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“A Task That Cannot Be Avoided”: The Necessary Task Of Integrating Islam Within The West

In what is both a reflection and an amplification of rising anti-Muslim sentiment in this country, Donald Trump has called for a ban on all Muslims entering the United States “until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.”

Trump’s xenophobic statement and the popular fears it reflects have to be addressed intelligently and forcefully. We should begin addressing them by admitting that there are unique challenges with integrating Muslims and Islam itself into polities shaped by Western liberalism. But it is a task that has to be done. It cannot be avoided even by the most extreme restrictions on immigration or travel, because Muslims are our already our neighbors. And in an age of decentralized authority and instant digital communication, Islam will remain a way of life available to anyone in the West.

A particularly intense example of America’s Trumpian Islamophobia was captured at a town meeting in Virginia over plans to build a mosque. A man erupted at a Muslim who was speaking, “Every Muslim is a terrorist, period.” Others at the meeting applauded the erupting man for saying that he didn’t want Islam’s “death cult” in his town.

That is ignorant and wrong. But if you will, consider a more thoughtful and advanced version of this argument: The Prophet Muhammad was a military leader and conqueror, a militant posture that shapes Islam to this day. The Grand Ayatollah was telling the truth when he said “Islam is politics or it is nothing.” Osama bin Laden’s fatwa against America was totally consistent with the texts and spirit of early Islam. Today’s millions upon millions of non-violent Muslims could reasonably be described as lax Muslims.

It’s easy enough to dismiss that argument as bigoted, too, and to note that it fails to recognize the very real variety within Islam. At the same time, we should recognize that our culture entertains similarly structured arguments against more familiar religions.

People argue that Christianity is inherently sexist. Or that Catholicism’s view of authority makes it resistant to civil law. We see and sometimes nurture the same preening, vandal spirit of the “Draw Muhammad day” when we call a condom-portrait of Pope Benedict art. Some of the right-wing criticisms of Islam or the customs of immigrants from Islamic countries can have a distinctively secularist flavor, for instance, their fear about the spread of female genital mutilation. It’s possible that the discomfort some progressives have with criticizing Islam itself forcefully would disappear if Muslims seemed like a less vulnerable minority than they are. How do we get there?

Some say that today’s anxiety around Muslim immigration is as irrational as previous fears about integrating immigrant Catholics in American life. That’s too glib. While even the highest authorities in Catholicism of the 19th century did occasionally declare itself hostile to liberal society, the truth is that liberalism itself was shaped by its Christian inheritance. Islam’s tensions with the West run much deeper than Catholicism’s tensions with America ever did. Islam differs in important ways from Judaism and Christianity. There is Islam’s emphasis on jurisprudence over theology. And Islam’s form of triumphalism, which has more difficulty reconciling itself to a world in which Islamic ideas are marginal.

But Western Christians or secular people should not presume to tell Muslims that true Islam is violent. It is easy to find quietist strains of Islam that impress with their piety and devotion to the texts that are at the heart of Islam. A number of scholars and Islamic commentators, from Muhammad Abduh to Fazlur Rahman, have preached an Islam that is in creative tension with the West, rather than outright conflict.

Besides, America’s liberal bargain, more than Europe’s, is capacious and could accommodate a variety of expressions of Islam, just as it accommodates a variety of other religions, some of which build communities that strike us as illiberal. The challenges this represents may be truly awkward, but they are nonetheless necessary.

Consider the community of Samtar Hasidic Jews at Kiryas Joel in Monroe, New York, which has historically fallen within my own Congressional district. This community of Jews sees huge increases of its population because of its incredible fertility rate and welcome attitude to its own co-religionists. Nearly 90 percent of the community speaks Yiddish at home. Nearly half cannot speak English competently. It is widely reported that religious authorities in Kiryas Joel can swing the vote of the town and with their vote, the divided Congressional district in which it sits. Kiryas Joel’s residents have an awkward and sometimes legally combative relationship with their Monroe neighbors over planning and development.

There in Kiryas Joel is much of what people claim to fear about Islamic integration, a separate, “unmeltable” group, one that keeps to its own language and folkways. And yet Kiryas Joel’s peaceful existence with its neighbors is a testament not only to that community’s genius, but the genius of America as well. There is simply no pressing reason for New York to tear up its very generous legal settlement to assimilate Kiryas Joel on its own terms.

