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The Heretic Hunters of Liberal Christianity

If Democrats are pushing conservative Christians further away from them and into the arms of the GOP — see here [1]for more on this point — then Ed Kilgore says conservative Christians are pushing liberals out of Christianity. [2] He takes as his example opinions expressed by a conservative radio talker, as well as a NASCAR driver:

And even at this year’s breakfast, the message of the “non-controversial” keynote speaker, NASCAR driver Darrell Waltrip, was a very blunt contradiction [3] of the president’s injunction to humility about religious truth:

If you don’t know Jesus as your Lord and Savior, if you don’t have a relationship [with Him], if He’s not the master of your life, if you’ve never gotten on your knees and asked Him to forgive you of your sins, [and] you’re just a pretty good guy or a pretty good gal, you’re going to go to Hell.Not much holy doubt in that mind, is there?

I find myself halfway between Waltrip and Obama. From the president’s remarks at the Prayer Breakfast: [4]

So this is not unique to one group or one religion.  There is a tendency in us, a sinful tendency that can pervert and distort our faith.  In today’s world, when hate groups have their own Twitter accounts and bigotry can fester in hidden places in cyberspace, it can be even harder to counteract such intolerance. But God compels us to try.  And in this mission, I believe there are a few principles that can guide us, particularly those of us who profess to believe.

And, first, we should start with some basic humility.  I believe that the starting point of faith is some doubt — not being so full of yourself and so confident that you are right and that God speaks only to us, and doesn’t speak to others, that God only cares about us and doesn’t care about others, that somehow we alone are in possession of the truth.

Our job is not to ask that God respond to our notion of truth — our job is to be true to Him, His word, and His commandments.  And we should assume humbly that we’re confused and don’t always know what we’re doing and we’re staggering and stumbling towards Him, and have some humility in that process.  And that means we have to speak up against those who would misuse His name to justify oppression, or violence, or hatred with that fierce certainty.  No God condones terror.  No grievance justifies the taking of innocent lives, or the oppression of those who are weaker or fewer in number.

And so, as people of faith, we are summoned to push back against those who try to distort our religion — any religion — for their own nihilistic ends.  And here at home and around the world, we will constantly reaffirm that fundamental freedom — freedom of religion — the right to practice our faith how we choose, to change our faith if we choose, to practice no faith at all if we choose, and to do so free of persecution and fear and discrimination.

I do not have the capability to peer inside the president’s soul and judge whether or not he’s a “real” Christian. If he is a Christian, he is very far from an orthodox one, but honestly, I don’t much care. He’s the commander-in-chief, not the pastor-in-chief. I would rather have an atheist president who was committed for whatever reason to protecting religious liberty and advancing policies that served the common good than a Christian president who was eager to get the nation into a war, or whose liberal Christianity made him more enemy than ally of religious liberty for Christians like me.

I think Obama was historically ignorant and politically ill-advised to bring the Crusades into the discussion, for reasons we have discussed in this space (in short, because the historical phenomenon is far too complex to be shoehorned into a neat, politically useful narrative). Nevertheless, he was certainly right to say that no religion has a monopoly on virtue or vice, and to call for all of us to be more humble and loving. What’s most interesting about his speech, though, is how he assumes that his watery, secular-ish liberal take on religion (both Christian and otherwise) is the authentic religious stance.

How do we know who is “misusing His name,” and who is being true to their faith? How do we know that faith is being “perverted and distorted”? By whose standards? When we say that “no God condones terror,” what does that mean to the jihadist who believes in all sincerity that he is not engaged in terror, but is simply being obedient to his god?

True story: A few years back, I sat across the table in a north Dallas steakhouse from a local Muslim CAIR leader who objected by my having called the teachings of Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi [5], a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, “violent.” I responded that Qaradawi taught that it was permissible for Muslim men to beat their wives, and that homosexuals should be stoned to death. “That’s violence,” I said.

He denied it. “You call it violence,” he shot back. “We call it protecting our families.”

He was sincere, and I respect that sincerity. I don’t think that Islamist at the steakhouse would say that these acts weren’t violent, strictly speaking, but rather that they were morally necessary forms of violence, in the same, or at least similar, way that a Christian like me would see dropping a daisy-cutter bomb on a nest of ISIS militants in Syria as morally necessary (if regrettable) to stop a far greater evil. The question is not whether these acts are violent; the question is whether the violence of these acts are permissible, or even prescribed by God.

“No grievance justifies the taking of innocent lives,” says the president. Well, did fighting Nazism justify the taking of innocent lives in bombing raids over Germany? “Or the oppression of those who are weaker or fewer in number,” he adds. Well, it’s hard to get fewer and weaker than fundamental Mormon polygamists; I suppose the president will be commuting Warren Jeffs’ [6]sentence. Yes?

No, of course not. The point is that in his speech, the president seems to believe that liberal humanitarianism is the same thing as normative Christianity, and indeed normative religion. By his reckoning, a religion that “justifies the taking of innocent lives” and “oppresses” the weak and the few, and whose god “condones terror,” or justifies “oppression, violence, or hatred” cannot be true religion.

This is nonsense. What is oppression? What is violence? What is hatred? Did that CAIR Islamist not have true religion because he believed that defending his family required him to endorse wife-beating and killing gays? I believe he did have true religion. I’m not saying he had “true Islam,” because I’m not in a position to say. But I believe he sincerely believes that God requires this of him. And I believe he is damnably wrong. This happy-clappy, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism of the president’s is simply not true. I think the president truly believes what he said, but what so many liberals who espouse this kind of thin-gruel civic Christianity don’t seem to realize is how perfectly their idea of religion coincides with the secular liberal worldview.

