Some People can’t handle the truth. President Obama referenced the Crusades at yesterday’s prayer breakfast, and from the reaction you’d think he’d just pissed on Jesus.
“Lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ,” Mr. Obama said. “In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.”
These are what we call bare-assed facts. Yes, terrible things were done in the name of Christ during the Crusades and the Inquisition. Yes, lots of antebellum ministers delivered sermons supporting slavery, quoting the Bible as they did so. These are well-documented facts that ought to be taught in high school level history, and certainly anyone who has a bachelor’s degree in just about anything should have had enough History 101 to have been exposed to these facts.
But I guess not.
“The president’s comments this morning at the prayer breakfast are the most offensive I’ve ever heard a president make in my lifetime,” said Jim Gilmore, the former Republican governor of Virginia. “He has offended every believing Christian in the United States.”
Rush Limbaugh devoted a segment of his show to what he said were the president’s insults to the “whole gamut of Christians” and Twitter’s right wing piled on. Guests on Megyn Kelly’s Fox News show spent 15 minutes airing objections to the president’s comments.
Another article quotes Gov. Gilmore this way —
“He has offended every believing Christian in the United States,” said Mr. Gilmore, a Republican. “This goes further to the point that Mr. Obama does not believe in America or the values we share.”
Of this, Ed Kilgore writes,
While some of Obama’s critics may claim the Inquisition and the Crusades just weren’t all that bad (though an auto-da-fe in a capital case for, say, the refusal to eat pork, was probably about as “barbaric” as a beheading), I think Gilmore articulates the main objection: we’re in a “religious war” and the president needs to show solidarity with “our” religion. Others, of course, reject the idea of separation of church and state that Obama spoke of yesterday, typically by drawing on David Barton’s spurious histories of the Founders’ intentions.
In other words, it’s possible that knowledge of Christianity’s less glorious episodes does reside in a little-used nook in Gilmore’s head, but it’s disloyal to the Team to talk about that stuff! (See also “Mass Rage Event.”)
Ed Kilgore goes on to make some excellent points about the President’s understanding of Christianity being more traditional and, well, religious than those of his critics, but for now I want to skip to another point, which is the rightie obsession with labels. I’ve written about this in the past (see, for example, “Why Are Righties So Obsessed With Labels?” ). Many righties, such as South Carolina Senator Miss Lindsey Graham, are demanding that the President say the words “we are in a religious war against radical Islamists.”
Even assuming we can define “radical Islamist” narrowly enough so that it doesn’t include anyone who’s ever visited a mosque or worn a headscarf, what do you mean by “religious war”? America is not supposed to do “religious wars,” I don’t think. A “religious war” by definition is “a war primarily caused or justified by differences in religion,” according to Wikipedia, and I honestly don’t think “differences in religion” are the real problem. The problem is “whackjob radicals murdering people and destabilizing the Middle East,” as I understand it. The radicals may have co-opted some twisted version of Islam to justify what they’re doing, but it’s what they’re doing, not our “differences in religion,” that is the problem.
John Amato quotes Uber-Catholic Bill Donohue as saying “We have a problem with Islam. Not just with Islamists, but a problem with Islam.” But who is “we”? I don’t have a problem with Islam. As John Amato says,
For some reason the right has focused on Obama for not constantly bashing the Muslim religion, as Bill Donohue does in this interview, but then they demand that Muslim countries join us in fighting groups like ISIS. Do they not understand the fallacy of their reasoning?
If there’s one thing top Republicans know, it’s that America can’t defeat terrorism unless we call it by its real name. “We are in a religious war with radical Islamists,” Lindsey Graham recently told Fox News. “When I hear the President of the United States and his chief spokesperson failing to admit that we’re in a religious war, it really bothers me.” Rudy Giuliani agrees: “If we can’t use the words radical Islamic terrorism, we can’t get rid of them. So does Ted Cruz. At the Iowa Freedom Summit in January he declared that, You cannot fight and win a war on radical Islamic terrorism if you’re unwilling to utter the words ‘radical Islamic terrorism.'”
There are several problems here. Even if one believed that calling the enemy radical Islam were a good idea, it would hardly explain how to defeat it. …In reality, denouncing radical Islam offers little guidance for America’s actual policy dilemmas.
Back to Ed Kilgore:
As Beinart suggests, the real purpose of these demands seems to be a sort of defiance of “political correctness” — a test of the president’s willingness to offer unnecessary and counter-productive offense for the sheer hell of it. Some conservatives, of course, wish to wage war on Islam in its entirety, which would require a degree of unilateralism and bottomless resources that might daunt even Dick Cheney. Others are simply intoxicated with the alleged power of “moral clarity” involved in insulting people. Any way you look at it, though, it’s an irresponsible obsession.
So they don’t really have a plan, but just think America will be naturally empowered if its head of state says the right magic words. Of course, some of this is the usual faux outrage intended to damage the President politically, even if it means messing up U.S. foreign policy. But the faux outrage wouldn’t score points if it didn’t tap into something deep and nasty and real.
Every now and then one runs into something that gets to the heart of things, and I ran into such a thing this morning. This is from an article on karma (emphasis added) —
We read the early Buddhist attacks on the caste system, and aside from their anti-racist implications, they often strike us as quaint. What we fail to realize is that they strike right at the heart of our myths about our own past: our obsession with defining who we are in terms of where we come from — our race, ethnic heritage, gender, socio-economic background, sexual preference — our modern tribes. We put inordinate amounts of energy into creating and maintaining the mythology of our tribe so that we can take vicarious pride in our tribe’s good name.
That’s at least 80 percent of most right-wing politics these days — the mythology of their tribe. It’s all about taking vicarious pride in being Christian, or American, or white, or whatever. And the other 20 percent is protecting the assets of the 1 percent.