I've never accused the Rev. Billy Graham of being the brightest
street light in the City on the Hillmainly, I suppose, because I'm so
taken by the audacity of Roland Barthes' zinger: "If God really does
speak through the mouth of Dr. Graham, then God is a real blockhead."
But I like Billy Graham. He's a lot less smarmy than, say, the
Reverends Falwell and Robertson. And he's nicer than they are to other
religions. For example, after Sept. 11, Billy decided to stop using the
word "crusade" to label his revival meetings. He knows the historical
baggage the word has for Islam.
But Billy's son, Franklin, is taking over the Billy Graham
Evangelical Association-and Franklin appears to lack his daddy's
Last month, Franklin told NBC that "the God of Islam is. . .a
different God, and I believe it is a very evil and wicked religion."
I suppose he thinks Islam is very evil and wicked because the
fanatics who carried out the Sept. 11 attacks were presumably of the
Islamic faith. Funny how that works. You hardly ever hear anyone say
Christianity is very evil and wicked because the fanatics who carried out
the Holocaust were presumably of the Christian faith.
Don't get me wrong. I think something very evil and wicked
happened on Sept. 11. But it didn't grow out of the teachings of a
religion. It grew out of the absolute certitude of some religionists that
because their religion is so right, all other religions are so wrongand
thus very evil and wicked.
Which is the point Thomas Friedman was making in his Nov. 27
column in the New York Times: "We're not fighting to eradicate
'terrorism.' Terrorism is just a tool. We're fighting to defeat an
ideology: religious totalitarianism." Which he defines as the view "that
my faith must reign supreme and can be affirmed and held passionately only
if all others are negated."
Friedman quotes Rabbi David Hartman of the Shalom Hartman
Institute in Jerusalem: "All faiths that come out of the biblical
traditionJudaism, Christianity and Islamhave the tendency to believe
that they have the exclusive truth. . . .The opposite of religious
totalitarianism is an ideology of pluralisman ideology that embraces
religious diversity and the idea that my faith can be nurtured without
claiming exclusive truth. America is the Mecca of that ideology, and that
is what bin Laden hates. . . ."
Not everyone in America likes it either. Some of our loudest
voices oppose the ideology of religious pluralism.
Listen to Franklin Graham say that Islam is "very evil and
Ponder the church sign in Boise that reads "The spirit of Islam is
the spirit of the Antichrist."
And listen to Georgia Representative Saxby Chambliss, chairman of
the House subcommittee on terrorism and homeland security, giving us his
proposal for combating terrorism: "Just turn [the sheriff] loose and let
him arrest every Muslim that crosses the state line."
The Truth, Mainly
He later said that was just a little joke. Heh heh.
Okay, that's all pretty heavy. Time for a little comic relief.
Time to dig out last Monday's Journal-Star, turn to page 2B, and consider
the Associated Press story headlined "WTC site prayer launches criticism."
It's a story about both religious pluralism and religious
totalitarianism, writ small. It goes like this:
Two Missouri-Synod Lutheran pastorsthe Rev. David Benke and the
Rev. Gerald Kieschnick (who is president of the 2.6 million-member
denomination)stirred up a theological dispute in the aftermath of Sept.
Rev. Kieschnick prayed on Sept. 19 with clergy, relief workers,
and other representatives of the other Lutheran denomination, the
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
Rev. Benke was among the interfaith clergymen who prayed in front of
20,000 people in Yankee Stadium at the Sept. 23 "Prayer for America"
For those bits of religious pluralism, both pastors got themselves
in hot water with several other clergymen, also Missouri Synod
Six of them petitioned to have Rev. Benke expelled from the church,
because the Yankee Stadium service included clergy of other religions,
thus giving "the impression that the Christian faith is just one among
many by which people may pray to God."
Rev. Kieschnick is charged with supporting "unionism" by worshipping
with Evangelical Lutheran Church folks.
Two Missouri Synod pastorsone from Missouri and one from
Minnesotawant the Rev. Kieschnick's church membership revoked. A third
pastorfrom Nebraskajust wants him to resign.
And did I read that a fourth pastor wants to make the Reverends
Benke and Kieschnick invisible by forcing them to wear blue burqas (with
little veiled eyeholes) that cover their bodies from head to toe?
Nah. Probably not.
Retired English Professor Leon Satterfield writes to salvage clarity
from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays. His e-mail