes the earth is 6,000 years old, that human beings walked with dinosaurs, and that Noah’s Ark had a unique, multi-level construction that allowed it to house every species of animal, including the dinosaurs.

He has a right to his beliefs, but it’s his views on history that are problematic. McLeroy is part of a large and powerful movement determined to impose a thoroughly distorted, ultra-partisan, Christian nationalist version of US history on America’s public school students. And he has scored stunning successes.

If you want to see a scary movie about this movement, consider taking in Scott Thurman’s finely-crafted documentary Revisionaries, currently making the festival circuit, which records the antics of McLeroy and a hard right majority on the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) as they revise the textbook standards that will be used in Texas (and many other states).

The first part of this documentary deals with the familiar “science wars”, in which one side seeks to educate children in the sciences, and the other side proposes to “teach the controversy” in order to undermine those aspects of science that conflict with its religious convictions. But it’s the second part of the movie where the horror really kicks in. As I explain in more detail in The Good News Club: The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children, the history debate makes the science debate look genteel. While the handful of moderates on the SBOE squeals in opposition, the conservative majority lands blow after blow, passing resolutions imposing its mythological history on the nation’s textbooks. [Continue reading...]

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Don’t mention the Word of the Lord to the party that loves Jesus

Brad Reed writes: Since this past Christmas season coincided with the final campaign push before the Iowa caucus, every Republican candidate for president worked extra hard to out-pander one another in claiming that God is supportive of his or her particular flat-tax plan.

But you have to wonder watching some of the Republican debates and press conferences if the GOP hopefuls have actually read the New Testament. Say what you will about Jesus, but he didn’t seem like the sort of guy who would support showering rich people with tax cuts, gutting social programs for the poor and middle-class, or launching multiple wars with Middle Eastern countries. Yet these are the sorts of things that his purported acolytes have been endorsing throughout the year, all the while claiming to be Jesus’ number-one fan in the whole world.

In this article we’ll tackle the five most cringe-inducing moments of the GOP primary, where candidates and their supporters have wantonly broken the Lord’s Commandments with seemingly gleeful abandon.

1. Candidates fall all over themselves to kiss the asses of rich people and trash the downtrodden.

Jesus once said that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” Well, the Republicans must want to compensate for this by making rich peoples’ time on Earth as heavenly as possible through a wonderful blend of tax cuts and blatant ass-kissing.

The entire Republican economic philosophy can basically be boiled down thusly: Rich people are magical wealth-creating leprechaun fairies who sprinkle their sparkle dust over all of us worthless dirtbags to bless us with the gift of employment. But if any nasty populist ever says anything relatively nasty about rich people, they will vanish from the realm and take their magical job-creating powers with them and none of us will ever work or have food to eat ever again. [Continue reading...]

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The excommunication of Ron Paul

Steve Kornacki writes: When you’re running near the top of the polls, it’s inevitable that your opponents will gang up on you. But there’s something different about the nature of the attacks Ron Paul is now facing – and, potentially, about their implications.

In the past few days, three of Paul’s rivals – Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann – have publicly declared that the Texas congressman will not under any circumstances win the GOP nomination. Bachmann called him “dangerous,” while Gingrich said he wasn’t even sure he’d vote for Paul over Barack Obama. Another candidate, Rick Santorum, said there’s no difference between Paul and Obama on foreign policy and that he’d need “a lot of antacid” to stomach voting for Paul. And Jon Huntsman launched a scathing anti-Paul ad in New Hampshire with a simple title: “Unelectable.”

This is not a run of the mill pile-on. Paul’s foes aren’t simply telling Republicans that he’s not the best choice to be their nominee; they’re telling Republicans that he’s unfit to call himself one of them – that he’s an imposter who isn’t due even the most basic courtesy (“Oh sure, if he ends up being the nominee I’ll be with him…”) that major candidates for the nomination are typically afforded.