Similarly, there is no inherent reason for America to tear up its legal settlement in response to Islam itself. There may be good reasons to limit immigration from Muslim nations. I believe there are. But they are not substantively very different from reasons to limit immigration from any or all nations.

And finally, if the anti-Muslim chauvinists really cannot handle any of the above arguments, the final argument for finding a way to better integrate Muslims should be to prove the superiority of the West itself. Christians, Jews, and other religious minorities have existed within Islamic civilization for over a millennia, not without incident, and not without awkward or painful compromises. If the West is better and stronger than Islamic civilization, it should be able to tolerate religious minorities better than Islamic civilization, too.

 

By: Michael Brendan Dougherty, The Week, December 10, 2015

December 12, 2015 Posted by | Islam, Muslims, Western Civilization | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Martyrs To Marriage Equality”: The Famous Bakers And Florists Of Conscience

The thing that really amazes me about much of the conservative reaction to Obergefell v. Hodges, and indeed much of the religion-based complaints over LGBT rights generally, is the sense of personal grievence. I mean, on the one hand you’ve had people who’ve been persecuted, bullied, denied equal rights for ages, finally getting the right to do something the rest of us take for granted, and on the other hand you have people who are offended by them. This helps explain the hilarious fixation among conservatives about identifying the fifteen people in America who might be so homophobic that their “religious views” come into direct conflict with anti-discrimination laws–you know, the famous Bakers and Florists of Conscience. Agitating the air to make this extremely marginal “grievance” into something tangible, and then inflating it wildly with all sorts of specious slippery-slope arguments that next thing we know the Catholic Church will be forced to make gay sex a sacrament, has pretty much been the sum and substance of the “religious liberty” backlash.

And so today we find all too many Christian conservatives unable to feel empathy towards people expressing joy at their now-established ability to get married, and instead making themselves out as martyrs, to the everlasting embarrassment, I am quite sure, of the actual Christian Martyrs of the Ages who suffered harm to more than their sensitivities or prejudices.

I was driven to write this today not by Bobby Jindal or Mike Huckabee or the other pols trying to put themselves at the head of a pathetic parade of outrage, but by a post at the Federalist by “international pro-family” advocate John-Henry Westen warning of the totalitarian repression about to hit Christians, as evidenced by his experience with what had happened in Canada and Europe.

And of what is this wave of repression composed? Basically lawsuits, most of them withdrawn.

As anyone who has been to law school can tell you, there is no place short of Utopia without constant, frequent lawsuits, some serious, some frivolous. Neighbors battle in court against neighbors for decades over ridiculously small boundary disputes; disgrunted employees and employers carry their disagreements into courts every day; divorcing and ex-spouses ruin themselves and each other in the fight for the last word almost as often as they don’t. If, as several of the examples offered by Western suggest, he thinks the Roman Catholic Church is going to be nailed to a cross of LGBT litigation, I would suggest there’s another source of lawsuits that is rather obviously a bigger threat.

Westen does have an alternative argument against legalized same-sex marriage that’s not about the terrible martyrdom that awaits any dissenter against the Rainbow Fascist State. In a reductio ad absurdum of the hate the sin, love the sinner chestnut, he argues love for gay people compels not letting them get married:

[B]ecause same-sex relationships hurt everyone involved, marriage supporters have a duty to oppose inverted relationships out of love and compassion.

Despite being perhaps 4 percent of the U.S. population, the LGBT community sees devastating levels of HIV/AIDS, depression, anal cancer, suicide, shorter lifespans, and other ailments. Again, it is up to Christians, and especially our pastors, to energize society with the beautiful love of our faith. We never should have given up talking about sex [sic!], and we must start doing so anew.

As former Canadian LGBT leader Gens Hellquist said in 2006, “I am tired of watching my community die” of diseases endemic to the LGBT community. A Catholic with a master’s degree in psychology who visited a ward for HIV/AIDS patients in India, he saw it was clear that only monogamous, marital relationships are healthy for human beings.

So there you have it: we need to prevent people from getting married so as to force them into “monogamous, marital relationships.”

