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August 16, 2004

The Enemy Underneath

As a general matter, I'm inclined to agree with Nicholas von Hoffman that one ought to be suspicious of bipartisanship, "because 'bipartisan' really means a put-up job, a behind-the-scenes deal, something in which the fix is in between the two political parties," as he puts it in the New York Observer. However, any consonance is snuffed out with his closing paragraph, which is stunning in its sudden revelation of the declaration toward which all that came before seems to have been built:

Much of the [9/11] commission's writing revolves around misunderstanding Muslims or presuming to understand Muslims on the thinnest of evidence when some effort might have been spent understanding ourselves. Less attention should have been paid to Muslim "extremism," which is hardly an undiscussed topic in the United States, and more devoted to Judeo-Christian extremism. Christianity is a one-god-one-truth-and-we-Christians-own-it type of religion. Leaving aside abstruse arguments over the separation of church and state, a more immediate danger to the peace of the world is an America whose policies are controlled by the intolerant spirit which lurks in this religion and from time to time dominates the civic life of its practitioners. You don't have to be a Muslim to wonder if the highly organized Christian elements in the United States hold the levers of power and drive policy. It sticks out all over this report, which seems to neutral, agnostic eyes as a battle plan by one religion to destroy another. That's all fine and well, but when holy wars are fought, there is hell to pay.

Ah yes, those "neutral, agnostic eyes," when this species of agnosticism clearly stands, if not as atheism, then as a strong faith that everybody else is wrong and oughtn't behave as if they might be right. This is not to say that I believe von Hoffman to have assessed the global culture war correctly. In fact, I'd suggest that his adherence to the dogma asserting Christian intolerance (while Islam is merely misunderstood) taints his analysis.

Chillingly, a correspondent happened to bring von Hoffman to my attention shortly after I'd come across Barbara Nicolosi's comments after researching for a screenplay about the Spanish Civil War:

The divisions in Spain which set up the war were very complex, but the real crux came down to secularism vs. Christianity. Fueled from the social Darwinism of the universities, the intellectuals in Spain went around for a few decades before the war insisting that religion was anti-modern and an enemy of progress. For many of these folks, "Christian" became a hated adjective, synonymous with ignorant. The greatest fury was directed against the moral authority of the Church. How dare the Church constrain anyone in any way with the outrageous suggestion that some things are good and other things are evil?!

In the elections of 1931, the secular side finally obtained some power, and within days, a disgusting and violent attack on the Church was unleashed. Over 100 churches were burned and gutted. Mobs desecrated cemeteries, convents, seminaries and religious schools. Priests, nuns, and anybody displaying religious devotion were assaulted.

Then, the laws started coming. A call was made for "complete separation of Church and State"...which, on the lips of secularists always means stomping all over the citizenship rights of religious people. The Church was forbidden to operate educational institutions. Church property that was not directly connected to the maintenance of the members of a religious institute was confiscated. No fault divorce was legalized. All cemeteries were secularized. (What is it with Spain and cemeteries? So much of the rage of the secularists was directed at cemeteries. They really got off on exhuming dead nuns and priests and desecrating the bodies. Something in the air maybe? Somebody help me...). There was other stuff too, like suppressing the Jesuits and withdrawing clerical wages.

What's next when "intolerance" becomes the marker of lessened humanity, a gap for the crowbar of restriction? I suppose defining "intolerance" is next, then defining it again, and again.

Posted by Justin Katz at August 16, 2004 6:05 PM

What kind of crazy does one have to be to actually espress concern about the "intolerant spirit" which lurks in Christianity when (1) the dignity of the individual and the rule of law are recognized most consistently where Christianity has been most influential, (2) the dignity of the individual and the rule of law are most consistently ignored where Islam has been most influential, (3) most acts of terrorism in the world today are committed by Muslims, usually praised by other Muslims, and seldom condemned by other Musliams, and (4) terrorism by Christians is almost unheard of, and violence by Christians is usually condemned by most other Christians?

Posted by: ELC at August 17, 2004 10:02 AM

You have to be a secularist, who sees religious faith as something completely irrational. To a secularist, it doesn't matter which faith you subscribe to - they're all equally irrational. To them, the fact that Islamic extremists want to kill people is a result of the irrationality of the Islamist's beliefs, not a result of the specific content of those beliefs. Thus 'extremist' Christians are just as dangerous, because they are just as irrational. And who knows what irrational people will do...

Posted by: Mike S. at August 17, 2004 11:42 AM

Ha! Good point. Yes, Mike, who knows what we irrational people will do! Unless, of course, the would-be analyst happens to stumble across the thousands of years of tradition and documents explaining exactly what we will do. (Or try to do, anyway.)

This is in marked contrast to those steady-as-she-goes folks who reinvent reality with each unfolding moment.

Posted by: Justin Katz at August 17, 2004 11:47 AM
First, the primary tenet of ideological secularism is that the ultimate good for man consists in something obtainable in this life. From this it follows that all doctrinal differences among religions are trivial; what counts is that they all challenge secularism by holding that the good for man is not, at least not fully, obtainable in this life. Second, ideological secularism is compatible with a certain kind of participation in organized religion. Thus some secular people attend church services because they think such attendance serves some cultural or moral purpose relevant to their secular vision of the good for man in this life.

This quote is from the Correspondence section of First Things, in a discussion about a Third Circuit Court decision regarding peremptory challenges based upon religion (which I coincidentally just stumbled upon). The Court is exhibiting the same mindset as von Hoffmann, and Miller explains it quite succinctly. Apropos of your incredulity regarding the level of ignorance about stem cells, Justin, I am continually amazed at how ignorant critics of religious belief are about that which they criticize...

Posted by: Mike S. at August 17, 2004 3:44 PM