Douthat calls for open religious warfare; thousands perish in ensuing Crusade

I am, frankly, taken aback by some of the reactions to Ross Douthat’s latest column, which makes the commonsensical observation that wavering Anglicans may find the Pope’s combative approach to Islam more attractive than their own church’s more conciliatory policy. Adam Serwer, for example, uses the column as a jumping off point for blaming Christians for the Iraq War:

Douthat is considered a “reasonable conservative” in liberal circles, but this column is downright nutty. It’s frightening enough that someone who attended school in a city as international as Boston could endorse the idea of viewing Muslims worldwide as a “foe” of Christianity.  But consider the fact that there are probably a number of people in charge of making foreign policy decisions in the last administration, who saw Christianity and Islam as “foes” and acted or advised accordingly. In fact, the march to war in Iraq despite the lack of evidence of weapons of mass destruction, the false linkage of Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda, and even the argument that the use of torture is justified against Muslims are easily explained by the worldview of a person who sees Christianity and Islam as being “foes,” particularly if one sees America as a “Christian Nation.”*

I mean, what? Other than his willful misinterpretation of the word “foe,” I challenge Serwer to identify anything at all in Douthat’s column that endorses religious conflict between Muslims and Christians.

It’s true that Catholicism and Islam compete for spiritual converts. But this isn’t Lepanto or the Siege of Jerusalem. It’s a straightforward case of religious pluralism, with both faiths striving to attract adherents through persuasion and institutional expansion. Are secularists like Serwer threatened by a robust public competition between Islam and Christianity? And if so, why?

The assumption that seems to undergird this line of thinking is that religious leaders should always avoid public agreement. This strikes me as both hopelessly naive and antithetical to the very idea of religious faith. Islam and Catholicism are spiritual cousins, but both faiths also have serious doctrinal differences. Denying these distinctions empties religion of any meaning other than some vague, Unitarian-lite belief in a higher power, which does serious violence to two venerable theological traditions.

*I also think Bush deserves some credit for distancing his (admittedly disastrous) foreign policy from any religious conflict.

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53 thoughts on “Douthat calls for open religious warfare; thousands perish in ensuing Crusade

  1. Glenn Greenwald: “Hey – look over there. Muslims. They’re waging war on reason and taking over. We have to unite to stop them.” Does that sound more like the Pope or Christopher Hitchens?

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  2. I read Douthat looking to pick a fight but yesterday’s piece evoked a big yawn.

    On the other hand, yeah, what E.D. said. Maybe. No, he’s right. Wait a minuet, maybe just some Muslims and
    some Christians. No, they are all evil, kill ’em all. A big pile of dead folk, sounds right.

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  3. “Denying these distinctions empties religious faith of any meaning other than some vague, Unitarian-lite belief in a higher power”

    Belief in a higher power is the essence of religion. Everything else, all those “doctrinal differences”, is at best cultural trappings to appeal to the masses, and at worst, pure BS.

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  4. The racism implied by Douthat’s post allows us an opportunity to explore his (understandably) hidden motivations in writing this. First we need to look at… wait, devout Muslims are Young Earth Creationists?

    SOMETHING MUST BE DONE!!!

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    • wait, devout Muslims are Young Earth Creationists?

      I assume that this is supposed to be rapier-like sarcasm designed to attack so-called Christian fundamentalists. Unfortunately, the rapier-like wit comes off as a fitful blow with a baseball bat. I wish that the worst “devout Muslims” believed was in some “Young Earth Creationism” (whatever that is.) Unfortunately for you this isn’t true, starting with their belief that the archangel Gabriel dictated the Koran to Muhammad. Then, there’s the belief that Muhammad was the “perfect man” whose actions must be imitated to attain salvation. These actions include child rape and virulent anti Semitism, to take just two examples off the top of my head. Believers in “Young Earth Creationism” (whatever that is) don’t bother me in the least. They haven’t declared war on me yet, unlike the “devout Muslims” who have. They won’t capture me and make me the star of their latest beheading video as I capitulate to their demands to embrace Islam.

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      • You assume wrong.

        It was instead mocking supposed pluralistic liberalism that argues for tolerance of other cultures and makes diversity of thought a virtue in its own rights until one of its own oxen are gored (in this case, the creationism vs. evolution debate) at which point any pretense of tolerance of other cultures is abandoned.

        You really need to lighten up.

