On Gary Bauer’s Claims That American Muslims Get Better Treatment Than American Christians

On Gary Bauer’s Claims That American Muslims Get Better Treatment Than American Christians December 31, 2010

Gary Bauer makes the ludicrous case that left wing “elites” and Muslims have a common cause of destroying Judeo-Christian culture and so have conspired together to make America more hospitable to Muslims than to Christians:

If Muslims were treated like Christians, Muslims would be mocked by late night TV talk show hosts and lampooned in crude cartoon parodies.

Actually Islam and Christianity, as religions big enough to take care of themselves are routinely mocked on late night TV talk shows and in crude cartoon parodies.  What’s not mocked in either case are the average Muslim or Christian just for being Muslim or just for being Christian.  What are mocked are the extremists of both groups.  Constantly, regularly, and deservedly.  And even when not mocked deservedly, they’re both mocked about as unfairly as anyone else is.  Religions deserve no exemption from mockery and no protection from cartoon depictions.  Political parties get mocked, scientists get mocked, atheists get mocked, even vulnerable minority groups and the disabled get put through the shredder.  If you’re an adherent of a religion and want to treat the religion as holy and above mockery, then revere it and don’t mock it.

But forcing the rest of us not to mock it and to treat it with reverence is to force us to treat it religiously and that’s an unfair demand to make either through the law or even through social norms.  The whole point of my free right not to accept your religion is that I do not have any personal, social, or legal compunction to worship or revere or treat as holy and off-limits what you do.  My right of disbelief is my right to engage your beliefs as I find them interesting or funny or disturbing or valuable as I judge.  You have the same right to treat my beliefs as you judge.  Stop whining for any further privileges or protections.  My rights of disbelief are as inviolable as your rights to belief.

And the only way that Mohammed got exempted from crude cartoon depictions was through threats of violence.  As I said before, that’s not Muslims being “treated better” in America, it’s Muslims being treated with terror.  But I guess, in Gary Bauer’s world, it’s better to be feared as irrationally violent than to be made fun of.  (Which, by the way, is the judgment many bullies make when choosing their place on the playground.)

If Christians were treated like Muslims, conspicuous Christianity would be celebrated by our elites as a sign of our diversity and open-mindedness, not disparaged as an embarrassment, a nuisance and a breach of the law.

Yeah, Americans celebrate women with head coverings like it’s New Year’s Eve.  And, man, the way they run up to the for-years-unshaved men in one piece tunics and give them kisses!  The only gestures towards “conspicuous Islam” that are celebrated are symbolic gestures of inclusion by those in power to vulnerable, badly understood, often demonized minorities and immigrants that we want them to feel welcome and we want to make at least the barest minimum of attempts at understanding where they are coming from.  It is not a celebration or any kind of acknowledgment of their religious beliefs themselves.

When either secular or only nominally or privately religious people see conspicuous Christianity as a nuisance or an embarrassment, it’s because that conspicuous Christianity is taking obnoxious, bullying forms that are trying to assert cultural, intellectual, religious, and, at its worst, political hegemony.  The attempt to impose specifically Christian beliefs and values by theocrats like Gary Bauer through legal and cultural norms is genuine and it is a nuisance, it is embarrassing when those beliefs and values are anti-democratic, intolerant, irrationalistic, anti-scientific, inegalitarian, etc., and when conspicuous Christianity takes the form of state officials pushing Christian-specific worship, prayers, and ideas (those not justifiable also on secular grounds) using their official office or legislation, then it is or should be illegal.

If Christianity were treated like Islam, our students would be taught a white-washed version of Christian history, with the troubling bits miscast or omitted from textbooks and lesson plans.

You mean it would be like Texas?  No religion in America gets its full, bloody history looked square in the face.  Again, there’s no special privileging of Muslims here.

If Christianity were treated like Islam, if an evangelical Christian committed an evil act in the name of his faith, he would be portrayed in the media as a deviation from, not a personification of, the Gospel message. Meanwhile, our political and media elites would hasten to assure the public that evangelical Christianity is a religion of peace and that the vast majority of evangelical Christians do not support terrorism.

