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John Mark Reynolds- Contributor

John Mark Reynolds is the founder and director of the Torrey Honors Institute, and Associate Professor of Philosophy, at Biola University.

They See Visions
The Religious Order of the LA Times
[John Mark Reynolds] 10/20/03

Why is it suddenly a crime to think your own religion is true? Lt. Gen. William G. "Jerry" Boykin had the nerve to express traditional Christian theology in public. That makes him unfit to be a member of the elite, as defined by the Los Angeles Times [see Can the Crusader editorial 9/16/03]. Why? Boykin believes his religion to be correct, which by extension means he thinks other religions to be (at least somewhat) incorrect.

Basic logic would indicate that if Boykin is a Christian, he thinks Islam is wrong. Jesus cannot be the Christ and the Koran accurate. Whether Boykin is right or wrong, Christianity has an illustrious group of philosophers who would defend his claims. They make reasonable arguments, whether they are right. Of course, the great monotheistic religions also have cases to make and they should be made in the public square.

Old style religious tolerance meant thinking your friend’s religion was wrong, but allowing him peace to live his life. When ethical and political conflict occurs, especially one where a particular religious view must prevail, democratic and rational means determine the winner. Abortion was illegal, because we were a dominantly Christian nation. However, good men did not jail or persecute people with a different point of view. Eventually that point of view prevailed and now pro-life persons must be extended the same grace. Boykin wishes the world Christian, probably his sort of Christian. As long as he peacefully argues his case, and follows orders from the Commander in Chief, he is a free man living in a free country free to argue his point of view. If some future Commander in Chief happens to believe that Jesus is not the son of God, then I am happy for him to make his case in the public square. Let the debates begin.

At this point, some editor at the Times will hit the macro key that automatically writes the “religion in public leads to war and destruction.” There will be requisite quotes from People for the American Way and the local bishop of whatever is left of the Episcopal Church. However, religious debates and disagreements do not breed violence or hate any more than strong political arguments. Magazines like Touchstone show this is true. Both secular and religious disagreements can lead to violence if conflict is settled by bad means. One cannot alleviate religious tension by emptying every religion of intellectual content so that they all are equally true by being vacuous. That claim itself is religious and imposes an orthodoxy more brutal in its efficiency at silencing dissent than that of the Inquisition. If our freedom is so fragile that it must silence strong dissent, then we have ceased to be free.

New style religious tolerance, as defined by the LA Times, means not being stupid enough to think your religion is actually true. Truth is told to us by scientists and the LA Times. Religion is to be reduced to a preference, like love for the Green Bay Packers. In the world of the Times, all religious preferences are by nature equal, since religion does not really have any content. The Times will not allow religion to make claims about the real world.

Catholics, like evangelicals, break this rule often. That is why the Times must sneer at the Pope when he dares to tell us how we should live. Popes with attractive art and cool hats are fine with the Times. Popes who defy conventional sexual wisdom are not. Baptists with good choirs who sway to inspiring music are good. Baptists with doctorates in theology who make arguments about truth, like Al Mohler, are bad. Religious people should be old or cuddly. They should exhort their flocks to read and follow the Democrat Party platform. They should not make arguments that dissent from this received wisdom and claim to be right. That is the job of the Times.

In the world of the Times, Christians like Boykin should behave like music lovers. Religion is a matter of taste and not something to get worked up about in public. No one would die (I hope) for the love of Paul Simon's music over against that of Bono. Secularists at the Times and their useful liberal religious idiots are tolerant only of publicly meaningless religion. Think you are right and their religion of secularism and privatized religion calls for the lions. Freedom of religion to the Times means freedom to like your religion, but not think or argue for its truth.

Christians were one of the few groups persecuted in the Roman Empire. Why? They refused to say that Caesar and his all-powerful state was Lord. For this their blood was spilled. They believed themselves to be right and the blood stained, over-bearing, dictatorial state wrong. In Russia, millions of my fellow Orthodox Christians were butchered for the temerity of thinking that materialism and science were not the only truth. Later good jobs and high positions could only be had if one agreed with the utter privatization of religion. Only secularism was allowed to be knowledge. The state owned Pravda. Everything else was just a lie.

The Times evidently finds the second form of persecution palatable. They are becoming the Pravda for those self-proclaimed “Brights” who know better than the unwashed masses what is best for the nation. They recognize that dishwashers may pray the Rosary. Privates in the army may ask Jesus to help them in battle, but not generals. Generals are in charge so they must be good members of the Times new religion.

Boykin can keep his job only if he shuts his mouth. Of course, in the world of the Times, Boykin really should not be in his job, since we know what he really thinks. Boykin has committed the unpardonable sin against the elite religion of the Times. They know that in his heart, he thinks that non-Christians are wrong! He must be purged. He must be silenced. He has attacked the religious truth that there is no religious truth.

Boykin has refused to stand and say, “Secularism is our public god and the LA Times is its prophet.” If he had, then he could have put on funny hats, like the Pope, or swayed to culturally interesting music, like the Baptists, and been allowed his job. I hope we never reach the point, where the only acceptable Baptist, Catholic, or Jew is the nominal Baptist, Catholic, or Jew. The one Democrat now running for President who could conceivably win my vote is Joe Lieberman. If Joseph Lieberman becomes President, I hope he is free to go to a synagogue and express the opinion, if he holds it, that Christians are wrong to think Jesus is the son of God. The Republic will not only survive such a statement, it would be a sign that it is thriving.

Sadly for the Times, this is still a free country. Blogs are destroying their monopoly over opinion, elite or otherwise. Whether I agree with Boykin or not, and I surely would have some enjoyable and strong theological arguments with him, many of us will fight forever for his right to have a job and be religious in public.

copyright 2003 John Mark Reynolds



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