Lucifer Jones

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Islam vs The Black Church

Reading Mark Steyn's 'America Alone' is an exercise in frustration. He hacks and hacks and won't leave you alone, and the implications of his work are ugly and dangerous and impossible to ignore. It's one of those books where you can only read 20 pages at a sitting and then you want to run out into the streets and pick an intellectual fight.

I have just been under the tear jerking influence of an extraordinary Passion Play done in black under the direction of a crackling minister named Alton Trimble. As well, I have been watching Roots on TV One. I am convinced that there is a vitality to the black family that will persist despite our own dysfunctions and those of our nation. But that doesn't change several important facts about the history of how black politics has contributed to the strength of multiculturalism in America.

Let me say a few things about multiculturalism in America so I can move on to the point. I have written that the best multiculturalism is nothing short of diplomacy, and that's all good. But need to amend this ultimate form and perhaps back off of it to the extent that it subverts nationalism, which I am tending to believe is a price I cannot abide. So for the moment let us conclude that the following is the best that multiculturalism can get.

Class Two - Diversity & Pluralism
Diversity is one step up from PC and makes perfect sense. However it is misapplied as a principle when it's really just a strategy. The value of diversity is that it stands as an indicator of a willingness to make the effort to be inclusive. The best of diversity delivers a kind of robustness, it fortifies an institution by giving disparate groups an interest in its success. But this need be done purposefully with the intention of maintaining that robustness without losing links.

Pluralism is not a consequence of diversity, rather I think it the proper result of a non-chauvinistic secularism in a democratic society. You can have a healthy pluralism without the attempted mutual understanding of diversity. I think they reinforce each other but that they are not the same.

And for my religious conservative Christian defenders and apologists, I don't think we should subvert or disown the free exercise of religion, nor discount the moral rationality of doctrine.

Now to the point. Will the black church defend America given that American Muslims will take the opportunity to demand sharia? That is to say how much black culture and Christianity will resist a spineless multiculturalism that accommodates Islam at every turn?

I say that blackfolks are way too strong and way too deeply ingrained in American life and history to be profoundly persuaded by the visions of Islamists. Despite the fact that blackfolks are comfortable with Muslims among us and that we have strong ties to multicultural politics and we have strong critiques of America, black self-interest cannot and will not be undermined by jihad.

This is a subject I haven't really investigated and there is only one specific episode I can recall there being black commentary. That was the issue of the French laws demanding that Muslim women remove their headscarves in public school. That was a tricky question. I supported Chirac's ban and then I reversed myself. I only considered, in the final analysis, the context of French racism against Algerians. I had not considered the context that Steyn and recent history brings, which is the subversion of the social contract by non-integration and the capitulation of law and tradition brought on by the triumph of multiculturalism over nationalism.

There is no question in my mind that black self-interest is aligned with the American national culture and the American interest. While it is facile today for most black Americans to be against the war they are so primarily because this is "Bush's war" and they are against Bush, but not because they are in trans-cultural sympathy with Islamists. There are black voices who do sympathize with Islamists against the West and America in particular. They are merely political squeaky wheels and like gangsta rappers they are tolerated at a distance. They may delay the final decisions black Americans will make but they will not change our inevitable course, which is patriotic and will stand against creeping Sharia.

Most Americans black or not have yet to recognize how capitulations to Islamic traditions will send waves of conflict through American society if multiculturalism triumphs over nationalism here the way it has in many parts of Europe. But the black church will be a strong conservative force against that multiculturalism and directly against Islam. Stark divisions will arise in black communities as radical Muslims attempt to impress blacks that their cultural ways are superior. Our experience with the Nation of Islam is instructive in that regard. We have already become the transformed nation that swallowed the Negro. We are the new people we had hungered to be, and no sort of Islam is going to change that.

As I watch Roots now 30 years later, I sense the tension in the writing of the about the life of the adult Kunta Kinte as he takes Belle for his bride. Kunta is proud of being an African, Belle rejects being called one despite the fact that Kunta sees her resemblance to his own tribe. She claims three generations of American heritage in opposition. Kunta is a devout Muslim and has spent most of his life trying to escape the plantation, but he chooses family first. It is a deeply symbolic union and it is the beginning of a very deeply felt narrative. All black American men will claim the courage and persistence of Kunta Kinte, and I'm sure I'm not the only one who has raised his child to the heavens shortly after their birth. But we also know that it is our bond with the land and the people of America that makes our journey to freedom our own.

Islam has nothing to teach free black Americans about their own liberation.

Monday, April 09, 2007

America: Christian Nation?

On several occasions as I visited Ofaris, now two long years ago at least, I can recall one particular gent among the conservatives who would consistently defend America as a Christian nation. I've heard the argument before but never so pointedly and often as from this guy. Everything it seemed depended on our recognition of his assertion. I've always been rather uncomfortable with his emphasis although I could certainly see the merit of his position. I've only more recently figured out how to deal with that class of debates.

Though my frat brother JC Phillips was often at the same functions, and familiar with the same arguments I never was quite sure if he was pressing them until he wrote the following:

God made man free and independent. As free men, we must own our bodies, our ideas, and the fruits produced by same. It is upon this concept that we properly define rights and upon this rock America was founded. Rights are those things to which we claim by virtue of simply being human -- by belonging to God – and are therefore things that cannot be granted by other men.

In response to that I wrote a bit offhandedly:

What I'm afraid many Christians, and especially fundamentalists don't understand is how the same inviolability of conclusions can be [derived from] secular philosophy.

He followed up for some clarification and so I turned my full attention to the question of whether America, at its founding was or should be considered a Christian nation.

