The “true Islam” delusion

  1. The True Islam delusion
  2. Christian Showdown at the Benedict Corral
  3. Cuomo clears Trump’s high bar
  4. House Freedom Caucus
  5. Not piling on
  6. Eliminate dissent!
  7. Iconic conversions

1

It’s Great and Holy Friday as I write. In today’s world, that means we can expect some Islamic terrorism against Christians within the next 48 hours, along the lines of Palm Sunday’s terrorist murder of Coptic Christians.

Nevertheless, this one simply must get top billing:

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had the following conversation: I’ll have just finished speaking to a church or a conference about the vital importance of American religious liberty, and some well-meaning, well-informed questioner will ask earnestly if all my words apply to Islam in the same way they do to Judaism or Christianity. When I say yes, the response is immediate. “But isn’t Islam mainly a political system?” they’ll ask. “Doesn’t Sharia law violate the Constitution?”

Let’s be clear about what’s happening here: Non-Muslims have examined an immense and complicated religious community that is even now in the middle of theological and (in many parts of the world) literal civil war, they’ve decided which of the religion’s competing strains is “true Islam,” and they’ve lumped every single Muslim into that single category. Or, at least, they’ve determined that there is sufficient risk that any given Muslim falls into that category to justify curtailing the rights of all Muslims. It should be obvious that this line of reasoning could have catastrophic consequences for the protection of religious liberty more broadly. Imagine applying it to any other American religious community. Shall we have Ruth Bader Ginsburg define “true Christianity” and then use that definition to limit the rights of all Christians? Moreover, let’s assume for the moment that critics are right, and “true” Islam as practiced is indeed inextricably intertwined with political ideas and goals. Here’s a news flash: Both religious and political activities are protected by the First Amendment. Calling Islam “political” is no more an argument against the First Amendment protections enjoyed by Muslims than calling a church a “club” or a “civic organization” would be an argument against the First Amendment protections enjoyed by Christians. The First Amendment’s protections of free speech and association are, if anything, even broader (as interpreted by the Supreme Court) than its protections of the free exercise of religion.

(David French, Some Arguments for Muslim Religious Liberty Are More Compelling than OthersSome Arguments for Muslim Religious Liberty Are More Compelling than Others, emphasis added)

I have made the point before that Islam is not homogenous. I think I’ve made the point that North American Christians, who can’t even agree on what is true Christianity, are singularly ill-equipped to say that “violent jihad” or “religion of peace” is “true Islam.”

So much for the lousy arguments for denying Muslims religious freedom. For the lousy arguments in their favor, go read the whole French article.

2

R.R. Reno has published a friendly but critical review of The Benedict Option. Rod Dreher pushes back — again, in friendly manner.

They provide a nice illustration of a Christian division Patrick Deneen earlier commented on — not between “liberals” and “conservatives,” but between those Christians who believe there is no fundamental contradiction between liberal democracy and Christianity and those who believe that there is a fundamental contradiction.

I have changed Deneen’s “Catholic” to “Christian” as I believe this division transcends traditions, and specifically suggest that Catholic Reno is in the first camp, Orthodox Dreher in the second.

If you find startling the suggestion that liberal democracy and Christianity may not be compatible, here’s the succinct argument, courtesy Deneen:

[L]iberalism cannot be understood to be merely neutral and ultimately tolerant toward (and even potentially benefitting from) Catholicism. Rather, liberalism is premised on a contrary view of human nature (and even a competing theology) to Catholicism. Liberalism holds that human beings are essentially separate, sovereign selves who will cooperate based upon grounds of utility. According to this view, liberalism is not a “shell” philosophy that allows a thousand flowers to bloom. Rather, liberalism is constituted by a substantive set of philosophical commitments that are deeply contrary to the basic beliefs of Catholicism, among which (Catholics hold) are the belief that we are by nature relational, social and political creatures; that social units like the family, community and Church are “natural,” not merely the result of individuals contracting temporary arrangements; that liberty is not a condition in which we experience the absence of constraint, but the exercise of self-limitation; and that both the “social” realm and the economic realm must be governed by a thick set of moral norms, above all, self-limitation and virtue.

