On Terry Jones and Burn a Quran Day
September 10, 2010

I have a new Salon column up about the maybe-canceled-maybe-not Burn a Quran Day:

 

Pastor Terry Jones might not be an expert in theology, politics or basic human decency, but he more than compensates with media savvy. He can wring every last drop of press attention out of even a retreat, as he demonstrated last night when he announced the cancellation of Burn a Quran Day and then, not four hours later, issued a semi-retraction, claiming that he’d been misled (those sneaky Muslims!) and suggesting he might still burn some Qurans after all.

As I write this, the fate of Burn a Quran Day is still up in the air, but my guess is it probably won’t happen. Instead, Jones will soak up another news cycle or so of sweet, sweet infamy, before publicly declaring that he’s holding off “out of respect for the troops,” whom his actions could endanger. The career Muslim-haters who previously called him out for going just a teensy bit too far will thank him profusely, leaving open the door to future friendship, interviews and well-paying speaking engagements.

But even if my prediction turns out to be completely wrong, the leaders of the right-wing’s anti-Muslim brigade nonetheless owe this man a fruit basket. He may not have sparked the recent explosion of Islamophobia, but he’s done as much as just about anyone to drag it into the mainstream.

 

The rest is here.

A Question For the ADL
July 30, 2010

Your organization was presumably founded to combat anti-Semitism. So let me ask you this: What happens to anti-Semitism when an organization claiming to represent the American Jewish community endorses a policy founded on anti-Muslim bigotry?

At this point, it’s hard to avoid the impression that the Anti-Defamation League is bad for the Jews. But more the point, it’s just plain bad. And it sure as shit doesn’t speak for me.

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Evangelical Polytheism
May 20, 2010

Yesterday I noticed that Matt Duss of Wonk Room had tweeted approvingly a link to an argument you sometimes hear from opponents of right-wing evangelicalism.

Hussein Rashid writes:

As was pointed out at that time by multiple religious thinkers, by arguing that there were at least two Gods, Christian and Muslim, Christianists were following a belief system that was not monotheistic and was not in accord with the Gospels. Now the chairman of the Tea Party Express, Mark Williams, seems to have forgotten this basic point, writing that the Muslim God is a “monkey-god” and that Muslims are “animals of allah,” reports Zachary Roth at TPMMuckraker.

It seems that Christianists and Islamists share a bad theology in this regard. I want to extend Reza Aslan’s suggestion in How to Win a Cosmic War that what these groups share is the belief that all issues are inherently theological. To me, the logical conclusion is if their side is not winning, it’s because their God is being challenged by another God. If their God was truly all-powerful, their enemies should have fallen by now. The only rational recourse, then, is to break with the idea of monotheism and allow for other gods.

It’s no secret that the Judeo-Christian-Islamo cosmology can be traced back to its influences in various polytheistic and henotheistic faiths (notably Zoroastrianism and late-empire Roman mythology), but I don’t think what we see here is genuine henotheism. It’s more of a rhetorical stance, an attempt to get a rise out of Muslims through racially-charged mockery of their most basic beliefs. If pressed, Williams would likely argue that Allah isn’t really a god, but instead one of the countless masks that Satan wears.

Of course, the evangelical conception of Satan is suspiciously omnipresent, to the extent that I’d call the question of whether or not he’s a god a semantic distinction; he’s at least as powerful, if not more so, than many of Olympians. But within the internal logic of evangelical Christianity, it’s a distinction that matters enough for the right-wing evangelical to be unphased by the argument.

This is why I tend to be pretty skeptical of attempts to refute the claims of the more hateful strains of Christian fundamentalism by playing their rhetorical games. It’s not specific smears on other faiths like this that are the real problem; it’s the first principles of the people making them. That’s what we should be going after.

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