FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Fundamentalist General

by ROBERT JENSEN

“I am not anti-Islam or any other religion.” “I support the free exercise of all religions.” “For those who have been offended by my statements, I offer a sincere apology.”

Those were Army Lt. Gen. William Boykin’s responses to criticisms of his recent fundamentalist theological commentary. The latter two seem honest; there’s no reason to doubt that he believes in religious freedom or doubt that he is sorry for the offense his remarks caused.

But based on Boykin’s public statements, there are many reasons to doubt that the first statement is genuine. It seems pretty clear that Boykin is anti-Islam and anti-any-religion-other-than-Christianity, just as are many evangelical Christians who claim a “literalist” view of the Bible. Such folks agree that everyone should be free to practice any religion, but they also believe those religions are nothing more than cults. That’s what Boykin meant when he said of the Muslim warlord in Somalia he was fighting, “I knew that my God was a real God, and his was an idol.”

Idols are false gods, not real ones. To such Christians, who sometimes refer to themselves as “biblical Christians,” there is only one religion — Christianity, which is truth. All others are cults. The general can believe in freedom of religion and feel bad when he offends a person with another religion, yet still be convinced that all those other religions are, in fact, false.

Check out the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association web site and you’ll see it spelled out: “A cult is any group which teaches doctrines or beliefs that deviate from the biblical message of the Christian faith.”

Or, read Franklin Graham, president of the international relief organization Samaritan’s Purse and CEO of that association named after his father: “[W]hile I respect the rights of all people to adopt their own beliefs, I would respectfully disagree with any religion that teaches people to put their faith in other gods.”

There’s no ambiguity there. If you believe in Christ, your faith will save you. If you believe anything else, you are in a cult — and you’re in trouble when it comes to eternity.

Graham and Boykin, of course, are free to believe what they like. In Graham’s case, one might say it’s in his job description. Boykin’s situation is trickier, given that his new job as the Pentagon’s deputy undersecretary for intelligence requires him to deal with a number of predominantly Muslim countries.

But this is important beyond the question of Boykin’s fitness to serve in a high-level position. It points out that the crucial gap in the culture over faith is not between those who are religious and those who aren’t, but between those who are 100-percent convinced their religion is the only way to salvation and those who are willing to live with a little less certainty.

On the question of which religion is “true,” I don’t have a dog in that fight. I’ve been a secular person for as long as I can remember and have never felt the need for a faith-based belief system. I find all religions about equally interesting, and baffling

But I do have a stake in the question of certainty: I think absolute certainty is dangerous. I have moral and political convictions and respect others who do, but I think people should be open to the possibility that their belief system could be just a bit off — or maybe all wrong. That’s something that philosophers and scientists (at least the good ones) agree on.

I know many religious people who don’t shrink from their own convictions, yet take seriously the limits we humans face in trying to understand the complexity of the world. Even though we have different theological views, I can talk — and have talked — across those differences with such folks, often working with them in movements for social justice. I think everyone benefits from that kind of discussion and interaction.

Conversations with people like Franklin Graham and Lt. Gen. Boykin are more difficult — not because I don’t want to talk but because often there isn’t anyone really listening on the other end. Whatever one’s religious convictions, that’s bad for public discourse in a pluralist democracy.

ROBERT JENSEN, a professor of journalism at the University of Texas at Austin, was born and raised in North Dakota. He is the author of “Citizens of the Empire: The Struggle to Claim Our Humanity (City Lights, 2004) and “Writing Dissent: Taking Radical Ideas from the Margins to the Mainstream (Peter Lang, 2001). He can be reached at rjensen@uts.cc.utexas.edu.

