Notes on the Atrocities
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Wednesday, October 22, 2003  

Thought I'd let this Boykin business go by? Not likely.

(Boykin, for those who, like me, might have been on self-imposed media-free vacations last week, is Lt. General William Boykin, the new deputy undersecretary of Defense for intelligence. The LA Times reported last week that he has said many a fervent thing since his promotion. "I knew my God was bigger than [the Muslim warlord's he fought in Somalia]. I knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol." Not clear enough? Try this on for size: "We in the army of God, in the house of God, kingdom of God have been raised for such a time as this." And in another article, he is quoted as having said--in uniform, no less--"I want to impress upon you that the battle that we're in is a spiritual battle. Satan wants to destroy this nation, he wants to destroy us as a nation, and he wants to destroy us as a Christian army." So that's Boykin.)

He has been pretty much excoriated by everyone except Donald Rumsfeld, who yet waffles. Most have smelled the stink of doom on the situation, and are quickly beating a hasty retreat. It's Trent Lott Revisited, and the rats can feel the ship going down.

Still, in the midst of these kinds of blow-outs (see also Limbaugh, quote about Donovan McNabb), it's not always clear what the crime is. The immediate defense is always to assert the First Amendment. It's the PC cops who are committing the crime. But no one is saying he doesn't have the right to say what he believes.

In fact, although I may be excoriated for this myself, I think he's being attacked exactly for exercising his right to say what he believes. The real crime here is that he told the truth. It's an uncomfortable and strange truth, and the kind of thing fundamentalist Christians try not to mention publicly. But the belief Boykin gave voice to isn't heterodox; it's mainstream (if you can call it that) fundamentalist Christianity.

Fundamentalist Christianity is a system of beliefs. It is based on a narrow reading of the Bible, distilling a "literal" truth from the words (although where contradictions arise--and there are many--Biblical literalists rarely admit interpretation). In that literal truth followers are asked to believe without reservation. Unwavering faith is a central feature of this strain of Christianity, and in Bibles across America, one of the truths congregants are asked to believe is that those who follow other religions are deluded by Satan and doomed to burn in hell. There's no wiggle room here. Muslims--even the good ones--are just biding their time until death delivers them into the hands of the deluder Satan. Thus the language of fundamentalist Christianity is often militaristic--the armies of God--because these Christians believe everything is at stake.

So is it any wonder that the fundamentalist Christians interpret terrorism as Satan wanting "to destroy us as a Christian army?" Boykin's a good soldier, both of Uncle Sam and of God. His main crime here is that he went public with his beliefs. It's both impolite and poor politics, and now he'll have to take one for the cause.

My problem isn't that he has said these things, but that the fundamentalist Christian agenda governs the decisions of those who govern the country. (I've written about the prevalence of fundamentalist Christianity here, here, and here, and there's a wonderful article in Harper's here.) If the very views he expresses show that he's implementing policy based on those radical religious views, then he's unfit to lead.

The nature of belief is that it doesn't admit for the possibility of flexibility--something essential in a democracy. That's what's so creepy about Osama. So it's not that Boykin shouldn't be allowed to say whatever he wishes. The David Koresh's of the world should also be able to proclaim themselves God. But let's be clear: David Koresh's views that he is God would make him unfit to be the deputy undersecretary of Defense for intelligence. In politics, beliefs do matter.

Whether Boykin is run out or not, the views he expressed should remain under scrutiny. Remember, they're the same views that our President holds.

posted by Jeff | 8:07 AM |
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