James Kurth, in a brilliant essay a few years back [7], described how what he calls “the Protestant Deformation” (Kurth is an active Presbyterian layman) has always shaped US foreign policy. He says the decline of Protestantism has worked itself out in the secular realm. Excerpt:

Stage 4: The unitarian transformation. As the focus on grace faded, so too did the focus upon the agencies of grace, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. Thus Reformed Protestantism, with its highly articulated trinitarian doctrine, turned into unitarianism, with its abstract concept of a Supreme Being or Divine Providence. Unitarianism was an actual denomination, of course, complete with its own churches, but it was also a more widely held theology and philosophy. This was the stage in the Protestant declension that some of the American political elite, including some of the Founding Fathers, had reached by the end of the 18th century. Thus the public documents of that time frequently made reference to the Supreme Being or Divine Providence and rarely to Jesus Christ or the Holy Spirit.

Stage 5: The American Creed. The fifth stage in the Protestant declension was reached when the abstract and remote God, the Supreme Being or Divine Providence, disappeared altogether. Now the various Protestant creeds were replaced by the American Creed, which reached its fullest articulation in the first half of the 20th century. The elements of the American Creed were free markets and equal opportunity, free elections and liberal democracy, constitutionalism and the rule of law. The American Creed definitely did not include as elements hierarchy, community, tradition and custom. Although the American Creed was not itself Protestant, it was clearly the product of a Protestant culture — a sort of secularized version of Protestantism as it had come down through its fourth declension.

Stage 6: Universal human rights. The sixth and final stage in the Protestant declension was reached only in the 1970s, essentially in the last two generations. Now the American Creed was replaced by the universal conception of human rights. More accurately, the elements of the American Creed were generalized into universal goods. Then in the 1990s, with the collapse of the Soviet Union and communist ideology, and with the stagnation of the German “social market” and Japanese “organized capitalism”, every familiar alternative to American economic and political conceptions seemed discredited. America had thus brought the world to “the End of History.”

This is where I come down on the side of the NASCAR driver at at the prayer breakfast I am temperamentally unlike him, and I am sure I don’t subscribe to his particular brand of Evangelical Christianity. If I had to have dinner with one of them, I would find far more to talk about with the president, I am sure.

But for all his crudeness, the race car driver understands the real stakes in religion. To paraphrase Flannery O’Connor, if there’s nothing more to it than liberals (of the right or the left) at prayer, then to hell with it. From Ralph C. Wood’s great study of O’Connor and Southern culture: [8]

O’Connor had little patience with “mass” Catholics who receive the weekly sacrament without its making any discernible difference in their lives. “The Church for them,” she wrote, “is not the body of Christ but the poor man’s insurance system.” When once asked what kind of Christian she would become if she were not a Roman Catholic, she replied, far from jestingly, that she would join a Pentecostal Holiness church. Belief for Flannery O’Connor must be radical or it is not belief at all. Faith is not another item in the laundry list of one’s loyalties: it is all or nothing at all. Thus did she confess that she was “a Catholic (not because it’s advantageous to my writing but because I was born and brought up one) and at some point in my life I realized that not only was I a Catholic but that this was all I was, that I was a Catholic not like someone else would be a Baptist or a Methodist but like someone else would be an atheist.” O’Connor had no patience for a merely polite piety. She admired Camus and Sartre and Nietzsche because they took God seriously enough to deny his reality.

By the way, if you missed Damon Linker’s great piece on Eugene O’Neill, the Catholic atheist [9], by all means read it. And speaking of Linker (who’s a friend), back in 2009 he celebrated Moralistic Therapeutic Deism [10]as the ideal civic religion of America:

Theologically speaking, this watered-down, anemic, insipid form of Judeo-Christianity is pretty repulsive. But politically speaking, it’s perfect: thoroughly anodyne, inoffensive, tolerant. And that makes it perfectly suited to serve as the civil religion of the highly differentiated twenty-first century United States.

Ross Douthat, in response, said in part [11]:

Whether you share this optimism about the “salutary” advance of moralistic therapeutic deism ultimately depends on whether you share Linker’s sense that the biggest problem facing America in the Bush years was the “siege” of secular America [12] by orthodox Christians. The more you fear the theocon menace, the more you’ll welcome the Oprahfication of Christianity – since the steady spread of a mushy, muddle-headed theology is as good a way as any of inoculating the country and its politics against, say, Richard John Neuhaus’s views on natural law.

But let’s say you think that the biggest problems facing America in the Bush years were, I dunno, the botched handling of the Iraq occupation and a massive and an unsustainable housing and financial bubble. In that case, you don’t have to look terribly hard to see a connection between the kind of self-centered, sentimental, and panglossian religion described above and the spirit of unwarranted optimism and metaphysical self-regard that animated some of Bush’s worst hours as President (his second inaugural address could have been subtitled: “Moral Therapeutic Deism Goes to War”) and some of his fellow Americans’ worst hours as homeowners and investors. In the wake of two consecutive bubble economies, it takes an inordinate fear of culture war, I think, to immerse yourself in the literature of Oprahfied religion – from nominal Christians like Joel Osteen to New Age gurus like Eckhart Tolle and Rhonda Byrne – and come away convinced that this theological turn has been “salutary” for the country overall.

Look, I think there is nothing that Obama said in his prayer breakfast speech that George W. Bush wouldn’t have said, and probably believed. My point is simply that if liberals are pushing orthodox Christians out of the Democratic Party, and Christians are pushing social liberals out of the Christian religion — both of which I concede are happening to some degree — then it has to do with heresy. 

That’s fine. Heresy, I understand. No religion, however liberal, can do without  the concept of heresy (nor can a political party). Heresy is simply the drawing of lines. As ever, though, the galling thing is that the liberal mind so often draws stark and uncompromising lines while concealing from itself its own line-drawing and heretic-hunting. This is why whenever I see one of those COEXIST bumper stickers, I assume that the person driving that car imagines herself to be a paragon of religious tolerance, but is in fact as dogmatic and as humorless a religious liberal as you can imagine.

99 Comments (Open | Close)

99 Comments To "The Heretic Hunters of Liberal Christianity"

#1 Comment By Dennis Crane On February 13, 2015 @ 1:22 am

If you had googled it, you would likely have found Qur’an 24:1-9…

Ken, what you say about the Koran indicts those imams and theologian who allow Muslim husbands to beat their wives, let alone the Muslim men who do so. Why is it that such men aren’t sanctioned, but ignored (if not encouraged) by their co-religionists?

But unless I am very wrong, when Waltrip talks about a “personal relationship” with Jesus Christ, he is talking about the experience of being born again, doesn’t he? By that standard, Catholics and the Orthodox are written out of Christianity…

panda, how Waltrip views Catholicism and Orthodoxy is a different subject than how Christ viewed himself, as communicated through Scripture. Though neither Catholics nor Orthodox would use the term “personal relationshipo, my guess is that Catholics view their “personal relationship” with Christ primarily through the Eucharist and that Orthodox view it primarily through the Divine Liturgy and the communion of saints (which, I think, reflects the significance of icons in Orthodoxy, if I’m not mistaken, and I could be).

#2 Comment By Thursday On February 13, 2015 @ 2:41 am

Sounds like Thursday is recovering from a disappointing love affair.

Not even close.

#3 Comment By Chris 1 On February 13, 2015 @ 3:06 am

Orthodox Christianity is crystal clear about what it believes, about the Creed and its practices, and yet refuses to judge everyone else.

As Alexei Khomiakov put it in The Church is One

Inasmuch as the earthly and visible Church is not the fullness and completeness of the whole Church which the Lord has appointed to appear at the final judgment of all creation, she acts and knows only within her own limits; and (according to the words of Paul the Apostle, to the Corinthians, 1 Cor. 5. 12) does not judge the rest of mankind, and only looks upon those as excluded, that is to say, not belonging to her, who exclude themselves. The rest of mankind, whether alien from the Church, or united to her by ties which God has not willed to reveal to her, she leaves to the judgment of the great day. The Church on earth judges for herself only, according to the grace of the Spirit, and the freedom granted her through Christ, inviting also the rest of mankind to the unity and adoption of God in Christ; but upon those who do not hear her appeal she pronounces no sentence, knowing the command of her Saviour and Head, “not to judge another man’s servant” (Rom. 14. 4).

(bold added)

We’ll be treated to that last lesson again in just over a week as we enter into Great Lent.

#4 Comment By Anne On February 13, 2015 @ 5:16 am

I finally read through the transcript of what Obama said at that prayer breakfast, and it only confirmed my suspicion that the fuss over it is based on willful misinterpretation. There is certainly nothing there that would normally be considered offensive to Christianity; in fact, his conception of God couldn’t be more Christian. Since when did belief in the value of humility or in a God who would never condone violence in His name become the teachings of Oprah, not Jesus? To criticize a leader for not sounding sufficiently hateful towards the enemy nor self-righteous enough about his cause hardly seems What Jesus Would Do. But then, Jesus had is critics as well, didn’t he?

As for heresy hunting, virtually every group of humans has probably slipped into it in some form or another from time to time, but none with the ferocity of those who embrace the idea doubt-free in full certainty they have God on their side.

#5 Comment By JonF On February 13, 2015 @ 6:31 am

rE: Obama strikes many people as rather impressed by himself.

Politicians generally are,. I had occasion to meet Newt Gingrich, and that was before the election of 1994. Even then the man’s ego was the size of a gas giant.
But I still don’t see why anyone finds the passage as quoted above problematic.

#6 Comment By John On February 13, 2015 @ 6:51 am

“No grievance justifies the taking of innocent lives,” says the president. Well, did fighting Nazism justify the taking of innocent lives in bombing raids over Germany?

It doesn’t even justify the taking of morally culpable lives if you are a Christian who adheres to the plain meaning of Matthew 5:39 (“But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also,” per KJV). But what serves a faith when it’s hiding in private homes from the Roman authorities doesn’t serve a faith when it commands the Roman authorities, so we commit to displays of vague “Christian values” and formulations of “just war” theory with no textual basis in Scripture. And supposedly traditional Christians have no trouble reconciling even our wars of aggression against others with the idea of Americans as a Christian nation.

#7 Comment By Mike Alexander On February 13, 2015 @ 7:31 am

Rod, I believe you are uninformed about the crusades to which ISIS is comparable. ISIS is waging a jihad. The Christian version of jihad is the crusade (small “c”). ISIS is waging an *internal* jihad, that is against mostly heretics and minority religions right in the heart of the Islamic world.

The direct Christian equivalent is the Albigensian Crusade (1209–1229)which resulted in the creation of the Inquisition. Internal crusades were directed against heretics and minority religions (Jews) and so are like what ISIS is doing.

ISIS also wants to set up a new state. This makes then like the external crusades in the Baltic (Livonian, Wendish etc) that led to the establishment of the monastic state of the Teutonic knights, amongst other things.

As for the famous crusades in the Holy Land, these have less in common with what ISIS is doing than the other examples. The famous ones (I II & III) were pretty straight-up wars of conquest, not really any different from what the English tried to achieve in France in 14th and 15th cent or Louis XIV tried to achieve in the 17th century.

I doubt Obama is aware of this. He probably sued crusades and inquisition as boilerplate “bad things the West has done” without actually known that the crusades upon which this “bad things” concept came from were there other crusades.

What Western authorities authorized in the internal crusades, or the Inquisition is morally worse than what the Allies did in WW I. Similarly, what ISIS is doing is morally worse than what the Iraqis did in the 1980’s Iran-Iraq war.

Similar what ISIS is doing is morally worse than the Crusades, but it is morally equivalent to the crusades (i.e. the internal ones and the inquisitions they spawned) Both the Albigensian crusade and the inquisition it spawned were evil things. On the other hand the Reconquista (the external crusade that pushed the Muslims out of Iberia) was a war of conquest, followed by an evil episode of ethnic cleansing (the Spanish Inquisition).