That’s the second biggest howler in Westen’s piece (or maybe the third, after the claim that conservative Christians don’t talk enough about sex!). The biggest is in the headline: “Same-Sex Marriage Won’t Bring Us Peace.” Nor will it bring us 4% GDP growth or a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The idea is to bring us justice. But on second thought, there is a connection, or so thought Pope Paul VI, who famously said: “If you want peace, work for justice.”

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Editor, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, June 26, 2015

June 27, 2015 Posted by | Homophobia, Marriage Equality, Obergefell v Hodges | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Jindal Checks The Falwell Box”: In A Desperate Search For A “Base”

I don’t know how I missed the fact that Bobby Jindal was doing the commencement address at Liberty University on Saturday. Perhaps the Lord wanted me to have a peaceful weekend and not think about the Louisiana governor up there in Lynchburg pandering his heart out and checking the Falwell box in his desperate search for a “base” from which to run for president in 2016. Most of his remarks sound about as generic as you can get, in the Times-Pic‘s account of it:

“Today the American people, whether they know it or not, are mired in a silent war. … It is a war — a silent war — against religious liberty,” said Jindal, who spent much of the speech attacking President Barack Obama and the federal government.

This is the same rap he delivered at the Ronald Reagan Library back in February, and the only real enhancement is that he’s lucked into having an actual constituent, Duck Dynasty‘s Phil Robertson, he can tout as the latest “victim” of politically-correct hordes of Jesus-hating sodomites. And so he has made his Christian Right persona the last of many reinventions he has pursued in his career, one that has the advantage of not relying on his record in Louisiana, where at the end of next year he’s leaving office after two full terms as governor not terribly popular with people in either party.

Indeed, he leaped effortlessly from talking about Phil Robertson to talking about Liberty’s pop-culture martyrs:

“You may think that I was defending the Robertsons simply because I am the Governor of their home state, the great state of Louisiana. You would be wrong about that. I defended them because they have every right to speak their minds,” Jindal said.

The governor then went on to say he supports David and Jason Benham, Liberty University graduates who recently lost an opportunity to have their own television show on HGTV after making controversial remarks about homosexuality and abortion.

So what distinguishes Bobby from all the other conservative pols making the holy pilgrimage to Lynchburg to offer themselves as field marshals in the spiritual warfare against godless secularists? Well, he’s got his conversion experience from Hinduism to Christianity, which he talked a lot about at Liberty, and will talk about in the future, so shameless and ruthless is his exploitation of anything in his own life that will help his candidacy. Trouble is, Bobby converted to Catholicism, not to the conservative evangelical Christianity of Jerry Falwell. I supposed he could have told the audience at Liberty this was a youthful indiscretion based on the likelihood that he would someday seek his fortune in Catholic-heavy Louisiana. But instead he’s describing himself as an “evangelical Catholic,” which is code for “don’t mind the transubstantiation and don’t listen to the current Pope, I’m as politicized as you are!”

Jindal by all accounts got a warm welcome from a national conservative evangelical audience at Liberty, and from a separate and more select group of Christian Right leaders at a private dinner over the weekend. But you have to wonder if he’s more of a novelty and a mascot for them, someone to warm up crowds with stories of hiding in the closet to read the Bible so his idol-worshiping parents couldn’t punish him, before the real presidential candidates speak. At this point, though, if that’s the role Bobby Jindal has to play to keep getting invited to do “major speeches,” that’s fine with him. Anywhere he goes will be more congenial territory than Baton Rouge.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, May 13, 2014

May 14, 2014 Posted by | Bobby Jindal, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Theological-Political Vision Lies In Tatters”: Catholicism, George W. Bush, And The Cluelessness Of The Religious Right

Once upon a time, the religious right’s leading intellectuals told themselves an inspiring story. It went something like this: From the time of the Puritans all the way down to the early 1970s, American public life was decisively shaped by the moral and spiritual witness of the Protestant Mainline’s leading churches: The Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Methodists, Baptists, and Episcopalians.

But then the Great Collapse began, as these venerable churches sold their souls to the counterculture, abandoned the moral and religious tenets of historical Christianity, embraced a series of increasingly left-wing and anti-American causes, and saw their numbers (and then their cultural influence) plummet. Today these churches are an intellectual and demographic shell of their former selves.