It’s an attitude that’s also being encouraged by some of the GOP’s most powerful opinion-shaping forces. Rush Limbaugh has been disdainful of Paul throughout the campaign, with his guest host this week – Mark Steyn – keeping up the campaign. Fox News, whose primetime hosts have alternated between ignoring and savaging Paul, has been treating him like a pariah since the last campaign, when Paul was denied a seat at a critical pre-New Hampshire debate. And the New Hampshire Union Leader, which boasts one of the country’s most influential conservative editorial pages, branded Paul “truly dangerous” on Thursday.

The roots of this anti-Paul alarmism go deeper than the racist newsletters that were sent out under Paul’s name in the early 1990s and that have attracted new attention in the past week. Sure, the newsletters (and Paul’s shifting explanations for them over the years) would help make him an unelectable GOP nominee, but rest assured the same intraparty voices would be railing against him with the same adamance even if they’d never emerged.

The reason has to do with Paul’s non-interventionist foreign policy and his unapologetic mockery of the “clash of civilizations” ethos that has defined the post-Cold War GOP. Today’s Republican Party is dominated by Christian conservatives (44 percent of participants in the 2008 primaries identified themselves as evangelicals) and neoconservatives, who are united in their commitment to an unwavering alliance between the United States and Israel, confrontation with Iran, and a significant American presence in the Middle East. Paul’s warnings about “blowback” directly threaten this consensus.

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Christmas fading in the Holy Land

Khaled Diab writes: In the land that put Christ in Christmas, Christianity is shrinking.

Less than a century ago, Christians comprised nearly 10 percent of the population of Palestine (now Israel and the Palestinian territories). In 1946, the figure was around 8 percent. Today, Christians make up about 4 percent of the West Bank’s population, although there are still a few Christian-majority villages, such as Taybeh, whose skyline is dominated by church spires and whose businessmen produce the only Palestinian beer. In Israel, though Christians make up 10 percent of its Palestinian population, they only constitute 2.5 percent of the total population. In Gaza, the Christian minority is even smaller, representing just 1 percent of the population.

One major factor in the decline of Christianity here: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Arab-Israeli war of 1948 caused hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to flee or be driven out of their homes, most never to return – and each subsequent war has led to more Palestinians leaving. Today, though Palestinians are often materially better off than other Arabs, restrictions on movement, lack of economic opportunity, unemployment and the constant indignity of living under occupation prompt many to seek out new homes. Palestinian Christians, relatively better educated that Palestinian Muslims and sharing a common religion with the West, have generally been better placed to leave the region.

“Many Christians prioritize their religion over their nationality, thus feeling at home in Western Christian countries as immigrants,” says Ameer Sader, who teaches English and works as a young guide at the National Museum of Science and Technology in Haifa.

“Also, the fertility rate among Christians is the lowest within Israel and Palestine, playing a role, however small it is, in their decline,” he added.

But the exodus is not solely a Christian phenomenon.

“What is often ignored is the huge number of young Muslims who are leaving. And don’t forget there are more Palestinian Muslims living abroad than Christians,” says Dimitri Karkar, a Palestinian Christian businessman. Karkar lives in Ramallah, which has grown with the influx of refugees from other parts of historic Palestine and Israel’s continued annexation of East Jerusalem. Once a small village, Ramallah has become the de facto administrative capital of Palestine, where about a quarter of its population today is Christian.

Another factor: Christian charities and missionaries, who often do valuable work here, also have played an unwitting role in the exodus of Christians.

“I think that an awful lot of well-meaning Christians in the West, whether they are in America, Britain or other places, have poured a lot of money into the West Bank, and specifically into the churches and ministries here,” observes Richard Meryon, director of Jerusalem’s Garden Tomb, which is locked in a spiritual/territorial dispute with the nearby Church of the Holy Sepulchre over the exact location of the crucifixion, burial and resurrection of Jesus.

This outside aid, he notes, “is causing a hemorrhaging of Palestinian believers,” because many are given assistance to move to the West to study but, once there, decide never to return. At the same time, he points out, the numbers of foreign believers and Messianic Jews who believe in Jesus are rising.