3

Donald Trump sets the bar very high, but the award for the worst public policy idea of the year goes to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

(David Brooks, who proceeds to eviscerate Cuomo’s “free college” stunt) Brooks’ column is close to a “must read,” covering problems that I hadn’t imagined. His justifiable conclusion:

This is a really counterproductive law. We’re all focused on Trump, but one of the reasons Trump was elected was that many of the people who try to use government to do good just haven’t thought things through.

4

Although just a little over two years old, the [House Freedom Caucus] signals a revival of congressional resistance to the dangerous waxing of executive power under presidents of both parties …

Among the never-more-than 537 people who are in Washington because they won elections, none are more threatening to tranquility than the few who are not desperate to be here. They do not respond to the usual incentives for maintaining discipline.

In last month’s dispute about Speaker Paul D. Ryan’s health-care bill, the president thought it was wise to tweet a demand that the House Freedom Caucus “get on the team.” And for Stephen K. Bannon to summon caucus members to reportedly be instructed by him that “this is not a discussion. This is not a debate. You have no choice but to vote for this bill.” And for the White House director of social media — your tax dollars at work — to tweet that a HFC member, Michigan’s Justin Amash, “is a big liability” who should be defeated in a primary.

Franklin D. Roosevelt became angry when some conservative Southern Democrats helped to defeat his plan to break the Supreme Court to his saddle by enlarging it and filling the new seats with compliant liberals. He recruited and supported primary opponents against the offending Democrats.

All survived. One of them, Georgia’s Sen. Walter George, told that FDR was “his own worst enemy,” replied: “Not as long as I’m alive.”

(George Will, What the Freedom Caucus Stands For)

5

My late friend Bill Safire, the tough and joyous New York Times columnist, once gave me good advice. I was not then a newspaper columnist, but he’d apparently decided I would be. This is what he said: Never join a pile-on, always hit ’em when they’re up. Don’t criticize the person who’s already being attacked. What’s the fun in that, where’s the valor? Hit them when they’re flying high and it takes some guts.

(Peggy Noonan, preparing to defend the embattled Steve Bannon)

This anecdote, by the way, in apt in the HFC context:

When [Bannon] tried to muscle members of the Freedom Caucus to vote for the ObamaCare replacement bill, a congressman blandly replied, “You know, the last time someone ordered me to do something I was 18 years old, and it was my daddy, and I didn’t listen to him, either.”

6

This Eliminate Hate campaign is really about eliminating dissent. It’s an attempt to no-platform anyone who doesn’t agree with them on gay rights, and/or who has the gall to defend themselves in court …

I have talked to multiple Christian lawyers … who have told me stories about fellow lawyers — even prominent ones — losing their jobs at their firms simply for defending Christian clients in court in gay rights cases. Losing their jobs — this, because corporate clients deserted their firms rather than be associated with lawyers who defend Christian conservatives.

(Rod Dreher)

7

Not since Jaroslav Pelikan has North American Orthodoxy seen such a, well, iconic convert as the “Bible Answer Man,” Hank Hanegraaf.

Pelikan was iconic because he was a renowned scholar of the history of Christianity who presumably saw the truth in Orthodoxy’s claim to be the continuation of the early church. Hanegraf is iconic because of his stature as a knowledgeable Evangelical Protestant broadcaster with a particular background of battling pseudo-Christian cults, including Word of Faith and the charismatic “Toronto blessing,” who ought to enjoy some street cred on discerning genuine and counterfeit.

I started to write a full, freestanding blog on the significance of Hanegraaf’s conversion, but the truth is I know too little about him, and it seems excessive to fawn over him as, for instance, evangelicals fawned over Eldridge Cleaver (to their quick and sustained chagrin) and Orthodox over Frank Schaeffer (whose inner rage has been his most enduring trait — stronger than any Christian conviction).

The questions rattling around in my head now are “can the Bible Answer Man broadcast endure?” and “if CRI has a Board of Directors, will they show him the door?” Babylon Bee already is on the case.

UPDATE: Here’s the sort of questions that is being raised in the Reformed and Evangelical worlds. I wasn’t about to listen to a two-hour program hashing over questions that mostly are based on a false premise, but “can an Eastern Orthodox believer function as the Bible Answer Man?” bodes to become a big deal question in American Folk Religion.

* * * * *

“Liberal education is concerned with the souls of men, and therefore has little or no use for machines … [it] consists in learning to listen to still and small voices and therefore in becoming deaf to loudspeakers.” (Leo Strauss)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.