On Faith: GOP’s Islam Debate

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  February 25, 2011 — 43 Comments

My latest response at the Washington Post’s On Faith site is now up.

Here’s this week’s panel question:

Former Arkansas governor and 2012 presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee found himself in hot water this week after he called Islam the “antithesis of the gospel of Christ” and said that churches that share worship space with Muslims are caving to a religion “that says that Jesus Christ and all the people that follow him are a bunch of infidels who should be essentially obliterated.”

In an analysis of how Islam may shape campaign politics, Politico’s Bryon Tau wrote: “As Republican candidates define their national security stands in the 2012 elections, conservative discomfort with Islam in America will be a feature of the debate.”

Should Islam be debated on the campaign trail? Are religious issues in danger of being exploited?

Here’s an excerpt from my response:

My modest proposal: if we cannot leave religion off the stump, cannot resist hobnobbing at the pulpit, and glad-handing at the megachurch, then let us at least expand the parameters. How wonderful would it be if inherently pluralistic faith groupings like Hinduism, Buddhism, or modern Paganism were also allowed to ask questions on the same national podium that Christians now claim as their own? What if we allowed indigenous voices to ask moral questions of our prospective leaders instead of ceding that honor to the Rick Warrens of this world? If Muslims are to be so central to some political careers, to electoral futures, why not have each of these men of power sit down with a panel of Muslim leaders and academics to discuss their views? For surely, if a belief cannot withstand honest and open questioning, then it is worthless as guiding political policy.

I hope you’ll head over to the site and read my full response, and the other panelist responses, and share your thoughts.

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Jason Pitzl-Waters

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  • Pagan Puff Pieces

    I'm going to go out on a limb and preempt some of the discussion here by proposing that discussing and debating the ethics and history of Islam and presenting Islam as a bogeyman in a good vs. evil fight are different things.

    • Jennifer Parsons

      In that the latter is profitable, and the former is not.

    • http://egregores.blogspot.com/ Apuleius

      Pagan Puff Pieces: "I'm going to go out on a limb and preempt some of the discussion here by proposing that discussing and debating the ethics and history of Islam and presenting Islam as a bogeyman in a good vs. evil fight are different things."

      For the last 250 years or so there has been a very robust tradition in the West of attacking Christianity because, it has been claimed, Christianity is an ideology intrinsically opposed to human freedom, that is, it is a fundamentally evil force in human history. If one looks in particular at the writings of Enlightenment figures such as Hume, Voltaire, Paine and Gibbon one finds that they did not limit themselves to "discussing and debating the ethics and history" of Christianity, but frequently went so far as to "present" Christianity "as a bogeyman in a good vs. evil fight." Although there is one problem with that characterization. Bogeymen are not real. Christianity and Islam are.

      If one's critique of Islam is based solidly on the tradition of the Enlightenment, however, then there is no justification for making common cause with the Gingriches and the Palins, who would gladly see the West returned to Christian theocracy, and are actively promoting very concrete steps in that direction. However, there is equally no justification for making common cause with the apologists of the totalitarian ideology of Islam simply because Gingrich and Palin are on the other side.

      For Pagans it's really very painfully simply: both Christianity and Islam are our deadly enemies. Always have been. Always will be. This is not just the case for the "fundamentalists" of these religions, although it is especially true for them. But why is it that Christian and Muslim "fundamentalists" are so intolerant? It is because Christianity and Islam are themselves fundamentally intolerant.

      • HergerSeamus

        "But why is it that Christian and Muslim "fundamentalists" are so intolerant? It is because Christianity and Islam are themselves fundamentally intolerant."

        Wow. So.. true!

      • http://www.facebook.com/kenazfilan Kenaz Filan

        But why is it that Christian and Muslim "fundamentalists" are so intolerant? It is because Christianity and Islam are themselves fundamentally intolerant.

        Why is it that militant vegans and animal rights activists are so intolerant? Do you suppose that it is because veganism and animal rights are fundamentally intolerant? Or do you suppose that intolerant people tend to gravitate toward causes which allow them to act out at their strident and self-righteous best?

        Demonizing one's opponents as inherently evil has a long if not necessarily honored history: so does dismissing those who wish to humanize one's opponents as "apologists." It serves to shut down debate and recasts affairs in an easily digested Good/Evil format where negotiation is capitulation and toleration is weakness. But while this may be politically useful, it does little to promulgate coexistence or mutual understanding.