Politicians are not known for a fine grasp of history (remember Palin and Paul Revere?). Since people have made many times made references to “crusades and inquisition” as “bad things done in the name of Christianity” the details of how these first came to be seen as bad are lost.

#8 Comment By Hibernian On February 13, 2015 @ 7:39 am

@ JonF: “I actually agree with you– but it’s also true that people on the Right who haul the Siege of Vienna or the Battle of Tours into discussions about current Middle Eastern affairs are also vandalizing history.”

The Siege of Vienna was in the Early Modern period, about 4 to 5 hundred years after the end of the Crusades. The settlement of the American Colonies was well underway by that time. The Ottoman Empire continued to rule all or most of the Balkan Peninsula until the late 19th century.

#9 Comment By Blairburton On February 13, 2015 @ 8:00 am

@Jesse Ewiak: If I were named Barack Hussein Obama and managed to win two Presidential elections, my ego wouldn’t be exactly small. But, I mean, do the same people who think Obama is impressed by himself think for example, Bobby Jindal is humble?

Or Ted Cruz, or Rand Paul, or Hillary Clinton, or Sarah Palin to include female politicians interested in running for President? I’d say most all the people who have held that office have extremely healthy egos, save perhaps for Richard Nixon and we all know how that turned out.

#10 Comment By Aegis On February 13, 2015 @ 8:16 am

@ Siarleys: “Sounds like Thursday is recovering from a disappointing love affair. As is often said, the plural of anecdote is not data.”

And with a sterling attitude like that, you’re really left to wonder why any woman would second-guess a relationship with him.

#11 Comment By sjay On February 13, 2015 @ 8:35 am

The one person I knew who had a “COEXIST” sticker on her car was a very pleasant female co-worker. No lack of humor there but she did switch from worshipping at a Catholic church to a Presbyterian one without an apparent second’s thought.

Yes, data is not the plural of anecdote.

#12 Comment By VikingLS On February 13, 2015 @ 9:00 am

“The wishy-washy COEXIST Enlightenment happened for a reason, and it continues to steadily advance across the planet for a reason: so far, it is obviously vastly morally superior to every “really serious” theistic (and anti-theistic) alternative to have taken a shot at ruling a civilization.”

It’s not wishy-washy at all. I mean here you are coming here to undermine Rod’s arguments about anything he disagrees with you about, putting on the appearance of speaking to him but actually performing for the crowd and thus repeating the same points day after day after day. That’s not the action of a person who is wishy-washy and you’re hardly alone here.

#13 Comment By grumpy realist On February 13, 2015 @ 9:01 am

Also, we have some very good historical evidence of what happens when you let the religious fanatics take over.

I think the reason that Europe has ended up so resolutely non-religious is they still have the historical memory of the Wars of Religion. Which ended not so much because one side or the other won, but because anyone who felt that strongly had been killed off.

Then there was the 30-years War, which managed to do a nice dent in the population of Germany…

There’s a very good reason why we here in the West are now skeptical about putting actual political power in the hands of creeds that state they are the Truth and the Only Truth, and by the way, they get to kill all the heretics.

[NFR: And we have very good evidence of what happens when you let the anti-religious fanatics take over: the Terror in France, the Soviet Union. If you think the problem is religion, you are deceiving yourself. — RD]

#14 Comment By KD On February 13, 2015 @ 9:15 am

All groups are sectarian–they draw lines. Religious groups are sectarian–they draw lines. So do secular and political groups. To believe that humans can transcend line drawing is akin to believing that humans can ascend speaking in specific languages. Esperanto and Unitarianism claim to transcend particularity, when in fact they only create another form of the particular. (Likewise, secular ethics, seeking to fly above religious morality, ends up as only another system of morality, ultimately derivative from religious morality–over which it attempts to draw a veil of ignorance and claim its derivation from reason rather than Hebrew Bible.) The true religion is formless, and its doctrine is silence, but note that Unitarianism or the New Age are not.

#15 Comment By KD On February 13, 2015 @ 9:26 am

MH-Secular Misanthropist:

I can’t speak for anyone else, but I would rather have a thoughtful brass tacks atheist than MTD or the New Age Mush. The biggest problem with most vocal atheists is that they are primarily vulgarians (potty-mouth divinitatis), and they are unwilling to understand in the first instance the arguments they are supposedly “disproving”. But intelligent and thoughtful atheists do exist, and can make an important contribution to understanding.

#16 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On February 13, 2015 @ 9:34 am

Siarlys,

My experience is that the sort of men who refer to women (especially to ‘western womanhood’ as a whole) as ‘wh*res’ or ‘tr*mps’ are not really worth responding to, so they’re best ignored. As you point out though, and as I never tire of pointing out to the identity politics trolls, anecdote (or as they like to say, ‘lived experience’) is not data.

Eamus Catuli,

I believe with a good portion of the Christian mystic tradition that the mercy of God is infinite, and that the possibility of repentance and salvation extends into eternity. (I’m in other words sympathetic to Turmarion’s hopeful universalism, though I wouldn’t go as far as he does). I also believe that no one will be saved without accepting Jesus Christ, though, in this life or the next. I don’t really get the cult of MK Gandhi in the west, but it’s worth pointing out he was a man in serious need of some, uh, correction in the afterlife. If for nothing else, for believing and promulgating an ideology that would have condemned hundreds of millions of Indians to death by famine.

#17 Comment By KD On February 13, 2015 @ 9:36 am

Christ most clearly shows us the Nature of God, but we can’t describe what is revealed, we can only place a name on it-“WORD”. Following Christ takes us back into God’s mystery. As far as people who are not followers of Christ, who can say, God is merciful and loves all his lost children. What is needed is a way that works, and there is less need (outside of political struggle) for a way that deprecates all others. There could be no Christian Creed but for Greek Philosophy and the Hebrew Bible, for example. If you eliminated all the Jewish and Hellenistic influences from Christianity, you would uproot the entire tree.

