“Mr. Obama Does Not Believe In America Or The Values We All Share,” Says a Republican. So, Heck, Why Does He Keep Going To Those Dang Prayer Breakfasts?

I am told that when ISIL burned alive Moaz al-Kasasbeh, the captured Jordanian pilot, the bastards committed an “unspeakable and anti-Islamic” act. At least that is what many Islamic clerics are saying, even as ISIL went to a lot of trouble to justify the act, citing scholars without names and, quite likely, without existence.

I don’t know who gets to judge what is and what isn’t an anti-Islamic act. As many have pointed out, there is no Muslim Pope, no first-among-equals cleric who can settle the matter, presumably as Allah’s mouthpiece. There are just a lot of Muslims out there who, like a lot of Christians, read their holy writings and come to their own conclusions about what constitutes faithfulness to the faith.

Which leads me to yesterday’s prayer breakfast in Washington. I turned on C-SPAN to watch the solemn festivities—that’s how they appear to me. I knew as soon as I heard President Obama utter the following words, shortly after he called ISIL a “brutal, vicious death cult,” that he was going to be in trouble with the Christian jihadists and their sympathizers:

…lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.  In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.

It didn’t take long for the Catholic League’s Bill Donohue to appear on, uh, Fox and tell the faithful foxers that Obama had insulted Christians by donohue on foxcomparing their atrocities to Muslim atrocities. In his press release, Donohue even went so far as to say there were no Christian atrocities related to the Crusades or the Inquisition. Those episodes were, respectively, either justified (“a defensive Christian reaction against Muslim madmen of the Middle Ages”) or were the fault of others (“secular authorities”).  And like any religious zealot who wants to defend his religion against criticism, Donohue produced quotes from scholars to prove it.

Donohue, amazingly, had nothing to say in his press release about slavery or Jim Crow, two institutions that without a doubt had the support of most of Christian America at the time. I suppose that’s one way to deal with what Obama said. Just ignore the parts that inconvenience you.

The Washington Post published a piece on the matter (“Critics pounce after Obama talks Crusades, slavery at prayer breakfast“) that featured this shot at the President fired by former Virginia governor and Christian warrior Jim Gilmore:

The president’s comments this morning at the prayer breakfast are the most offensive I’ve ever heard a president make in my lifetime. He has offended every believing Christian in the United States. This goes further to the point that Mr. Obama does not believe in America or the values we all share.

At least Gilmore had enough honesty to admit what this was really all about: Obama is no Jesus-loving American. He is essentially on the side of the Islamic jihadists, a claim either suggested or made plain by a lot of nuts and near-nuts on the right.

Trying to make a slightly more intellectual case against Obama’s remarks, out came National Review’s Jonah Goldberg, wanting to make sure that his formerly august journal (my how that publication has fallen since William F. Buckley passed on) chimed in with criticism of the President, using the same logic as Bill Donohue but also attacking Obama for not properly labeling the real enemy:

It is perverse that Obama feels compelled to lecture the West about not getting too judgmental on our “high horse” over radical Islam’s medieval barbarism in 2015 because of Christianity’s medieval barbarism in 1215.

It’s also insipidly hypocritical. President Obama can’t bring himself to call the Islamic State “Islamic,” but he’s happy to offer a sermon about Christianity’s alleged crimes at the beginning of the last millennium.

Goldberg, in his zeal to attack his target, actually should have paid closer attention to Obama’s remarks. The President never actually talked “about Christianity’s alleged crimes” at all. He never blamed Christianity itself. He talked about atrocities committed “in the name of Christ.” Just like some Muslims are trying to say that ISIL is not the fault of Islam itself, but the fault of extremists committing brutal acts “in the name of Allah.” That distinction, of course, may or may not be legitimate, but Obama made it and obviously believes it, and it is lost in the fog of Obama-hate, and Goldberg is certainly enveloped in a lot of that fog (just look at some of his tweets over time).

