FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Fundamentalist General

“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.

 

 

More articles by:

Robert Jensen is a professor in the School of Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin and the author of The End of Patriarchy: Radical Feminism for Men. He can be reached atrjensen@austin.utexas.edu or online at http://robertwjensen.org/.

November 20, 2018
John Davis
Geographies of Violence in Southern California
Anthony Pahnke
Abolishing ICE Means Defunding it
Maximilian Werner
Why (Mostly) Men Trophy Hunt: a Biocultural Explanation
Masturah Alatas
Undercutting Female Circumcision
Jack Rasmus
Global Oil Price Deflation 2018 and Beyond
Geoff Dutton
Why High Technology’s Double-Edged Sword is So Hard to Swallow
Binoy Kampmark
Charges Under Seal: US Prosecutors Get Busy With Julian Assange
Rev. William Alberts
America Fiddles While California Burns
Forrest Hylton, Aaron Tauss and Juan Felipe Duque Agudelo
Remaking the Common Good: the Crisis of Public Higher Education in Colombia
Patrick Cockburn
What Can We Learn From a Headmaster Who Refused to Allow His Students to Celebrate Armistice Day?
Clark T. Scott
Our Most Stalwart Company
Tom H. Hastings
Look to the Right for Corruption
Edward Hunt
With Nearly 400,000 Dead in South Sudan, Will the US Finally Change Its Policy?
Thomas Knapp
Hypocrisy Alert: Republicans Agreed with Ocasio-Cortez Until About One Minute Ago
November 19, 2018
David Rosen
Amazon Deal: New York Taxpayers Fund World Biggest Sex-Toy Retailer
Sheldon Richman
Art of the Smear: the Israel Lobby Busted
Chad Hanson
Why Trump is Wrong About the California Wildfires
Dean Baker
Will Progressives Ever Think About How We Structure Markets, Instead of Accepting them as Given?
Robert Fisk
We Remember the Great War, While Palestinians Live It
Dave Lindorff
Pelosi’s Deceptive Plan: Blocking any Tax Rise Could Rule Out Medicare-for-All and Bolstering Social Security
Rick Baum
What Can We Expect From the Democrat “Alternative” Given Their Record in California?
Thomas Scott Tucker
Trump, World War I and the Lessons of Poetry
John W. Whitehead
Red Flag Gun Laws
Newton Finn
On Earth, as in Heaven: the Utopianism of Edward Bellamy
Robert Fantina
Shithole Countries: Made in the USA
René Voss
Have Your Say about Ranching in Our Point Reyes National Seashore
Weekend Edition
November 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jonah Raskin
A California Jew in a Time of Anti-Semitism
Andrew Levine
Whither the Melting Pot?
Joshua Frank
Climate Change and Wildfires: The New Western Travesty
Nick Pemberton
The Revolution’s Here, Please Excuse Me While I Laugh
T.J. Coles
Israel Cannot Use Violent Self-Defense While Occupying Gaza
Rob Urie
Nuclear Weapons are a Nightmare Made in America
Paul Street
Barack von Obamenburg, Herr Donald, and Big Capitalist Hypocrisy: On How Fascism Happens
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Fire is Sweeping Our Very Streets Today
Aidan O'Brien
Ireland’s New President, Other European Fools and the Abyss 
Pete Dolack
“Winners” in Amazon Sweepstakes Sure to be the Losers
Richard Eskow
Amazon, Go Home! Billions for Working People, But Not One Cent For Tribute
Ramzy Baroud
In Breach of Human Rights, Netanyahu Supports the Death Penalty against Palestinians
Brian Terrell
Ending the War in Yemen- Congressional Resolution is Not Enough!
John Laforge
Woolsey Fire Burns Toxic Santa Susana Reactor Site
Ralph Nader
The War Over Words: Republicans Easily Defeat the Democrats
M. G. Piety
Reading Plato in the Time of the Oligarchs
Rafael Correa
Ecuador’s Soft Coup and Political Persecution
Brian Cloughley
Aid Projects Can Work, But Not “Head-Smacking Stupid Ones”
David Swanson
A Tale of Two Marines
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail