- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 29, 2009

Muslim chill

“It is not the job of writers and thinkers to appease the faithful. And the faithful, if in fact upset or offended, are quite able and entitled to explore all forms of protest. Short of violence. Those last three words are not a proper sentence, but they summon to mind the various ‘sentences’ that have since been pronounced by the faithful in their periodic fits of rage.

“The Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh, descendant of the painter, shot down and then ritually butchered on an Amsterdam street after making a short film about the maltreatment of Muslim women in Holland. His colleague Ayaan Hirsi Ali, an elected member of the Dutch parliament, forced into hiding and ultimately into exile by incessant threats of death. Another small (and unusually open and multicultural) European democracy, that of Denmark, its embassies burned and its exports boycotted and its citizens threatened, because of a few cartoons of the prophet Muhammad published in a morning newspaper in Copenhagen. Daniel Pearl, of The Wall Street Journal, taunted on video for being a Jew and then foully beheaded. Riots and burnings and killings all across the Muslim world, some of them clearly incited by the authorities, in response to some ill-judged words about Islam from the Pope.

“These are among the things that have happened, and have become depressingly taken for granted, since the fatwa of the ayatollah [Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran]. We live now in a climate where every publisher and editor and politician has to weigh in advance the possibility of violent Muslim reprisal. In consequence, there are a number of things that have not happened.”

-Christopher Hitchens, writing on “Assassins of the Mind” in the February issue of Vanity Fair

Religion substitute

“Quebec separatism at first seemed to be the Catholic side of Canadian society asserting itself against the Protestant side, but the fact that the moral revolution occurred in tandem with political separatism was not coincidental.

“Nationalism has often served as a conscious substitute for religion, and the more the Quebecois asserted their independence from the Canadian Protestant establishment, the less Catholic they became. (Christians should be wary of the cult of ‘ethnicity’ - costumes, music, language, cuisine - because it often serves precisely to fill the vacuum created by the abandonment of belief.)

“The experience of Quebec, along with that of Ireland, Spain under Francisco Franco, the Netherlands, Scotland and Puritan New England (earlier, the Old Regime all over Europe), illustrates a kind of iron law of history whereby change can only be shut out for a limited period of time and, once it breaks in, is catastrophic roughly in proportion to how long, and how rigorously, it has been kept out.”

-James Hitchcock, writing on “Subject to Change” in the January issue of Touchstone

Presidential theology

Barack Obama is the most religious Democratic president since Jimmy Carter. In announcing his campaign two years ago in Springfield, Illinois, he explicitly declared his Christian faith, and on the stump he regularly described himself as ‘a devout Christian.’ …

“At the close of his inaugural, Obama undertook to explain why we could be confident that we can remake America. Obama said ‘our confidence’ lies in ‘the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.’ Here Obama was attempting to preach civil religion … But this assurance of our confidence was not so assuring. Not everyone has the knowledge he described. And it’s not exactly inspiring to portray God as one who calls on us to do work that takes us we know not where. Presumably God is not around after making that call. He’s not there guiding and helping us to shape our destiny. We are alone.

“This is a good example of Obama the Doubter. Doubt is a big part of his faith. ‘Faith doesn’t mean you don’t have doubts,’ he wrote in ‘Audacity [of Hope],’ and Obama’s doubts are apparently such that he is unwilling to posit, as have so many of his predecessors, a providential God whose ways we can trust, who helps in time of need. In his doubt, by the way, Obama is George W. Bush’s opposite. Bush was accused of having a ‘theology of certainty’ on account of his saying such things as, from his first inaugural: ‘I know this [a nation of justice and opportunity] is in our reach because we are guided by a power larger than ourselves who creates us equal in His image.’”

-Terry Eastland, writing on “The Sermon on the Mall” in the Feb. 2 issue of the Weekly Standard

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