At least Goldberg had the good sense to toss in a word or two about Christianity’s role in much more recent obscenities that Obama mentioned:

The church often fell short of its ideals — which all human things do — but its ideals were indisputably a great advance for humanity. Similarly, while some rationalized slavery and Jim Crow in the U.S. by invoking Christianity, it was ultimately the ideals of Christianity itself that dealt the fatal blow to those institutions. Just read any biography of Martin Luther King Jr. if you don’t believe me.

So, here we are back to who gets to decide what constitutes being faithful to the faith. In Goldberg’s reckoning, Christianity was “a force for the improvement of man” and all those bad things done by people who called themselves Christians were nothing compared to all the good that was done. I suppose Goldberg ought to take that up with a victim of the Spanish Inquisition or a slave in pre-Civil War America or a lynched Negro in the Jim Crow, Christian South. Maybe they would appreciate his historical hair-splitting.

But there was something in Goldberg’s attack on Obama and defense of Christianity that was even more off-putting. He wrote:

When Obama alludes to the evils of medieval Christianity, he fails to acknowledge the key word: “medieval.” What made medieval Christianity backward wasn’t Christianity but medievalism.

Man, that had to sound so good as Goldberg transferred that thought from his fog-shrouded mind into his word processor. How clever. How quickly he turned the tables on a hopelessly ignorant Obama. It was the spirit of the times, the Middle Ages, that was responsible for the violence and bloodshed, the slavery and oppression! Why didn’t I think of that?

Better yet, why don’t Muslims think of it now? Muslim clerics and scholars, instead of wasting their time condemning ISIL barbarism and saying it has nothing to do with Islam, should instead just use Goldberg’s logic:

“What makes 21st-century Islam so violent and barbaric isn’t Islam, but the 21st-century!”

See how easy that was?

6 Comments

  1. ansonburlingame

     /  February 6, 2015

    Duane,

    Not at all sure why, but sometimes you blog on points that I currently study, independently. The Story of the Jews is a case in point; it is a book I just completed and blogged about my reaction to the book in an attempt the better understand “what is a Jew”, today and yesterday.

    What came first, as humans began to walk the earth, god(s) or law? Who knows for sure, but at least in the case of Jews, God dictated the law(s) to Moses first, maybe. Seems like Islam got started the same way with a different prophet. Christianity of course started with either God himself (in a human form) or at least a prophet with another direct link to God, like Moses. Divine direction or law created solely by human minds, which is it? Beats me. Only if one believes in the (mythical???) burning bush could one say god(s) started it all. Mohammed came about a millenia later.

    But every society I have ever read about tries(d) to justify actions as the direction of (or under the protection of) some god(s), by and large. I am sure a Zulu army attacking white settlers in Africa in the 1600’s (or so) prayed to something, sometimes, before launching another attack and the associated “atrocities”

    Then sit back and watch how some members of any society try to justify any actions under the authority of a god(s). Seems to me to be “human nature”, seeking a good excuse to serve some personal or societal aim. Calling such actions “atrocities” is both historically and societally dependent as well.

    Both the Jewish and two segemented (Catholic and Protestant) Christian faith (with all three forms of God lumped into one ultimate authority) dictate, clearly “thou shalt not killl”. That was one of the ten “first laws” from the first monotheistic faith. Yet look at what happens for millenia, under the authority of that one god.

    Some day, probably in the 21st Century, America will abolish the death penalty. That sure flows from the original Law of Moses. But since time of humans began, killing in all sorts of forms, every one imaginable, have taken place with most killers justifying such actions as according to some will of some god(s). So when a priest of some sort offers a final prayer to a man sentenced to death, is not that very priest in violation of the authority or direction of a “christian god”?

    Consider just this current issue protrayed in the movie (very differently in the book by the way) American Sniper. Kyle fought hard against another sniper on the other side and ultimately killed him. I am sure that both men were doing the absoult best to kill the other man and felt that they had the blessing of either God or Allah to do so. Kyle called that Islamic sniper a “savage” (along with the other 160 he officially killed, women and children included it seems). I am sure the opposing sniper felt the same about the American men he killed, as well.