And not all Christian activity has been “well-meaning.” For example, so-called Christian Zionists are passionately, even virulently, pro-Israeli, and many come to the Holy Land (some on Harley Davidsons) to express their support. They show rather less interest in the Christians who actually live there.

Republican presidential contender Newt Gingrich seems to even doubt they exist. In an apparent bid to court the Christian Zionist and pro-Israel right, Gingrich made the outrageous claim that “We have invented the Palestinian people,” as if the Palestinians I encounter every day here are figments of the imagination.

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Advertisers shun ‘All-American Muslim,’ yielding to pressure from Christian extremists

The Religion News Service reports: Lowe’s, the national hardware chain, has pulled commercials from future episodes of “All-American Muslim,” a TLC reality-TV show, after protests by Christian groups.

The Florida Family Association, a Tampa Bay group, has led a campaign urging companies to pull ads on “All-American Muslim.” The FFA contends that 65 of 67 companies it has targeted have pulled their ads, including Bank of America, the Campbell Soup Co., Dell, Estee Lauder, General Motors, Goodyear, Green Mountain Coffee, McDonalds, Sears, and Wal-Mart.

“’All-American Muslim’ is propaganda clearly designed to counter legitimate and present-day concerns about many Muslims who are advancing Islamic fundamentalism and Sharia law,” the Florida group asserts in a letter it asks members to send to TLC advertisers.

“The show profiles only Muslims that appear to be ordinary folks while excluding many Islamic believers whose agenda poses a clear and present danger to the liberties and traditional values that the majority of Americans cherish,” the FFA’s letter continues.

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Israeli gov’t warns Israelis in U.S. not to marry Americans but come home

Philip Weiss found this: an Israeli government advertising campaign that’s sure to alienate a lot of American Jews.

The series of ads includes one that shows the look of dread on the faces of Israeli grandparents when they hear their grand daughter say she’ll be celebrating Christmas. I happen to live in a part of the U.S. where “We still celebrate Christmas” is a popular bumper sticker. No doubt the people who want to send out that message feel threatened by separation of Church and State and also the cultural threat they perceive from secularization. But I also imagine a lot of them would call themselves Christian Zionists, so I wonder how they’d react to the Israeli government portraying Christmas celebrations as a threat to Zionism.

Wow this is great reporting at the Jewish Channel. They focus on the ad campaign sponsored by the Israeli gov’t (which we mentioned last week) which is aimed at getting back all the Israelis who have moved to the United States–as many as 2 million!

Watch the ads from the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption, between :25 and 2:40 — they’re cute, mostly, and in Hebrew, so I’m counting on the Jewish Channel’s translation. In one a dad doesn’t wake up when is son says Daddy over and over again, then he does wake up when the kid says “Abba.” The Israeli gov’t’s message: “They will always remain Israelis. Their children will not. Help them to return to Israel.”

Then there’s another one in which Israeli grandparents’ faces fall when their grandchild says on Skype that she’s celebrating Christmas.

The third ad is the craziest/most interesting. It suggests, says the Jewish Channel’s anchor, that “marrying American Jews could make Israelis lose their sense of identity.”

Some of the commenters at Mondoweiss say TJC gets the interpretation wrong for the third video and say the message from Israel’s Ministry of Immigrant Absorption points to the threat to Israeli identity posed by non-Jews. Weiss thus hedges on that point by saying “Americans” in the headline.

Here are the videos whose message is fairly self evident even for those of us who don’t understand Hebrew. In the viewer comments under the dangers-of-marriage video, someone wrote (and this is just a paraphrase): American Jews need to be aware that in Israel, the Jewish connection only goes so far.

It appears that the Israeli ministry is busy keeping the comment threads “clean” since that particular comment has been removed.

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Pastor Beck preaches in Jerusalem

The Guardian reports:

The temperature may have dropped a little in Jerusalem on Wednesday night, but it was more than compensated for by the heat produced by Glenn Beck as he brought his “Restoring Courage” rally to the Old City.

