Monday, June 12, 2017

Romanticizing the Exotic

Bernie Sanders, Article VI of the Constitution notwithstanding, believes that there should be a religious test for holding public office and anyone who's an orthodox Christian ipso facto fails the test. John Daniel Davidson explains:
Sanders doesn’t think Christians are fit to serve in government because they’re bigots. Basic Christian theology, in Sanders’s view, “is indefensible, it is hateful, it is Islamophobic, and it is an insult to over a billion Muslims throughout the world.”

Here’s what happened. During a confirmation hearing for Russell Vought, President Trump’s nominee for deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, Sanders expressed his indignation at an article Vought had written in January 2016 about a controversy that erupted at Vought’s alma mater, Wheaton College. A political science professor, Larycia Hawkins, had published a Facebook post announcing her intention to wear a hijab in solidarity with Muslims and suggesting that Christians and Muslims worship the same God.

Vought, a Christian, took issue with Hawkins’s post and defended Wheaton in an article for The Resurgent. During the hearing Wednesday, Sanders repeatedly quoted one particular passage he described as “Islamophobic” and “hateful.” Vought wrote: “Muslims do not simply have a deficient theology. They do not know God because they have rejected Jesus Christ his Son, and they stand condemned.”
This is indeed the orthodox, reformed theological position of many protestant Christians today. It's what Sen. Sanders thought was "indefensible...hateful...Islamophobic, and... an insult to over a billion Muslims throughout the world." Somebody should ask Mr. Sanders, however, whether he'd object to an orthodox Muslim, like, say Democratic congressman Keith Ellison of Minnesota, holding public office because, after all, Muslims share a doctrine on salvation that's at least as exclusive as that of orthodox Christians. They believe that anyone who does not embrace Islam is doomed by Allah to eternal punishment.

Thus, this statement by a spokesman for Sen. Sanders is more than a little tone deaf, as are the statements by the groups mentioned in the next paragraph:
A spokesman for Sanders said in a statement issued Thursday: “In a democratic society, founded on the principle of religious freedom, we can all disagree over issues, but racism and bigotry—condemning an entire group of people because of their faith—cannot be part of any public policy.” The nomination of Vought, “who has expressed such strong Islamaphobic [sic] language,” the statement said, “is simply unacceptable.”

At the hearing on Wednesday, Sanders said he would vote against confirming Vought for deputy director of the OMB. Afterwards, Muslim groups including the Council on American-Islamic Relations and Muslim Advocates, along with the American Civil Liberties Union, condemned Vought’s comments, saying without a hint of irony that his views threaten the principle of religious freedom.
This is indeed ironic inasmuch as, aside perhaps from atheistic communism, there's nothing more threatening to religious freedom in our contemporary world than Islam. No predominately Islamic nation allows Christians and Jews equality with Muslims, and in many Islamic countries Christians, Hindus, and certainly Jews are persecuted.

Davidson closes with this:
[T]he progressives who now run the Democratic Party will turn a blind eye to the exclusivity claims of Muslims and other religious groups they think they need in their political coalition. But they will not suffer Christians. There’s a simple reason for that: Democrats know they have lost orthodox Christians as a constituency, and now they have no use for them.
What Sen. Sanders is engaging in here is an example of what Jewish philosopher Lenn Goodman calls "romanticizing the exotic." Christianity is deemed docile enough to be a safe target for criticism by secular Americans who wish to look politically virtuous, while "foreign" religions like Islam, which is not a safe target, are romanticized as noble, wholesome, pure and victimized.

This behavior is either hypocritical or mindless or both, and all the more in Sanders' case because he claims to be a tolerant progressive when in fact his outburst against Vought is clearly an act of intolerant bigotry. To be sure, the Senator is not intolerant of those who make exclusive religious truth claims per se because Islam certainly does that, but he is intolerant of Christians who make exclusive religious truth claims. It's not the truth claims, apparently, that elicit his bigotry, it's the Christianity.