Saturday, January 12, 2008

Tyranny: Muslim, Catholic and Anglican

Cal Thomas, an old-time conservative Californian, Oakland Tribune columnist, and Fox News Watch panelist, has sounded the alarm about Muslim immigration to Great Britain. Segregation, Muslim Style In an off-hand sort of way, he implies that the same warning may apply to the USA, but his main focus is on Britain. Thomas doesn't seem to have noticed, but his warning is eerily reminiscent of the propaganda that nativist Protestants directed against Roman Catholic immigrants, particularly 1830-1850. Anyone remember the Know-Nothing Party? Also known as the American Party? Abraham Lincoln remarked:

"Our progress in degeneracy appears to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we began by declaring that 'all men are created equal.' We now practically read 'all men are created equal, except negroes.' When the Know Nothings get control, it will read 'all men are created equal except negroes, and foreigners, and catholics.' "

But Thomas does have a point about the way Islam is being brought into Britain. And to the same extent that Thomas has a point, the Know-Nothings had a valid point about the potential danger from Roman Catholic immigration. Thomas quotes the Right Reverend Michael Nazir-Ali, Bishop of Rochester for the Church of England, that Muslims in England are segregating themselves into neighborhoods where non-Muslims "trespass" at risk of assault or harrassment. David Davis, the "shadow home secretary" accuses Muslim immigrants of shutting themselves off from the surrounding culture, and demanding immunity from criticism. (The shadow home secretary is a wanna-be, a member of the opposition Tory party who would become home secretary if his party wins a majority in the next election.)

Know-Nothings professed alarm that Roman Catholic immigrants were ignorant, illiterate peasants, kept by supersition and an authoritarian hierarchy under the strict supervision of their priests. If such people were allowed to become citizens and vote, the nativists warned, the Pope would dictate government policy and transform the cradle of liberty into a Roman despotism.

We all know that this did not happen in the United States of America. Why not? Because, over time, although most immigrants of whatever nationality and faith lived for a time in ethnic ghettoes, they all sought, absorbed, and embraced at least some of the better principles our nation has, in its brighter moments, tried to stand for. The recently deceased former governor of Wisconsin, Lee Sherman Dreyfus, told Cardinal Carol Wojtyla that the mind-set of Catholics in America was "They are good young Catholics, but they think like Protestants." How fortunate for American democracy.

The same was true for Muslim immigrants, and even the Mormons (many of them immigrants recruited by the LDS Church in Europe) accepted American citizenship, with a little prodding from the Seventh Cavalry. Most Americans whose faith is Islam are fifth or sixth generation descendants of naturalized citizens. Their mosques are generations old. Many recent Muslim immigrants follow their example. And those among the African American population, who have chosen Islam, were established here for many generations before converting.

Perhaps Muslims in Great Britain are not following the same path. It was not always certain that Roman Catholics in America would do so. In the powerful but mostly forgotten book American Freedom and Catholic Power, Paul Blanshard warned as recently as 1951 of genuine efforts by the church hierarchy to mobilize their parishioners for the transformation of church doctrine into government policy. In 1984, Michael Schwartz offered The Persistent Prejudice: Anti-Catholicism in America, which openly declared that it is the role of his church to "convert" America, and that any criticism of this mission is "anti-Catholic bias." (Shades of British immigrant Muslims demanding immunity from criticism).

Let us be clear: the segregation or self-segregation of any ethnic or religious community, by outside hostility and prejudice or by internal self-righteousness, is unacceptable in a pluralistic democratic republic. Religious association is one of the many freedoms we all enjoy, but it is unacceptable for residential, commercial, and political life to be segregated by religion, any more than by ethnicity.

We associate for worship with people who share our faith, we act out our respective faiths in our daily lives, as we encounter neighbors, customers, co-workers, political comrades, of many different faiths, who all share a common citizenship. We all have inherited recipes and family traditions, and generally, we all like going to restaurants offering cuisine from other traditions. Perhaps nothing unites Americans so much as the fact that we all like Chinese food.

