Friday, August 27, 2010

New Letter to My Atheist Friend (MAF) et al.

Though my own thoughts on the Ground Zero Mosque (GZM) may be hopelessly confused, it is abundantly clear that Katha Pollitt's take is at least as simple-minded as any of her opponents'. The problem for Christians and for those of us who still take our ethical cues from the remnant of a Christian culture is not just the First Amendment, but predominantly the golden rule. Before any recourse to constitutional law it made, we firmly and devoutly wish to treat the Mahometan and his accouterments as we would have him treat us and our stuff--not merely as he may in fact treat us. Thus those of us who point to Christians’ plight in Arabia as an example to reciprocate are to me a source of shame (not that their direction of our notice to the "muslim" in his own element is entirely gratuitous, as we shall see). To a large degree, Christian, Jewish and secular Americans have been commendable--especially since "9/11"--in their fidelity, however grudging, to this aim. However, times are when it would seem that the barrier laid across our path is a suspicion not easily dismissed that we are being asked to treat their tiger (or if it be only a polecat the question is the same) as we would have them treat our good mouser.

We may note that if the analogy only really applies at a mundane level--that of politics--we still are called to be sly as serpents, not to hold politics beneath us. I'd be the last to argue that the problem of our treatment of Allah's children is not complicated immeasurably by its consideration on a spiritual plane. For example, how do we take into account the observation that Christianity blossoms under persecution and wilts almost as soon as it is able to poke its head above the fray? Luckily that needn't concern us here as long as due care is paid to avoiding sinful action and motive.

Certainly we have these things. First, the peace among religions in America has had a long development: the mythic torture and execution of a Fountainhead, catacombs and early fathers, a long period of medieval philosophy, inquisitions and pogroms, Reformation and Counter Reformation, thirty years' war (thirty?) and Enlightenment (for good and ill) all shaping the eventual Westphalian detente which was the social and political nesting place of the Bill of Rights and whose benefits we had enjoyed until comparatively recent times' crises of education and belief allowed secularism to claim for itself a default position. While this novel secularism, maintaining a synoptic if not myopic view of religions, is able to treat with Christianity and Islam as though they were different colors of the same bird, the fact that the evolution of the religion of mosque and minaret is layered with little variation on its inception as a triumphalist revelation to a prophet finding immediate ratification in supranormal success at arms holds open the question whether the even handed ornithologist is not in fact considering pigeon and merlin as one.

This open metaphor is fleshed out in perfectly reasonable hesitations over such questions as: the extent to which the mass of Islamic believers embraces the notion of the division of the world into two houses Islam and war (Harb); what is the preponderant interpretation of jihad (there can be no question of not embracing the Koranic concept jihad--the only possible wiggle room is in its real world application and I personally have heard intelligent Mahometans argue each side) and to what extent is the current condition of, for example, the Coptic or Chaldean Christian at home its end in America; and finally indeed to what extent in the minds of not only American “muslims”, but also GZM backers (moral and financial) worldwide, its construction is a consummation of the events of September 11, 2001--just as, arguably, the construction of the Dome of the Rock on the site of the last temple signified the triumphal conclusion to the conquest of Jerusalem.

We might heartily endorse {MAF}'s obeisance to religions’ freedoms with its proviso that they cannot effectively act against other religions and still maintain a healthy agnosticism concerning where the limit of being meets that of acting or whether indeed they may overlap--nay, whether in some philosophies they be synonymous. Can the First Amendment be held to protect a religion to the extent that its essence is act--and that act of war? Building a "cultural center" certainly is action not ontology, and whether it is an act against someone is another open question. The pain felt by Sep 11 victims' loved ones if not decisive cannot at least be dismissed outright.

I think those who unreservedly endorse the GZM should stop to consider a hypothetical case in which Christian internecine frictions approach in intensity those between Christians and Mahometans not just in the U.S. but throughout the world. Suppose for instance a poor Black Protestant church (and under-insured) in the South is successfully targeted by Klan arsonists. What is the proper Christian attitude for members of the congregation of that church to take, when they discover that a comfortable White Protestant congregation whose members probably include a few Klan sympathizers (though less likely Klansmen and probably not arsonists) has legally purchased the land and is planning a larger more opulent White church on site? What should right-thinking city planning and zoning officials do?

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I'd be a blackguard and a cad, if I weren't so ineffectual. The less said "About Me", the better.