Tuesday, September 19, 2006

A pause to correct Mr Ian Boyne, a Caribbean Commentator


My attention was just today drawn to an article by Mr Boyne of Jamaica in the Gleaner this Sunday past. The article is so outrageous, that I have corrected it in the Caribbean Kairos eGroup, where it was drawn to my attention. With slight modifications, that corrective post follows:


I found that in his commentary, Mr Boyne has stated much that is of deepest concern, starting with:

there are sincere Muslims outside of the Middle East who are visceral and reflexively defensive over criticisms about the totalitarian nature of Islamic fundamentalism.
These Chinese and Muslims, blinded by loyalty borne of ethnicity and ideology, are joined by leftists who, turned off by the failure of bourgeois democracy to meet the social and economic needs of the poor and oppressed, downplay Cuba's suppression of freedom of the press and expression, because of its impressive social achievements.
1] By using "Fundamentalism" Boyne and others of that ilk implicate the biblical Christian faith, as that is the origin of what has now become little more than a smear word. In short the in-group readily reads the implications, not that Islam -- unfortunately -- is unique among major religions in regards to being explicitly instructed in its sources and founding examples to be spread globally by the sword [cf Surah 9:5, 29 - 31 etc, which are so late that they, sadly, take precedence in light of the principle of abrogation], and the just past posts (here and here) on the Pope's remarks], but that the problem is "fundamentalism": so -- Biblical Christians are just as bad. [Here we see an alliance between secularists, neo-pagans and apostates to attack the biblical Christian faith as the “real” enemy, with Islam's track record and current misbehaviour just providing an occasion to get on to the “real” battle. THAT is why there is a refusal in so many quarters to face the fact that, counting the Cold War as no 3, we are in World War 4, the 4th in 100 years.]

2] So, we here have dodged the duty to investigate the key problem posed by Islam, and since Mr Bush is notoriously a biblical Christian [and imperfect as are all men], it is an easy swipe to reduce him to [im]moral equivalence, while failing to look at the plank sticking out of our own eyes first. Sad.

3] Cuba of course, is getting a pass on its many socio-economic failings [UPDATE: Cf this report on a current Cuban investigation, Oct 23], even as a token note on lack of freedom is noted. [Let's just note that in 1958 Cuba's standard of living was comparable to Italy's -- i.e., it should not be compared with the rest of the region at all, but with the very similar cultures of S Europe -- and its failure to take off like Italy or Spain is where its real failure shows itself.]

Next, this passage is -- sadly -- a sweeping piece of sophistry:
Unfortunately, because of the glaring hypocrisy of United States foreign policy, George Bush's rhetoric about liberty and democracy-promotion are given short shrift and the democratic ideal is not given the profound significance which it holds. Because democracy is being promoted in an unbalanced and class-driven way. But, despite the myriad examples of double-standards in the rhetoric of the West about democracy, human rights and freedom, the fact remains that its concept of freedom, though limited in practice, is philosophically superior to its competitors, past and present. The U.S. might have opposed Nazism and communism because of its own Great Power designs and hegemonic obsession, and even if it said that it opposes Islamic extremism for the same reasons, the truth is that American model of democracy is superior to that trinity. It must be acknowledged that right-wingers and defenders of western democracy have been one-sided and jaundiced in their approach to human rights. They make civil and political liberties sacrosanct, but largely ignore economic and social rights, which are equally enshrined in United Nations conventions.
1] Is US Foreign policy glaringly hypocritical in a way that makes it singularly disreputable, or is it that it faces and we face a world in which the possible trumps the ideal, in the here and now? [In short, are we judging the US by a conveniently selectively hyperskeptical standard? Cf say how we [in the Caribbean] have treated Cuba [which in part Mr Boyne notes], and Venezuela under Mr Chavez, here in the Caribbean, or how we treated Grenada and Haiti in Caricom when these island states each had a coup?]

2] It is simply an assertion that democracy is being promoted in an unbalanced, class driven way. In the relevant test cases, Iraq and Lebanon, has the US been acting in an unbalanced way or in a way driven by class interests -- whose, where? In short this is the rhetoric of dismissal not fair comment driven by substantial points.

3] That "might" relative to totalitarianism, is telling. For, in both cases, the US and other Western powers, imperfect as they are, were plainly the better alternative in an existential struggle against two totalitarian ideologies that were openly declared to be hell-bent on world conquest. [Here Boyne - who is very well-informed indeed -- is exploiting both our ignorance of history and our reflexive tendency to view western powers as bad.]

