Jewish World Review Jan. 7, 2002 / 23 Teves, 5762
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com -- DID you hear about the Democrats' strategy to use the war on terrorism to their political advantage in upcoming congressional elections? We've got it on no less an authority than Newsweek's Howard Fineman.
Fineman, certainly no enemy of the Democrats, reports that they are planning to demonize the Republicans by comparing their "Christian right" to the Taliban in terms of religious extremism and intolerance. In this way they hope to enrage President Bush and lure him into a "firefight at home."
Let's put aside the outrageousness of their plan to embroil a wartime president in a distracting domestic battle for purely partisan reasons. Instead, let's focus on the outrageousness of the premise underlying their strategy. That premise -- which is nothing new for liberals -- is that the religious right is intolerably intolerant and bigoted. The only thing new is that they now have an inflammatory way of packaging it -- by exploiting the events of Sept. 11.
Fundamentalists of any religion (read: Christians) are dangerous. And who are the Christian fundamentalists? Essentially, those who believe the Bible is the Word of G-d. The term connotes a backwardness and absence of sophistication and enlightenment.
Democratic Party Chairman Terry McAuliffe will have some ammunition when he begins to sell this theme. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman provided much fodder in his Nov. 27 column entitled "The Real War." Friedman argues that the real enemy in our war is not terrorism, but religious totalitarianism -- "a view of the world that my faith must reign supreme, and can be affirmed and held passionately only if all others are negated."
As the balance of Friedman's column makes clear, however, he uses the term (religious totalitarianism) much more broadly than he defines it. By religious totalitarians he really means those who claim to have a corner on exclusive truth -- even if they are completely tolerant of those with other beliefs.
Friedman prefers those who have "reinterpreted their faith in a way that embrace(s) modernity, without weakening religious passion, and in a way that affirm(s) that G-d speaks multiple languages and is not exhausted by just one faith."
Instead of totalitarianism, we should strive for pluralism -- "an ideology that embraces religious diversity and the idea that my faith can be nurtured without claiming exclusive truth." Indeed, according to a religious leader Friedman quotes with approval, the future of the world may depend on whether different religions can understand "that G-d speaks Arabic on Fridays, Hebrew on Saturdays and Latin on Sundays, and that he welcomes different human beings approaching him through their own history, out of their own language and cultural heritage."
Many Jews and Christians, in Friedman's view, get it. They have gone back to their sacred texts and reinterpreted their traditions to embrace modernity and pluralism. But those who haven't diluted their sacred beliefs to conform to today's twisted concept of tolerance are dangerous.
I'll tell you what's dangerous. It's this kind of indiscriminate and prejudicial thinking. As important as religion is, it's amazing how much ignorance about it persists. In fact, it is really an intellectual cop-out to argue, for the sake of political correctness or some other secular piety, that the beliefs of many of the world's religions can be reconciled. Christianity, in contrast to all other religions, teaches that Jesus was not merely a prophet but is G-d. Many other religions have exclusive truth claims as well.
So, you cannot reasonably say, as Friedman seems to, that all religions worship the same god. That would make god nothing more than a human construct, which would mean he is not G-d. Either He exists in reality, in which case certain absolute truths about Him apply, or he doesn't, and none of this matters anyway.
Just because certain religions claim to know the truth does not mean they advocate eliminating other faiths or even suppressing their free exercise of religion. While Christians, for example, claim that Jesus was G-d, they do not deny non-Christians the right to believe otherwise. But being tolerant toward other people's beliefs does not require that you abandon your own or water them down.
The left is always complaining about hate speech because such speech is likely to lead to violence. If incitement to violence is the test for hate speech, is it not hate speech to contend falsely that Christianity or other religions, because they claim to have exclusive truths, advocate the extermination of other faiths? Is it not hate speech for the left to engage in such sloppy comparisons as equating Bible-believing Christians with Muslim terrorists?
If Howard Fineman is correct about the Democrats' plan to employ this vicious tactic of demonizing the religious right with unbridled hate speech, Republicans better be prepared to pull out all the stops in countering this incendiary