[ by Charles Cameron -- first, the humor, then the serious stuff -- including insider and outsider claims as to who belongs with what religious grouping ]
Two items from my inbox on this day of the Presidential Foreign Policy debate play humorously with the, for want of a better term, issue of Muslims and Mormons:
On the top, Tim Furnish, author of the book Holiest Wars and an expert on Mahdism, heads up a brief post on his MadhiWatch blog with an image out of South Park and the caption: The quintessential Mormon v. the original Mahdi! It’s ON! That’s from the right.
From the left, Frank Schaeffer, who “left” the movement his influential “right” father, the evangelical theologian Francis Schaeffer, helped found, and is now an Orthodox Christian of a more sacramental and liberal stripe, plays a rather different game in his Huffington Post piece, posted under their Comedy header, and purportedly describing an “alternative USA somewhere on a planet far away and not so long ago…”
Okay, that’s the fun. The serious part, for me, boils down to these two things:
Schaeffer has a point, I think, in mocking the Billy Graham organization’s sudden and opportunistic dropping of Mormonism from the list of cults on their My Answer page.
I support the right of Latter-day Saints to call themselves Christians, since they follow the teachings of Jesus Christ as they understand them.
I support the right of other Christians to view them as non-Christian, should they feel obliged in good conscience to do so, since Mormons consider the revelations of Joseph Smith on a par with the canonical gospels, much as Moslems consider the revelation to Muhammad as a completion of the Towrat and Injil (Jewish and Christian revelations).
And I don’t much like the term “cult” as applied to people whose beliefs differ from one’s own in any case, since it tends to dehumanize those to whom it is applied, as witness the tragedy of the Branch Davidians in Waco not too many years ago.
I am not entirely opposed to the idea of adjusting religion to suit a changing world, but I have to say this move on the part of the Graham organization appears to be a totally inauthentic PR move, made for political and not theological reasons, and wide open to the appearance of hypocrisy. If, on the other hand, it leaves all concerned more willing to respect each other as individuals across theological borders, that’s something I can readily applaud.
As usual, there are nuances within nuances to be considered.
And Tim Furnish’s use of an image from South Park (I imagine it’s from their Super Best Friends episode) is pure eye-candy. It’s an attention grabber, all right, and it’s function is to point you to Furnish’s recent piece on History News Network, titled What Would a Mitt Romney Foreign Policy Look Like? We’ll learn more about that tonight, I imagine, but Furnish’s column makes interesting preparatory reading:
Ironically, rather like Obama, Romney sees the events of the “Arab Spring” and the abortive “Green Revolution” in Iran through neo-Wilsonian lenses, as evidence of Middle Eastern masses yearning to breathe free — a “struggle between liberty and tyranny, justice and oppression, hope and despair.”
Interestingly enough, the question of who can or should not be tagged with a particular label is central to Furnish’s post. Discussing Romney’s use of the term “extremism” seven times in his Virginia Military Institute [VMI] addresss, he writes:
Only once, note, did he preface the term with the adjective “Islamic.” However, by that one example of intellectual honesty, Romney locates himself light-years ahead of the Obama administration, which actively discourages honest discussion of the fact that 61 percent — 31 of 51 — of the foreign terrorist organizations on the State Depatment’s list thereof are Islamic and which, further, sanctions counter-terrorist trainers who dare to utter words such as “jihad.” One wishes he would simply call an Islamic extremist spade a spade — but Romney is allowing himself to be constrained by his stable of advisors, as well as, perhaps, the pro-Islamic tendencies inherent in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Someone needs to tell the Governor that naming Islamic extremism in the defense of Western civilization is no vice.
FWIW, I am in favor of recognizing that jihadists are influenced by their own versions of Islamic doctrine, within widely varying degrees of flexibility, so the phrase “Islamist extremists” makes some sense to me. And I am equally in favor of allowing those Muslims who see the jihadist’s theology as alien and contrary to their own Muslim tradition to make it clear that in their understanding of Islam, the “jihadists” represent an aberration from the faith. Nuance again, nuance.
Okay, that reference above to the “pro-Islamic tendencies inherent in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints” is linked to another of Furnish’s pieces for HNN, in which he asks Has Mitt Romney’s Mormonism Influenced His Views on Islam? — in which Furnish quotes Romney thus:
I spoke about three major threats America faces on a long term basis. Jihadism is one of them, and that is not Islam. If you want my views on Islam, it’s quite straightforward. Islam is one of the world’s great religions and the great majority of people in Islam want peace for themselves and peace with their maker. They want to raise families and have a bright future. There is, however, a movement in the world known as jihadism. They call themselves jihadists and I use the same term. And this jihadist movement is intent on causing the collapse of moderate Muslim states and the assassination of moderate Muslim leaders. It is also intent on causing collapse of other nations in the world. It’s by no means a branch of Islam. It is instead an entirely different entity. In no way do I suggest it is a part of Islam [emphasis added].
Here’s where the delicate balance is required.
On the one hand, we need to be clear — especially on the analytic and policy-making levels — on the ways in which Islam can be and is being interpreted as providing divine sanction for sustained campaigns of terroristic violence.
And on the other, we should in no way encourage — particularly at the level of popular public opinion — the idea that we are “at war with Islam”, an idea which leads to such things as the dehumanizing and killing of American (not necessarily even Muslims) citizens within our own shores, and an increasing sense that America is in fact at war with Islam in the minds of some few Muslims here and many more abroad — who then become prey for further radicalization, as rage on each extreme fuels the other in the multiple echo-chambers and feedback loops of YouTube and the net.
And for what it’s worth, Tim F and Frank S — you should both talk to your editors about proof-reading. Tim, the Mormon church is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints if I’m not mistaken, with a hyphen and lower-case “d” in “Latter-day” — strictly FTR. And Frank — you get Dinesh D’Souza‘s first name right on two occasions — why spell it Dnish and Dinish on two others?
Oh well, we all make mistakes. I tried to type the word “to” the other day. You might think that’s simple enough, but I spelled it “typo”. Oops!
Feel free, y’all, to let me know what I’ve mis-spelled, misunderstood, or just plain missed, okay?