I think that the secular case for our founding is clear - taxation without representation, and I am not particularly convinced that the founding of the US was an act anointed of God. I am not familiar enough with the case of Israel to say, but I believe that in that case and others, they see their nation existing as it does and where it does as fulfillment of a holy covenant. America, by contrast, was never a 'promised land'.

I do believe, however, that the founding principles of the US were a natural consequence of the understanding of the purposes of man. That is to say this country's founding was exceptional in that the Founders did their level best to assess the nature of man and his needs in the world and organized a nation around the defense of those needs. The concepts of the Rights of Man, thus is central. But I am not so sure that the French were any further off from the truth of those definitions as they overthrew their monarchy. I've yet to hear anyone declare Robespierre as a divinely inspired character or that France is similarly a Christian nation.

I believe that a more comprehensive accounting of the Enlightenment values of democracy, citizenship and inalienable rights will find a combination of secular and inspired sources in their proponents. But I do believe that faith in God was totally integrated into the thinking of many Founders. In fact, I have recently come to appreciate that Christianity's strength is found in its consistent practice in reconciliation with reason. This is something I learned only last year thanks to Benedict and Larry Arnn. So it makes perfect sense to me that the highest form of rational, moral thinking can indeed be considered Christian and divinely inspired. God inspires men to think. I do indeed trust in American theodicy, but I don't believe it to be an exclusive parent of our rights. Further I do not believe that patriotism is the full and final expression of our souls.

With regard to our contemporary dilemmas, I think it is facile to suggest that our devotion to the life of Christ is near enough to those so inspired in history (William Wilberforce comes to mind) to argue that our faith will defend such founding principles as rigorously as their faith did. We therefore must depend on the constancy of atheists, heathens and even imbeciles to their unreflective self-interests as well as the thoughtful defenses of our nation that come from non-religious study. Christians may desire America to be a Christian nation but if today's American Christians were the only defenders of our core principles, we would be in poor shape indeed. In this I am constantly reminded of the life and efforts of John Brown who stands above all in my thinking as the model Christian of his time. He clearly saw what his fellow Christians did not, which was the inherent corrosion of a nation with a double standard for inalienable rights, citizenship and democracy. And while I don't now doubt that the Founders recognized the extent to which their vision was compromised by the reality of slavery, none of them stands as tall as a divinely inspired operator as does John Brown, Harriett Tubman or Sojourner Truth. So this is an indictment of the failings of Christians to their earthly duty in understanding and defense of the Rights of Man even as they are divinely inspired. Even as we are called, as I was yesterday, to Worship, Glorify and Praise the Holy Name of Jesus, I am acutely aware of how little patriotic sacrifice is demanded of us from the pulpit. God inspires us to think but do we think hard enough to be considered worthy?

My reading of the accounts of "The God of Nature" is that thoughtful men of the period did indeed grasp the profundity of creation and I believe most felt morally obligated to understand the workings of nature. My details are kind of sketchy on this as my best references are 'Master & Commander' and Stephenson's excellent Baroque Series, both fictional works of verisimilitude. I see the accommodation of Christianity to scientific discovery as a form of revelation. Think of it this way, today when we bless our meals, we know that they contain vitamins and minerals essential to our health, it even gives us more reasons to be thankful. We would be foolish to thank God for Twinkies. (I guess). My point is that I don't see any fundamental conflict between Christian faith and reason. The Church accommodates and grows as it must with the growth of knowledge and still the core of faith remains. We believe that our ethics are constrained, but not our knowledge, and so this is why we conflict with radical Islam, which forces its adherents to be circumscribed and defined as souls in submission to an absolutely arbitrary God, a God who might defy nature, a God who might black out the Sun tomorrow for no humanly comprehensible reason. If we must respond to an arbitrary God who would defy nature and the world, then there are no reasons for good works in the world, all we could do is worship, glorify and praise the name of God, and what do worldly things matter?

So I think I may have shown the parallel between religious fundamentalists who would claim that all man can and should be is a vessel for worship. God could just as easily worship Himself were that all we could be. Why bother with Creation? Why make us apart from dumb animals? God could look in the mirror and give Himself perfect worship and not be bothered with the Universe at all. Instead God created the Universe and set us on a path of discovery, and that righteous path will lead us back to Him, and I think we have galaxies to conquer before that journey is complete, and yet in all our ignorance we can still feel close to God. We can still know, down to the smallest most insignificant act, which direction is towards Good and which is towards Evil. In that we are profoundly blessed. Because no matter how small our life and efforts, we can still know the love of God.

America is different from a nation of worshipers and its greatness as a nation in the affairs of the world does not owe from the piety of its Christians. It is from our freedom to engage the world and our experience of the life of liberty that gives us the knowhow and wherewithal to be an agent for positive change. I think the life of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and her choice to become an American is ample and adequate testimony to that, as are the lives of millions of other immigrants who have had to undergo no religious conversion to recognize and respect what it is great about America.

America needs the devotion of all its citizens engaged morally in issues of liberty and freedom in a tradition not only established by the founders, and not only by Christians. We need to be a nation dedicated to the purposes of a continuing defense of liberty for ourselves and for the world. If Christian charity motivates you towards that end, fine. I expect that conservative Christians engaged in the moral issues of the nation will understand these things implicitly or come to very fine conclusions in their study of Natural Law; I support that tradition and I admire it. I don't think that is the only way to discover the truth about what's great in America and I hope that those who may be put off by a shallow understanding of this tradition get their heads on straight about it. As I tend to say, it's about do not about be.