December 17, 2007
Selective fear of religion
I would like to criticize Islam much more than I do publicly, but I'm afraid for my life if I do.So says "West Wing" producer Lawrence O'Donnell in an interview on Hugh Hewitt's radio show. This revealing statement occurred while O'Donnell attempted to explain his rather over-the-top attack on Mitt Romney's Mormonism.
Roger L. Simon examines O'Donnell fear of not speaking out (and its pervasiveness in the arts):
O'Donnell's kind of fear is all around us. We have it among artists who censor themselves and journalists who are afraid to speak out. These people have buried their traditional liberal values under a veneer of false tolerance and trendy cultural relativism and essentially turned liberalism on its head.What intrigues me is why so many of those who are afraid to criticize Islam are nonetheless quite fearless when it comes to other religions.
It's easy to dismiss this as cowardly hypocrisy, as selective religious bigotry, or as anti-Western bias, which of course a lot of it is.
But I think another dimension is post-9/11 denial. This is not ordinary denial, as it's closely related to the fiercely anti-war people whose hatred toward Bush is often characterized as "Bush Derangement Syndrome." Before 9/11, there was plenty of hypocrisy, and religious bigotry, plenty of anti-Western bias, and plenty of cowards, but they generally did not hesitate to criticize Islam. Feminists in Berkeley used to demonstrate against the veil.
Yet the fact, is, this "fear" of criticizing Islam is comparatively recent, and closely related to 9/11. The tenets of Christianity -- even over-the-top fundamentalist zealotry -- has not changed since 9/11, nor has Mormonism. But Western religions are attacked as never before. I think they're substitute targets.
I have criticized Christian zealotry in a number of posts. But as I've tried to make clear, there is no moral equivalency between Christian zealots and Islamic zealots:
Obviously, I'm a lot more familiar with Christianity than I am fundamentalist Islam. And while I find radical Christian zealots annoying, experience tells me that they are nowhere near as dangerous as radical Muslim zealots. True, there are a few Army of God types who do occasionally murder abortionists and "sodomites" in the name of Christianity, but usually, the worst thing Christian fundamentalists do is spout nutty theories. Telling me that Hurricane Katrina was "God's punishment" for "sodomy" is a lot less threatening than executing sodomites -- to say nothing of thousands of Americans. There is simply no comparison.What I'm wondering is, what rational person would think that Christian fundamentalists are more dangerous than Islamic fanatics? Fear might offer a partial explanation of why criticism of the latter would suddenly be avoided entirely after 9/11. But what explains the sharp increase -- in tone and volume -- of attacks on Western religions? If we assume the attackers are more afraid now of radical Islam than they were before 9/11, this would explain the reluctance to criticize Islam. But fear of radical Islam does not explain the upsurge in attacks on Western religion, unless the fearful classes are involved in projection.
But what is rational about projecting a fear of Islam into a fear of Christianity? That's like saying Bush is scarier than bin Laden.
Even atheists -- who by their own logic ought to condemn all religion equally -- often become highly selective when the conversation turns to fundamentalist Christianity vis-a-vis fundamentalist Islam. Very odd, because atheists are freely tolerated in the West, while under Islam..... well, this comes from the Wiki entry on persecution of atheists:
Non-believers--atheists--under Islam do not have "the right to life". Apostasy in Iran is punishable by death.But Christianity is worse?
I guess this is not a rational process.
UPDATE: My thanks to Glenn Reynolds for the link, and the thoughtful observations. If it is better to be feared than loved, then Islam is better than Christianity, as it is more feared.
But if we add to that the paradox that "you always hurt the one you love," it gets even more complicated, because in the ordinary course of things, the "one you love" also loves you. And in theory at least, Christianity is built on love. Which means that those who hurt Christians are supposed to be loved by them in return.
To love without being feared (and without even being loved reciprocally) would almost seem to make Christianity a no-win.
I might be wrong about this, and I make no claim of being a Christian theologian, but it strikes me that hating people whose religion charges them with loving you in return is a fairly risk free venture. (Little wonder that "radical" artists feel free to do things like submerge crucifixes in urine and toss excrement at images of the Virgin Mary, but would never dare mess with the Koran or Mohammad.)
posted by Eric on 12.17.07 at 09:54 AM
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