Ben Carson, the Constitution, and a religious test for the presidency

It’s been disappointing — depressing almost — to watch intelligent columnists and advocates falling over themselves this week to botch their objection to comments made Sunday by GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson.

Carson was on Meet the Press, where he was asked whether a candidate’s faith should matter to voters. His response? It depends on the faith.

The underlying context is important. Here is the discussion:

Chuck Todd: “Let me ask you the question this way: Should a President’s faith matter? Should your faith matter to voters?” [Emphasis mine].

Carson: “Well, I guess it depends on what that faith is. If it’s inconsistent with the values and principles of America, then of course it should matter. But if it fits within the realm of America and consistent with the Constitution, no problem.”

Todd: “So do you believe that Islam is consistent with the Constitution?”

Carson: “No, I don’t, I do not… I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that.”

The key to understanding this exchange, and to why so many of Carson’s critics have made absolute asses of themselves in criticizing him for it, lies in the original question: Should a candidate’s faith matter to voters?

Most analysts who have cited the U.S. Constitution’s ban on a religious test have completely and incompetently ignored those two critical words.

Let me say that I have a lot of respect for many people who have made this blunder. Jonathan Capehart, for example, is one of the most talented journalists in the country, and a respected pundit (10 times better at this than I’ll ever be).

ThinkProgress.org ran the deceptive and dishonest headline: “Ben Carson Says Muslims Should Be Disqualified From Presidency.” I like ThinkProgress.org. And I’m disappointed in their article, because Ben Carson said no such thing. He said he would not agree with a Muslim’s election as president. He did not say Muslims should be disqualified from running, winning or serving. Just that he wouldn’t agree with it.

In that, he is no different from a majority of Americans who would not agree with an atheist becoming president. A majority (I hope) would not agree with a Scientologist becoming president. Or a Branch Davidian. Or a professional astrologer. That is the electorate’s prerogative, and the Constitution does not prohibit the electorate from considering a candidate’s faith.

Nonetheless, critics of Carson have made a disingenuous appeal to the Constitution and claimed that his comments run afoul of Article VI, Paragraph 3, which reads (in relevant part) “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

There you have it. No one, under the Constitution, can be barred from office by virtue of his or her religion.

And that, folks, has NOTHING to do with what Ben Carson said. Carson was not asked, and did not answer, whether a Muslim should be allowed to run. He was not asked, and did not answer, whether a Muslim should be allowed to win. He was not asked, and did not answer, whether a Muslim should be allowed to serve if elected. The Constitution specifically outlaws a religious test in each of those areas.

But Carson was asked whether a person’s faith should matter to voters. And nothing, nothing in the Constitution prohibits a voter from taking a candidate’s faith into account when casting a ballot. Voters are absolutely permitted to consider a candidate’s religion. The Constitution has NOTHING to say about that, and it shouldn’t. You and I can consider a candidate’s faith. We can consider his race. We can consider his sexual orientation. We can consider his age. We can consider his height, weight, body odor and tooth decay. We can consider whatever factors we want.

If you won’t vote for someone because of his race or sexual orientation, you are, in my opinion, a bigot. But you still have the right to do it. You, as a voter, have every right to take into account whatever factors you want.

So I’m not defending Ben Carson’s position. I am, in fact, not commenting on his position at all. Religion is dicier than race or sexual orientation, because religion is in the realm of ideas, and a candidate’s ideas are fair game for consideration.

I am commenting on the dishonest and disingenuous argument that Carson’s comments run afoul of the Constitution. They do not. At all. Not even a little.

In the ThinkProgress.org report, Judd Legum writes, “In suggesting a religious test for potential presidents — where some religions would be “inconsistent” with the constitution — Carson appears somewhat unfamiliar with the text of the constitution.”

Judd Legum is wrong. Carson did not suggest a religious test for potential presidents in the sense prohibited by the Constitution. He suggested a religious test in a sense allowed by the Constitution: the electorate’s right to consider whatever factors it wants to consider.

Jonathan Capehart wrote: “But what Carson said is even more egregious. Not only did he display a stunning ignorance of the Constitution and one of its basic tenets, but he also is among those whining about religious freedom.” [Emphasis mine].

Jonathan Capehart is wrong on that point. Carson displayed no ignorance of the Constitution. Carson didn’t address the Constitution at all, and he was not in conflict with the Constitution in the slightest.

Look, it’s simple: The Constitution bars the government from blocking a person’s candidacy because of religion. It does not, in any way, shape or form, prohibit a voter from considering a candidate’s religion as a factor. Not even as a disqualifying factor. Period.

