Saturday, June 22, 2002

Do Good to Them That Hate You

The New York Times is in a snit today over the way Islam was characterized by the Rev. Jerry Vines at the Southern Baptist Convention's recent Pastors' Conference. Calling his comments an example of "hateful bigotry," the NYT wants President Bush to publicly condemn the comments, despite the fact that the President addressed the meeting via satellite, praising the SBC "a powerful voice for some of the great issues of our time." Offending comments include Rev. Vines' opinion that the prophet Mohammed was a "demon-possessed pedophile" and that "Allah is not Jehovah...Jehovah's not going to turn you into a terrorist." The leadership of the SBC is standing by their man, listing the Reverend's many qualities and claiming that one of the Prophet's twelve wives was only nine when their marriage was consummated, making at least part of Vines' comments verifiable.

What seems to alarm the Times most, however, isn't the pedophilia accusation itself as the wider message of Rev. Vines' comments, which denounced religious pluralism. Of that he was certainly guilty, and his comments "made clear his belief that Islam is inferior to other religions." Well, yes, but how could he not? How is someone to profess belief in a monotheistic religion without thinking that other religions are at least marginally less good? It seems strange to consider the alternative, that Rev. Vines could be an observant Christian yet still believe that Islam is somehow just as valid. It might not have been the most elegant way of professing his faith, but his message certainly falls quite short of bigotry. If merely asserting that your religion is better that another is now some kind of hate crime, we've entered a strange world indeed.

I don't know anything about the writer of this particular editorial, but it smacks of just the kind of effete, intellectualized distaste for organized religion that folks living in the Blue States have come to expect of institutions like the New York Times. It is a species of secular humanism that holds that having religious beliefs is fine, as long as you don't take them too seriously. If you are a Christian and go out on a limb to say that the teachings of Jesus are superior to those of Mohammed you might as well be speaking in tongues and rolling on the floor. In this world an earnest expression of belief is wearingly déclassé, a rustic amusement for trailer park residents. Passionate belief is scary to the agnostic crowd. Because they refuse to make the necessary moral distinctions between denominations who want to distribute free Bibles and those who want to kill every Jew on earth, people like our editorial writer often seem unable to tell the difference between Campus Crusade for Christ and Islamic Jihad. From this perspective, it is natural to condemn a Baptist minister for saying he thinks Christianity is better than Islam because that's intolerant, and we all know tha bad things that happen when you're express intolerance.


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