#18 Comment By A DC Wonk On February 13, 2015 @ 9:39 am

This is why whenever I see one of those COEXIST bumper stickers, I assume that the person driving that car imagines herself to be a paragon of religious tolerance, but is in fact as dogmatic and as humorless a religious liberal as you can imagine.

I find often, Rod, you write a great peice, but then, somewhere, you make some gross generalization about Democrats, or liberals, or what-have-you, that is a real turn off to many.

Why assume the worst? Is that where religion leads you? (Doesn’t the bible tell us to judge others favorably?)

Many co-existers are simply trying to say: we have differences, but let’s cut down on the violent rhetoric that sometimes leads to violent actions. Let’s see if we can co-exist a bit more peacefully.

Is that such a bad message?

#19 Comment By Steve S On February 13, 2015 @ 9:59 am

KD wrote: “All groups are sectarian–they draw lines. Religious groups are sectarian–they draw lines. So do secular and political groups.”

Outstanding comment. My irritation with the COEXIST bumper stickers (and their cousin: TOLERANCE) is that it’s deeply dishonest and displays no actual humility, even though that’s the overt message it wants to deliver, and often with a not-so-subtle air of self-congratulation. Every single person with those bumper stickers has things that they are NOT willing to let coexist and people whose beliefs they will NOT tolerate. This seems like such an obvious thing. I’d really love to make one of these bumper stickers with the symbol-letters made up of swastikas, KKK hoods, etc. Hell, how about one with Brendan Eich’s face? Since these bumper stickers are fundamentally dishonest, it then becomes much easier to interpret them as coded signals that are meant not to communicate some commitment to absolute tolerance/coexistence (which doesn’t exist as KD explained above) but rather to say, in effect, “Hey Christians! Stop being so intolerant, you haters!”

#20 Comment By KD On February 13, 2015 @ 9:59 am

Anne is absolutely right that religious disputes are bloodier than other disputes, and this gets to the point that Civilization can be distinguished from Barbarism in that Civilization places a limit on violence (in the form of religious taboos). Real Religious disputes are in some sense disagreements about where the limits of violence should be, and are generally resolved through violence, because there is a fundamental disagreement over customs. The modern solution is to let the State decide where the limits should be, and exercise repression against those who disagree. Obviously, there can be no limit on the violence inflicted by the State, as the State defines and interprets the limits on itself (fox guarding the hen house). This may constitute the true “final solution” to the question, and the best secularism can do based on its embrace of hollowed out ontology, but it leaves some of us skeptical as to its justice.

#21 Comment By MH – Secular Misanthropist On February 13, 2015 @ 10:09 am

@KD, the problem is you don’t get to choose your opposition. So it’s probably mush or vulgarians, plus I doubt Bertrand Russell would have put a bumper sticker on his car.

#22 Comment By VikingLS On February 13, 2015 @ 10:11 am

“I think the reason that Europe has ended up so resolutely non-religious is they still have the historical memory of the Wars of Religion. Which ended not so much because one side or the other won, but because anyone who felt that strongly had been killed off.”

The Eastern half of Europe is fairly religious and becoming more so as it survived secular materialism taken to its logical conclusion.

We’re already seeing a pretty fundamentalist form of MTD that is quite willing to tell people (particularly Christians) that they know less about their own religion than they do.

(Honestly this is a longstanding tradition in religion, Christians tell Jews the same thing about Judaism, Islam tells Christians and Jews that, Baha’i tells all three that.)

#23 Comment By Andrew S. On February 13, 2015 @ 11:14 am

Rod wrote: “[NFR: And we have very good evidence of what happens when you let the anti-religious fanatics take over: the Terror in France, the Soviet Union. If you think the problem is religion, you are deceiving yourself. — RD]”

Quite right. This is why everyone needs to Karl Popper’s “The Open Society and Its Enemies”. But here’s the problem, Rod: on the one hand, you disdain those whose faith – whether that’s orthodox Christianity or transhumanist triumphalism – is lukewarm and without rigor, but rail against and fear those who you are true believers of a different stripe.

Is it so good to be “on fire for the Lord”? To want to go out and reshape the world according to the teachings of the Catholic Church or Marxist-Leninism? It seems much better in my mind to seek transcendence in great music or literature or conversation than in preparing the world for the millenial reign of Christ or the dictatorship of the proletariat.

What’s wrong with just being a member of bourgeoisie? You live your life, raise a family, enjoy food, sex, and art. Sure you have to strive against difficulties and against those who would endanger you and your loved ones, on, indeed, society as a whole – think Hitler, Stalin, etc. But ultimately, I just don’t see what one needs besides life itself. THE WORLD IS A MIRACLE! Have you ever seen a flower? I know that sounds indescribably cheesy, but the fact that flowers exist is AMAZING. What about stars? Those are amazing too! How the hell did all this amazing stuff get here? I mean, I know how – but that they’re here at all is to me a wonderful piece of cosmic serendipity.

#24 Comment By A DC Wonk On February 13, 2015 @ 11:22 am

Every single person with those bumper stickers has things that they are NOT willing to let coexist and people whose beliefs they will NOT tolerate. This seems like such an obvious thing. I’d really love to make one of these bumper stickers with the symbol-letters made up of swastikas, KKK hoods, etc.

OK, I understand that complaint, but see my comment at 9:39. If one interprets the “co-exist” message to mean “let’s cut down on the malicious rhetoric about each other”, then it does applies to swastikas and the KKK. It can mean, from the person who owns the bumper sticker, to the racist: look, blacks and whites are here to stay, learn to co-exist with the other, don’t say hateful speech.

Of course, that’s a tough message to put on a bumper sticker. But I think that’s the message behind it, and I think it’s a good and positive message.