The former Fox News presenter and devout Mormon stood at a podium beneath the gunmetal grey of the dome of the al-Aqsa mosque to direct a tirade of invective at governments, human rights organisations, the United Nations, Europe and Arab states – and sometimes just “them”, whoever they are.

Despite a strangely subdued start, the rightwing polemicist finally roused his audience to whoops and cheers after a strangely subdued initial response with his trademark preacher’s inflection. But all the while, the distant noise of anti-Beck protests provided a backdrop to a 90-minute programme of declamation, music and presentations.

Dressed as though attending a funeral, Beck stood in sharp contrast to the casual attire of his overwhelmingly white American Christian audience, many of whose baseball caps and T-shirts denoted their state of origin, their church or their adherence to the US Tea Party movement.

But the surprising number of empty seats belied the organisers’ claims that demand for tickets had outstripped availability at the 2,000-capacity Davidson Centre.

Ami Kaufman writes:

After months of preparations, hours of television and radio talk all geared up for the big day, tons of merchandise manufactured, Glenn Beck could just about muster over a thousand people at his “Restoring Courage” last night in Jerusalem.

I can’t help but think that this flop might be a lethal blow for this guy. After getting kicked out of FOX and then his decision to veer even farther to the right by partnering up with the likes of Pastor John Hagee, Beck seems to have lost any chance whatsoever to get back into mainstream America like he was just months ago.

Even the event a few days earlier in Caesarea had more umph in it than this one. In fact, he barely even cried in this one. I think he might have been shedding the real tears back stage.

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Islamophobia, Zionism and the Norway massacre

In a Washington Post op-ed, Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League compared the Islamophobia that led Anders Behring Breivik to massacre 77 innocent people in Norway to the anti-Semitism that resulted in the Holocaust.

Ali Abunimah welcomes the fact that Foxman is echoing what he and many others have pointed out in recent years.

Foxman points the finger – as others have rightly done – at extreme Islamophobic agitators such as Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller, co-founders of “Stop Islamisation of America” – whose hate-filled writings Breivik cited in his manifesto.

So far, Foxman has it right. But then he drops a clue about what really frightens him:

“One bizarre twist to Breivik’s warped worldview was his pro-Zionism – his strongly expressed support for the state of Israel. It is a reminder that we must always be wary of those whose love for the Jewish people is born out of hatred of Muslims or Arabs.”

Who does Foxman think he is kidding? There is nothing “bizarre” about this at all. Indeed Foxman himself has done much to bestow credibility on extremists who have helped popularise the Islamophobic views he now condemns. And he did it all to shore up support for Israel.

After Norway, Foxman may fear that the Islamophobic genie he helped unleash is out of control, and is a dangerous liability for him and for Israel.

Many American Zionists embraced Islamophobic demagoguery after the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Their logic was encapsulated in then-Israeli opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s notorious assessment that the attacks – which killed almost 3,000 people – would be beneficial for Israel.

Asked what the 9/11 atrocities would mean for US-Israeli relations, Netanyahu told The New York Times, “It’s very good”, before quickly adding, “Well, not very good, but it will generate immediate sympathy” and would “strengthen the bond between our two peoples, because we’ve experienced terror over so many decades, but the United States has now experienced a massive hemorrhaging of terror”.

In order for Israel and the United States to have the same enemy, the enemy could not just be the Palestinians, who never threatened the United States in any way. It had to be something bigger and even more menacing – and Islam fit the bill. The hyped-up narrative of an all-encompassing Islamic threat allowed Israel to be presented as the bastion of “western” and “Judeo-Christian” civilisation facing down encroaching Muslim barbarity. No audience was more receptive than politically influential, white, right-wing Christian evangelical pastors and their flocks.