First of all, no one ever equates the evil done by evangelical Christians with “the Gospel message”.  But it is the Gary Bauers of the world who work tirelessly to equate Christianity in the public mind with intolerant opposition to gays and with merciless contempt and villainization of women who get abortions.  But typically the critical response to this and to the violent evangelical extremists who kill abortion doctors or plot to overthrow the US government is precisely to contrast them with Jesus’s more pacifist words.  Most of the critiques of both the merely intolerant and discriminatory evangelicals (like Bauer) and the violent ones (like, say, the murderer of George Tiller) are critiques that both forms of fundamentalism in their own ways, to their own very different degrees, represent an awful version of Christianity.  It is, in essence, the same thing one hears from the left about Islam.  The critiques of both Christian and Islamic fundamentalism from the tolerance-first left are centered around denouncing fundamentalism as intellectually, culturally, spiritually, and morally regressive and politically anti-democratic and inegalitarian.  That’s the critique of both religions’ fundamentalist extremists equally and in both cases, the mainstream, moderate, secular or liberally religious left readily distinguishes between better, more progressive and moderate, and worse, more regressive and extremist, forms of religion.

The only people who really tend to say that Christianity itself shares as much (or nearly as much) blame for its extremists as it gets credit for its good guys are the same anti-religious atheists who hold Islam to that same standard too.

It’s simply not a double standard.

The only difference is that secularists and religious leftists are far more sensitive to make sure that their critiques of Islamic extremism does not slip into xenophobia (or inadvertently support the goals of xenophobes.  Critiquing the zealots in their own religion or their own culture’s religion does not have this extra hazard to be sensitive about.  And that’s a reasonable thing to be cautious of.

Finally, and most importantly on this score, a good deal of the motivation behind the talk of Islam as “a religion of peace” is propagandistic and it serves US interests.  It was George W. Bush himself who centered public discourse on this phrase and there are several obvious strategic advantages to doing so.  It sends the message to Muslims that true Muslims are not violent extremists and that we are not hostile to Islam itself and so not engaged in a holy war with Islam.  Why encourage Muslims for even a second to think that Osama bin Laden really has the correct interpretation of Islam?  Why encourage them to associate our violence in their lands with any state-sanctioned language of belligerence towards their religion itself?  To tell the Muslim world we recognize Islam’s violent streaks, rather than its peaceful ones, as its true manifestation is to encourage Muslims to see their religion as bin Laden wants them to and to enlist in his cause.

So, no, the meme that “Islam is a religion of peace” is not a sign of better treatment for Muslims than for Christians.  It is a PR strategy for not inflaming people any worse than killing tens of thousands of their fellow religionists already does.

If Christianity were treated like Islam in America, our president, a professed Christian, would proudly attend Christian-themed dinners and events while skipping Ramadan dinners, not vice versa. And Muslim politicians would go out of their way to assure people that their faith would not affect their policy-making.

Right, Obama must have planted that utterly stupid rumor that he’s secretly a Muslim because it would boost his public support.  He really took a hit in the polls by coming out as a Christian.

Is this serious?

And, again, there is a difference between the head of state participating in Christian-themed dinners with theocrats from the nation’s dominant, most bullying, most power-grasping religious groups, on the one hand and giving symbolic gestures towards a maligned minority group’s traditions.

The difference is not a preference for one religion over another, but the attempt to prevent undue church influence over state on the one hand and the attempt to be tolerant towards a vulnerable religious minority on the other.

If Christianity were treated like Islam, Christmas and Easter would be publicly celebrated for what they are — the signature events of Christianity, marking the birth and the death and Resurrection of Christ — not stripped of all their theological meaning and transformed into secular holidays devoted to crass consumerism.

Christmas and Easter can be celebrated religiously in public but not by public institutions. If you want Christmas to be a national holiday then it must be a secularized form if you are to be inclusive of all of us, Christian and non-Christian alike.  And, sorry, but all of us deserve the right to a public winter holiday season in which everyone celebrates–not just religious believers.  You are free to celebrate Christmas in a religious way and I’m free to celebrate it in a secular way and public institutions should just celebrate it in a way that avoids promoting your religious agenda.  You are not entitled to hold Christmas hostage just because it has the word “Christ” in it.  We all know the real reason for the season is that winter festivals have long been customary in Western history.

