It’s not followers of Islam who scare me, it’s ‘Islamicists’ – followers of Islam who, with the holiest of intentions, and only to please God, crash planes and kill innocent people. It’s okay with me (barely) if they crash their own planes and kill themselves. Or if people willingly drink their own Kool-Aid. But no fair, it seems to me, threatening the lives of moderate Muslims or anyone else.

And so I read with interest these excerpts from Paul Gaston’s piece in Saturday’s Washington Post:

People calling themselves Christians are gathering once again for a crusade against what they consider to be the secular humanist subversion of Christian values. . . .

What these self-avowed Christians do not acknowledge — and what the American public seems little aware of — is that the war they are waging is actually against other people calling themselves Christians. To simplify: Right-wing and fundamentalist Christians are really at war with left-wing and mainstream Christians. It is a battle over both the meaning and practice of Christianity as well as over the definition and destiny of the republic . . .

The assault on the judiciary is especially revealing. The vicious attacks on Judge George Greer, the Florida jurist who presided over the Schiavo case, reveal the bizarre nature of right-wing Christian fantasies. A regular recipient of hate mail and threats against his life, Judge Greer is a lifelong Southern Baptist, a regular in church and a conservative Republican. None of those credentials protected him from the assaults of fellow Christians, including messages saying he would go straight to Hell . . .

Nearly all of the demonized judges are, in fact, practicing Christians, not secular humanists. Perhaps half of them are Republican appointees, and at least that many regard themselves as conservatives. In addition to Greer, most of the judges of the 11th Circuit who upheld his rulings, as well as most of the Supreme Court justices who declined to intervene, consider themselves Christian . . . And, lest we forget, Charles Darwin himself was a serious Christian.

The history of a Christian church divided against itself is a long and bloody one. People calling themselves Christians have stood for war and peace, subjugation and brotherhood, communism and capitalism, privilege and equality, enslavement and liberty, imperialism and isolation.

That is one reason Thomas Jefferson insisted on religious liberty in the new republic. In his Virginia Act for Establishing Religious Freedom, he wrote that “millions of innocent men, women, and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch toward uniformity.”

The present war within the Christian fold is perhaps more threatening to the republic than any of the previous intramural disputes. Right-wing religious zealots, working in partnership with the secularists who have advised President Bush, are a threat to the most fundamental of American principles. The founders of our nation welcomed and planned for spirited debate over public policies, including the role of the judiciary. But as sons of the Enlightenment, they looked to found a republic in which the outcome of those debates would turn on reason and evidence, not on disputed religious dogma. They planned wisely for principles that are now under wide assault.

All Americans, of whatever religious or non-religious persuasion, need to be on the alert to preserve those principles. The burden falls especially heavily on the mainstream Christians who are slowly awakening to the gravity of the challenge facing them. Too long tolerant of their brethren, too much given to forgiveness rather than to confrontation, they need to mount a spirited, nationwide response to what constitutes a dangerous distortion of Christian truths and a frightening threat to the republic they love.

The writer is professor emeritus of southern and civil rights history at the University of Virginia.

This is not to say for a moment that any significant fraction of America’s fundamentalist Christians advocate violence. But there’s not a whole lot of ‘judge not lest ye be judged’ going on out there, either; and reading the above elicits the quote below (thanks to Del Rickel for bringing it to my attention):


Per the Congressional Record, September 16, 1981:

There is no position on which people are so immovable as their religious beliefs. There is no more powerful ally one can claim in a debate than Jesus Christ, or God, or Allah, or whatever one calls this supreme being. But like any powerful weapon, the use of God’s name on one’s behalf should be used sparingly. The religious factions that are growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom. They are trying to force government leaders into following their position 100 percent. If you disagree with these religious groups on a particular moral issue, they complain, they threaten you with a loss of money or votes or both. I’m frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in ‘A,’ ‘B,’ ‘C,’ and ‘D.’ Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me? And I am even more angry as a legislator who must endure the threats of every religious group who thinks it has some God-granted right to control my vote on every roll call in the Senate. I am warning them today: I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of ‘conservatism.’

– Conservative Arizona senator and 1964 Republican presidential nominee
Barry Goldwater


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