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Steve Likes to Curse
Writing, comics and random thoughts from really a rather vulgar man
Hitchens on “the taming and domestication of religious faith” 
Monday, September 6th, 2010 | 07:34 pm [commentary, religion]
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If I thought there was a god, I’d thank him for allowing Christopher Hitchens to remain productive during his illness. In addition to keeping up with his monthly Vanity Fair column (it’s another great one this month — read it if you haven’t yet), Hitchens has also continued to write weekly pieces for Slate.com.
 
Today he’s up with one titled “Free Exercise of Religion? No, Thanks,” which tackles one of the peripheral issues to the controversy over the Cordoba Initiative’s planned Islamic community center two blocks from the former World Trade Center. The question is this: How much religious freedom is too much?
 

Am I in favor of the untrammeled “free exercise of religion”?

 

No, I am not. Take an example close at hand, the absurdly named Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. More usually known as the Mormon church, it can boast Glenn Beck as one of its recruits. He has recently won much cheap publicity for scheduling a rally on the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington. But on the day on which the original rally occurred in 1963, the Mormon church had not yet gotten around to recognizing black people as fully human or as eligible for full membership. (Its leadership subsequently underwent a “revelation” allowing a change on this point, but not until after the passage of the Civil Rights Act.) This opportunism closely shadowed an earlier adjustment of Mormon dogma, abandoning its historic and violent attachment to polygamy. Without that doctrinal change, the state of Utah was firmly told that it could not be part of the Union. More recently, Gov. Mitt Romney had to assure voters that he did not regard the prophet, or head of the Mormon church, as having ultimate moral and spiritual authority on all matters. Nothing, he swore, could override the U.S. Constitution. Thus, to the extent that we view latter-day saints as acceptable, and agree to overlook their other quaint and weird beliefs, it is to the extent that we have decidedly limited them in the free exercise of their religion.

 

One could cite some other examples, such as those Christian sects that disapprove of the practice of medicine. Their adult members are generally allowed to die while uttering religious incantations and waving away the physician, but, in many states, if they apply this faith to their children—a crucial element in the “free exercise” of religion—they can be taken straight to court. Not only that, they can find themselves subject to general disapproval and condemnation.

 
If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know that I’m not in favor of the unrestricted practice of religion, either. My support for the sponsors of the so-called “Ground Zero mosque” follows from my long-standing conviction regarding religious freedom, not a late change of heart. I hold that we, as citizens of a free society, are required to guard the right of our fellow Americans to believe anything that suits them. The freedom of thought, and expressions of those thoughts, including religious expressions, ought to be nearly absolute (I recognize exceptions for incitements to violence).
 
But being free to believe and to say whatever you want is not the same as being free to do whatever you want. Religious practice is, and ought to be, subject to law. Recall the story of
Madeline Neumann, the 11 year-old girl who died of treatable diabetes because her parents opted to pray for her recovery rather than schedule an appointment with a doctor. Negligence is negligence, whether it results from the practice of a futile religious superstition or not, and it ought to be punishable by law.
 
More from Hitchens on that point:
 

The Church of Scientology, the Unification Church of Sun Myung Moon, and the Ku Klux Klan are all faith-based organizations and are all entitled to the protections of the First Amendment. But they are also all subject to a complex of statutes governing tax-exemption, fraud, racism, and violence, to the point where “free exercise” in the third case has—by means of federal law enforcement and stern public disapproval—been reduced to a vestige of its former self.

 
So there. Fortunately for the sponsors of Park51, erecting a community center that includes a mosque doesn’t violate anyone else’s rights and is thus allowable under U.S. law. If they start hacking off the hands of thieves or stoning women taken in adultery, then we’ll have to talk, won’t we?

Check out Hitchens’s column in its entirety at Slate.com.
Comments 
Tuesday, September 7th, 2010 | 02:28 pm (UTC)
You say that erecting a mosque on property made available for development by an act of Islamic terrorism should be allowable under U.S. law. When has anyone said anything otherwise?

To say that it's foolish or in bad taste to build this mosque is not the same thing as saying it's construction should be banned by the government.
Tuesday, September 7th, 2010 | 07:15 pm (UTC)
Anonymous
I don't get the "so there." I read the Hitchens article and I just don't see where it reaffirms anything you've had to say about the Mosque. Even the title contradicts your stance.

Hitchens mentioned how Beck used the MLK anniversary to boost his own name. That's not exactly illegal, but it is, in Hitchens mind (and in many others) in poor taste.

I think he was saying the same thing about the Mosque. The "visionaries" behind the mosque are using 9/11 to make a name for themselves, too. I also think he was saying that it is up to America, all Americans, to help shape what Islam is or will become in America.
Wednesday, September 8th, 2010 | 03:21 pm (UTC)
Anonymous
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/08/opinion/08mosque.html?_r=1&hp

I thought the new name was Park51. Why is the Imam still referring to the whole community center as the Cordoba House?