4] That dismissive, judgemental sweep again comes out in the remarks on rights. First the only stable foundation of rights is that we have an endowment from God which the state has a duty under God to defend. In that context, the secularist-socialist extensions from human rights to "social" and "economic" "rights" runs into the issue: are you confusing the BLESSINGS OF LIBERTY [cf preamble to the US Constitution] with the rights of persons? To wit: WHO specifically owes us these "rights" and on what moral basis? (Does anyone OWE us a living? Who owes us a solid family life etc, or is it that we need to live under godly principles to enjoy these in a prosperous and peaceful community? Nor is the UN any proper arbiter of what fundamental rights are -- they are objective and rooted in our nature as human beings made in God's image, so they cannot be either granted or taken away by words on paper either! And, if the UN is setting out to RECOGNISE rights, then we have the right to analyse its logic, as just outlined.]

The rhetoric goes on, and soon enough gets around to the real target:
In Saudi Arabia, Christians and Buddhists -and all non-Muslims-have no right to build places of worship or to propagate their religion. The Islamic rulers know what's best for the population and they know the mind of Allah. Too bad for you if you think that your God is directing you otherwise . . . .
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.
1] First did you see how biblical Christians in Jamaica are -AGAIN, in the Gleaner's columns -- being equated to the Taliban's tyranny, all courtesy that ever so easy smear-word, "fundamentalism"? Nor is he addressing the vast gap between the biblically illiterate, Christianity of the Middle Ages and the world that resulted from having the reformation sola scriptura principle joined to putting the Bible in the hands of the ordinary man: liberation. Not to mention, he speaks of tiny fringe movements [UPDATE: Cf remarks on Rich Lowry's Oct 17 article here] as if they represent the sentiment or substantial thought of the mainstream of biblical Christianity, including here in the Caribbean. [For that matter, there are excellent exegetical grounds that show just why Christians have no biblical basis for indulging in theological or state tyranny, starting with the most obvious text on the relationship of the Christian and the state, Rom 13:1 – 10, in which the legitimacy of even a pagan Caesar such as NERO (admittedly, before he dismissed Seneca and went utterly mad) is directly implied, as God's agent to do us good and to bear the sword to protect the community from injustice. Further to this, we see that the text immediately continues to summarise that the OT moral law as Jesus did – and NB the civil code and ceremonial code and examples therein are filtered through the principle of fulfillment in Christ -- leads to the principle of neighbour love thence the point that since love does no harm it is the fulfillment of the law. In what way can any alleged Bible-based tyranny pass the test of such a bulwark of justice?) This is utterly unfair and inexcusable. Has Mr Boyne -- who is certainly not a biblical illiterate -- no shame?]

2] Second, he has utterly failed to address the fact hat the Quran drastically contrasts with the Bible on the matter of liberty, so that in fact it was not secularism that brought us to modern liberty but in large and material measure the REFORMATION as it moved out into the issues of liberty, as can be seen in the line of thought from Duplesis-Mornay's Vindicae Contra Tyrannos through the Calvinist Dutch Declaration of Independence of 1581, to Rutherford's Lex Rex, and on into the US founding thence the rise of modern democracy. In short, some highly material balancing facts have been suppressed and the history of modern liberty is drastically distorted, to make the biblically rooted Christian faith [as opposed to some Christians and church movements that failed to live up to the standards of that faith], without good warrant, into a villain. Did he not even pause to read and reflect on Orlando Patterson's seminal work on Freedom, which would have taught him better? Even his fellow columnist at the Gleaner, Mr Martin Henry would have greatly helped:
ON THE fly leaf of Orlando Patterson's book, Freedom, appears the words of Galatians 5:1, "For freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of bondage". Our slave-side ancestors at Emancipation would have deeply identified with these words of Paul's. The book, described as a "magisterial work" in the publishers blurb, traces the emergence and evolution of freedom to stand today "unchallenged as the supreme value of the Western world".
Most human languages did not even have a word for the concept of freedom before Western contact. Freedom is also, Patterson proposes, "the central value of Christianity: being redeemed, being freed by, and in, Christ, is the ultimate goal of all Christians"; Christianity being "the first and only world religion that placed freedom ­ spiritual freedom, redemption ­at the very center of its theology". Wherever this odd religion [I add, correctively, in its popularly circulated, biblically-based form] has become established, he says, it has made converts to both salvation in Christ and to the ideal of freedom . . . .
Patterson devotes a good chunk of his book to "Christianity and the Institutionalisation of Freedom" without, I think, adequate recognition of the rootedness of Christianity in Judaism and its continuity from Judaism. Surely the Exodus and the Old Testament's stringent legal regulation of bondage and protection of 'freedom' contain the very elements of freedom, which Patterson describes, long before Greek civilisation emerged.
Alongside Greek and Roman thought, Patterson assigns a central role to Christianity, and particularly the theology of Paul, in the emergence of the supreme Western value of freedom. His final paragraph on Paul is a gem, revealing a profound understanding of what Paul said and what Christians believe: "Till the final deliverance, then, upon the second coming, mankind must settle for the lesser freedom of the Galatians, using it both as a rallying flag in the continuing struggle against re-enslavement and as a spur to the obedience of a superior faith which is hope for the higher freedom that has been granted and that will bring, when it comes, not surrender but perfect union with God."
In an age of excess, when the supreme Western value of freedom has become a global value, too often taken to extremes, Orlando Patterson in his "Coda", or final passage, warns of the problems and perils of freedom. "Freedom is undeniably the source of Western intellectual mastery, the engine of its extraordinary creativity, and the open secret of the triumph of Western culture, in one form or another, over the cultures of mankind". But, "at its worst, no value has been more evil and socially corrosive in its consequences, inducing selfishness, alienation, the celebration of greed, and the dehumanising disregard for the 'losers', the little people who fail to make it. We have been unable to transcend the evils that come with the blessings of personal freedom".
3] In short Mr Boyne has suppressed what happened when the Bible was put into the hands of the ordinary man as a result of the reformation, and the resulting biblically motivated struggles for liberty that have brought to so many the blessings of liberty. Sure, there were other threads in the rope of liberty, but a lot of the heavy lifting was done by biblically motivated Christians in the relevant era. [Cf here]