#25 Comment By A DC Wonk On February 13, 2015 @ 11:35 am

Anne is absolutely right that religious disputes are bloodier than other disputes…

Is that the case? I’ll admit I don’t know my history very well, but among the worst genocides of the past 150 years include China’s Cultural Revolution, Stalin’s purges, Pol Pot’s purges, the genocide perpetrated by Belgium on the Congo, the Killing Fields of the Khmer Rouge, and the Armenian genocide perpetrated by Turkey. (Rwanda, too?)

Few (none?) of them were religious disputes, were they?

#26 Comment By Rob G On February 13, 2015 @ 11:56 am

“I think the reason that Europe has ended up so resolutely non-religious is they still have the historical memory of the Wars of Religion. Which ended not so much because one side or the other won, but because anyone who felt that strongly had been killed off.”

Someone (probably more than one, actually) needs to read Cavanaugh’s The Myth of Religious Violence.

#27 Comment By c matt On February 13, 2015 @ 12:05 pm

then God has the right and the prerogative to establish the rules for access and sanctification, as it were

I wonder if Waltrip would agree that God’s right to establish the rules for access and sanctification, as it were, extends to establishing His Church, as it were?

#28 Comment By KD On February 13, 2015 @ 12:12 pm

A DC Wonk writes:

“Many co-existers are simply trying to say: we have differences, but let’s cut down on the violent rhetoric that sometimes leads to violent actions. Let’s see if we can co-exist a bit more peacefully.

Is that such a bad message?”

I say yes. Conflict does not result from rhetoric, conflict results from fear, usually status anxiety, grounded, at least in part, in reality. After the status anxiety comes the angry rhetoric. If you want no conflict, just get everyone to accept their place in society (but don’t hold your breath). Shall we say there will always be conflict in a free society, and that the question is setting up habits of civility? I say habits, because this is not about ideology so much as norms of behavior, or manners.

I believe encouraging respectful dialogue which starts from the acknowledgment of difference is a good way to build such manners, as well as to help promote mutual understanding and avoid mutual demonization. But mushy thinking does not contribute anything, nor does papering over difference, nor does pretending that your view is the only “rational” or “serious” one.

#29 Comment By KD On February 13, 2015 @ 12:21 pm

I would opt for a bumper sticker that affirms our national unity over our differences, and our need to develop and preserve manners, laws and mutual respect for our fellow citizens. Perhaps an American Flag?

#30 Comment By KD On February 13, 2015 @ 1:00 pm

MH Secular Misanthropist writes:

“@KD, the problem is you don’t get to choose your opposition. So it’s probably mush or vulgarians, plus I doubt Bertrand Russell would have put a bumper sticker on his car.”

Which is why I engage with people in this forum, which is not free of potty-mouth atheism or straw men, but has some intelligent people who want to dissent from the dissent. (If you want to be a real non-conformist in modern America, be a traditionalist conservative.) God Bless Them!

#31 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On February 13, 2015 @ 1:19 pm

And with a sterling attitude like that, you’re really left to wonder why any woman would second-guess a relationship with him.

Never having been a woman, aegis, I have no idea. But Thursday denies it, so we must take him at his word that his demons are in his own head, not an experience with a flesh and blood woman. That said, I should probably accept Hector’s wise counsel.

And on his other point,

I don’t really get the cult of MK Gandhi in the west, but it’s worth pointing out he was a man in serious need of some, uh, correction in the afterlife. If for nothing else, for believing and promulgating an ideology that would have condemned hundreds of millions of Indians to death by famine.

One might say that Mao and the Khmer Rouge were idealists of a similar strain, except they had the misfortune to be in a position to try out their earnest programs… and the results were disastrous?

On the whole, I like the COEXIST bumper stickers, although I probably would replace the “peace symbol” with some other round item. I don’t have one on my car because I would be conflated with “those people” who have certain disagreeable characteristics, much as Rod has done.

I could get away with “I don’t believe the liberal media,” because I could place it directly under my “Obama 2008” sticker.

#32 Comment By JonF On February 13, 2015 @ 1:52 pm

Rew: The Siege of Vienna was in the Early Modern period, about 4 to 5 hundred years after the end of the Crusades. The settlement of the American Colonies was well underway by that time. The Ottoman Empire continued to rule all or most of the Balkan Peninsula until the late 19th century.

It still is not pertinent to the question of 21st century Middle Eastern policy, any more than the Seven Years War is pertinent to our present-day dealings with France.

#33 Comment By KD On February 13, 2015 @ 2:06 pm

Ideologies, groups and rival economic systems can co-exist, or they can fight, or sometimes, if we look at slavery in America, they can co-exist for a time, but then fail to co-exist due to social changes (like a shift from yeoman farming to the rise of wage labor). Can American capitalism co-exist with agricultural slavery? Would we really desire to return to slavery out of a desire for pluralism? If not, then we have to draw a line, set some kind of limit of our capacity to co-exist, because the other is not going to go away, unless you use force. I am not clear, for example, the position of Islam on slavery (historically, it was pro-slavery). This means there may be a conflict between American society and traditional Islam (to the extent someone wants to push it). You can look at child prostitution in some Asian cultures-do we want that here? You need to draw lines, even if you disagree with someone else’s lines.

#34 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On February 13, 2015 @ 2:59 pm

We’re already seeing a pretty fundamentalist form of MTD that is quite willing to tell people (particularly Christians) that they know less about their own religion than they do.

Bart Ehrman, paging your office. In general, Viking, ‘Religious Studies’ departments at some of our great universities, and Biblical scholars in the higher-critical tradition are the absolute worst in that regard. (I have honestly even less respect for these twits than I do for critics of religion in the Dawkins-Hitchens mode: evolutionary biology is at least a real science, and more based in solid fact than the airy conclusions of literary criticism).

I wonder if Waltrip would agree that God’s right to establish the rules for access and sanctification, as it were, extends to establishing His Church, as it were?

Well, no, he doesn’t. That God has the power to establish a church doesn’t mean that He did so, and that He established guidelines for salvation doesn’t necessarily mean that He established a church as well. Of course, I’m sure you knew that.

