By Charles Redfern
I’m still floored by yesterday’s discovery. It’s as if I unearthed a thirst-quenching pool in a dune-filled desert. I actually stumbled across depth, insight and acumen. Really. No kidding. Thinkers are thinking after all. There is wisdom beyond the rants of talking heads — and the people in the street (or at their laptops, at least) deserve to know. Today’s mission is to bring their thoughts to the foreground. Call this a “brain-power round up.”
Calling for understanding
Take the September 12 Philadelphia Inquire op-ed piece by Jennifer Bryson and Robert P. George, for instance. Among other things, they note two streams of objections to the proposed Islamic Culture Center near New York’s Ground Zero: One is shrill Islamophobia; the other is calmer, more reasonable and includes some prominent Muslims. Bryson and George say this to those in the first stream: “To impede law-abding citizens from building a house of worship out of animus toward them or their faith is to step onto a very slippery slope; it is an invitation for others to attack one’s own freedom.”
And then they delve into the rarely-explored world beyond the clichés. Unlike a recent Baptist Peace Fellowship statement, they do not lump everyone together. They see the hovering question in the second stream: Is this appropriate and wise? Is this sensitive to the friends, family members, and survivors of 9-11?
Bryson and George brought me back to my original reaction to Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf’s suggested Center: “Whuh?” I thought of the 9-11 victims and their inevitable and predictable visceral reaction. Most know that Islam’s vast majority deplores terrorism and that Muslims were among the victims. But they still react like many death camp survivors respond to “German” or Hungarians to “Russian” or Iwo Jima veterans to “Japanese” or rape victims to “men.” Essentially, Bryson and George remind the Imam of his own Sufi teaching when they write: “Respect and civility need to go in both directions. Those proposing to build an Islamic center have expressed their intent to promote mutual understanding in society. That is good. But promoting mutual understanding starts with a posture of listening to the concerns of others …”
The two authors are actually hearing, thinking, and hearing again. We would all do well to part company with Newt Gingrich and follow their lead.
Asking the hard questions
John Rankin of the Theological Educational Institute is also listening and thinking. Rankin is not a household name, but he campaigned against the Dove International Outreach Center’s now-cancelled Qur’an burning before the household names protested. Dove relented, and John is now guiding us in genuine religious dialogue – which involves “hard questions” (his beloved phrase) and debate over differences. He poses “Seven questions for the Imam at Ground Zero” in a Foxnews.com opinion piece. Rankin might rattle some nerves, and I can just hear cries of “Islamophobia” because he dares to ask. Wrong. The phrase “religious freedom” means nothing if people of faith air-brush their differences. Rankin, who has studied Islam, is not arguing against the Imam’s right to build the Cordoba House; he’s not even addressing that issue. Personally, I could do without his obvious dig at our current administration in Question Six, but that’s me. Both John and I are evangelical Christians; he is far more politically conservative than I.
Hard questions for libertarians
Evangelical Christians enamored with Libertarianism would do well to read Gary Moore’s article in the most recent Christianity Today, “Ayn Rand: Goddess of the Great Recession.” Moore, a Christian who identifies himself as a conservative Republican, points out that Rand is a libertarian hero and the idol of Alan Greenspan and Wallstreet CEO’s. And she was avowed atheist. Charles Colson says she “exalts selfishness and condemns altruism.” Martin Marty observed, “Every line of the Bible is challenged, countered, and dismissed by the 1,168 pages of Atlas Shrugged.” Jennifer Burns writes, “Whereas traditional conservatism emphasized duties, responsibilities, and social interconnectedness, at the core of the right-wing ideology that Rand spearheaded was the rejection of moral obligations to others.”
Incidentally, traditional libertarians would lift all government controls on pornography, abortion, and drugs.
And yet Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, non-evangelicals so popular among many in the Evangelical Right, extol her theories – and Pat Robertson showed his Randian cards: “The aim of free people everywhere is to limit the power and scope of the government in any way they can.” So did the late Larry Burkett, a financial advisor popular among traditional Christians. “As cruel as it may sound,” he once said, “from the long-term perspective of the economy, it would be better to raise taxes on the poor than on the wealthy.”
Moore says many are mixing Rand’s venomously anti-government, pro-business, and individualistic worldview with biblical Christianity. “Theologians call this ‘syncretism’ – which George Barna calls America’s favorite religion. It’s a religion too many Christians have bent the knee to.”
Compare Rand’s approach to Saint John Chrysostom, a recognized hero who lived in the fourth and fifth century. He advocated following the first Christians in the Book of Acts and pooling our wealth. Or Saint Ambrose of Milan: “How far will your mad lusts take you, ye rich people, till you dwell alone on the earth? Why do you at once turn nature out of doors, and claim the possession of her for your own selves? The land was made for all; why do you rich men claim it as your private property?”
I often wonder if the recognized saints of the past, who helped steer the church on the right doctrinal course, would be accepted in many of today’s churches. It’s time for American Christians to stop listening to Beck and start listening to their own teachers.
Thinking thoughtfully …
So wisdom lives. People are weighing, pondering — and, most important, listening. They’re challenging us to navigate nuances and subtleties.
May their voices be heard.