    So which one was more justified in killing, under the “eyes of God or Allah”? Will both men reside in Hell? We have no idea what Moses would say but Mohammed certainly DID exactly such things to establish his religion. I wonder if Kyle was “protected by Jesus” saying “render unto Caesar……”. Crusaders certainly thought they were pleasing God by marching “Onward Christain Soldiers…..), or was that just Yankees killing southern men, women and children, etc.?

    As we struggle with the recent burning alive of a POW, certainly a despicable act in most modern societies today, consider this simple point. How many Japanese were burned alive with two atomic weapons only about 80 years ago by a supposedly Christian and God-fearing nation? Care to add in others burned alive in terms of mass slaiughter with conventional fire bombs, in WWII, Vietnam, both Gulf Wars and Afganistan, or even Iraq today??

    Based on a science based historical record, Jews start arguing those point in about 800 BCE. We as humans continue that argument it seems to me today. Which should govern such actions, theology or governments seems to be a compelling question. To me at least, theology has failed miserably to make a dent in such actions by humans, anytime in history including today.

    Anson

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  2. Troy

     /  February 6, 2015

    Bravo to your ending! Bravo!

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  3. Good post, Duane. It immediately reminded me of a fascinating article I read only a few days ago, by one Valerie Tarico. She listed 12 Worst Ideas Religion Has Unleashed on the World. I’ll repeat their titles here, each with a brief comment. Her more lengthy reasoning can be found at the link.

    1. Chosen People. Used by both Christians and Moslems at times, it is tantamount to enormous hubris.

    2. Heretics. Also synonymous with infidels and also used historically by both religions, this relegates anyone who doesn’t share their religion to the status of subhuman.

    3. Holy war. This has been not just Sunni against Shia but also the Christian crusades which involved killing the elderly and children, burning orchards and taking virgins as sexual slaves.

    4. Blasphemy. Je sis Charlie? One guy in Saudi Arabia, a blogger, is currently undergoing 1,000 lashes for this, 50 at a time. (Better be careful, there, Duane.)

    5. Glorified suffering. Join up and join in the fun. The pilgrims understood.

    6. Genital mutilation. Fox News can relax a little on this one.

    7. Blood sacrifice. Currently losing its attraction with Christians for some reason, but still big with Hindus.

    8. Hell. It was a real motivator in the old days, but seems to have lost some of its steam (heh, heh) in modern Christian churches of late.

    9. Karma. Basically, this is blaming the victim. Bad luck means you must have offended God somehow.

    10. Eternal Life. Its details are always pretty blurry, but if everything’s perfect up there I have to wonder, where’s the novelty? Tarico phrases it as “ . . . an endless repetition of never changing groundhog days . . . “

    11. Male Ownership of Female Fertility. Anyone familiar with the Bible can figure this one out, not to mention the Catholic church’s steadfast position on contraception.

    12. Bibliolatry (aka Book Worship). The Bible and the Quran are static, are considered perfect and not subject to question even though the world has changed enormously. Nuclear weapons, the internet, modern medicine, drones, spaceflight, etc.

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    • Thanks, Jim. I read that article. Of all the items listed, I think the “Chosen People” idea may be the worst, in terms of what it does to people’s minds. It is responsible for untold misery in the world both past and present. Very depressing to think that so many people are infected with the idea. We have a lot of work to do and so little time.

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  4. Duane,

    Hyperbole and hysteria. These are among trademarks of the American Taliban.

    But speaking of prayer breakfasts, I penned a letter to the Tulsa World a few years ago talking about some investigative reporting by Jeff Sharlet from his book, “The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power,” where he says the annual “Prayer Breakfast” in Washington is actually a recruiting ground for getting The Family into other countries, especially Africa.

    To the extent it may contribute to your commentary here, and with your indulgence, here is the letter. (And, no, the World did not publish it.)

    *Devine Right of Senators*

    “Having heard recently about Senator Tom Coburn’s involvement in something called “C Street,” my interest was piqued, so I began checking it out. What I found out was jaw-dropping.