This was a potentially disastrous development, depriving America of the theologically grounded public philosophy that it needs in order to thrive. But as luck — or providence — would have it, the decline of the Mainline churches set in at the precise moment when two other monumental cultural and religious developments unfolded: The rise of a politicized form of Protestant evangelicalism and a revival of intellectual and spiritual energy in the Catholic Church under Pope John Paul II. The time was ripe for evangelicals and Catholics to come together to form a successor to the Mainline churches.

The public philosophy promulgated by this new-fangled amalgam of evangelicalism and Catholicism (with the former supplying the foot soldiers and the latter providing the ideas) would be staunchly opposed to abortion and euthanasia. It would be strongly anti-communist. It would be passionately pro-capitalist. It would favor using military force to promote democracy. And it would re-describe the United States, its history, and its form of government in providential-theological terms, with the rights espoused in the nation’s founding documents declared to derive directly from medieval concepts of natural law.

Once the country (or at least a sizable majority) embraced this public philosophy — turning it into a governing philosophy — the United States would supposedly flourish as never before, protecting the unborn, unleashing economic liberty at home, defending democracy and fighting tyranny abroad, and most of all bringing the nation back to its properly Christian roots after the silly season of the 1960s.

It is exceedingly odd that Joseph Bottum has written a book — An Anxious Age: The Post-Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of America devoted to elaborating this story as if it were original to him, when in fact it is derived almost entirely from the writings of the man for whom both of us once worked: The late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus.

You see, I once edited Neuhaus’ monthly magazine First Things. When I quit to write a book denouncing the ideological project outlined above, Neuhaus brought on Bottum (then the literary editor of The Weekly Standard) as my successor. When Neuhaus died in January 2009, Bottum became editor-in-chief of the magazine. (Twenty-one months later he was summarily dismissed by its governing board for reasons that have never been publicly explained.)

Bottum, a published poet, is a gifted prose stylist. That gives a distinctive flair to his version of the story. But the story itself, in every detail, comes straight from the writings of Neuhaus and his small circle of ideological compatriots: Michael Novak, George Weigel, and Robert P. George foremost among them.

In Bottum’s hands, no less than in the essays and books in which it was originally formulated, the story has some explanatory power. The decline of the Mainline churches is indeed a significant event in recent American cultural and political history — and one that has received insufficient attention from both scholars and intellectuals. (My colleague Michael Brendan Dougherty’s thoughtful reflections on Bottum’s treatment of the topic can be read here.)

But the story also obscures far more than it clarifies. For one thing, Bottum can’t seem to figure out if the problems he identifies with post-Mainline America (including the absence of a unifying, overarching moral consensus and the subsequent rise in acrimonious conflict in our political culture) are a result of Protestant Christianity’s inability to defend itself against an aggressive form of secularism, or if, instead, what we call secularism is actually just a desiccated form of Protestantism (hence the reference to a “post-Protestant ethic” in his subtitle). Either way, Protestant Christianity is to blame for America’s problems.

Which is why Bottum (following Neuhaus and the others) turns to Catholicism for a solution.

The closest we’ve come to seeing this theological-political vision in action was in George W. Bush’s second inaugural address. You remember: It was a speech that consisted of a series of sweeping assertions about America’s God-appointed task to end “tyranny in our world.” (Bush made more than 50 references to “freedom” and “liberty” in a speech of 2,000 words.)

For Bottum, this was “the most purely philosophical address in the history of America’s inaugurations,” one that deployed “a Catholic philosophical vocabulary” rooted in natural law theory to “express a moral seriousness the nation needs.”

That’s one way to look at it.

Here’s another: The speech was a crude expression of American parochialism and pious self-congratulation — the kind of address you’d expect from someone who believed toppling Saddam Hussein was a sufficient condition for creating a functioning democracy in Iraq, and who thinks that presidential rhetoric can rise no higher than paraphrasing the lyrics to “Onward Christian Soldiers.” It was the speech of a simple-minded man leading a simple-minded administration.