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The challenge of religious pluralism in America

Legal scholar, Stanley Fish, writes:

The conflict between religious imperatives and the legal obligations one has as a citizen of a secular state — a state that does not take into account the religious affiliations of its citizens when crafting laws — is an old one…; but in recent years it has been felt with increased force as Muslim immigrants to Western secular states evidence a desire to order their affairs, especially domestic affairs, by Shariah law rather than by the supposedly neutral law of a godless liberalism. I say “supposedly” because of the obvious contradiction: how can a law that refuses, on principle, to recognize religious claims be said to be neutral with respect to those claims? Must a devout Muslim (or orthodox Jew or fundamentalist Christian) choose between his or her faith and the letter of the law of the land?

The context in which Muslims in America find their religion under assault is riddled with contradictions. Islamophobia — as The Tennessean reports — has become a profitable business in which fearmongers who profess no expertise on the subject are couching the “threat” from Islam in similar terms to the Red Menace of the 1950s.

“Islam,” says Pastor Darrel Whaley from Kingdom Ministries Worship Center in Rutherford County, Tennessee, “is political; it is ideas and philosophies; it’s not a religion at all… They want to take over America and the whole world.”


(The image in this video freezes after one minute but the audio continues uninterrupted.)

At the same time that Islam is being presented as an ideological threat to America, among those receptive to this message, another message resonates with equal strength: that Americans of faith are threatened by secularists who insist on imposing a separation of church and state.

When Colorado Republican Senate candidate and Tea Party favorite Ken Buck declared: “I disagree strongly with the concept of separation of church and state,” he drew a strong round of applause. Secularism and Sharia are seen by many as a dual threat to the American way of life.

One might imagine that — at least in theory — it would be possible for the embattled faithful, both Muslim and Christian, to find some common ground — at least one would if it were not for the fact that Christianity in America is in so many ways a secularized religion. That’s why the idea of religion shaping the whole life of the faithful is presented as foreign.

Religion in America has less to do with the devotional and ethical practices that circumscribe religious life, than with the experience of belonging to communities of affiliation within which a religious national identity finds expression. It’s about banding together around particular definitions of what it means to be American and taking on battles against those who pose a threat to these definitions.

For that reason, the fight against abortion is a much more popular cause than the fight against adultery. As with most crusades the preferred battleground is not home turf. Religious solidarity comes less through shared practice, than shared animosity.

But before the secularists here (and I include myself) start feeling too smug, Fish makes an important point:

[T]he respect liberalism can accord Islam (or any other strong religion) is the respect one extends to curiosities, eccentrics, the backward, the unenlightened and the unfortunately deluded. Liberal respect stops short — and this is not a failing of liberalism, but its very essence — of taking religious claims seriously, of considering them as possible alternative ways of ordering not only private but public life.

On that basis, it’s easy to adopt a live-and-let-live philosophy — well encapsulated in the COEXIST bumper sticker — in which tolerance is a kind of benign indifference. But coexistence in healthily functioning pluralistic societies must really go much further.

In an interesting talk, Muneer Fareed points out that the challenges America now faces have been addressed before and indeed that Islam in its formation saw its own existence in a pluralistic context.

[The Quran says] If God had so wanted, then all of humanity would be following one way. This is clear unmistakable evidence from the text itself, that Islam is a religion that doctrinally endorses, encourages and accomodates religious pluralism.

The faithful and fearful across America will remain unmoved, convinced paradoxically that this is an argument they cannot win even while truth remains on their side. According to the evangelicals, God does want all of humanity following one way and has chosen men like Pastor Darrel Whaley and Pastor Terry Jones to shepherd us in the right direction.

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CAMPAIGN 08: An inability to recognize ourselves in one another

Islamofascism’s ill political wind

In contrast to the way militant zealotries of other religions have been perceived, there is a broad conviction, especially among many conservative American Christians, that the inner logic of Islam and fascism go together. Political candidates appeal to those Christians by defining the ambition of Islamofascists in language that makes prior threats from, say, Hitler or Stalin seem benign. The point is that there is a deep religious prejudice at work, and when politicians adopt its code, they make it worse.