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        • Christian fundamentalists never had any pretense of tolerance to start with. But they’re truly a “fringe movement” who don’t bother anyone who doesn’t want to be bothered: we do have the First Amendment in this country, after all. In any case, I’d take the intolerance of “Young Earth Creationists” over the intolerance of “devout Muslims” any day. The YEC do not behead their adversaries, fly planes into skyscrapers, etc etc. Even when they do commit terrorist acts, condemnation by this “Christian nation” is unequivocal, in contrast to the ambivalence of “devout Muslim” nations towards their own, much more lethal, terrorism. There’s just no equivalence and to suggest it just panders to Muslim sensibilities. They’ve been pandered to enough.

          You really need to lighten up.

          I apologize: har-de-har-har-har. Happy now?

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            • tell that to gay and lesbian Americans.

              Gay and lesbian Americans are rightfully bothered by Christian fundamentalists, and by many others as well. It’s not a religious issue in most cases. When it is, it’s just marginal to the entire situation of disrespect and lack of rights that they face in the world. Notably, this world is infinitely harsher for them in Muslim nations than in this “Christian” one. Does that matter to you at all? In the US, gay and lesbian Americans are protected by the Constitution, after all, and are not compelled to conform to “Christian” beliefs about sexual life. That’s what I meant by saying that nobody is really bothered by them.

              As a thought experiment, imagine a “million man march” of gay and lesbian Muslims to make the haj to Mecca. On the other hand, don’t imagine it because it would become a wholesale slaughter of gay and lesbian Muslims. On the other hand, imagine a “million man march” of gay and lesbian Catholics on the Vatican. It would be the biggest gay and lesbian party in history, besides generating huge publicity for them and against the Vatican’s hypocritical policies.

              Gay and lesbian Americans are about ten percent of the population, therefore it’s a marginal concern for the nation, as important as it is to protect their rights (and all minority rights). Your focus on them just shows that my argument is valid: you focus on the exception that proves the rule, not on the rule itself, as is the case in Arab and Muslim nations.

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          • Well, the point that I’ve traditionally made is that I’d rather local control (with some Young Earth Creationism sprinkled around) than centralized control with everybody learning Lysenkoism… allowing small communities to be in charge of themselves and maintain their own cultures without having new cultures being forced on them.

            Even if they are Young Earth Creationists… which is a world view I see as mostly harmless for most folks (in the same way that the Pluto is/isn’t a planet debate is one that is mostly harmless).

            As it stands, I have been argued against forcefully (more importantly: humorlessly) as if this was, instead, a moral issue where we needed to project our curriculae onto those little hillbilly school boards for the good of the Country, the Society, and the Culture.

            Anyway, I was making a joke about how the liberal types would lash out against the Muslim Threat as soon as they realized that the Muslims were creationists.

            Which brings us back to: Lighten up, Francis.

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            • If liberal types don’t know that Muslims are creationists (which is the least of their problems) then their ignorance has no excuse whatsoever. I take it as willful ignorance. They have made a tacit alliance with the Muslims so the old Leftist slogan applies: “No enemies on the left.” In this case it has evolved to read, “No enemies who are enemies of the US.”

              I’m happy to lighten up once I see that you’re really as “humorous” as you think you are. I’m still waiting for that to happen. As it is, your “humor” is just a screen for your lack of ideas.

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              • As they are learning that Muslims are creationists, their hackles are being raised. This is something that I’ve actively observed. The same groups that argued for religious tolerance have flipped to discussing how to combat against creationism.

                My “lack of ideas” tends to be some variant of “let’s stop spilling our blood and treasure in corners of the world that are not ours” and “allow a hell of a lot more local control” and “let’s be more tolerant of other cultures… including the other cultures we have here in the US (barring violence or coercion, of course).”

                I’m under the impression that the Muslim Threat will be destroyed in the same way that the Christian Fundamentalist Threat was destroyed.

                Sex. Drugs. Rock and Roll. Husbands realizing that women in the workplace equals more money in the checking account. Liberal no-fault divorce law that allows for women to file. The Internet.

                This will do far, far more to ruin fundamentalist Islam in far shorter a time than Eternal Vigilance (and by “Eternal Vigilance”, I mean spilling our blood and treasure into unquenchable sand).

                But, hey. Maybe your plans will work too. Let’s invade Syria. I understand there is a chance that Saddam smuggled WMDs into that country (vindication!). Besides, they’ll greet us as liberators. Surely.