Over at NBC News, Pete Williams wrote: “Carson was, of course, expressing his personal view and did not call for barring Muslims from the presidency. But many constitutional scholars say Carson’s view is at odds with the design of the nation’s founders.”

At odds? Not exactly. The design of the nation’s founders, as expressed in the Constitution, is that a person cannot be barred from running, winning or serving on the basis of his religion. The design of the nation’s founders was also that voters decide who they will support. And (let’s hear it again) voters are allowed to consider a candidate’s religion. There’s nothing even remotely controversial about it.

Williams quotes Akhil Reed Amar, a Constitutional scholar at Yale: “One of the most striking features of the Constitution is how it goes out of its way to insist that the federal government is open persons of all faiths or no faith in particular.”

Amar is correct. And nothing Ben Carson said contradicts it. Amar’s statement is presented in support of the assertion that Carson’s view is at odds with the nation’s founders. However, Amar’s comments appear completely unrelated to that point.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations issued a statement demanding drop out of the race and calling his comments “inconsistent with the United States Constitution.” The Anti-Defamation League, a leading Jewish-American advocacy group, called Carson’s comments “contrary to the Constitution.”

CAIR and the ADL are simply wrong on that point. Call Carson’s comments whatever you want. But they are not contrary to the Constitution.

I just like to be fair. I’m neither fan nor foe when it comes to Ben Carson. If he doesn’t want to vote for a Muslim, that makes him no different from the majority of Americans who would never vote for an atheist. Hold it against him if you want. Call him an ignorant bigot if you want. But be fair about it! Accusing him of not understanding the Constitution, accusing him of violating the letter or spirit of the Constitution, when in fact his comments are completely consistent with the Constitution, makes his critics look foolish.

Ben Carson answered a question about whether a candidate’s faith should matter to voters. His comments came in that context, not in the context of a religious test prohibited by the foundation of American law.

Nothing Ben Carson said implies a lack of understanding of the Constitution.

The same cannot be said of the criticism directed at him.

[Apologies for the redundancy, but sometimes a point needs to be repeated when it does not seem to be sinking in, and the blunder I’m trying to refute keeps getting repeated in news outlet after news outlet, with no critical analysis in sight.

Also, this post deliberately ignores comments made by Carson since his Meet the Press appearance. I’m not familiar with all of them, save for the assertion that the next president would be sworn on a stack of Bibles, not the Koran. For the record, I think it should be the Constitution, not a holy book].

The right time to take a stand

There seems to be an undercurrent of opinion in some circles that black people are not allowed to speak on any issue until and unless they address particular issues within their own community. Concerned about police brutality? You can’t address that until you address black on black crime. Distraught that a seemingly clear case of excessive force resulted in (surprise!) a decision not to indict a cop? You can’t address that until you address the dissolution of black families and the raising of black children without their fathers in the home.

Preacher [Click on photo for source]

This patronizing, condescending, paternalistic attitude toward our black brothers and sisters has to end. We do not get to tell people when to voice their concerns. This is not a matter of “You don’t get to go to the movies until you clean your room.” We’re not their daddies. We don’t get to tell them when to talk or what to talk about.

If LeBron James wants to wear an “I Can’t Breathe” shirt, he can and should, and he should be prepared to defend his decision to wear it. The exchange of ideas is how we improve society. Telling him he should wear a shirt that says “Be a better father” is condescending in the worst way. When pro-lifers march for abortion restrictions, do we tell them to take care of the pedophile priest problem first? When the Tea Party marches for limited government, do we tell them to take care of white-on-white crime first? No. Why not? Because it’s irrelevant, that’s why.

Black-on-black crime is irrelevant to police brutality. You don’t have to fix one to opine on the other. White-on-white crime is irrelevant to securities fraud and tax evasion. You don’t have to fix one to opine on the other. Latino-on-Latino crime is irrelevant to illegal immigration. You don’t have to fix one to opine the other.

Let’s call it what it is: It’s non-black people putting black people in their place by telling them when they can protest, what they can protest about, and what hoops they have to jump through in order to earn the moral authority to protest to their moral superiors – the non-black elite.

There’s a word for that.

It pains me on a personal level to see Geraldo Rivera, someone I once considered an ally in the fight for equality in America and for fair coverage of racial issues in the media, become such an apologist for racist attitudes masquerading as deeper social concerns.

No one is excusing black-on-black crime. No one is excusing the deterioration of the family unit (among all races). But no one, NO one, has the right to tell black America “you can’t complain about this until you take care of that.”