        I am hoping that current events lead to the rise of a more tolerant and liberal Islam: there's certainly plenty of precedent in Islamic history. (Compare and contrast the religious freedoms in Andalusia vs. Christian Spain, for example: also consider that for most of history a Jew in the Islamic world had far more civil rights and opportunities for advancement than a Jew in the Christian world). I realize that many Americans have a vested interest in presenting all Muslims as wild-eyed terrorists, just as many Neopagans have a vested interest in pretending that all Christians are murderous Dominionists looking to start a new Burning Times. But I do not believe that is a fair or accurate assessment of the situation in either case.

        • Don

          Apples and oranges. Veganism/ animal rights become radical through zeal, and when radicalized are still benign, but the premises for both are not altogether bad. Islam, like say Stalinism, is bad at the root.

          • http://www.facebook.com/kenazfilan Kenaz Filan

            Apples and oranges. Veganism/ animal rights become radical through zeal, and when radicalized are still benign, but the premises for both are not altogether bad. Islam, like say Stalinism, is bad at the root. .

            Some of the people who have been on the receiving end of Earth First! vandalism, or whose families have been threatened by SHAC, might disagree with your contention that these organizations "when radicalized are still benign." (And then there's that Unabomber fellow… ).

            How much knowledge do you have of Islam (or, for that matter, Stalinism) that you feel qualified to state that it is "bad at the root?" Your emotions are certainly valuable – to you at least – and you are certainly entitled to express them. But they are not nearly so convincing as historical evidence.

          • Don

            "How much knowledge do you have of Islam (or, for that matter, Stalinism) that you feel qualified to state that it is "bad at the root?"

            Wow. Did you seriously ask that? I mean, any sane person could look at a history of murder, genocide, imperial expansion, ruthless certainty and conviction all inspired by an ideology as clearly bad. These things did not just come out of thin air, but from specific ideas.

          • http://norsealchemist.blogspot.com Norse Alchemist

            Well said, a history of atrocities that arises from the root philosophy is a pretty good indicator.

          • http://norsealchemist.blogspot.com Norse Alchemist

            Yeah, they tend to do just fine even when their fighting each other

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            Nonsense, Don. Kenaz has you dead to rights.

          • Don

            Hardly.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            Kenaz rebutted your generalization about why religious extremists are extreme with a valid counter-example. Your "apples and oranges" was an evasion.

        • http://egregores.blogspot.com/ Apuleius

          Kenaz Filan: "Demonizing one's opponents as inherently evil has a long if not necessarily honored history…"

          Making excuses for for totalitarian ideologies also has a long and dishonorable history. Kenaz, surely you accept that there are such things as totalitarian ideologies, and that calling them that does not constitute demonization?

          Islam is not a mystery. It has existed for 16 centuries. It is the religion of 1.5 billion people. It is the dominant religion in a large number of societies around the world, and has been so for centuries or even longer. What is wrong with judging this very powerful ideology on the basis of well known and well documented facts?

          The facts upon which Islam should be judged are easily broken down into three broad categories, all of which readily provide a wealth of information, and all of which unambiguously condemn Islam as violent and intolerant:
          (1) The actual teachings of Islam based on the Quran, the Hadith, the traditional biographies of Muhammad, and the most widely accepted religious commentaries thereon.
          (2) The documented history of Islam.
          (3) The current situation in all societies that are the strongly influenced by Islam.

        • http://norsealchemist.blogspot.com Norse Alchemist

          I can answer that. The reason vegan and animal rights and whomever else are so intolerant, is because so much of our society has been influence by Christian intolerance that those people are incapable of believing in a world where multiple paths can coexist in peace. They are raised to believe there is One Way, their way is the Right Way, and so it shall be the Only Way, because they can beat everyone into behaving that way.

  • Khryseis_Astra

    "How wonderful would it be if inherently pluralistic faith groupings like Hinduism, Buddhism, or modern Paganism were also allowed to ask questions on the same national podium that Christians now claim as their own?"

    *Nods* Oh how I wish! Our Constitution might say that there is to be "no religious test" for office, but every election cycle we see the dominant religions blatantly ignoring that. I can barely stand to watch some of these debates, knowing that as a Pagan, most of my elected officials don't even realize I exist, much less care whether or not they might be offending me by pandering to the more popular faiths.

    Elected officials are supposed to represent all of us. Monotheists, polytheists, atheists and every variation in between. You either treat all religions equally, or you leave religion out of it, if you actually care about the 1st Amendment, anyways. Personally I prefer the latter, but if you're going to include one, you have to open it up to everyone.

