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 comparing 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?