Friday, September 22, 2006

The First Casualty of Religious Intolerance: Religious Criticism

What do the Pope and Rosie O’Donnell have in common?  (Ed.’s note: Oh man!  Just consider the numerous cheap shots one could insert right here!)  Besides both being raised as Catholics, both have been recently accused of religious intolerance.

During a discussion on the show “The View” she said, “Radical Christianity is just as threatening as radical Islam in a country like America where we have a separation of church and state.  We’re a democracy here.”

Although the syntax and context are a bit confusing, one can surmise what Ms. O’Donnell is trying to say: radical Christianity poses as much of a threat to the American way of life as does radical Islam.

This does NOT imply that either Christians or Muslims are evil or one religion is “worse” than the other: it does critique radical Christianity and radical Islam, and why should it not?

Although Al Qaeda, the epitome of radical Islam, is indeed a threat to American life and limb, their physical presence and power in terms of sheers numbers pales in comparison to the numbers of radical Christians now present in the United States.

Who are these radical Christians?  One could start with Christian Reconstructionists (CRs), which Wikipedia describes thusly:

“Although relatively insignificant in terms of the number of self-described adherents, Christian Reconstructionism has played a role in promoting the trend toward explicitly Christian politics in the larger U.S. Christian Right (this is the wider trend which some critics refer to, generally, as Dominionism)…  Because their numbers are so small compared to their influence, their gradualist strategy, and their more radical aims (even if less influential) are inharmonious with autonomous forms of democratic government (counterpoising God's Law against the arbitrary will of the people), they are sometimes accused of being secretive and conspiratorial… “

How important are these people?  Rousas John Rushdoony was considered to be the “intellectual” father of Christian Reconstruction and served on the Board of the Rutherford Institute… which represented Paula Jones in her civil case vs. President Clinton leading to his impeachment.


Has Al Qaeda ever financed and helped orchestrate the impeachment of a President?  Was this a good thing for America?  May I go out on a limb and say “No!”

CRs provide the theological underpinning and rationale for much of the radical religious right’s stances on many issues, including gay rights, the death penalty and church-state separation.  While many in the Religious Right avoid promoting the actual penalties demanded in the bible, and CRs don’t hesitate to recommend state-sanctioned death penalties for gays, unruly children, non-believers or adulterers, these differences between truly radical Christians and the Religious Right continue to shrink.

Other radical Christian denominations include Fundamentalist Mormonism which routinely demands the brainwashing of girls as young as 14 years of age into believing that they MUST marry 50 year old friends of the Prophet, Warren Jeffs.  Does this brand of radical Christianity pose a danger to Americans?  Can Al Qaeda match this?

Add to this list the Christian Identity religion which advocates racism and has inspired racial killings, and the Oklahoma City Federal Building bombing, and you get a clear picture of dangerous Christian beliefs that harm people right now in America.

But wait, there’s more!

Has Christianity spawned any other misery in America?  Did it serve to justify slavery and then segregation and racism in the form of Southern Baptism and other Christian denominations?  Who were the Kristian Knights of the KKK?  Muslims?  No, they were Christians and they were responsible for far more deaths and misery than Al Qaeda, counting 9-11.

And if you’re a gay or lesbian who wants to get married, it’s radical Christians making your life miserable, not Al Qaeda.

And then you have the actual scripture: the Old and New Testament often advise avoiding or shunning those sinful non-believers, not to mention the acceptability of taking them as slaves and at the worst, committing genocide if God so orders it.  You wouldn’t want to be a non-Hebrew Amelakite in the Old Testament.  According to two Psalms in the Old Testament, there are no atheists who do any good.

Ms. O’Donnell and this article are not implying that in a contest of “World’s Worst Religion” that either Christianity or Islam would win – the argument is that radical versions of either are dangerous and that since the US is populated by far more radical Christians, the danger they pose is more real and immediate in our every day lives.  She also targeted the theology and not persons, a point almost everyone forgets (deliberately?)

Of course all this does not mean we should not try to protect ourselves or capture bin Laden!  In fact, it means we should have concentrated our efforts on bin Laden, the most dangerous of Islamic radicals, and Afghanistan, his base of operation (and on our own homeland security and not divert ourselves with Iraq and Saddam Hussein.  That is a story for another day, however.)

What it also means is that we in the US should not turn a blind eye towards an incipient Taliban-like Christian fringe within our midst, many enslaving women and spreading racial hatred.  Their danger does result in Oklahoma City-like disasters every once in a while, after all.

Pope Benedict XVI, as opposed toMs. O’Donnell, though, chose a different target, as one would expect: Islam.

In a lecture at a University in Germany he quoted a 14th Century Byzantine Christian Emperor, Manuel Paleologos II, saying, “Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.”

First, the irony has seemingly been lost on most persons: the Pope’s comments came in speech where he, as usual, attacked secularism, while also criticizing spreading religion with violence.  No matter what the argument, the Pope finds a way to attack secularism: what follows, though,  are his chickens coming home to roost.  Where would he prefer to spend his next day off: in secularist Europe, or somewhere a bit to the east?

There is little question in this case that the quote used was an insult with little constructive criticism attached, and came at a time when tensions were high.  Add to the fact the inglorious history of spreading Christianity by force for the Pope’s institution and you have the wrong messenger delivering the wrong message at the wrong time.

However, rather than calmly debate whether the quote had merit or not, Islamic critics immediately demanded an apology.  Ultimately the Pope apologized (in the way the Popes typically apologize); but the riots were on.  Churches burned and it may be that a nun was murdered in response: Are the reactions to the Pope’s comments justifiable?  Obviously not.  The Enlightenment has made a difference in some people is some parts of the world; sadly, not for others.

Again, this does not imply that the Pope was not being hypocritical in his position: Constantine’s Sword, the Crusades, the Inquisition, witch trials, Giordano Bruno… has the Pope forgotten?  Has he forgotten “Blood Libel,” and the charges of Jewish “Deicide” which the Church promoted over the years?  Have Protestants forgotten the anti-Semitism of Martin Luther, the founder?  And the numerous intra-Christian wars?

But is the hypocritical insult by the Pope legitimate?  Is it true or untrue that Islam has been spread by force and that the Prophet engaged in such violence?  Can this question even be asked?  Yes, although it would be best if the questioner did not also turn blind eye to the same problems of their own religion of choice.

The real truth is that the first casualty of religious intolerance is not the freedom to practice the prevailing religion - the Pope never threatened Muslim’s freedom to practice their religion – it is the freedom to criticize a prevailing religion that is endangered!

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