FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

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/.

Weekend Edition
March 22, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Henry Giroux
The Ghost of Fascism in the Post-Truth Era
Gabriel Rockhill
Spectacular Violence as a Weapon of War Against the Yellow Vests
H. Bruce Franklin
Trump vs. McCain: an American Horror Story
Paul Street
A Pox on the Houses of Trump and McCain, Huxleyan Media, and the Myth of “The Vietnam War”
Andrew Levine
Why Not Impeach?
Bruce E. Levine
Right-Wing Psychiatry, Love-Me Liberals and the Anti-Authoritarian Left
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Darn That (American) Dream
Charles Pierson
Rick Perry, the Saudis and a Dangerous Nuclear Deal
Moshe Adler
American Workers Should Want to Transfer Technology to China
David Rosen
Trafficking or Commercial Sex? What Recent Exposés Reveal
Nick Pemberton
The Real Parallels Between Donald Trump and George Orwell
Binoy Kampmark
Reading Manifestos: Restricting Brenton Tarrant’s The Great Replacement
Brian Cloughley
NATO’s Expensive Anniversaries
Ron Jacobs
Donald Cox: Tale of a Panther
Joseph Grosso
New York’s Hudson Yards: The Revanchist City Lives On
REZA FIYOUZAT
Is It Really So Shocking?
Bob Lord
There’s Plenty of Wealth to Go Around, But It Doesn’t
John W. Whitehead
The Growing Epidemic of Cops Shooting Family Dogs
Jeff Cohen
Let’s Not Restore or Mythologize Obama 
Christy Rodgers
Achieving Escape Velocity
Monika Zgustova
The Masculinity of the Future
Jessicah Pierre
The Real College Admissions Scandal
Peter Mayo
US Higher Education Influence Takes a Different Turn
Martha Rosenberg
New Study Confirms That Eggs are a Stroke in a Shell
Ted Rall
The Greatest Projects I Never Mad
George Wuerthner
Saving the Big Wild: Why Aren’t More Conservationists Supporting NREPA?
Norman Solomon
Reinventing Beto: How a GOP Accessory Became a Top Democratic Contender for President
Ralph Nader
Greedy Boeing’s Avoidable Design and Software Time Bombs
Tracey L. Rogers
White Supremacy is a Global Threat
Nyla Ali Khan
Intersectionalities of Gender and Politics in Indian-Administered Kashmir
Karen J. Greenberg
Citizenship in the Age of Trump: Death by a Thousand Cuts
Jill Richardson
Getting It Right on What Stuff Costs
Matthew Stevenson
Pacific Odyssey: Puddle Jumping in New Britain
Matt Johnson
The Rich Are No Smarter Than You
Julian Vigo
College Scams and the Ills of Capitalist-Driven Education
Brian Wakamo
It’s March Madness, Unionize the NCAA!
Beth Porter
Paper Receipts Could be the Next Plastic Straws
Christopher Brauchli
Eric the Heartbroken
Louis Proyect
Rebuilding a Revolutionary Left in the USA
Sarah Piepenburg
Small Businesses Like Mine Need Paid Family and Medical Leave
Robert Koehler
Putting Our Better Angels to Work
Peter A. Coclanis
The Gray Lady is Increasingly Tone-Deaf
David Yearsley
Bach-A-Doodle-Doo
Elliot Sperber
Aunt Anna’s Antenna
March 21, 2019
Daniel Warner
And Now Algeria
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail