Protecting God from fundamentalists (like

Protecting God from fundamentalists (like Ashcroft — and Osama, too)
– Am I the only one (besides Oliver Willis) who’s frightened and appalled by John Ashcroft lusting after Germany’s new law that allows its government to “ban religious organizations“?

After screeching about that the other day, I got thoughtful email from Dr. John Snawder pointing out an important distinction — that the German law allows them to ban religious organizations “used as fronts for extremists.” Says the good Doctor: “I mean there’s that whole slippery slope argument here but, I think the real emphasis of this law is the latter” — the support of extremists — and he cites the recently raided Holy Land Foundation in Texas and Army of God as fronts for terror.

I agree that there are plenty of bad allegedly religious groups out there and that they should be watched and arrested and tried like any other dangerous secular slime. Note the blind Egyptian cleric from my local Jersey City mosque now serving eternity in our prisons thanks to his masterminding of the first World Trade Center bombing. Note Jim Jones’ Peoples Temple, responsible for the deaths of almost 1,000 poor-chump souls in the ’70s and treated with kid gloves before that because of his religious glow — can’t offend, you know. Note Heavens Gate and the idiots who died in their sneakers waiting for their spaceship — but they believed in something, didn’t they?

Investigate? Absolutely. Haul off? Of course. But ban? No. That is the well-oiled slope, that is the unconstitutional wish of the man who’s supposed to protect our Constitution, John Ashcroft.

The problem is: Who’s to say which religious organizations should be banned? If you gave me that job, I’d look at Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson and see organizations that promote hate speech and bigotry, organizations that use religion as a shield to make money and push politics. Ban ’em! If Ashcroft were doing the banning — a distinct possibility, God save us — he could look at my tolerant little Congregational church and sneer; our forebears the Pilgrims faced a ban of their own only a few centuries ago.

No, when you support religious freedom you have to support it wholly, good with the bad, good even with the evil. And our attorney general, of all people, should know that.

– See also a column by Daniel Yankelovich on challenging us to know what we’re fighting for in this war. In the cold war, he says, our side, capitalism, won over the other side, communism, on the merits. “In the jihad with Islamic fundamentalism,” he writes, “what will count most are our spiritual values, especially those core values that distinguish our culture from Islamic fundamentalism.” He then lists what he counts as those differences:

First, separation of church and state: “The founders of our nation understood that both religion and politics stir human passions. Kept separate, these passions can fuel great civilizations. Mixed together, they fuel hatred, prejudice, and a destructive sense of purity that tolerates no dissent.”

Second, the value we place on diversity: “Our success in creating a multi-ethnic, multi-racial, multi-lifestyle culture is of immense historic significance. A great achievement of our civilization, it collides head-on with the intolerance and bigotry of Islamic fundamentalism.”

Third, our belief in equality of opportunity: “Nothing seems to offend Islamic fundamentalists more than full equality of opportunity for women.”

But notice that these all point to the strongly held tenants of our secular society. And yes, that secularism does mystify and offend our Islamic enemies today — just as it mystifies and offends the prayer-in-school, religion-everywhere religious right (Ashcroft’s ilk). But by defending our secular values and rights we do nothing less than defend God against those who would use a government’s power to give Him a bad name.

– This weekend, Reid Photodude Stott added eloquently to my disagreement with Andrew Sullivan over whether bin Laden’s “faith” is proof that this is a religious war. Another sentence or two here: Bin Laden hiding behind Islam does not make this a religious war. We cannot give him credit for faith or justice or legitimacy of any sort.

He does not have religion on his side any more than he has justice on his side (that is, we can’t argue that he has a legitimate reason to attack the U.S. for any past U.S. sins and we cannot argue that he has any legitimate reason to attack us out of his religion; bin Laden has no legitimacy of any sort). So bin Laden does not make this a religious war.

Yet that’s not to say that this isn’t a religious war; Sullivan is right about that. But bin Laden’s not the proof — the behavior of others is the proof. I remain shocked that we did not see a universal and strong condemnation of bin Laden by religious and political leaders in the Muslim world — but we didn’t. Now, we see only an embarrassed silence around this defeated and discredited terrorist and his despot pal. That indicates that there is a fault line along religious and cultural strata; that indicates more difficulty ahead.