Who the hell do you think you are?

Where’s THAT T-shirt?

Note: This post was written on my time and expresses my opinion. It does not reflect on my employer or my previous associations in any way.

They’re coming for your children! And so are Satanists!

When you take something seriously, it is sometimes difficult to tell when you are being mocked.

In no area of life is this more evident than it is in the field of religion. Tell a devout Christian that there is no God, and the Christian will respond with assurances that you are wrong. But tell him you are a Satanist, and he thinks you really believe in and worship the Dark One.

Rationally speaking, there is no such thing as a Satanist. A person who truly believes that there is a spirit being named Satan who opposes the Creator God of the Old and New Testaments would never worship such a being, for to do so would be to deliberately enlist in the losing side of a war.

There are words for people who believe in a literal Satan at work in this world. Those words are Christian, Jew and Muslim. Not Satanist.

Whenever I encounter someone who calls himself a Satanist, I chuckle. This person is not a “Satanist,” the way a devout Christian would describe such a person. He is an in-your-face, obnoxious atheist. Not content to carry the banner of “skeptic” or “unbeliever,” the Satanist intentionally presses buttons to antagonize those who believe in the Islamo-Judeo-Christian God.

If you don’t feel intimidated by the idea, visit the Church of Satan website, and you’ll quickly learn that Satanists are not what Christians portray them to be.

“To us, Satan is the symbol that best suits the nature of we who are carnal by birth—people who feel no battles raging between our thoughts and feelings, we who do not embrace the concept of a soul imprisoned in a body. He represents pride, liberty, and individualism—qualities often defined as Evil by those who worship external deities, who feel there is a war between their minds and emotions… Man—using his brain—invented all the Gods, doing so because many of our species cannot accept or control their personal egos, feeling compelled to conjure up one or a multiplicity of characters who can act without hindrance or guilt upon whims and desires.”

Did you catch it? The simplicity is a bit disarming. “Satan,” to the Church of Satan, is a symbol, not a real being. They don’t worship “Satan” for the simple reason that they do not believe Satan exists. They do not believe in supernatural beings, at all.

Let me insert an asterisk here: There are all sorts of wacky beliefs about all sorts of supposed gods, so when I generalize about Satanists not believing in a literal Satan, I do so fully expecting that somewhere out there is a silly (and for all I know quite dangerous) sect of people who really do believe in a literal Satan and choose to worship him anyway. Then again, I know people who voted for Sarah Palin, Ross Perot and Walter Mondale on purpose. What can I say.

By and large, when “Satanists” emerge in the public sphere, it is far more likely that they are atheists trying to make a point than worshipers of a literal Lucifer. Atheists have been known to invoke the “Flying Spaghetti Monster” as God in order to mock theists. “Satan” takes the affront one step further, from mockery to downright antagonism.

And good Lord, does it work!

satanic17n-1-webWitness the reaction to reports that a group calling itself “The Satanic Temple” wants to distribute “satanic” literature to public school children in Orange County, Florida. Outrageous, right? Well, yes, and that is their modus operandi – to instill outrage. To what end? Well, in this case, their goal is rather transparent. They are seeking to protest the distribution of religious material to schoolchildren by advocating the distribution of religious material to schoolchildren.

Rush Limbaugh would (or should) recognize it as an example of “demonstrating absurdity by being absurd.”

It. Is. Brilliant.

“Prayer warriors, unite!” one friend wrote on her Facebook page. And while I completely respect my friend’s right to express her religious views and concerns, I can’t help but feel that she completely missed the point. In short, she did not realize or recognize that her religious beliefs were being exploited and mocked for a legitimate purpose.

It turns out that the school board in Orange County has permitted “World Changers of Florida” to distribute Bibles in schools, then allowed an atheist group to distribute materials earlier this year.

The Satanic Temple rightly recognizes that the school board cannot discriminate against any group on religious grounds, so they are seeking to distribute something called “The Satanic Children’s Big Book of Activities.”

According to the book, Satan can only be appeased by blood sacrifice. Otherwise, he is unable to welcome those who have previously acted against his interest in the world.

Oh, wait, that’s not what the Satanic Children’s Big Book of Activities says about Satan. It’s what the Bible says about God. An easy mistake to make.

No, the Satanic Children’s Big Book of Activities includes admonitions about friendship, respect and freedom.

It should offend Christians that Satanists want to distribute this book to children. Children are not old enough to appreciate the satire being aimed at religious adults who see nothing wrong with using the state to promote a religion they like, but whine like sacrificed goats when the state is used to promote a religion they don’t like.