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                • My “lack of ideas” tends to be some variant of “let’s stop spilling our blood and treasure in corners of the world that are not ours” and “allow a hell of a lot more local control” and “let’s be more tolerant of other cultures… including the other cultures we have here in the US (barring violence or coercion, of course).”

                  I see that you recognize that the above is fairly characterized as “lack of ideas.” Good for you. Now that you have recognized your problem—always the first step in change—why don’t you go get some ideas instead of just pretending?

                  Hey, I haven’t suggested invading anyone so don’t put words in my mouth.

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                  • “Let’s stop punching myself in the nuts” is perhaps a lack of ideas (“BUT WHAT WILL YOU REPLACE IT WITH???” is a good follow-up question) but, god help me, I don’t see “let’s keep punching ourselves in the nuts” as a more reasonable and serious alternative.

                    For the record, I’m sure that your ideas will get a lot more play on the national level than mine.

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          • Hey, I don’t believe in “celebration” of diversity.

            I do believe that, barring violence or coercion, how other cultures do stuff is as much my business as how I do stuff is theirs.

            I’m not of the opinion that how I do stuff is theirs.

            For the record, I don’t expect them to celebrate me.

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  5. It’s true that Christians do not view Muslims as a foe but the opposite is false. Obviously. We found that out on 9/11. Unfortunately for you, there is a religious war going on—read MEMRI if you doubt it—and trite pablum like this post only makes it worse.

    Islam and Christianity are not spiritual cousins. Islam was pretty much plagiarized from Judaism and Christianity but that doesn’t make them relatives. They’re out-and-out enemies according to Muslims.

    It’s true that Catholicism and Islam compete for spiritual converts. But this isn’t Lepanto or the Siege of Jerusalem. It’s a straightforward case of religious pluralism, with both faiths striving to attract adherents through persuasion and institutional expansion.

    I what universe is this true? How does Catholicism “compete” for converts in Arab and Muslim countries when their very presence is treated as a crime against the law of god? How do they “compete” when “persuasion”—and being “persuaded”—causes the death penalty and mere possession of a Christian Bible is a crime? Before writing such feel-good nonsense, you should consider that for Muslims it is the Seige of Jerusalem and Lepanto. Otherwise, why is the non Muslim world called the “Abode of War?” How do you explain the exodus of Christians from Arab and Muslim nations, especially from Palestine? Bethlehem, for example, was a Christian-majority city not too long ago. Today, Christians are a diminishing minority.

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    • “We found that out on 9/11.”

      No, we didn’t. What we found is that a particular group of fringe Muslims view us as a foe. The same group of fringe Muslims we armed and trained to fight the Soviets. The same group of fringe Muslims we funnel billions of petrodollars every year to. The same group of fringe Muslims we still give high-tech weaponry and fighter jets to, on the pretext that they’re our allies.

      The nation we should have invaded after 9/11 was Saudi Arabia. Too bad Bush and his cronies were making too much money there.

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      • You make a fair point, especially about the realpolick of our alliance with Saudi Arabia. However, to call it a “fringe movement” is very wide of the mark. This would place jihadism on par with “Young Earth Creationism” (whatever that is.) The truth is that your “fringe movement” is very much part of mainstream Wahabbism. Saudi money has made Wahabbism “mainstream” today, as the adherence of Muslims far and wide to its absurd doctrines makes painfully clear. This is the whole problem Saudi Arabia has with the jihadists: they’re only practicing what the Saudi religious establishment has been preaching for two hundred years. Or more. Read The Seige of Mecca: the 1979 Uprising at Islam’s Holiest Shrine, by Yaroslav Trofimov. This is an in-depth reportage on this woefully under reported event but, even more, it’s a history of jihadism and its corrosive effects on “devout Muslims.” To take but one example of this from the book, the Wahabbi assault on Sufism and their wholesale extermination was a watershed event. It changed history and helped to make today’s jihadist fanaticism “mainstream” in the Muslim world. Before that, Sufism itself was “mainstream.” It goes without saying that Sufism poses no threat to the West, nor does it ever intend to.

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        • Wahhabism is at most the religion followed by saudi arabia which consists of 27 million people. The number of people who subscribe to all of its doctrinal points would probably be lower. number of muslims in the world are 1.5 billion. Wahabbism is way not a mainstream muslim movement. Its not even clear if it is the Wahabbi aspect of Wahabbism (unitarianism, not a direct translation but what they call themselves) that causes this jihadism. It is more that they also often are Salafists, who are literalists, who are alienated from all things non-muslim and are vulnerable to jihadist propaganda. But Salafi jihadism is a fringe movement, consisting of less than 1% of the muslim population in the world.