You don’t get to impose your religion’s hegemony in the future by appeal to the historical ways people used to primarily conceive of the winter holiday festival.  It’s changing, it’s more inclusive now, people are less religious now and there are more secular people and non-Christians in the West now.  We belong here as much as you do, we are entitled to the winter holiday as much as you are, and having been bequeathed its traditional name of Christmas, we are as entitled to the word and to forming a secular version of it as you are to your private celebrations of the religious version.

Demanding that we all publicly celebrate Christmas religiously simply because the winter holiday in America is named after Jesus is like demanding that everyone in San Jose convert to Catholicism because the city is named after a Catholic saint.

And there is no public or secular celebration of any Islamically named holiday in America, so where exactly is this treatment that Christians would get if only they were treated as well as Muslims with respect to holidays?

If Christians were treated like Muslims, NASA would be tasked with reaching out to Christians and recognizing their faith’s profound achievements and contributions to science, math and engineering, instead of being told to make Muslims feel good about their rather meager scientific accomplishments.

Neither “faith” has made any profound achievements or contributions to science, math, or engineering.  Muslim individuals and Christian individuals during periods of each culture’s ascendancy made extraordinary contributions but precisely insofar as they used their reason and not their faith.  There is not one scientific discovery that the articles of either faith leads to.

If Christians were treated like Muslims, the Catholic Church’s stances on sex, contraception and human life would be revered as welcome departures from our over-sexed, self-obsessed culture, not condemned as a cause of disease and death in the less-developed world. And if Muslims were treated like Christians, the application of Sharia law around the world would be met not with stony silence but with the outrage it deserves.

No American non-Muslim who criticizes the Catholic Church’s stances on sex, contraception, and human life simultaneously reveres the comparable attitudes of Muslim theocracies towards these aspects of life.  That’s sheer absurdity.

But, while not revering it, I will grant Bauer that cultural tolerance and understanding go overboard in some cases and I have heard some liberals, including one otherwise ardent feminist, not just defend the right of Muslim women to wear burkhas but have actually defended it as good.  They have not revered it but, yes, they have defended both the burkha and even Islam’s overarching ideal of “submission” and its call for humility that the burkha comes out of as somehow beautiful things.  And, yes, these attitudes are often strikingly inconsistent with their concern for the cultural, psychological, and sexual autonomy of Western women.  It makes sense to an extent to respect that a different culture might have different needs, priorities, and sources of happiness, etc. and may, on objective measures, be judged better off adhering to certain practices that would be unqualifiedly deterimental in the West.  But going further and praising that heteronomous, anti-egalitarian culture as inherently more virtuous just shows a poverty of appreciation for the strength of modern, in many ways post-Christian, values.

Unfortunately though the Catholic Church, traditional Islam, and overly relativistic secular Westerners who fail to appreciate the objective merits of their own values are all equally wrong when either promoting or endorsing traditionalist repression of sex and women.

If Christians were treated like Muslims in America, amusement parks would celebrate “Christian Family Day,” (Six Flags recently celebrated “Muslim Family Day”),

Weird, that day devoted to Contemporary Christian Music concerts at Six Flags Great Adventure that I went to when I was in high school must have actually secretly been filled with Muslim bands and I didn’t even realize what was going on.  We really are losing our country to the Muslims!

and Christians would be asked to embrace, not set aside, their religious convictions at the door when they entered the public square. Meanwhile, Muslim imams, not Christian pastors, would fear hate crimes lawsuits for preaching orthodox views of sexuality and sin.

Where in America have Muslims been asked to embrace their religious convictions in the public square?  No one, neither Muslim nor Christian, nor Jew nor Hindu should be encouraged to legislate based on their own religion’s idiosyncratic beliefs that cannot find secular justification.  We do not have a theocracy.  We should not have a theocracy.  All of us, including Muslims, are, and should be, forced to have publicly accessible and agreeable bases for the laws and policies to which we propose our fellow citizens be subjected.

The notion that American Muslims face discrimination, even to the point of violence, is often posited by America’s elites. But that idea evaporates under scrutiny. Remarkably few hate crimes are reported against Muslims (fewer than one-eighth those against Jews).

First of all, there’s more than twice as many Jews as Muslims in America so raw number of incidents are not telling.  Secondly, the numerous pro-Islam memes and methods of accommodation that Bauer bemoans (at least the few ones actually based in fact and not only in his victimhood fantasies) are likely in no small part responsible for keeping hate crime numbers relatively low.  Bauer would rather stoke resentment among the dominant majority towards this already constantly defamed minority than be a part of keeping those numbers low.  It does not get much more irresponsible or self-serving than that.