One might say that Mao and the Khmer Rouge were idealists of a similar strain, except they had the misfortune to be in a position to try out their earnest programs… and the results were disastrous?

Kind of. To his credit, Gandhi didn’t believe, unlike Mao, in imposing his harebrained agronomic ideas by force, and no doubt if Gandhi had been the prime minister of India he would have been overthrown in short order, and famine would have been eventually averted. In that sense he was better than Mao. Nevertheless, if implemented, his ideas would have been as disastrous as the Great Leap Forward was. (Gandhi actually did let his wife die from a curable disease because he disapproved of scientific medicine in principle, so clearly he wasn’t averse to letting people die for his principles).

#35 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On February 13, 2015 @ 3:02 pm

What’s wrong with just being a member of bourgeoisie? You live your life, raise a family, enjoy food, sex, and art. Sure you have to strive against difficulties and against those who would endanger you and your loved ones, on, indeed, society as a whole – think Hitler, Stalin, etc. But ultimately, I just don’t see what one needs besides life itself. THE WORLD IS A MIRACLE! Have you ever seen a flower?

The problem with this is that it’s a creed that lends itself naturally to quietism, to leaving the world as it is in the belief any attempt to change things would make them even worse. A world full of misery, suffering and evil is no place for quietists. That is one truth that Marxists and Catholics (at their best) both share, though they come at it from very different starting points.

#36 Comment By KD On February 13, 2015 @ 3:25 pm

Andrew S. writes:

“Is it so good to be “on fire for the Lord”? To want to go out and reshape the world according to the teachings of the Catholic Church or Marxist-Leninism? It seems much better in my mind to seek transcendence in great music or literature or conversation than in preparing the world for the millenial reign of Christ or the dictatorship of the proletariat.”

Andrew S., we can distinguish between a personal avocation (reading literature), and participating in a community that shares a collective vision of the Good (like a Church or a communist cell). We have largely replaced a system based on a vision of a common good with a system based on market value, where people cooperate in the exchange of goods and services for money. But this activity is possible for total strangers because of laws, and because of respect for laws. You can have a system of exchange without written laws, but it would be confined to families and narrow ethnic groups that trust each other on that basis. But you need written laws for a multi-ethnic, multi-religious plurality, and those laws restrict and channel the market. Those laws must reflect some sense of the common good, they can’t be determined from the market, because they define where the market is, and what it consists in. There can be no fully “open” society, and there can be no system without collective norms or a common good (which gives rise to positive law), although the limits of toleration can clearly go beyond those typical of a Near Eastern City State in 800 B.C..

#37 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On February 13, 2015 @ 5:10 pm

That said, I should probably accept Hector’s wise counsel.

It’s just my experience that when you hear someone talking about ‘sl*ts’, ‘wh*res’, ‘b*tches’, ‘th*ts’, ‘tr*mps’ and the like, it almost always says more about the moral character of the person using the term than the person being described.

#38 Comment By Dr. Nora On February 13, 2015 @ 5:34 pm

Well, I must confess that my car has a coexist bumper sticker. But it was my husband’s car and he bought it. I bought the one that says “I’m for separate of church and hate” , but I’m comfortable with the coexist sticker.

For me it just means that we all have to live here on this planet together, and I wish we could find a way to stop killing each other over our different interpretations of the Divine.

I will extend tolerance to you, as long as you are tolerant of me. But as soon as you get all self-righteous and start condemning me to Hell because you believe something different than I, why should I still tolerate you and your intolerance?

Darth, I have been called a hoot on many occasions. My overdeveloped sense of humor has been a blessing in this fearful, angry world. Thanks for making me smile.

Thursday, I’m so sorry you have been hurt so badly that you would call ALL western women tramps and whores. Wow, just wow. I think my hubby would like a word with you…since no one else here is coming to the defense of their mothers, sisters, wives and daughters.

I’m not a teams, a whore or a robot!

.

#39 Comment By Andrew S. On February 13, 2015 @ 7:17 pm

Hector wrote: “The problem with this is that it’s a creed that lends itself naturally to quietism, to leaving the world as it is in the belief any attempt to change things would make them even worse. A world full of misery, suffering and evil is no place for quietists. That is one truth that Marxists and Catholics (at their best) both share, though they come at it from very different starting points.”

I don’t think that a bourgeois life necessarily leads to quietism at all. I imagine that many of the scientists working today to bring an end to cancer or hereditary disorders are neither Marxist or Catholic. Plenty of my bourgeois friends work as teachers in New York City public schools with at-risk kids when they could be engaged in much more profitable occupations. One does not have to turn away from the evils of the world if one gives up the utopian fantasies of Marxism or the moral rigor of Catholicism.

Both of these ideologies have given humanity useful tools for understanding the world, from the socialist policy innovations that have softened the dislocating effects of industrial capitalism to cultural inheritance of Catholicism – which we now rather nostalgically refer to as Western Civilization. But ultimately I think that technological progress has done more to improve the quality of human life in the past 250 years than an army of Dorothy Days. Obviously, we need a moral compass to employ these technological innovations, and just as we have enabled ourselves to live longer, healthier lives, we have also developed the means to exterminate our entire race tout suite, but nevertheless, things aren’t too bad.

And intellectual genelogies aside – which is to say that I recognize Christianity’s importance as an intellectual forebear to both liberal democracy and empiricism as well the vital policy innovations that flowed out of the socialist tradition, i.e. the modern welfare state – what has gotten us here and what is leading us forward is a combination of liberal democracy in politics and empiricism in intellectual inquiry. Again, that’s not to say that these practices are inimical to Catholicism or Marxism, per se, but that absolutist conceptions of either would not jibe with them.