    I think if we were to actually take a closer look, we'd realize that those extremist Christians are just a rather loud minority. But the squeaky wheel gets the grease, or so the saying goes, and so most politicians are easily led into thinking that they are a majority that must be appeased. In reality though, if the numbers are correct (referring to ARIS, etc.) Pagans as a group are growing just as fast (if not faster) than Islam.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Thomas-Valdez/100000652494019 Thomas Valdez

      Islam is the antithesis of the gospel? I'm offended! I though we Pagans, Wiccans, Thelemites, Satanists, Heathens, etc. were supposed to be that!

      Seriously though, nothing prompts the working suckers to vote against their best economic interests than telling then the Communist, Islamlist, Gay, Illegal Immigrant bogeyman is going to get them. Vote for them, it's for the children! Absolutely agree that these politicians are unqualified for office, since they are supposed to represent all the people, and not just those who irrationally whine about nothing. Hopefully, most Americans realize most Muslims came here to get away from the tyranny of their homelands, and will not seek to replicate those conditions here, that it is the freedom of America that brought them here to begin with.

      • Don

        It is unfortunate that because of paganism's status as a minority religion it blinds pagans to the fact that not all minority religions are the same or equal. We should not be in the busines of joining in solidarity with Muslims, Mormons, Scientologists, etc. based on the fact that we're minority religions. These religions are distortions of all that is good.

        • Baruch Dreamstalker

          If we start shrugging off oppression of religious minorities we don't agree with, our justice-seeking reflexes atrophy and we will soon be shrugging off slanders of Santeria and the like. We don't have to be in solidarity with Muslims, etc; we should be exercised in support of their secular process rights. That's a distinction that should not be lost in the fog of rhetoric from the likes of Huckabee.

          • Don

            If we are capable of making distinctions between good and bad, then "our justice-seeking reflexes" have no prospect of atrophy. There are good religions and there are bad ones. Let's defend the good ones.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            There's a difference between discernment and action. I've hung around the politically principled long enough to see discernment without action.

            "Let's defend the good ones."

            The tradition of civil liberties in this country is to defend all legal actors. When liberals drew back from this standard, such as in the Fifties, they shouldered an inheritance of shame.

          • http://norsealchemist.blogspot.com Norse Alchemist

            Baruch, are you then saying that we as Pagans/Heathens should cast aside our morals and potential best interests and side with a group simply because they are a minority religion? I'm sorry, but I'm with Don. I'm not joining hands with another religion simply because it's a minority religion. I don't care if it's Islam, Scientology, or that Aztec recon group I've heard about that wants to bring back human sacrifice and eliminate all the Europeans in what they feel is their territory. Maybe that makes me evil and intolerant, but I don't care how small a group is or what their racial make up is, if they say I have to convert to their religion, or even that my religion isn't worth the same rights and respect as theirs, I will oppose them.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            "are you then saying that we as Pagans/Heathens should cast aside our morals and potential best interests and side with a group simply because they are a minority religion?"

            I would not be casting aside my morals to support American Islam's process rights; I would be embracing them.

            And my view of my best interests as a Pagan is to curb the dominant religion when it attacks any minority religion.

          • http://quakerpagan.blogspot.com/ Cat_C_B

            Freedom only for those we agree with is theocracy with our group as the new would-be theocrats.

          • http://norsealchemist.blogspot.com Norse Alchemist

            And embracing supremacist monotheistic ideologies and allowing them to run around unchecked is precisely how Christianity got into to so much power and nearly wiped out all Pagan knowledge in the West, and how Islam succeeded in doing the same in the Middle East.

            And would someone please explain why my comment was deleted when all i did was point out the basic truth that anyone with a hint of logic and a bit of google could find out?

          • Tomb

            I'll just include this little quote in here…

            "I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stifled.
            I want all the cultures of all the lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible.
            But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any" -Mohandas Gandhi

        • http://egregores.blogspot.com/ Apuleius

          And there is really no basis for thinking of Islam as a minority religion. It is the second largest religion in the world. The Muslim "minority" in the US is made up almost exclusively of economic immigrants who have come here (not just voluntarily, but enthusiastically) to pursue opportunities that are not available in the countries where they are a majority. And they have done extremely well by coming here.

          American Muslims are not oppressed. They have as good or higher a standard of living as the average American. And hate-crime statistics show that religiously motivated violence against Muslims in the US is very rare, especially when compared to anti-Semitic violence, anti-gay violence and racist violence against African Americans.

          Somehow, Muslims became the flavor-of-the-week for knee-jerk progressives. It is a completely ridiculous alliance, considering how thoroughly reactionary Islam is.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            Islam is a minority religion in the US. Huckabee just attacked Islam. Therefore Huckabee has attacked a minority religion. These are facts; differences of opinion start with the facts and develop contrasts in how to respond.