What’s more, Muslim immigration to America has risen sharply since September 11, 2001, and Muslims thrive, economically and educationally, once they arrive.

Now isn’t that funny—in the beginning of his article (which I discussed in another post) Bauer sure made it sound like America’s success was integrally tied to its Judeo-Christian beliefs and values and decidedly not to Islamic beliefs and values which were implicitly taken to be antithetical to the Judeo-Christian ones.  And yet, amazingly enough, Muslims with their sub-Judeo-Christian values actually thrive economically and educationally in America?  That couldn’t be counter-evidence against the notion that only Judeo-Christians have any good values and as such Judeo-Christianity is indispensable in society and must be promoted through every cultural and legal means available, could it?

In fact, it is Christians, not Muslims, who increasingly encounter cultural elites who are hostile to their beliefs and values.

The same misogynistic, homophobic, and irrationlistic values and superstitious nonsense Christians get flak over is the same stuff that Muslims get flak over.  And, again, the moderates treat both religions with kid gloves by separating the extremists from the “true religion” and the more thorough-going New Atheists treat both religions with intellectual hostility.  Again, no double standard.

Sadly, Christians will never be treated like Muslims by America’s elites. Why? Because Christianity can be attacked without fear of retribution. The Christian response to insult and attack — “to turn the other cheek” — contradicts the knee-jerk call to violence of many Islamists.

No, there have been plenty of violent Christians throughout the ages and there are violent Christian extremists even today.  What makes fundamentalist Christians less violent (but no less petulant, self-pitying, controlling, and authoritarian) than their Muslim counterparts is that Christianity has more successfully been modernized and secularized by the broader shifts in Western culture.   The command to turn the other cheek didn’t stop Christianity from drenching Europe with blood for centuries.  What stopped it was the agreement to compartmentalize religion and keep the state apparatus out of its hands.  What stopped it was the growth of the virtue of tolerance that restrained the vindictive defense of wholly irrational and rationally undecidable theological disputes.

The vast majority of American secularists, American Christians, and American Muslims all resolve their disputes over religion non-violently.  And the violent Muslims are engaged with plenty of “non-cheek-turning”  violence from American soldiers who happen to be Christian, atheist, Muslim, and assorted others as well.

We don’t live in a world of pacifist Christians being pissed on by world dominating elites while the average Muslim blows up everything in sight.  That world only exist in the self-absorbed delusions of spoiled Christian theocrats who think anything less than full capitulation of all of culture to their own faith is tantamount to special persecution.

It’s also because left-wing elites and radical Islamists are united in the common cause of upending the Judeo-Christian culture and roots of American society.

“Left-wing elites” only want to protect Muslims from irrational backlashes related to 9/11, they have no common cause with extremists who seek to establish a worldwide caliphate.  There is no common cause in replacing either Judaism or Christianity with Wihabbism or even of any other, milder, form of Islam.  The left protects and stands up for Muslims because it is the decent, tolerant way to treat a potentially vulnerable minority group.  The left also preserves the rights of women, of gays, of Jews, of atheists, etc.  And when the left has to make hard choices about the limits to which it can tolerate the intolerant forms of Islam that threaten the autonomy or very lives of women, gays, Jews, and apostates, it will be facing hard principled choices.

The left quite truly has no common cause with the authoritarian streaks of Islam.  The left is only concerned that Muslims can work out their pursuit of the good in their lives as autonomously and successfully as they can without inhibiting the rights of any one else to do the same.  The left has no particular animus against Judaism, Christianity, secularism, Hinduism, Islam, but tries its best to make sure everyone can succeed without unfair discrimination.  The left seeks to correct against the attempts of dominant bullying groups to quash difference.

The left mollycoddles Christianity as much as it does Islam, with even many accommodationist atheists refusing so much as to publicly dispute the veracity of any religion’s claims for fear of offending.  And, yes, the left bows to violent extremism too much in censoring images of Mohammed.  But other places where the left restrains its criticisms or mockeries of Islam but not Christianity, it is not out of a conspiratorial common cause against Judeo-Christian culture but, simply, out of politeness to strangers.

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