The answer to what may be happening in Britain is not to affirm that nation's or any nation's "Christian identity." It is to affirm that no person and no group of persons may inflict their own faith upon another by physical, secular, coercive means. There are nations where religious doctrine is enforced by the police. Anyone who believes that is right should remove themselves to such a nation, only, be careful to find out which branch of what doctrine the police enforce before buying a plane ticket!

We should also keep in mind that immigration is seldom motivated by a desire to "take over" the land people move to. The last time that happened was when John Smith arrived in the Chesapeake Bay region, and the Separatists (Pilgrims) and Puritans landed in Massachusetts. Nobody has a better right to complain about ungrateful immigrants taking over from their hosts than the Powhattan, Pequot, the Narragansett, and the Mohegan.

Every wave of immigration to the independent United States of America was inspired by the fact that American industry was looking for cheap labor to fill up their factories, mines and slaughterhouses. Captains of industry didn't really care what this might do to the religious character of a righteously Protestant nation, nor what kind of citizens and voters their new employees might make. There way money to be made. Great Britain's immigrants are a kind of reverse flow. Britain made itself a wealthy and powerful nation by going out and building a colonial empire. Now, some portion of the population of that empire is, quite naturally, gravitating to the center of all that wealth. How they are received has everything to do with what sort of "citizens" their children will become.

Thomas insinuates that multiculturalism is faithless, "because in this view, truth does not exist." Hmmm... I thought that is what he was criticizing Muslims for, insisting that truth exists, and they know what it is! I can see Thomas and a couple of mullah's trading accusations of "Infidel" until the end of time. Many who practice multiculturalism understand that there is an absolute truth, which does not depend on the vagaries of popular opinion or human will. We just have enough humility to recognize that God will judge, we are not called to impose our limited understanding of The Truth upon our neighbors.

I am a Christian, and a Protestant. I have found Roman Catholic mass a moving worship service, learned from the teachings of Orthodox rabbis, and understood God a little better by reading from the Qu'ran. (The opening verse is one of the most moving prayers ever written in any language). I am not moved to give obedience to the Bishop of Rome, to renounce Christianity, or to pray five times a day facing Mecca.

Thomas also throws up the tired lie that paganism, hedonism and greed undermined past empires, presumably the Roman and Greek empires. Nobody denounces hedonism more rigorously than al-Qaeda. The Roman Empire was quite intact and powerful when Constantine made his deal with the Christian bishops of the day. If anything, the fall of the Roman Empire would suggest that Christianity is what brought the empire to its doom. (No, not really, but empirically it is a more accurate statement.) And western civilization was built upon pure, unadulterated greed.

Right Reverend Nazir-Ali mixes apples and oranges when he writes, with Thomas's evident approval, "None of this will be of any avail if Britain does not recover that vision of its destiny which made it great. That has to do with the Bible's teaching that we have equal dignity and freedom because we are all made in God's image." No it doesn't.

Those are beautiful principles, well worth teaching. One could even make them the foundation of a rapprochement between Christianity and Islam, to the extent that the foundation for them can be found in the Torah, the first five books of what Christians call the Old Testament, which are also sacred to Muslims. However, they have little to do with what made Britain "great."

Nazir-Ali is the bishop of an Established Church. Less than 200 years ago, membership in this church was required in order to vote, hold public office, or serve in many professions. Noncomformists were explicitly denied "equal dignity and freedom." England didn't fully embrace such principles until well after World War II. The aristocracy which built the British Empire begrudgingly gave in, kicking and screaming, when they needed their former colonies' aid to recover from the devastation of the last war.

Perhaps Britain's problem is that Muslim immigrants still feel that they are NOT welcome to participate in the larger culture, with equal dignity and freedom. Perhaps they feel that retreating into their own little ghettoes is a natural survival reflex. Maybe what the British need to do is "take a Muslim to lunch." (And accept a return invitation, even if the food is new and different.) Welcome wagons are more effective than mandatory indoctrination. There is no need to glorify old tyrannies in order to reject new ones.

15 comments:

frankgerlach said...
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frankgerlach said...
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Siarlys Jenkins said...

Please Frank, real life is much more complicated than that.

frankgerlach said...
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Siarlys Jenkins said...

OK Frank, let me get into detail about the Roman Church. It is not, and never has been, catholic. It has aspired to make itself Catholic by crushing all alternatives within Christianity, but even before the Protestant Reformation, there were Greek Orthodox, Nestorians, Pelagians, Copts, Albigensians, and of course many of the German tribes were Arian until the Franks crushed them.

I grew up Presbyterian in a Catholic (as we colloquially called it) neighborhood. Most of the kids I played with as a child were Catholic. I have in more recent years been to mass a few times with elderly Hispanic friends. I have spent a few years working as a full time volunteer with Catholic Worker Movement people. I like the Catholics I have met. I have no desire to argue with them about their form of worship, or veneration of the Virgin Mary, statues of saint, etc. Nor do I have any desire to indulge in it.

In fact, there is nothing I find wrong with the Roman Catholic faith that could not be cured by removal of popes, cardinals, bishops, curia, disbanding of Vatican City, etc. Yes, I am firmly opposed to the hierarchy. Although I currently belong to a church in one of the Methodist denominations, which does have bishops, I have a preference for the congregational form of church governance.

Cromwell... yes, he was a Presbyterian, more or less, and that did contribute to his becoming an autocrat. Presbyterians can be awfully overbearing and self-righteous sometimes. I should know, I had several as Sunday School teachers. The men are the worst. The woman can be quite inspiring, especially the ones who provided me a life long emphasis on Isaiah and Micah. Now, was he the only Protestant dictator? Well, Hitler may have been nominally Catholic, but his electoral support was in large part from the Prussians, who were Lutheran, and even celebrated that the Jews were going to get the comeuppance that old Martin promised them on one of his off days. And don't forget that general in Guatemala, the one who master minded the "fusilles y frijoles" campaign, who was a disciple of some American Protestant missionary sect.

On the other hand, you consider Castro to be R.C.? Could have fooled the poor bishops in Havana. Not to mention the ones in Miami. And Chavez? Well, I admire some of what Chavez has done. Unfortunately, like Huey Long, he has to puff himself up instead of being content to have a decent program. But he did take a defeat at the polls with good grace, when his constitutional amendment was rejected. At least when I buy gas from Citgo, I know part of the outrageous price I'm paying is going to lay water mains in the slums of Caracas. And as for Kirchner, well, maybe she is Catholic, I really don't know. Argentina isn't exactly the most devout Spanish-speaking country in the hemisphere, and she did get elected by popular vote. You know who is Protestant? Robert Mugabe. Now there is a good argument for term limits. And don't forget, apartheid was the brain child of stalwart members of the Dutch Reformed Church, along with some long-lost Huguenots.

It is true that when the Roman Church is the established church, it tends to foster bloody despotism. That is one good reason why we should not allow any church to become established, ever again. Spanish Catholicism is pretty harmless under a socialist government. The Anglican church had its bloody days for sure, and some of these Protestants running around talking about Dominion are pretty dangerous too. In fact, I have sometimes suspected Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell of wanting to be Pope of their respective brands. Check out Ecumenism: It Isn't Just for Liberals Anymore.

You mentioned Islam also. Well, as it happened, Islam came first among warlike tribes who were on the borders of two aging empires, already rotten to the core on the inside. (As distinct from Christianity, which began among a conquered people, and spread among slaves and servants at first. But, given time, the Christians became the Official Religion of the Roman Empire eventually. That bloody deal with Constantine.) So the Byzantines retreated across two thirds of their territory, and the Sassanids collapsed, and Islam emerged kind of warlike. But they provided a great haven for the Jews for many centuries, didn't really disturb Christians who settled down under their rule, preserved a great deal of science, fostered the arts, and the Qu'ran has some of the most beautiful prayers ever written in it. Islam today has about as many variations as Christianity, some dangerous for the same reasons, some quite reasonable. As a faith, like all true faith, it is personal between a believer and God. When it gets used for political purposes, it becomes, like any religion, demented and deformed.

I believe that true Christianity is an unattainable blend of Wesleyan, Unitarian, Presbyterian and Mennonite theology, organized with a congregational form of governance, overlaid with some Pentecostal praise, and infused with Catholic humanism divorced from its hierarchical context. (Really, Catholic humanists can be quite good, when the Pope isn't watching too closely). Also you need some Hebrew to understand the Old Testament. But once The Church started hosting philosophers trying to interpret the Gospels and tell us ignorant uninitiated peasants what it all meant, Christianity was almost done for. Cite me a doctrine, and I'll poke holes in it. Cite me Richard Dawkins, I can poke holes in him too. "The Selfish Gene" was an imaginative work of science fiction.

frankgerlach said...
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Siarlys Jenkins said...

Where did you say you are posting from Frank? Germany? I was once acquainted with a Belgian professor who said the strangest thing about coming to America is that in large cities and small rural villages there are Catholic and Lutheran churches almost side by side, whereas, in Europe, whole nations or provinces are all one or all the other. America's strength is not that we stand for the triumph of any particular creed, but that we can absorb them all. Admittedly, the politics into which we absorb them is Protestant in origin, but the secular political and cultural expression of these Protestant roots can absorb, rather than subjugate, arrivals of any culture. That goes for Roman Catholics, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists... they can be Americans and retain their religion. There haven' been any home grown American Muslims launching terror attacks, they all seem to come from Europe's Muslim ghettos. In fact, many American Muslims were in the World Trade Center when it was demolished. If you look for it, the Bible is full of violence and intolerance and pornography. Or, if the Holy Spirit guides you to find more exalted meaning in the words, you can leave such earthly distractions aside. The same is true of the Qu'ran. The words are all influenced by the limited understanding of those to whom the revelation was given.

frankgerlach said...
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frankgerlach said...
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Siarlys Jenkins said...

Frank, it seems to me that you are still fighting the Thirty Years War. Even the Lutheran denominations formed by relatively recent arrivals from Germany (Wisconsin Synod, e.g.) don't want to fight that all over again. Unless you are going to exterminate all the Romans, and all the Muslims, or subjugate and brainwash them all to your way of thinking, you have to live with them. To really live with them, you have to even learn to like some of them, as individuals, not as members of a group identity.

I will agree that anyone who adopts a group identity and marches in lockstep for the domination of that group identity over the world is my implacable enemy. I don't care if they are Catholic, Protestant, pseudo-Communist (the CP of China is now running the most ruthless CAPITALIST economy in the world), Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist or Atheist. If they want world domination in the name of their creed, they are my enemy. But, most people of all of those creeds want nothing of the sort. We all want to be free to practice our personal beliefs, share them, and cut off the conversation with anyone trying to IMPOSE upon us.

Once again, as the recently deceased former governor of Wisconsin, Lee Sherman Dreyfus, told Cardinal Carol Wojtyla, the mind-set of Catholics in America was "They are good young Catholics, but they think like Protestants."

(And we Protestants can live next door to them, visit each other's barbecues and holiday parties, even visit each other's churches. AMEN.

frankgerlach said...
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frankgerlach said...

Hi Siarlys,
I deleted my rant because I don't want to affect my future business. I have saved a copy of the full conversation, which I can send you, if you like. I would only ask you to keep it for yourself (for the next 10 years or so). Email me at frankgerlach@gmail.com.
I am not under any duress, I just think it is a bad business practice to raise political issues, as long as I am not a politician.

NewJerseyJesus said...

Siarlys, I just wanted to let you know I appreciate your thoughtful comments you left on my blog. I trust they will be as thought provoking to others as they are to myslef.

BTW, Paul Robeson is my hero-of course living in NJ & having Rutgers as my alma mater, who else would fit the bill?

SolShine7 said...

Very interesting post. I especially like your last paragraph. By the way, have you seen the Canadian TV show Little Mosque on the Prairie? I caught one episode and it was pretty good.