I don't usually voice my disapproval of President Obama too much or too loudly. But in this case, I believe I have no choice. Here is a recent editorial about why I think his rhetoric about religion is dangerous.
Daniel, Thanks so much for your kind words. I think you are right that the President resists calling ISIS a religious organization because he wants to prevent xenophobia. But I think his approach will unwittingly promote xenophobia nonetheless. For the longest time, I heard that Hitler and the Nazis were atheists. But where did this idea come from? Never, not once does Hitler or the Nazi Party claim to be atheist. And yet, they got dubbed atheists nonetheless. My belief is that the historical development went something like this: Many people said that Hitler and the Nazis could not be true believers because of their horrific deeds. Therefore, they concluded, they must have been atheists. I think President Obama's refusal to call ISIS what it believes itself to be could have the same effect--people in the future will say that ISIS could not be a religious group because of the horrific nature of their deeds. Therefore, they must be atheists.
My intention is not to smear all believers. It is, rather, to prevent atheists for getting the blame for the misdeeds of religious groups.
Interesting and well-stated opinion piece, Michael. Thank you for sharing it. I especially like the way you succinctly put a couple of points:
First, there are many versions of religion, some tolerant and humane, some not. To presume to know which is the true religion is a supreme act of arrogance. Second, for the longest time, scholars could not understand the degree to which religion motivated the Nazis, because so many people glibly assumed that the Nazis could not be Christians because of their horrific deeds. We are in danger of making the same mistake with ISIS, which would prevent us from getting an accurate perspective of the group.
In his amazing book Coming to Our Senses, Morris Berman argues that the methods employed by the Catholic Church in conducting the Inquisition in essence provided a template for Hitler's methods in pursuing the goals of Nazism. To your point, I've encountered countless times on the Internet claims by religionists of various stripes that the Inquisition can't be blamed on Christianity because the Catholics "aren't real Christians." As much as I despise the RCC, this is one point where I feel compelled to come to their defense (albeit in a very limited and uncomplimentary way). Yes, they cherry picked the so-called documentation and arbitrarily re-shaped the religion after their self-interest as a political organization of almost unfathomable secular power. But that's pretty much a definition of how any religion is created. Trying to weasel off the hook by claiming the atrocities perpetrated by the Catholic Church weren't committed in the name of "true Christianity" is about as sound logically as committing murder to express one's "pro-life" beliefs.
I don't see how any even remotely reasonable person could deny that "To presume to know which is the true religion is a supreme act of arrogance" without a very generous measure of disingenuousness. You very nicely illustrated what a cheap trick it is to deny the involvement of religiosity whenever confronted with undeniable evil.
Dear Bertold, Thanks so much for your comment. Like yourself, I have been amazed to see how religious groups strategically use rhetoric in order to avoid taking responsibility for deeds done in the name of the faith. It is such a dishonest form of sanitizing their system of belief, and, in my estimation, it makes it impossible for many to have lucid moments of critical self-examination.
Sadly, it seems as though President Obama has fallen victim to the whole politically correct school of thought as regards islam, probably with the intention of not offending anyone. Not only is he failing in this effort (PC offends ME, pretty much without exception!), he is equally mistaken in attempting to cast ISIS as something other than an islam-based organization. I mean, any outfit whose goal is to establish a particularly rigid and draconian version of islam on a population and rule it based on shariah law ... well, gee, that sorta just screams Allah and Mohammed and their favorite club, doesn't it?
I don't know how we convince those of a supposedly liberal stripe that pussyfooting around religion is counterproductive, but it needs doing.
I don't disagree that ISIS is an Islamic Terrorist organization. And, I can freely say that all I want without fear of repercussions on an international stage. I'm not the President of the US, or any other nation for that matter.
However, I'm wondering how one gets Lebanon, Jordan, and other Islamic nations on board in the fight against ISIS by openly criticizing their nations' primary religion. It's easy for citizens to acknowledge the reality of the situation. And, it's very easy for hypocrite politicians who "loves them some Jesus" to criticize the President by pandering to their base, all the while dishonestly claiming Christianity is above reproach.
