The perils of monotheism

timecov6_16The June 21 issue of Time devotes a 10-page cover story to the volatile questions of faith and politics. Time supplements other recent stories about the religion gap:

According to a Time poll, those who consider themselves “very religious” support Bush over John Kerry, 59% to 35%, while those who are “not religious” favor Kerry, 69% to 22%. Asked if a President should be guided by his faith while making policy, 63% of Democrats say no while 70% of Republicans say yes. The gap would probably be even wider if it were not for those black voters who tend to be socially conservative, attend church regularly but nonetheless vote for Democrats.

Ron Reagan added fuel to the debate when he said his late father was never guilty of “wearing his faith on his sleeve to gain political advantage.” Indeed, the eulogies delivered last Friday by Reagan’s three grown children represented dueling worldviews: Michael Reagan spoke as an evangelical Christian, Patti Davis described death as an inescapable experience for any child of earth and Ron Reagan, like many other of Reagan’s eulogists, described a paradise awaiting everyone.

Time‘s story is even-handed, informative and well-sourced, but it does include one strange paragraph that takes the concept of moral equivalence to a new level of absurdity:

But at some point [Bush] risks becoming trapped in contradiction when he tries to separate the jihadists from the God in whose name they fight. Many Americans who support the war on terrorism do so because they view al-Qaeda and its ilk as an implacable enemy anchored in a radical, though by no means typical, Muslim faith, willing to strap on explosives and blow up a nightclub because of a vision of heaven and earth and right and wrong that we may not understand but can’t just ignore. It is as though Bush can’t allow the possibility that the enemy is motivated by its understanding of God’s will lest his critics note that he believes the same of himself.

Got that? If you believe that one God exists, that he is active in human lives and that it’s a good thing to conform your life to God’s will, you too could become a terrorist!

Still, Time also found Charly Gullett, a gun-shop owner who sounds like a fun contrarian:

“I’m not a believer in God,” he says, “but I recognize that faith is a morally guiding force in most people’s lives. I believe President Bush has brought honor back to the White House because of his faith. I don’t see the religious community being upset with him. I see the nonreligious community being upset with him because they see faith as a threat to liberal thought. There’s nothing about Bush’s faith that makes me uncomfortable.”

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  • Victor Morton

    In defense of the Time paragraph Mr. LeBlanc calls “strange.”

    It’s coming in the context of several grafs about the war on terror and Bush’s vehement and continuous denials that the war on terror is a war with Islam. To be consistent in that claim and to persuade Muslims that the war is in their interest too, he HAS to deny (against all the evidence IMHO) that Islam plays a role in motivating the terrorists. The writer has the quotes to back it up, with Bush saying (paraphrasing from memory) that al Qaeda is not religious, but are totalitarian nihilists just using religion as an excuse to kill.

    In that context, the paragraph is disputable as third-person-mind-reading certainly, but hardly either “moral equivalence” (Bush is no Max Weber) or nutty.

  • David Kendrick

    Not having been able to read the whole article, here’s another defense of the quote.

    Reflecting on how, indeed, Ronald Reagan won the Cold War “without firing a shot,” it seems to me that our battle with the Soviet Union was, at its heart, a debate about which society fostered the best organization of human resources to meet human needs. Reagan’s defense buildup, tax cuts, and support of Paul Volcker’s strangling of inflation, all combined to send a powerful message to the the Communist hierarchy: You can’t beat us. We are resolved to outspend you to the grave. The Cold War ended when, esentially, the Soviets conceded the argument and dissolved themselves.

    I heard Collin Powell say that Reagan expresses his ideas in “simple” terms without being “simplistic.” President Bush’s refusal to engage the the ideology of those he only refers to as “evildoers” _is_ “simplistic.” If there’s no argument we can make to persuade those who might be attracted to the Al Qaeda vision, then our only strategy can be “Kill ‘em all.” And such “Kill or be killed” logic can easily lead to the tactic of “Kill ‘em all and let God sort ‘em out.”

    From Bush’s extremely cautious comments here, it would seem that that isn’t what he wants. But it may be that the “Holy War” mindset evident in such advisers as Gen. Boykin may well be where we’re headed unless we develop a more coherent critique of the enemy than the current President has offered.

  • Joe Perez

    Doug: “Got that? If you believe that one God exists, that he is active in human lives and that it’s a good thing to conform your life to God’s will, you too could become a terrorist!”

    You’re right, by God. Monotheism does have a tendency to lead to terrorism. I never thought of it that way. They should put a warning label on monotheistic religions. On second thought, it’s ludicrous to think that belief that there is One True God who demands obedience to One True Faith and commands the conversation of sinners at the peril of their eternal damnation could possibly have anything to do with inspiring believers to acts of terrorism, inquisitions, the burning of witches and sodomites, or other nasty business. Monotheism has no connection whatsoever to ethnocentric tribalism… let’s just ignore a few thousand years of history, ok?

  • Ed Jordan


    I think you have elaborated very well the prejudice that Doug found implied in the Time article.

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