#40 Comment By Andrew S. On February 13, 2015 @ 7:37 pm

KD wrote: “Andrew S., we can distinguish between a personal avocation (reading literature), and participating in a community that shares a collective vision of the Good (like a Church or a communist cell). We have largely replaced a system based on a vision of a common good with a system based on market value, where people cooperate in the exchange of goods and services for money. But this activity is possible for total strangers because of laws, and because of respect for laws. You can have a system of exchange without written laws, but it would be confined to families and narrow ethnic groups that trust each other on that basis. But you need written laws for a multi-ethnic, multi-religious plurality, and those laws restrict and channel the market. Those laws must reflect some sense of the common good, they can’t be determined from the market, because they define where the market is, and what it consists in. There can be no fully “open” society, and there can be no system without collective norms or a common good (which gives rise to positive law), although the limits of toleration can clearly go beyond those typical of a Near Eastern City State in 800 B.C..”

You say we replaced a system based on a shared conception of the common good with one based on market value – what was this system founded on the common good? Was that feudalism?

When I say “Open Society” I’m referring to the project of liberal democracy, which is of course not perfectly open, but which ideally should allow for free intellectual inquiry and the exercise of civil liberties enumerated in the U.S. Constitution. Obviously our own society often fails to live up to this standard, but that we try to reach it is important. Karl Popper contrasted open societies – the liberal democracies of the post-WWII era – with their closed counterparts – totalitarian socialist states like the Stalin’s USSR (as a side note, I know that Arendt made a distinction between totalitarian and authoritarian states, but I’m not sure what that distinction was – perhaps one of the astute commenters could enlighten me?).

But I think what you’re really getting at is that our legal regime does speak – inevitably – to some conception of the common good. Of course it does, but a legal regime that values personal autonomy, private property, and other liberal precepts seems to do a decent job maintaining social order. You may not agree with the vision of the common good articulated by this approach, but it is what I’m referring to when I talk about bourgeois values.

#41 Comment By tzx4 On February 13, 2015 @ 8:31 pm

Thank you AubreyMaturin,
You said it all. Powerful commentary that clearly stands out from all the rest.

#42 Comment By culchan On February 14, 2015 @ 10:38 am

The problem isn’t worldview. The problem is bumper stickers. Driving in traffic sucks enough without having to be subjected to the opinion/belief system/favorite hobby of the driver in front of you.

#43 Comment By Aegis On February 14, 2015 @ 1:21 pm

@ Thurday: “Not even close.”

Well, then, I am left scratching my head as to why you would use such vile terms to refer to women that you evidently don’t have any grievance with.

#44 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On February 14, 2015 @ 8:43 pm

Aegis, I am surprised to learn that we are actually on the same side as regards Thursdays channeling of the unexpurgated version of the Arabian Nights.

The problem is bumper stickers. Driving in traffic sucks enough without having to be subjected to the opinion/belief system/favorite hobby of the driver in front of you.

Oh, I don’t know. Doing seasonal package delivery last December, I pulled up behind a parked vehicle at the end of a long driveway, displaying a bumper sticker reading “Annoy a liberal. Work hard, be happy.” I thought to myself, that would look great with a hammer and sickle on one end.

#45 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On February 15, 2015 @ 8:19 pm

I don’t think that a bourgeois life necessarily leads to quietism at all. I imagine that many of the scientists working today to bring an end to cancer or hereditary disorders are neither Marxist or Catholic.

Undoubtedly many are not. But few, if any, are members of the bourgeoisie either.

Plenty of my bourgeois friends work as teachers in New York City public schools with at-risk kids when they could be engaged in much more profitable occupations.

Really? They have such large stock portfolios that they could retire to Bermuda on the dividends, and yet they insist on toiling like proletarian wage slaves, just for the fun of it? (If not, don’t call them “bourgeois.” Petit bourgeois maybe, or maybe not.

#46 Comment By Richard Parker On February 16, 2015 @ 2:02 am

Of no importance at all, but the artist of ‘COEXIST’ is a friend of mine. He was given his nickname of ‘Peacemonger’ by his boss during a debate in the run-up to ‘Iraq II, the Sequel’.

Nice guy, so very much a dreamer, but I am so proud of having stood with him on the local street corner against the war when it really carried some danger from a deranged local populace.

Interestingly enough, some of the people who flashed peace signs to us from their cars during the height of the madness were uniformed military.

#47 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On February 16, 2015 @ 10:31 am

Really? They have such large stock portfolios that they could retire to Bermuda on the dividends, and yet they insist on toiling like proletarian wage slaves, just for the fun of it? (If not, don’t call them “bourgeois.” Petit bourgeois maybe, or maybe not.

+1 on this. Public school teachers may be from a petit-bourgeois background, or they may not (the vast majority are definitely not) but the bourgeoisie they are ot.

#48 Comment By andy On April 20, 2015 @ 4:54 pm

To sum up, a Muslim who “sincerely believes” that violence in the correct context is not only correct but required is “wrong,” but a Christian who says that the types of violence that other Christians promulgate is wrong, is wrong, because Christians who believe in a more “robust” form of Christianity are “right.”
Christians, in other words, can be right when they take exactly the same actions and attitudes that are wrong when non Christians take them.
It’s impossible for a committed Christian (or Muslim, for that matter) to see how absurd this is, since stepping outside their world-view for a bit of perspective is not an option.

#49 Comment By Turmarion On October 28, 2015 @ 10:26 pm

Siarlys, Aegis, and Hector, I agree re the appalling attitudes and language used here re women. Over [13] he links to an article by Jack “I’m-so-manly-I-sleep-with-men-but-that-doesn’t-make-me-GAY” Donovan (I wonder how much Thursday knows about Donovan’s views). I’ve read him, and among other things (racism, appalling right-wing politics, etc.), Donovan is rather misogynistic–in the linked article, he has this charming thing to say:

Conjure in your mind, if you will, a fella who is going to side with men when women want something—who won’t beta down and give in every time women nag him a little.

‘Cause you know how them wimmins is always tryin’ to keep men down.