I'm not a professional diplomat who's job it is to form coalitions. I'm guessing, however, that rule #1 is not to openly insult the people you want to make your allies.
Sadly, Rule No. 1 is probably: "Thou Shalt Shamelessly Brown-Nose Those You Wish to Co-opt to Your Purposes" ... especially if they have oil and you don't. At least that business about oil has been shifting recently, though not enough that we could blow off the Arab world without consequence. Personally, I can't wait for the day when we can tell Saudi Arabia to take a long walk off a short oil derrick.
Loren, your statement of rule #1 is probably more accurate than mine. And, telling the Saudis to pack their limitless supply of sand up their *** is certainly a worthwhile goal. However, I'm not sure we get any oil from Jordan, or Lebanon, or Turkey, who are going to have to fight ISIS on the front lines.
If it was OK for G.W. Bush, on the international stage, to refrain from painting Al Qaeda as Islamic terrorism, why have the rules changed for this President? Oh, yeah. I forgot. Silly me. He's black Kenyan born Muslim, Communist, Socialist, Nazi who hates 'Murica and Jeebus.
I agree with that Loren. Saudi Arabia regularly and officially beheads people for things like "sorcery", or for just opposing the government, yet they're the US's 2nd bestest buddy in the region. Israel, our very best buddy, practices apartheid and actively tries to keep the Middle East destabilized by manipulating US politics toward interventional wars.
Daniel's take on this is very good and noteworthy. It follows that Obama is wanting his replies to be politically correct. That just doesn't work, but it does avoid labels that would lean towards a religious war.
Keep in mind that Christianity and Islam come from the same pot and branched apart many centuries ago. Many will say of certain actions "that is not a true believer" whether Christian or Muslim. What comes next (especially in the Christian world) is that they just drop out of one group and go start another. Denominations solve it all for Christians and look at how many we have. Is it 4000?
Religion then becomes "The World According To Garp." The gullible keep thinking their version is correct.
An aside as regards the whole "No True XXXXX" business: when christians have Catholics and Protestants and the Protestants have Methodists and Lutherans and 100 different flavors of Baptists and Pentacostalists and Congregationalists ... and the muslims have Sunnis and Shi'as and Wahhabis and Salafis and who knows what all else ...
Just WHO is it that's going to have the cojones to say that they're the true bill and everyone else has it wrong, and how the hell would they ever be able to prove it to the rest???
It's not about truth; it's about rallying the tribe against the neighboring tribe. Religion may once have been about the pursuit of truth, but the scientific method took over that role, and rightly. Religion persists almost entirely as a template of tribal identity. A Southern Baptist is only slightly less different from a Catholic or a Mormon than they are from a Wahhabist. And those preaching the differences are those who most precisely follow their religions instituted primarily to pit their tribe against "the other".
We see "interfaith" efforts, and that's not at root a bad thing. Peace is better than conflict. But such efforts leave in place the failed notion that faith is a reliable epistemology. If you can go away from a conference saying, "I will not kill an infidel today" that's a plus. But if you still believe that Armageddon is destined and that only your tribe will come out on top, then we still have a problem that requires transcendence of religion and even our built-in tribalism to resolve.
The problem is that the concept of "faith", which could be defined as pretending to know what you don't, as reliable epistemology is inherently flawed. ISIS, or whatever you want to call them, has not strayed from Islamic apocalyptic theology, just as many Christians adhere to the very similar Christian version, usually less violently. It's similar because it came from the same iron age book, and was just altered a little to suit the desired outcome of different sects. Those who preach Christian Armageddon are the same ones who sponsor the National Prayer Breakfast which no US President dare shun. They're the ones who whispered in G.W. Bush's ear that he was "chosen by God" to play out the "Gog-Magog" role in invading Iraq, killing millions and destabilized the entire region. This tilled the soil from which ISIS grew.