I also noticed that he said there would be "separate" "prayer" spaces for Muslims, Christians, and Jews, etc. If I recall correctly, that's not the way it was presented early on. And, really, how does "separate" prayer spaces coincide with a "multi-faith" center. Isn't that kind of like saying "separate, but equal?" Like segregation? In a center that touts itself as multicultural and multi-faith, why is there a need for separate spaces to pray? Since when can't Muslims, Christians, and Jews pray in the same space together? Sermons, ok, I can understand, maybe, but prayer? Notice too, his wording with "men and women." Maybe I'm reading too much into it, but was that some sort of hint that there might be certain facilities within the center made exclusive to each sex?
Wednesday, September 8th, 2010 | 03:25 pm (UTC)
Anonymous
oh, and he's full of shit about the having the "support of the local community."
Wednesday, September 8th, 2010 | 03:45 pm (UTC)
So the Muslims who live in the vicinity of the project who currently use the old Burlington Coat Factory for religious purposes don't count as part of the local community? What about the non-Muslims, both people of faith and secular folks, who have expressed support for the Cordoba project and spoken out against the opposition? None of them are from the local community?
Thursday, September 9th, 2010 | 12:57 am (UTC)
Do any of them actually live in the area? Feisal Abdul Rauf doesn't even live in New York. He lives in New Jersey.
Wednesday, September 8th, 2010 | 03:42 pm (UTC)
I think he's trying to be ecumenical and assure critics that the place is Muslim sponsored, but not exclusively Islamic, and that people of other traditions will also be welcome.

And they seem to be using "Cordoba House" and "Park51" interchangeably; the entire site has always been referred to as Park51, with Cordoba House as one element, and the Muslim prayer hall one element of that. After the controversy kicked into high gear, they shifted to calling it by Park51 more often, but I don't think references to Cordoba House ever totally disappeared from their website.

And yeah, I think you're totally reading too much into his use of "men and women" there. I think he used in the sense of "people," not to indicate that they would be separated.
Wednesday, September 8th, 2010 | 03:55 pm (UTC)
Anonymous
Rauf says, "We want to foster a culture of worship authentic to each religious tradition, and also a culture of forging personal bonds across religious traditions."

I don't get this statement, either. "Authentic." I had no idea there were "authentic" ways to worship according to each religious tradition.
Wednesday, September 8th, 2010 | 03:58 pm (UTC)
Anonymous
What way of worship is "authentic" to Christianity? To Judaism? To Islam? Is Catholicism or Protestantism "authentic?"
Wednesday, September 8th, 2010 | 04:09 pm (UTC)
If you ask me, no religion is ever authentic in any form, because all religions make false (or at least unsupportable) claims for themselves. But I think he's applying "authentic" to his more moderate strain of Islam in an effort to separate it from the fundamentalists, and discredit the radical elements by describing them as not "legitimately" Islamic.

It's a rhetorical technique. Christians use it, too. Around here people talk about how "so-and-so's church isn't really Christian" for whatever reason, usually having something to do with being either too harsh or too lenient regarding abortion or homosexuality. Rauf is trying to claim his peaceful version of Islam, along with the most peaceful and open-handed versions of Christianity, Judaism, etc., as the truest form. Again, I see nothing sinister.
Wednesday, September 8th, 2010 | 04:51 pm (UTC)
Anonymous
I hope your right. And, I mean that. Really. I hope I'm wrong about Rauf and crew.

It's just that Rauf is a well-educated man. He's smart. He knows what the word "authentic" means. If he meant it the way you describe....all I can say is, he left a lot to interpretation. But, then again, I'm pretty nitpicky.

What bothers me the most is that I just can't shake the sense that Rauf has a huge ego.

When you think about what he wants to do, even if your right and his intent is as pure as the driven snow,it would take nothing short of a miracle to pull off his "vision" of religious peace and koombaya, *especially* considering the location. This is coming from a guy who can't even keep the heat on or the rats out of his apartment complexes. Is he really going to be able to properly handle the trouble makers that come along? Because, there will inevitably be trouble makers to Park51. And, no, I'm not just referring to Islamic extremists. I mean, any religious trouble makers. And what happens when management of Park51 changes hands? How can anyone be confident that the location would not attract....future trouble makers. Does that concern Rauf, I wonder.

I'm just sharing my concerns with you. I know you don't see it the same way I do. We've agreed to disagree, once again, I think.

-kim

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010 | 05:00 pm (UTC)
Anonymous
Oh, and the stache, rocks.
Wednesday, September 8th, 2010 | 05:06 pm (UTC)
Heh. Thanks!

Enjoy it while it lasts. Like a meteor lighting up the sky as it falls to Earth, it will burn bright then burn no more, as soon as shooting is done on Downsville Deucer.
Wednesday, September 8th, 2010 | 05:29 pm (UTC)
Anonymous
Break a leg! I look forward to seeing your film.
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