    “Jeff Sharlet, who lived at C Street for several months, has penned a number of articles for Harper’s describing that experience. In 2008, he published, *The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power.* C street, it turns out, is part of “The Family.” In addition to Senator Coburn, Senator Inhofe, former Senator Don Nichols and former Tulsa Congressman Steve Largent are also members of The Family. It operates under various alias: The Fellowship, The Fellowship Foundation, National Committee for Christian Leadership, International Christian Leadership, the National Leadership Council, and others.

    “According to Mr. Sharlet, this quasi-secret organization is bent on demolishing church-state separation so that the nation, indeed the entire world, will have Christian fundamentalists in power. Currently led by the evangelist Doug Coe, The Family has cherry-picked selections from the Bible that support its mission of wedging its members into high positions in government and industry. As Family member Senator Mark Pryor (D-AR) explains: “Jesus didn’t come to take sides. He came to take over.” Clearly, this is not your local community church.

    “A major recruiting devise of The Family is the National Prayer Breakfast, which is held in Washington D.C. every February. It attracts about 3,000 dignitaries from all over the world. The Family uses this venue to organize the attendees into smaller, more frequent prayer meetings, where they can “meet Jesus man to man ” and to identify potential new Family members.

    “The Family celebrates and studies the leadership styles of such despotic anti-heros as Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, and even Osama bin Laden. Its political philosophy is essentially an elitist, nihilistic, Machiavellian model of government which has no room for civil liberties. The Family’s acceptance of past members, including General Suharto of Indonesia; Honduran general and death squad organizer Gustavo Alvarez Martinez; and dictator Siad Barre of Somalia, is testimony to The Family’s reverence for totalitarianism and its disdain of human rights.

    “And, when Family members like Senator Coburn counsel other male members on marital infidelity, it shows a tendency toward misogyny. Such dogma is patently irrational, plainly unpatriotic, and potentially dangerous

    “The Constitution says, and the Supreme Court has repeatedly affirmed, that there is, as Thomas Jefferson put it, a wall of separation between religion and the state. As the Founding Fathers knew well, the intertwining of church and state undermines freedom and democracy. The Family, however, is not deterred. In fact, it has been successful in getting faith-based initiatives approved in Congress, in placing those with like beliefs in high positions in the government, and in obtaining federal funding for mega-churches to be constructed on military bases, among other things.

    “Congress has also approved foreign travel expenses for certain members of The Family, supposedly for diplomatic purposes. The Associated Press reported last December that Senator Inhofe had spent more than $187,000 of taxpayer’s money on trips to Africa. Inhofe replied, “I have had a mission there for many years. It is more of a Jesus thing, but I have spent a lot of time in Africa.” Apparently, Inhofe thinks proselytizing is part of his job description – and then has the audacity to expect taxpayers to support him in that effort.

    “Clearly, Senators Inhofe and Coburn have used their positions in Congress to advance their religious beliefs in blatant disregard for their responsibilities to the people. And, when their allegiance to The Family takes precedence over their duty to the Constitution, then they have breached their oath of office and betrayed the public trust.

    “They seem to have conveniently forgotten that our nation was established in the first place as an alternative to the “Divine Right of Kings” and the tyranny and absolutism that goes with it. Surely we will honor the blood of millions of Americans who died defending this country over the past two centuries and not allow it to be taken over by a bunch of Jesus Freaks. Won’t we?

    Herb Van Fleet
    August 5, 2009

    Then there is this from Madison in Federalist No. 10:

    “The latent causes of faction are thus sown in the nature of man; and we see them everywhere brought into different degrees of activity, according to the different circumstances of civil society. A zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government, and many other points, as well of speculation as of practice; an attachment to different leaders ambitiously contending for pre-eminence and power; or to persons of other descriptions whose fortunes have been interesting to the human passions, have, in turn, divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good.”

    Herb

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow, Herb. Don’t know why they didn’t publish that! What a nice summary of Sharlet’s work. He often appeared on the Rachel Maddow Show after his book came out way back when. Very scary shit to some of us. To others it is a mission.

      As for Madison’s depressing assessment of human nature, he is mostly right, of course. But I would argue slightly with the end. There is good evidence that, ever so slowly, much of the world is moving toward more cooperation. It’s just hard to see it right now with all human passions in the news cycle day after day.

      Duane

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