The Democrats gain little by shaping their rhetoric to appeal to the Republicans’ conservative religious base, but a readiness to denigrate Islam shows up on their side, too. In last week’s debate, moderator Brian Williams put to Barack Obama a question about Internet rumors that claim he is a Muslim. The tone of the question suggested that Obama was being accused of something heinous. He replied with a simple affirmation that he is a Christian. He did not then ask, “And what would be wrong if I were a Muslim?” Had he done so, it seems clear, he would have cost himself votes in the present climate. [complete article]

Obama reaches the mountaintop

… in his Sunday speech at the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr’s Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Barack Obama went to a higher ground — to that mountaintop that King occupied until his death on April 4, 1968, and that Bobby Kennedy stood for a brief and remarkable political moment that played out between April and June of that fateful year.

“Unity is the great need of the hour – the great need of this hour. Not because it sounds pleasant or because it makes us feel good, but because it’s the only way we can overcome the essential deficit that exists in this country,” Obama told a audience that hung on the every word of the most emotionally-effective orator to seek the presidency since Kennedy.

“I’m not talking about a budget deficit. I’m not talking about a trade deficit. I’m not talking about a deficit of good ideas or new plans,” explained Obama. “I’m talking about a moral deficit. I’m talking about an empathy deficit. I’m taking about an inability to recognize ourselves in one another; to understand that we are our brother’s keeper; we are our sister’s keeper; that, in the words of Dr. King, we are all tied together in a single garment of destiny.” [complete article]

What does it mean to be the pro-Israel candidate?

The main reason that Democratic candidates are less frightening to a progressive Israeli worrying about his country’s future, as my progressive friends in Washington remind me, is that the Democrats may be jiving. That is, because they are sensible folks otherwise, we can assume they don’t really mean this stuff. They even hide small hints of moderation in their rhetoric. The Republicans’ sincerity is truly scary.

I suggest that it’s time to talk about what “pro-Israel” should mean. Not because the discussion will change campaign rhetoric: The candidates will stick to cliches. But after the election, one will have to govern. Members of Congress will need to decide how to vote on the usual strident resolutions backed by AIPAC. Debate now on what it means to support Israel might mean that a year from now, elected leaders will be able to refer to publicly recognized ideas to justify acting more sensibly. [complete article]

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ANALYSIS: Christian conservatives are not of one mind

Social conservatives fracture as Robertson endorses Giuliani

Televangelist Pat Robertson endorsed Rudy Giuliani’s campaign Wednesday, a surprising embrace that underscored the divisions among Christian conservatives about the field of candidates for the Republican presidential nomination.

By itself, Robertson’s support of the former New York mayor was an unusual partnership between a Christian conservative who once blamed the 2001 terrorist attacks on American sins such as abortion and a social liberal who supports abortion rights and gay rights.

But coming the same day that another prominent Christian conservative — Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas — endorsed Sen. John McCain of Arizona, and two days after influential conservative Paul Weyrich endorsed former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, it was a fresh sign that one of the most influential blocs of voters in the party remains splintered. [complete article]

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FEATURE & OPINION: End of times for the Christian right

The evangelical crackup

Just three years ago, the leaders of the conservative Christian political movement could almost see the Promised Land. White evangelical Protestants looked like perhaps the most potent voting bloc in America. They turned out for President George W. Bush in record numbers, supporting him for re-election by a ratio of four to one. Republican strategists predicted that religious traditionalists would help bring about an era of dominance for their party. Spokesmen for the Christian conservative movement warned of the wrath of “values voters.” James C. Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family, was poised to play kingmaker in 2008, at least in the Republican primary. And thanks to President Bush, the Supreme Court appeared just one vote away from answering the prayers of evangelical activists by overturning Roe v. Wade.

