Yesterday, the AFA hosted a forum called "USA's War on Terror: Not a Cosmic Battle Between Christianity and Islam." The panelists included former U.S. Ambassador Joe Wilson, Mikey Weinstein, leader of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, and Reza Aslan. You can read a report on the event from KXRM here and from the Gazette here, although you could also get an eyewitness account from our secretly embedded observer. Of course, for security reasons I have to withhold his name, but his initials are CT.
Much could be said about this kind of presentation, but on the blog I simply want to address a fundamental confusion that lies at the heart of the perspective promoted by the panelists. Allow me to do so by quoting from George Weigel's recent book Faith, Reason, and the War against Jihadism.
The great human questions, including the great questions of public life, are ultimately theological.
How men and women think about God - or don't think about God - has a great deal to do with how they envision the just society, and how they determine the appropriate means by which to build that society. This means taking theology seriously - which includes taking seriously others' concepts of God's nature and purposes, and their commitments to the beliefs arising from those concepts - as well as the theologies that have shaped the civilization of the West. If we have not learned this over the past five years, one wonders if we have learned anything.
Yet that very question - what have we learned? - arises every time a commentator or politician or statesman uses "theology" as a synonym for "superstition," or "theological" as a contempt-riddled substitute for "mindless." Such glib (and truly mindless) usages must stop; they are an impediment to clear thinking about our situation. And our situation is too urgent for muddleheadedness arising from prejudice.
Weigel is right. There is no such thing as religious neutrality. This is just as true of secularists as it is of Christians or Muslims. Whatever one holds to be ultimate reality will shape one's views of morality, good and bad, right and wrong. The panelists themselves expressed strong views about things they believe are wrong. But of course, if they are going to claim something is wrong, then this is a moral evaluation. In order to make a moral evaluation, they have to have some standard by which they evaluate what is right and wrong. This standard is always grounded in whatever it is that they hold to be ultimate reality. And whatever they hold to be ultimate reality is their religious position. Thus, they have a "theology" just as much as anybody else does.
So when we listen to people such as Mikey Weinstein, we have to take his theology seriously. When we do, we will realize that it is a virulently anti-Christian theology. And thus we will not be surprised by the attitude and tone displayed at the forum. Weinstein is suing the Department of Defense because of his theology. This is his crusade. He is simply being true to his religion. So are the jihadists. One's theology matters very much.