The most interesting and original thing in Bottum’s book is a new-found pessimism about the practical prospects for the theological-political engagement he still favors. But I would be more impressed with this darkening mood if it grew out of a realization that great political leadership involves far more than moralistic sermonizing — and that something as partisan and sectarian as a Catholicized version of the Republican Party platform could never serve as the unifying, overarching moral vision of a pluralistic liberal democracy.

Instead, we’re left with vague, evasive statements about how “Catholicism as a system of thought proved too foreign” to play its appointed role as cheerleader for American exceptionalism.

Poor Joseph Bottum. Poor religious right.

They’re down for the count, splayed out on the mat. And they haven’t got a clue about what the hell happened.

 

By: Damon Linker, The Week, April 11, 2014

April 12, 2014 Posted by | Religion, Religious Right | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Champion Of The Poor?”: Paul Ryan’s Post-Epiphany Agenda Is Likely To Be Awfully Similar To His Pre-Epiphany Agenda

Just last month, the Washington Post ran a surprisingly uncritical, front-page article on House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), celebrating the congressman for his efforts “fighting poverty and winning minds.” The gist of the piece was that the far-right congressman is entirely sincere about using conservative ideas – both economic and spiritual – to combat poverty.

BuzzFeed’s McKay Coppins is thinking along similar lines.

Until recently, Paul Ryan would have seemed like an improbable pick to lead the restoration of compassionate conservatism with a heartfelt mission to the poor. Of all the caricatures he has inspired – from heroic budget warrior to black-hearted Scrooge – “champion of the poor” has never been among them. And yet, Ryan has spent the past year quietly touring impoverished communities across the country with Woodson, while his staff digs through center-right think tank papers in search of conservative policy proposals aimed at aiding the poor. Next spring, Ryan plans to introduce a new battle plan for the war on poverty – one he hopes will launch a renewed national debate on the issue. […]

[T]hose closest to him say Ryan’s new mission is the result of a genuine spiritual epiphany – sparked, in part, by the prayer in Cleveland, and sustained by the emergence of a new pope who has lit the world on fire with bold indictments of the “culture of prosperity” and a challenge to reach out to the weak and disadvantaged.

Well, if those closest to Paul Ryan think we should see his concern for the poor as heartfelt, who am I to argue?

All kidding aside, I don’t know the congressman personally, and can’t speak to his sincerity. But ultimately, whether or not Ryan had a “genuine spiritual epiphany” doesn’t much matter – either the Wisconsinite has a policy agenda that will make a difference in the lives of those in poverty or he doesn’t.

And at least for now, he doesn’t. Though we have not yet seen the agenda Ryan intends to unveil in the spring, we’ve seen reports that his vision “relies heavily on promoting volunteerism and encouraging work through existing federal programs, including the tax code.” He’s also reportedly focused on “giving poor parents vouchers or tax credits” for private education.

In other words, Ryan’s post-epiphany agenda is likely to be awfully similar to his pre-epiphany agenda.

What’s more, we’ve also seen plenty of other policy measures from the congressman. As we talked about in November, this is the same congressman whose original budget plan was simply brutal towards families in poverty, the same congressman who supports deep cuts to food stamps, the same congressman who wants to scrap Social Security and Medicare; and the same congressman who’s balked at raising the minimum wage and extending federal unemployment benefits.

If Paul Ryan is the new model for the Republican Party’s anti-poverty crusader, struggling families should be terrified.

Jared Bernstein recently said of Ryan, “the emperor in the empty suit has no clothes,” adding:

Ryan Poverty Plan

1. Cut spending on the poor, cut taxes on the wealthy

2. Shred safety net through block granting federal programs

3. Encourage entrepreneurism, sprinkle around some vouchers and tax credits

4. ???

5. Poverty falls

If Ryan is in the midst of a personal transition from Ayn Rand to Scripture, more power to him. But I hope the political establishment, which has always taken the congressman a bit too seriously and accepted his radical vision with far too much credulity, will be duly skeptical as he slaps a fresh coat of paint on his old ideas.

Postscript: Peter Flaherty, a devout Catholic and former Romney adviser, told BuzzFeed, “What Pope Francis is doing is, instead of changing Catholicism, he’s changing the way the world views Catholicism… And I think Paul has the opportunity to do something similar for conservatism.”

Oh my.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, December 20, 2013

December 21, 2013 Posted by | Paul Ryan, Poverty | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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