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Cool It, Guys

The nasty brew of religion and politics.

by Barnabas
November 20, 2002

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Cool It, Guys_Barnabas-The nasty brew of religion and politics.
"You know what we ought to do? We ought to take every single Muslim student in every college in this nation and ship them back to where they came from."
—Televangelist Jimmy Swaggart, quoted by ABCnews.com, November 18.
The story goes on to say that Swaggart “ regrets some of his recent comments,” but “also says he doesn't worry about creating diplomatic problems with Arab countries.” The televangelist then asserts that he has the responsibility to stand up and say what he believes to be the truth, and points out that the Muslims do the same.

Of course he is right on both counts. He is also right to realize, too late. that Americans in general are shocked at the prospect of assigning guilt by association to a whole class of people, such as international students of a particular faith. Ethical behavior does not follow from egregious logical fallacies, no matter how passionately they are asserted.

But the cat is out of the bag now. As Kingsfield said in The Paper Chase, “Everything is on the record. Everything.” Brother Jimmy has probably set himself up again for some cheap, insulting laughs on the late night shows. I’ll leave it to you whether or not he deserves them.

I perhaps have mentioned before that my mother, through some forty-five years of dealing with adult, verbal sons, banned the subjects of religion and politics at family gatherings. It wasn’t that we were uninterested and uninformed; we were both, as were our adult children after us. We were also committed, so we could not merely “discuss” our positions. We needed to assert them. Mom believed deeply in freedom, and would defend our right to speak up. She also believed in her own right not to have to listen to us.

Religion and politics may be treated dispassionately only by those who don’t care about either one. That’s not surprising, since they are both arenas in which their serious protagonists are willing to die for their convictions. Most Americans, even Christian Americans, have gotten out of the habit of thinking in these ultimate terms.

Yet to die for your country is a different thing from dying for your faith. Our country is indeed worth dying for, in my view, but for very different reasons than my faith is worth dying for. The nation expresses temporary, earthly, relative, pragmatic values; religion expresses ultimate value. It is a fatal misprision to confuse them. Patriots die for their country because they must. Zealots die for their faith because it’s their calling.

Put another way: Muslim terrorists believe they are waging a holy war, but we officially and totally disagree. We must try to understand their motives, but we are not bound to honor them. The United States as a nation has officially chosen to define itself apart from religious categories. Many Christians and Muslims have a tough time understanding that. American Christians like Swaggart and others who have overspoken had better catch on fast, or they will be trapped in the same heresy as their Muslim counterparts.

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