4] Thus, it is no surprise to see his rhetoric of immoral equivalency in the conclusion he would have us draw:
An independent intellectual cadre must continue to push for a third path between the enemies of freedom on both sides.
Sad, but ever so predictable. And, where are the multitudes of well-informed Christians who should be rushing to correct him even as we speak?

In short, we see here a major gap in our ministry: in the teeth of 1 Pet 3:15, we have not been equipped to answer to the reason for the hope we have!
And, that is one challenge that this blog exists to help us address. END
UPDATE, Oct 25: As I noted in my later post, Oct 18, responding to Mr Boyne's further artice of Oct 15, I believe I was perhaps too sharp on tone in the above. I have therefore taken occasion to soften the tone a bit and clean up a few typos, while adding links. However, I consider that some very strong language is well warranted by Mr Boyne's tone and substance, as I have now further highlighted, and so also I have left much of my original language of pointed rebuttal intact. In particular, observers should note the obvious tone of immoral equivalency above [which Attorney at law Shirley Richards also commented on it seems], which Mr Boyne then tried to deny in his Oct 15 article, only to fall right back into making just such an invidious comparison, as is discussed in my further rebuttal, to that article. I note that he in his second article tried to make it out that I am an overzealous ignoramus speaking outside of what I know, but note how he never properly comes to grips with highly material evidence -- much of it from primary historical documents now just a web-click away -- that I have repeatedly linked and cited, then discussed, most notably here. [Cf also my excerpts from and discussion of Vindiciae here!] To date, the response I submitted on Oct 18, the day after learning of the article of Oct 15 -- which would be the first that Gleaner readers would be able to see the other side of the story from me, has not appeared in the Gleaner. On track record of an earlier exchange with Mr Espeut over his dismissal of the Gospels as hopelessly mutually contradictory on the accounts of the resurrection, in 2003, that is sadly not surprising. Let that track record speak for itself, alongside the pattern of dismissive and now even plainly abusive comments on Biblical Christianity that now it seems routinely appear in the Gleaner's pages.
FURTHER UPDATE, Oct 26: It is worth excerpting from my initial response, on Oct 17, to Mr Boyne's further column in which he tried to deny that he was indulging in improper assertions of immoral equivalency, attacking me by name as an ignoramus and zealot.
The "oops effect" I highlight in the excerpt is highly revealing in light of the above earlier response with excerpts. For, on any objective reading. Mr Boyne exactly does in fact try to push Bible-believing Christians in the Caribbean today into the same boat as Al Quaeda and the Taliban:
. . . I have just been informed that I have been strongly criricised by name, by Mr Ian Boyne, for pointing out that in fact the Christian faith, once the Bible was put in the hands of the ordinary man, made a major contribution to the rise of modern liberty. The core of his claim is:
. . . some Christians have also been offended by what they see as my lumping together Christian fundamentalists with Islamic fundamentalists.
There is no moral equivalence between the two, they insist. And, of course, I never suggested that. But what I have maintained is that the Christians are also prone to bigotry, intolerance and the desire to impose their will on others just as the Islamic militants. The Christians have been more restrained in establishing their Kingdom of God on earth not because that desire has extinguished among them but because they live in secular states which have long disposed of the concept of the Divine Right of Kings and other theocratic notions.
Oops. As the highlighted reveals, he unfortunately evidently immediately inadvertently lets slip what he had just tried to deny.

I also find it highly interesting that, in a rather long article, the very well-read Mr Boyne utterly fails to address precisely how the absolutist notions were addressed in a biblical context, by Duplessis-Mornay, by the Dutch declarants of independence from Spanish rule and the Inquisition in 1581, or in the famous Lex Rex: namely, as shown in summary here, by using the Bible and concepts tracing to it, thus materially contributing to the rise of modern liberty.
It is high time for a frank and full apology and retraction on Mr Boyne's part, I would say.

1 comment:

Gordon Mullings said...

I must make a note here, that I spoke rather sharply in the above; probably too sharply.