            Apuleius, your rhetoric against progressives defending this minority ape that of Fifties arch-conservatives attacking liberals for supporting the process rights of the Communist Party. Such folks are not your friends.

    • HergerSeamus

      "You either treat all religions equally, or you leave religion out of it"

      I agree Khryseis_Astra, but unfortunately a candidate opening the discussion up to Muslims, Pagans or any other minorty religious group would be political suicide. I hope that changes soon, but what candidate is going take the first step? I guess I'm a bit of a skeptic… but, I do have hope! :)

  • http://quakerpagan.blogspot.com/ Cat_C_B

    w00t!

  • http://egregores.blogspot.com/ Apuleius

    Bill Hawke: "so… I say let 'em."

    Unfortunately, Muslims and Christians have demonstrated throughout their histories that they are perfectly capable of fighting each other (Muslims v. Christians), fighting with their own co-religionists (Muslim v Muslim & Christian v Christian), and fighting everyone else (all the non-Abrahamists), all at the same time.

    If there were a way to get them to just fight among themselves, well, then we could all just cheer them on.

    • Tomb

      People who wish for Religious Harmony while Championing Religious Violence is Fail.

  • A.C. Fisher Aldag

    Well, I guess the silver lining is that Huckabee just shot himself in the foot as a presidential contender… and ya wanna know why? There are many American Muslims who vote conservative. Surprised? It's true! Many Muslim folks here in the USA are business owners, and hence, many are Republicans. As refugees, they support strong military intervention in foreign conflicts. Well, now, they won't be voting for Huckabee.

    • chuck_cosimano

      Or he may have just locked in enough red state electoral votes to win. Never forget the words of Harry Truman when, after he recognized Israel, said, "How many Arab voters are there?"

  • Jennifer Parsons

    Bill, I think that's the opposite of the point that Jason's trying to make. If the big monotheisms make a lot of noise slugging it out for preeminence, they'll crowd others out of the conversation– effectively, they'll shout us down. And whoever's left standing will be strong enough, sitting on their victory, to turn their sights onto some other target. Who would be next? Hindus? Buddhists? Baha'is? Voudouisants? Us?

    I'm reminded of a (alleged) West African proverb: "When elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers."

  • EricSchwenke

    Jason, do you and the other panelists ever comment on each others' posts? It seems to me that without the discussion that would come from such interaction, the posts usually become "preaching to the choir."

    • Jason Pitzl-Waters

      Its been known to happen, but usually each panelist treats it like an editorial column. I try to only answer when I have something relevant to say.

    • http://egregores.blogspot.com/ Apuleius

      You gotta preach to the choir. They are part of the congregation, too, just like everyone else!

  • http://www.facebook.com/kenazfilan Kenaz Filan

    As long as the Abrahamics are busy fighting each other over who's version of the same monotheistic deity is correct, they're generally too busy to be making more martyrs out of us… so… I say let 'em.

    I disagree strongly. We should be concerned any time the government begins using minority religions as scapegoats. If they can benefit from smearing all Muslims as terrorists, what's to stop them from smearing all Pagans as anti-Americans who support promiscuity, homosexuality and legalized abortion? This kind of rhetoric should be unacceptable in a secular and pluralist society, and we should condemn those who try to profit from it — even if we have disagreements with the targeted person's theology.

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    Item (3) is rabble-rousing a majority against a minority, in the American context. It'll do for an attack for me.

  • http://norsealchemist.blogspot.com Norse Alchemist

    Ok, then will you defend the Christians in Islamic Majority countries that are being attacked in both words and deeds far worse than anything Huckabee has said? Perhaps you will place your money where your words are and defend the Coptic who are being murdered and raped in Egypt? Or perhaps those that are murdered in the other Islamic nations of the Middle East? Will you defend the Christians there? Or maybe you find the Christians distasteful and deserving. Will you defend the Hindi that are slaughtered and raped by Muslims upon the calling of there Moderate (not just extremist) religious leaders? That is certainly a Majority attaching a Minority, yet i do not see you speaking up against that.

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    Yes, I do side with the victims in all the instances you cite. One property they have in common is that they are not happening here. I get animated when bad stuff happens in the place where I hang my hat and count on the subculture of civil libertarianism to protect my own religious freedom.

  • http://norsealchemist.blogspot.com Norse Alchemist

    Sooo, because it is in say Egypt, you will feel sorry for them and say it is wrong, but do nothing, because you would rather say "My place is more important, and I would rather defend the ideology that believes in inciting such actions and carrying them out, simply because it is a "minority" where I hang my hat, and i'd much rather hit the safe target of the thrice cursed Christians."

    Because that's how you're sounding.