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    • You can’t compete.
      The Prophet understood xian proselytization very well and proofed the people against it as well as he could. Islam is the next evolutionary stage of monotheism.
      WECs are dying out.
      The vibrant beating heart of New Xianity is black, brown, and yellow.
      I for one welcome Our New Multi-colored Overlords.
      rawr!

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      • Islam is the next evolutionary stage of monothesim

        Very true. Monothesim means militant intolerance of other beliefs, not “one god”. In the case of Judaism and Christianity this intolerance means social isolation. In the case of Islam it means death. This is how your prophet “proofed the people”. Looking at the wholy desructive results of monothism and it’s “highest evolutionary form” of Islam, polytheism is preferable.

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  6. Will,

    I don’t think Serwer is saying Ross endorses religious war. I read Serwer as saying Ross should consider more seriously the ways in which words (like the ones he wrote) can be put to use. Very bad use. Ross might want to consider–or at least show some verbal signs that he has considered (admittedly hard in op-eds)–the potential consequences of said views.

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    • Chris –

      Here are a few relevant excerpts from Serwer’s post:

      “Ross Douthat is heartened by Pope Benedict’s outreach to Anglicans because, well, there’s a war against Islam to fight and Jesus needs foot soldiers . . .”

      “Glenn Greenwald rightfully notes the irony of “someone who is virtually calling for a worldwide religious conflagration is simultaneously condemning his targets for lacking ‘Western reason.'”

      “I’ve already made this point implicitly before, but the kind of anti-Muslim bigotry demonstrated by reasonable conservative Ross Douthat and his ideological cohorts in Congress directly undermines national security.”

      These strike me as examples of willful misinterpretation, not “tut, tut, old boy – check your word choice.”

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      • fair enough. i wonder where the point at which “foe” in a proselytization sense bleeds over (sorry for the sanguinary unintended pun) into actual physical war.

        like with the gg quote: “conflagration”. Does he mean actual violence?

        I think Serwer’s point relative to foreign policy has some merit. Not clear that it is fairly attributable to Ross in this post, but it’s connected. It’s out there. And I think it’s worth the discussion.

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            • “Where the European encounter is concerned, Pope Benedict has opted for public confrontation. In a controversial 2006 address in Regensburg, Germany, he explicitly challenged Islam’s compatibility with the Western way of reason — and sparked, as if in vindication of his point, a wave of Muslim riots around the world.”

              I don’t know. I can construct a defense of that paragraph, but I think it’s much easier to conclude that Douthat doesn’t think very highly of the ability of Muslims to reason.

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              • Without mounting a defense at all, you could simply say that Douthat is sticking closely to a description of what actually happened. Is it necessary to edit out such description so that some vague “other” is not tempted to what Chris Dierkes calls “very bad use”?

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      • Ross’s column may have been misconstrued; I couldn’t find the words “death to the Pagan infidels” anywhere in it.
        But especially reading these threads, I think we need to be careful in picking our enemy.
        Are we at war with Islam?
        Or the rabid intolerance of the Islamists?
        Choose carefully! One would involve a genocidal and ultimately futile campaign; the other would involve a full-throated and consistent defense of liberal democracy and secular culture.

        It reminds me of an article I read about a fervent leftist American who traveled to work with the Palestinians against Israel; she came away disillusioned, and made the comment that in their rhetoric, “Zionists” became “Israelis” became ultimately the “Jews”; a specific battle against a political target became a war of ethnic tribalism.

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    • It’s a little dubious for someone to pick on Douthat of all people for not considering the “way that words can be put to use.” Especially so recently after he was attacked for his discomfort in the face of questions about the conservative or Catholic case against same-sex marriage. This is just an echo of what TAC’s George Hawley describes as the liberal exhortation that conservatives only be “gracious losers.” If you can’t criticize the way that Islam has responded to “reason,” what can you criticize?

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  7. “Are secularists like Serwer threatened by a robust public competition between Islam and Christianity? And if so, why?”

    No offense, Freddie, but in the context of this post, this question doesn’t sound as stupid as it does taken out of context…

    Perhaps it might be because when “robust public competition” becomes too robust…well, it erupts into full-scale jihad?

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