People write to me from time to time insisting that Islam isn’t actually a religion at all. It’s really, they say, a totalitarian political ideology masquerading as a religion. Accordingly, it doesn’t really deserve protection under the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America.
When I’m told such things, I immediately think of those who deny that my church — my “so-called church,” they would say — is really a religion. Rather, they say, it’s a business — “LD$ Inc.” — run for the financial benefit of its greedy and power-hungry leaders. We who loyally “pay, pray, and obey” are merely “sheeple,” “Mor(m)ons,” and, in many cases, “Utards.” It’s all about malls and farms and land-holdings, not about anything spiritual. Even our temples, they allege, are merely “profit centers,” intended as tools to induce us dupes to fork over our tithes.
But, whenever I’m told such things, I’m also reminded of Parson Thwackum, a character in Henry Fielding’s classic 1749 novel The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling:
“When I mention religion,” declares Parson Thwackum, “I mean the Christian religion; and not only the Christian religion, but the Protestant religion; and not only the Protestant religion, but the Church of England.”
It’s time to trot out, yet again, one of my three or four all-time favorite religious jokes. It’s by Emo Philips, but I’ve modified it very, very slightly for stylistic reasons:
Once I saw this guy on a bridge about to jump.
I said, “Don’t do it!”
He said, “Nobody loves me.”
I said, “God loves you. Do you believe in God?”
He said, “Yes.”
I said, “Are you a Christian or a Jew?”
He said, “A Christian.”
I said, “Me, too! Protestant or Catholic?”
He said, “Protestant.”
I said, “Me, too! What denomination?”
He said, “Baptist.”
I said, “Me, too! Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?”
He said, “Northern Baptist.”
I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?”
He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist.”
I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region, or Northern Conservative Baptist Eastern Region?”
He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region.”
I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879, or Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?”
He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912.”
I said, “Die, heretic!” And I pushed him over.