 

 

Robert Jensen is a professor in the School of Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin and board member of the Third Coast Activist Resource Center in Austin. He is the author of several books, including the forthcoming Plain Radical: Living, Loving, and Learning to Leave the Planet Gracefully (Counterpoint/Soft Skull, fall 2015). http://www.amazon.com/Plain-Radical-Living-Learning-Gracefully/dp/1593766181 Robert Jensen can be reached at rjensen@austin.utexas.edu and his articles can be found online at http://robertwjensen.org/. To join an email list to receive articles by Jensen, go to http://www.thirdcoastactivist.org/jensenupdates-info.html. Twitter: @jensenrobertw. Notes. [1] Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture, 3rd ed. (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1996), p. 106. [2] Gerda Lerner, The Creation of Patriarchy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986). [3] Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, edited and with a revised translation by Susan McReynolds Oddo (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2011), p. 55.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

March 28, 2017
Mike Whitney
Ending Syria’s Nightmare will Take Pressure From Below 
Mark Kernan
Memory Against Forgetting: the Resonance of Bloody Sunday
John McMurtry
Fake News: the Unravelling of US Empire From Within
Ron Jacobs
Mad Dog, Meet Eris, Queen of Strife
Michael J. Sainato
State Dept. Condemns Attacks on Russian Peaceful Protests, Ignores Those in America
Ted Rall
Five Things the Democrats Could Do to Save Their Party (But Probably Won’t)
Linn Washington Jr.
Judge Neil Gorsuch’s Hiring Practices: Privilege or Prejudice?
Philippe Marlière
Benoît Hamon, the Socialist Presidential Hopeful, is Good News for the French Left
Norman Pollack
Political Cannibalism: Eating America’s Vitals
Bruce Mastron
Obamacare? Trumpcare? Why Not Cubacare?
David Macaray
Hollywood Screen and TV Writers Call for Strike Vote
Christian Sorensen
We’ve Let Capitalism Kill the Planet
Rodolfo Acuna
What We Don’t Want to Know
Binoy Kampmark
The Futility of the Electronics Ban
Andrew Moss
Why ICE Raids Imperil Us All
March 27, 2017
Robert Hunziker
A Record-Setting Climate Going Bonkers
Frank Stricker
Why $15 an Hour Should be the Absolute Minimum Minimum Wage
Melvin Goodman
The Disappearance of Bipartisanship on the Intelligence Committees
Patrick Cockburn
ISIS’s Losses in Syria and Iraq Will Make It Difficult to Recruit
Russell Mokhiber
Single-Payer Bernie Morphs Into Public Option Dean
Gregory Barrett
Can Democracy Save Us?
Dave Lindorff
Budget Goes Military
John Heid
Disappeared on the Border: “Chase and Scatter” — to Death
Mark Weisbrot
The Troubling Financial Activities of an Ecuadorian Presidential Candidate
Robert Fisk
As ISIS’s Caliphate Shrinks, Syrian Anger Grows
Michael J. Sainato
Democratic Party Continues Shunning Popular Sanders Surrogates
Paul Bentley
Nazi Heritage: the Strange Saga of Chrystia Freeland’s Ukrainian Grandfather
Christopher Ketcham
Buddhism in the Storm
Thomas Barker
Platitudes in the Wake of London’s Terror Attack
Mike Hastie
Insane Truths: a Vietnam Vet on “Apocalypse Now, Redux”
Binoy Kampmark
Cyclone Watch in Australia
Weekend Edition
March 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Michael Hudson
Trump is Obama’s Legacy: Will this Break up the Democratic Party?
Eric Draitser
Donald Trump and the Triumph of White Identity Politics
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Nothing Was Delivered
Andrew Levine
Ryan’s Choice
Joshua Frank
Global Coal in Freefall, Tar Sands Development Drying Up (Bad News for Keystone XL)
Anthony DiMaggio
Ditching the “Deep State”: The Rise of a New Conspiracy Theory in American Politics
Rob Urie
Boris and Natasha Visit Fantasy Island
John Wight
London and the Dreary Ritual of Terrorist Attacks
Paul Buhle
The CIA and the Intellectuals…Again
David Rosen
Why Did Trump Target Transgender Youth?
Vijay Prashad
Inventing Enemies
Ben Debney
Outrage From the Imperial Playbook
M. Shadee Malaklou
An Open Letter to Duke University’s Class of 2007, About Your Open Letter to Stephen Miller
Michael J. Sainato
Bernie Sanders’ Economic Advisor Shreds Trumponomics
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail