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More on Cordoba House and Religious Freedom

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Here is Newt Gingrich’s take on the Cordoba House, and here is a medieval historian’s response.

The idea of reciprocity sounds great. Muslims can worship freely in America if and only if Christians can worship freely in Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia. However, reciprocity is fundamentally unAmerican. It presupposes that the United States is a Christian nation and contradicts the first amendment protection of freedom of religion. The United States may be predominately Christian and does indeed have a long tradition of Christian influence. However, the Constitutional framers deliberately excluded any mention of God because they wanted to create a secular government completely independent of the church. They did this because they feared that an ascendant religious sect would seize the power of government to persecute and suppress other religions. They were familiar with the religious wars in England and the rest of Europe and hoped to prevent similar conflicts by safeguarding the government from religious control. They wanted to protect government from religion and also protect religion from the government.

At the same time they clearly recognized the value of religion, particularly Christianity, in shaping morality and ethics. They firmly believed that democracy could succeed only where the people were willing to submit their own desires to the common good. If the people—those who in a democracy constitute the government—simply voted for their own interests all the time, then the government eventually would be controlled by special interests, each intent on its own agenda. As Christianity has declined as a cultural influence in the United States, this is exactly what has happened.

Those who want to prohibit the Cordoba House would grant the government authority to persecute Muslims. Once the government has authority over any religion, it cannot be prevented from extending it over all religions. The result would be a secular state in which all religions, including Christianity, would be restricted. Those on the Christian right alarmed at the shift from “freedom of religion” to “freedom to worship” should be loudest in their defense of the Muslim’s right to build Cordoba House. By attacking it, they undermine their own liberty.

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How Much Help Does Truth Need?

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Read and update on my blog.

Why is there such an uproar over the so-called ground-zero mosque? I admit, when the issue was first brought to my attention about six weeks ago, I dismissed it. I thought no one would take seriously the claims made about the building because they were so patently untrue. As others have pointed out, it isn’t a mosque, and it isn’t at ground zero. Instead, according to a CNN poll, nearly 70% of Americans oppose its building, which strongest opposition coming from Republicans.

My initial reaction was disbelief: New York can’t possibly be allowing a mosque to be built on the site of the World Trade Centers. My disbelief turned out to be justified. The proposed Islamic community center, dubbed Cordoba House, would be located two-and-a-half blocks from the site of the World Trade Center Memorial. Due to intervening buildings, the site of the Memorial is not visible from the site of the proposed community center. Were it not for the 24-hour news cycle, visitors to the Memorial might never know that an Islamic community center was nearby.

Again I wonder, why such an uproar? Have we really reached the point where unsupported, bald assertion gets as much respect as the truth? Is it really only necessary to proclaim a lie loudly and repeatedly to have it universally believed? Even if, as has been claimed, Muslims have deliberately located the Cordoba House close to the WTC Memorial in order to demonstrate their global dominance, is the United States really so weak that we can’t allow Muslims to make ridiculous claims like everyone else? What, exactly, are we so afraid of?

Americans have a tradition of free speech because it was once believed that in a free society, truth would emerge from allowing free and open debate. We have a free press because it was once believed that a free press would expose self-serving lies and help citizens get at the truth. Now, however, it seems that truth has to take a backseat to whoever has the biggest megaphone, and citizens distrust the press almost as much as they do the government. The free market of ideas has given way to shouting matches between parties interested only in dominating. Every issue moves away from reasoned, dispassionate debate toward gang warfare, Republicans and Democrats alike acting like rival gangs out to secure their turf with all the same bravado, name calling, and aggression. No wonder voters have become cynical.

For the record, I’m not in favor of the Islamic community center. But I also don’t oppose it. The Muslims have a right as American citizens to build where zoning laws permit and to practice their religion in accordance with their conscience. As Christians, our only response must be persuasion through proclaiming and affirming the gospel of Jesus Christ. Any attempts to restrict the practice of Islam will restrict Christianity as well. All those who prize the freedoms guaranteed in the Bill of Rights need to take a long, hard look at anyone wanting to deny those rights to other American citizens.

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Love and Fear II

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After the last post on Love and Fear, I got several comments on my Facebook page. One from my niece, Raine,  raised some interesting questions. She wrote:

What a lot of facets of love and fear!

Chad says that God only desires obedience because obedience is the end-result of love (at least, I think that’s what he’s saying). This doesn’t make sense to me. At all. It seems to me that by saying that he is saying that the things that God requires of us, the things that we are to obey are then also beside the point. That those things don’t exist for their own sake, because they are right and wrong, and God is a righteous and just God. But that those things then are only a way of proving love.

Chad also says, “However, this is my experience of obedience that is gained by fear: it is half-assed. I see it all the time in the soldiers under me. If they are given a task they do not wish to complete, they may not moan or gripe. Instead they do the minimum. They fulfill the letter and only the letter of the orders they are given. As I understand it, Jesus urged us to look to the spirit of the law and not just the letter. This type of obedience can only come from someone who is acting out of something more than fear.”

In my experience, as a child when I did something out of fear of punishment, I did it far more diligently then when I did it simply out of a sense of obligation. I was completely thorough, knowing that my work would be inspected.

I would still be afraid to do the minimum in a situation where I am obeying out of fear, unless that minimum was a clearly defined, easily pin-pointed line. I would be afraid that my minimum wouldn’t be quite enough to avoid punishment.

But besides that, in a situation where someone is doing the minimum required to avoid punishment all the punisher has to do to get more out of them is raise that standard. God’s standard is perfection. God’s standard is obeying the spirit of the law not just the letter.

It seems to me that Chad is talking about a disrespectful fear, a fear where the person who is afraid does not like or respect the person they fear, and they are internally rebelling (and externally rebelling as far as they think they can get away with). This probably happens a lot amongst us humans. However, I do not see how anyone could fear and disrespect God. Doesn’t fear of God inspire great respect? We know that God is omniscient; if we fear him, we must respect him, because we cannot be disrespectful behind his back or internally. Fear of God requires respect. Fear and respect require complete obedience. Complete obedience means doing everything good and everything right.

Maybe the problem is that people do not have enough fear of God. They think that because of grace they don’t have to try as hard as they should, that they can get away with doing wrong and still be forgiven. More fear would overcome this problem; more fear would inspire more obedience, more obedience would inspire more love (because obedience necessarily requires a deeper and deeper knowledge of and relationship with God; you cannot obey God without getting to know him more, and you cannot know him more without loving him more) and as love became perfected, fear would no longer be necessary.

My last thing has to do with Chad’s first paragraph which talks about love of oneself being the basic human condition. This brings to mind a question that I have long had. The Bible says (in Ephesians 5:29) that no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it. But aren’t there a lot of people who hate themselves? And a lot of people who starve themselves or cut themselves or engage in other self-harming behaviors? I guess I must be missing something; I’m just not sure what.

I’ll start with the last question first. When Paul says that no one ever hated his own body, he is talking about common experience, not about pathologies. People who engage in self-destructive behaviors would probably have been regarded as demon-possessed in Paul’s day. In fact, Mark tells us that the Gadarene demoniac “would cry out and cut himself with stones” (Mark 5:5). Yet even such a man retained a desire for his own comfort and happiness. Pascal wrote that all men seek happiness. Everyone does things that are consistent with what they believe will lead to their own happiness or lessen their pain. Those who starve or cut themselves are often attempting to alleviate some intense emotional pain through self-inflicted physical pain.

With regard to Raine’s comments on love and fear, I think she gets it exactly right. In fact, I would argue that fear without respect is not really fear at all. The “half-assed obedience” Chad talks about comes from insufficient fear. If his soldier were really afraid of disobeying, his obedience would not be “half-assed.” It would be meticulous.

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