Today the movement shows signs of coming apart beneath its leaders. It is not merely that none of the 2008 Republican front-runners come close to measuring up to President Bush in the eyes of the evangelical faithful, although it would be hard to find a cast of characters more ill fit for those shoes: a lapsed-Catholic big-city mayor; a Massachusetts Mormon; a church-skipping Hollywood character actor; and a political renegade known for crossing swords with the Rev. Pat Robertson and the Rev. Jerry Falwell. Nor is the problem simply that the Democratic presidential front-runners — Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, Senator Barack Obama and former Senator John Edwards — sound like a bunch of tent-revival Bible thumpers compared with the Republicans.

The 2008 election is just the latest stress on a system of fault lines that go much deeper. The phenomenon of theologically conservative Christians plunging into political activism on the right is, historically speaking, something of an anomaly. Most evangelicals shrugged off abortion as a Catholic issue until after the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. But in the wake of the ban on public-school prayer, the sexual revolution and the exodus to the suburbs that filled the new megachurches, protecting the unborn became the rallying cry of a new movement to uphold the traditional family. Now another confluence of factors is threatening to tear the movement apart. The extraordinary evangelical love affair with Bush has ended, for many, in heartbreak over the Iraq war and what they see as his meager domestic accomplishments. That disappointment, in turn, has sharpened latent divisions within the evangelical world — over the evangelical alliance with the Republican Party, among approaches to ministry and theology, and between the generations. [complete article]

Rudy, the values slayer

Since the dawn of the new century, it has been the rarely questioned conventional wisdom, handed down by Karl Rove, that no Republican can rise to the top of the party or win the presidency without pandering as slavishly as George W. Bush has to the most bullying and gay-baiting power brokers of the religious right.

When Rudy’s candidacy started to show legs, pundits and family values activists alike assumed that ignorant voters knew only his 9/11 video reel and not his personal history or his stands on issues. “Americans do not yet realize how far outside of the mainstream of conservative thought that Mayor Giuliani’s social views really are,” declared Tony Perkins, the Family Research Council leader, in February. But despite Rudy’s fleeting stabs at fudging his views, they are well known now, and still he leads in national polls of Republican voters and is neck and neck with Fred Thompson in the Bible Belt sanctuary of South Carolina.

There are various explanations for this. One is that 9/11 and terrorism fears trump everything. Another is that the rest of the field is weak. But the most obvious explanation is the one that Washington resists because it contradicts the city’s long-running story line. Namely, that the political clout ritualistically ascribed to Mr. Perkins, James Dobson of Focus on the Family, Gary Bauer of American Values and their ilk is a sham.

These self-promoting values hacks don’t speak for the American mainstream. They don’t speak for the Republican Party. They no longer speak for many evangelical ministers and their flocks. The emperors of morality have in fact had no clothes for some time. Should Rudy Giuliani end up doing a victory dance at the Republican convention, it will be on their graves. [complete article]

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ANALYSIS: How the Christian right could defeat Giuliani

How the Christian right could defeat Rudy — and make Hillary president

One of Rudy Giuliani’s chief attractions to Republican primary voters is supposed to be electability. “We’re going to need the strongest possible Republican who can win in every state,” the former New York City mayor said during an August campaign stop, “and I’m the only one who can do that.” Giuliani, the narrative goes, can change the electoral map of the country, taking stronghold states away from the Democrats and providing the last, best defense against the looming specter of President Hillary Clinton.

But the largest single voting bloc in the GOP is not ready for the coronation of a pro-choice candidate like Giuliani. A group of key Christian conservative leaders voted at a Sept. 29 meeting in Salt Lake City to consider supporting a socially conservative third-party candidate if Giuliani is the Republican nominee; the same group will meet in Washington on Saturday for further discussion of the third-party option. Conservative anger is real, at least for now. As longtime conservative activist Richard Viguerie, who was at the first meeting, told Salon, “If Giuliani is the nominee, it will be the end of the Republican Party. There’s no way that conservatives are going to continue to play the role of mistress, and here’s a man who’s wrong on every single social issue.” Viguerie predicts disaster for a Giuliani candidacy. “In a two-way race, I think he’d be hard-pressed to get 40 percent of the vote. In a three-way race, he won’t come close.” [complete article]

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