The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States allows freedom of religion, yet even those who are the most unabashedly religious are capable of openly expressing religious intolerance.
I don’t seek to excuse religious intolerance practiced by some from the political left, but since I’m on the political right, I’m more sensitive to broad-brush criticisms of the political right being dominated by narrow-minded Bible-thumpers. Personally, I don’t think that belief in the Bible makes me or anyone else narrow-minded. I think the perception of narrow-mindedness more likely springs from politically active religious persons who publicly demonize other religious persuasions.
You already know the prime example of what I’m talking about even before I say it, don’t you? In case you don’t, Exhibit A would have to be Christian conservatives that demonize the Muslim religion. A common refrain is that our nation was founded upon Judeo-Christian values. I know that the nation’s founders were religious, and I know that their sense of morals and ethics are the bedrock from which they conceived the framework for our laws and Constitution, but must we frame the nation’s history in such a way as to be exclusionary toward religions that aren’t identified as Jewish or Christian?
I’ve attended services of a number of Christian denominations in my lifetime. I’ve heard some preachers from the pulpit say that the Muslim religion is the religion of the devil. Oh, really? Those preachers seriously can’t tell the difference between the Muslim religion and Satan-worship? I cannot fathom how anyone can possibly confuse the two, but, apparently, there are those who do. Granted that Muslims don’t teach that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, but they do believe he was a prophet, and some of his precepts are expressed within the Qu’ran. If the 10 Commandments revealed to Moses are among the foundations of the legal system of our so-called Judeo-Christian nation, why do Christian conservatives widely ignore the fact that the Muslim religion also incorporates observance of the 10 Commandments (probably observing the commandments more faithfully than many Christians do)? I ask you, does Satan-worship advocate the observance of the 10 Commandments? I don’t think so. Therefore, I submit that the Muslim religion is not the religion of the devil.
I acknowledge that there are terrorists who have used perversions of the Muslim religion in attempts to seize political power by any means they can devise, but I’ve never known any of these terrorists personally. I’ve known many Muslims personally during my lifetime, especially during the time I lived, studied, and worked in Columbus. I met a few who didn’t adhere closely to the Muslim faith, and I met many who did adhere closely to the Muslim faith. Of the latter group, I see no reason why they wouldn’t fit in with the political right. They believe in accountability, socially conservative values, and a high standard of ethics. If they identify themselves as Democrats, it’s only because Republicans have pushed them away, not because they aren’t conservative.
Another criticism I’ve heard is that Muslims are Marxists. Excuse me, but the Muslim religion pre-dates Marxism by a few centuries. That should tell you that Marxism is only very recently making headway within the realm of Muslim philosophy. Those seeking to advance Marxism within the Muslim sphere are, like the terrorists I noted above, seeking to seize power through perverting the religion. It’s difficult to seize power when the populace is economically empowered by capitalism, so Marxism is a ploy by an unscrupulous minority to weaken the clout of the people. I think it’s important to make these distinctions.
Another argument I’ve heard from Christian conservatives is that Muslims are intolerant of other religions. What examples are Christian conservatives setting for religious tolerance? If Muslims are unaccustomed to religious tolerance prior to settling in our country, shouldn’t they notice a night-and-day difference once they arrive here, in a land of religious freedom? Who are they to look to for an example of a religious people who practice religious tolerance? Who can they pattern themselves after? Ideally, they should be able to pattern themselves after all other Americans, as we should all practice religious tolerance, but, in real life, religious intolerance is pervasive.
