Wednesday, September 27, 2006

On "Theocracy," 2: The Accusation

Within a few weeks of the 9/11 attacks in the United States, the Jamaican theologian and regular contributor to the Gleaner Newspaper, Rev Dr Roderick Hewitt, wrote:

The human tragedy in USA has also served to bring into sharp focus the use of terror by religious fanatics/fundamentalists. Fundamentalism or fundamentalists are terms that are applicable to every extreme conservative in every religious system . . . . During the twentieth century in particular we have seen the rise of militant expression of these faiths by extreme conservatives who have sought to respond to what they identify as 'liberal' revisions that have weakened the fundamentals of their faith . . . They opt for a belligerent, militant and separatist posture in their public discourse that can easily employ violence to achieve their goals. [Gleaner, Sept. 26, 2001, emphases added.]

This resort to the rhetoric of [im]moral equivalency is awful -- and worse, his remarks were well received by many among the "educated," articulate elites of Jamaica. A few voices of protest were raised then and in subsequent years as the pattern of such verbal attacks -- which echo all-too-common themes in the international media and among the secularised so-called progressive educated elites of the Western World, continued. (One would have hoped that the correctives, which appeal to a sense of fairness, respect and truthfulness, would have been taken.)

But now, less than a fortnight ago, and in the same newspaper, Mr Ian Boyne, a leading Jamaican journalist and leader of the Armstrong-derived Church of God International,

The world is a much safer place today because the totalitarian ideology of the Christian Crusaders and the Roman Church was decisively routed by the secular state. Do not believe that militant Islam is necessarily more vicious and more violent than a militant Fundamentalist or resurgent Middle Ages Catholicism would be. The Christian fanatics and theonomists can find enough texts in the Old and even New testaments to butcher us unbelievers (in their particular sectarian doctrine), just as the radical Islamists can find Quranic justification for terrorism. There is something pernicious and scary about the Fundamentalist mindset.

In Jamaica you encounter some mindless Christian fundamentalists who, if they had their way, would ban certain television programmes, certain movies and certain books and would even seek to impose dress-length standards on our women to fight the scourge of dancehall fashions. Don't think it's just the Taliban who has this kind of mentality. Talk to your fundamentalist, Bible-thumping neighbour and see how open-minded he or she really is.

This persistent pattern of ill-warranted and inflammatory, accusatory rhetoric similar to That which is all too common among the secularised elites of the wider Western world reveals a consistent, insistent bias and even acceptance of what is obviously slander, through an attitude which effectively equates Bible-believing Christians and Islamist terrorists, by making handy use of what is now little more than a smear-word, namely "fundamentalism."

Some years ago, I took this issue up, and in my more recent briefing note on Government under God, in the section on the roots of modern liberty and democracy, I laid out the relevant facts and exposed the basic fallacy in the underlying claims and beliefs.

For instance, responding to Mr Hewitt :

In fact, this [claim] is grossly (even inexcusably) unjust, for the difference between Evangelical Christians and Al Qaeda's plane-hijacking suicide bombers is obvious and vast; but the underlying misperceptions and hostility reflect what we have not learned about the roots of modern democratic self government and the idea-sources and motivations of the liberation struggles that we benefit from today. To correct that potentially dangerous misunderstanding, we need to first go back to the first major Reformation work on liberation struggles, the 1579 anonymous book, Vindiciae Contra Tyrannos, by Junius Brutus [i.e. Phillipe Duplessis-Mornay, a Huguenot French soldier and Diplomat], the subsequent and derivative 1581 Dutch Declaration of Independence, and the stream of further thought and state documents that flowed from that well-spring, including most notably Samuel Rutherford's Lex Rex, John Locke's 2nd Treatise of Civil Government, and the US founding documents, especially the 1776 American Declaration of Independence . . .

In short, and as we will elaborate over the next few days -- exactly opposite to the accusation being made -- biblical Christian Faith and those who were deeply influenced by it [some being Christians, some being influenced though a Christianity-shaped culture then known as Christendom], have made a decisively important contribution to the rise of the modern liberty- , justice- and rights- based Democratic state and other associated major liberating reforms.

So, when we see a persistent distortion and suppression of the material, and relatively easily accessible facts on the matter on the part of otherwise highly informed and highly educated people, one joined to the sort of highly hostile judgements we just excerpted, we should take pause and take warning.

Then, we should vigorously correct and if necessary protest at the distortion of the record.

For, as very horrible recent history shows, demonisation of easily stereotyped unpopular minority groups is not only beyond the pale of civility, it is too often the prelude to discrimination and worse, far worse. END

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