Fighting a Straw Man, and Losing

There is just so much to say about this recent Kathleen Parker column that it is difficult to know exactly where to start.  

Parker begins by dismissing concerns regarding the influence wielded by “Christianists” such as Jerry Falwell and John Hagee because … well … they aren’t as bad as Islamic terrorists

Although both groups may be “true believers,” those who try to connect the dots of Christian belief, specifically evangelical Christianity, to Islamism seem willing to overlook the fact that Islamists praise Allah and fly airplanes into buildings while Christianists praise Jesus and pass the mustard.

 And though both groups of people may use scripture to shape their approach to the public square, Islamist interpretation of doctrine permits religious expression through suicide-murder, beheadings, public stonings (preferably of women) and Jew-hating, while Christianist doctrine deals in such wimpy notions as forgiveness, tolerance, redemption and cheek-turning.

Parker is confusing her terms.  Forgiveness and cheek-turning are Christian teachings – but Christianists refers not to all Christians, just to those who are part of a political movement that seeks to use government power to impose their religious beliefs.  Similarly, not all Muslims are Islamists — those who want to use government power to impose their religious beliefs.  And not all Islamists resort to terrorism.

Parker’s setting up a straw man here – nobody is really equating Falwell with terrorist leaders.  And just because Christianist leaders aren’t recruiting suicide bombers doesn’t mean they’re harmless, or their political goals aren’t dangerous.

Parker goes on to note that Hagee is a vocal proponent of a joint US-Israel strike on Iran in order to bring about Armageddon and the Second Coming of Christ.   But Parker doesn’t see this as much a problem because nobody takes him seriously – least of all the White House

Certainly, there’s an element among some Christians who believe that Armageddon and the Second Coming are related to current events in the Middle East. For instance, John Hagee, televangelist and pastor of an 18,000-member mega-church in San Antonio specifically believes that Israel has to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities in order to move things along toward Jesus’ new millennial reign.

And though life may get messy for a time, all’s well that ends well. Once Jesus gets back on board, Russia and China will have been dealt with, the Garden of Eden will reopen for business, and the righteous will rule the nations of the Earth. ACLU, beware.

Doubtless Hagee holds his audiences in thrall, but that audience does not happen to include George W. Bush or even (cue thunderclouds) Karl Rove. Nor millions of other Christians. Despite what the anti-Christianists seem to believe, the evangelical movement is not monolithic on such issues and Hagee doesn’t have an office in the State Department.

In fact, at one White House meeting with about 35 evangelical leaders, one participant told me Hagee said nary a word. Even if he had, no one in the Bush administration is listening.

Parker’s claim that nobody at the White House takes Hagee’s apocalyptic views seriously would be more convincing if, say, Hagee wasn’t being invited to the White House in the first place

And what makes Parker so sure that Hagee holds no sway with President Bush?  Judging by this Wall Street Journal article, that does not seem to be the case at all

Last week, as Israel’s armed forces pounded Lebanon and worries of a wider conflagration mounted, Mr. Hagee presided over what he called a “miracle of God”: a gathering of 3,500 evangelical Christians packed into a Washington hotel to cheer Israel and its current military campaign… 

Mr. Hagee is a leading figure in the so-called Christian-Zionist movement. This evangelical political philosophy is rooted in biblical prophecies and a belief that Israel’s struggles signal a prelude to Armageddon. Its followers staunchly support the Bush administration’s unequivocal backing of Israel in its current battle with Hezbollah in Lebanon. 

President Bush sent a message to the gathering praising Mr. Hagee and his supporters for “spreading the hope of God’s love and the universal gift of freedom.”

If Parker is going to try and dismiss concerns about the influence the Religious Right has on this country’s domestic and foreign policy, she is going to have to come up with better arguments than 1) they are not as bad as terrorists, and 2) they may get invited to the White House, but nobody listens to them.