Let’s move from Exhibit A to Exhibit B. Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck are annoying me with their diatribes against black liberation theology. Again, an outcry against Marxism is used in the rationale against it. Last year, I said attacking Obama by parading Reverend Wright in front of the voters was the wrong thing to do. I haven’t changed my mind. It’s a mistake to portray Reverend Wright as the poster boy for how black liberation theology is promulgated in most predominantly African-American churches. There is a great diversity of teachings among the ministers of predominantly African-American churches, just as there are a wide array of Christian denominations to be found within African-American communities. Reverend Wright is just one preacher among the thousands that are out there. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, I don’t fear liberation theology. I’ve attended the Sunday services of predominantly African-American churches in places such as Columbus, Oberlin, Elyria, Lorain, Toledo, Cincinnati, rural Mississippi, Detroit, and Chicago. I’ve met clones of Reverend Wright in exactly zero of those churches. Does that mean they aren’t preaching liberation theology? No. They teach many elements of liberation theology, but the principles they advance the most have to do with . . . liberation! (gasp! imagine that!) Empowerment! Self-reliance! Individual responsibility! Also, there is a strong sense of community within liberation theology, but the word community is not to be confused with the word commune or communism. Conservatives talk of community when they talk of local government that’s closer to the people than state or national governments. Should that be construed as code for communism? Of course not. And what about the concept of cooperative economics within the philosophy of liberation theology? Is that code for communism? Hmm . . . in the health care debate, conservatives were pushing a co-op as an alternative to a government-provided insurance option. I don’t think co-op is a code word for communism in that sense, nor do I think it’s code in the sense that’s taught from pulpits. Even if the originators of the liberation theology philosophy purposely sought to promote Marxism, that’s not how it’s been preached from the pulpit in the many services I’ve attended. Application doesn’t necessarily match theory. No preacher that I’ve heard ever extolled the virtues of dependency, whether government-sponsored dependency, or otherwise. If you don’t choose to attend a predominantly African-American church on Sunday to see for yourself how liberation theology is applied, then I at least invite you to participate in a Kwanzaa observance at the end of the year. Kwanzaa is not religious, per se, but a philosophy is presented during Kwanzaa that resembles some of the principles of liberation theology. I think you’ll find that you’d have to be overly cynical to conclude that the principles of Kwanzaa are Marxist. I’ve been somewhat surprised that more African-Americans don’t identify themselves as Republican when some of the commonly values taught from the pulpit are well-aligned with social conservatism. Then again, if we don’t call into question the portrayal of liberation theology as presented by Hannity and Beck, who may have studied up on theory, but know nothing of application, it becomes readily understandable that religious intolerance may be the most limiting factor in the GOP’s attempts to attract more African-Americans to join its ranks.
Exhibit C is the lack of unity among Christian conservatives due to animosity between denominations that have been stirred up by territorial ministers who want to make sure that they aren’t losing parishioners (and $$$) to their rivals. For a number of Christian ministers, religion is big business. A minister’s income increases with donations, and donations increase with the size of the congregation, thus ministers may play a game of “keep-away,” similar to the sport played on American playgrounds. The ball would be the parishioners. The object is to keep the parishioners coming to your own church and prevent them from ending up in rival churches. How do ministers play this game? Demonizing other denominations, chiefly. Do you remember how traditional churches treated the emergence of the charismatic movement? I remember a denomination that established roots in Bellevue (the town where I went to high school) that was among the trailblazers of the charismatic movement. Instead of a solemn pipe organ to accompany centuries-old hymns sung by a well-dressed congregation that sat still in the pews, the charismatic movement featured Christian rock bands singing new compositions as casually-clad parishioners danced along. The traditional churches of Bellevue, in an effort to play keep-away, labeled the newly-arrived charismatic denomination as a “cult.” It didn’t work, as the denomination grew rapidly, expanding their building in the process. The enmity between the denominations still exists, though. Eventually, many of the traditional churches began to offer some charismatic services of their own, revealing the weakness of their allegations that the charismatic denomination was a “cult.” Nowadays, charismatic denominations are ubiquitous, but they play keep-away, too, even cavalierly using the word “cult” against some denominations that evangelize prolifically, even though that prejudicial term was once used against their own denominations. The divisions within Christianity amplified by the rhetoric of self-serving ministers are reflected in political activity, too. Those within the GOP who decry the fragmentation of the power once wielded by Christian conservatives during the Reagan years should recognize that religious intolerance has splintered the Christian conservative bloc. We saw this played out in the 2008 GOP primaries, and it continues to play out, today. Certain candidates are rejected and others are embraced according to assessments of the denominations that candidates consider to be their church home. One group may embrace Huckabee, but reject McCain, Romney, Thompson, Giuliani, Paul, Brownback, etc., while another group may embrace Brownback, but reject Huckabee, McCain, Romney, Paul, Thompson, and Giuliani based partly on religious prejudice. As the trend continues, the Christian conservatives can’t deliver a vote for anybody. The heightened intolerance leads to heightened irrelevance.
When you hear denigration of another religion or denomination, whether from your own minister, or from Beck, or from Hannity, or any other source, I suggest that you reserve your own judgment rather than take their word for it. Notice that I didn’t call out any particular Christian denomination by name throughout this critique. There’s a reason for that.
I consider myself to be both Christian and conservative. I also believe that true freedom of religion begins with religious tolerance. With tolerance, we can become relevant within the GOP again and we can stop pushing away voters who have more in common with conservative Republicans than they have in common with liberal Democrats.