Christians have every right to send their children to a public school without being concerned that some other religious group is going to use that school as a recruiting ground. And non-Christians have every right to send their children to a public school without being concerned that Christians are going to use that school as a recruiting ground, too. It works both ways.

Why exactly is it that any Christian group would want to distribute Bibles in a public school? Why not select a private place where adults gather, such as, I don’t know, a church? If a religious group wants to recruit new members, why go to a public school? Why not go to a playground, where there’s a good chance the children’s parents will be there? (Oh, that’s it, isn’t it?)

Give credit where it’s due: Jehovah’s Witnesses (who are not seeking to distribute their materials in public schools) at least have the integrity to knock on doors and speak to adults about their faith. They don’t come after your children when you’re not looking.

The way I see it, the solution is not that difficult. If you don’t want state resources co-opted to promote every religion, you stand against state resources being co-opted to promote any religion (including atheism). Problem solved.

Recommended reading: Dear Oklahoma: Satanists don’t actually believe in Satan.

The Pledge of Allegiance: Resistance is Not Futile

The American Humanist Association has started a new campaign to get people to boycott saying the Pledge of Allegiance until the words “Under God” are removed. I can sympathize with the campaign for a variety of reasons, but I suspect it is doomed to failure. As long as The U.S. Supreme Court stubbornly and wrongheadedly refuses to admit that the insertion of those words constitutes an endorsement of religion, the Pledge of Allegiance will never be changed back to its original, religiously neutral, inclusive form.

FlagThat last point should be emphasized: The American Humanist Association does not want to change the Pledge of Allegiance. It wants to change it back. And no matter where you stand on the question of God, if you really think about it, you should stand with the American Humanist Association on this one. Because they’re right.

I have problems with the Pledge of Allegiance being recited in schools on a number of levels. I don’t know that a single article can do justice to the complexity of how I feel, but I’ll give it my best effort.

First off, we’re expecting children as young as kindergarten and first grade to recite something they could not possibly have the maturity to understand. Ask them what allegiance is, and they can’t tell you. Ask them what a republic is, and they can’t tell you. Ask them what “indivisible” means, and they’ll say it means you can’t see it.

The Pledge of Allegiance is an adult commitment that should be made by adults, or at least by children old enough to fully appreciate what it means. Civics should teach us why our country deserves allegiance. It should not instill so-called allegiance through mindless daily repetition.

I was born into a family of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and I was instructed early in life that I was not to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance – not because I didn’t love the USA, but because pledging allegiance to a flag constitutes idolatry. Agree or disagree, that is what my religion taught. And government had no right, none, to compel me to recite a pledge that violates my religion. The Supreme Court eventually agreed in 1943, after first deciding three years earlier that children could be compelled to violate their religion by reciting the pledge.

What changed? I can only imagine that common sense prevailed (and enough Witnesses got their butts kicked by so-called patriots who failed to understand that dissent is part of the fabric of this nation).

Ever since the 1943 decision, no student could be compelled to recite the Pledge. At least, not by law or policy. But social and peer pressure is strong, and many schoolchildren are too young to realize they have rights and can stand up – or sit down – for them.

By the way, that is still the law of the land, so when the American Humanist Association calls on people to sit out the Pledge, it is asking them to do something perfectly legal.

The words “under God” were not added to the Pledge of Allegiance until 1954. For decades before that, the Pledge was recited daily without those words, and no one was accused of being unpatriotic for it. The insertion of those words was entirely and exclusively for religious reasons – it was initiated by a chaplain and promoted by religious groups, including the Knights of Columbus (a private organization of adults making an adult decision in keeping with their religious views). The KoC believed the pledge was “incomplete without any reference to a deity.” Religious leaders called on President Truman to add the words in 1952.

To conclude, as the U.S. Supreme Court does, that the insertion of the words “under God” do not constitute an endorsement of religion by Congress, in direct violation of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America, is nothing short of willful ignorance and historical revisionism.

If you don’t believe the words endorse religion, I invite you to conduct this simple experiment:
First, find someone to express the view that “under God” should be removed.
Next, watch what happens. Pay careful attention to who defends the insertion of those words, and what their arguments are.

What many people don’t realize, because they rarely see it, is that there is a stigma attached to sitting out the Pledge. I cannot tell you how many times I was asked to defend my non-participation as a child. Not once, not a single time, did I challenge someone’s decision to recite the Pledge. It may not have been legally required, but it was certainly expected.

No child should ever be put in that position by his or her own government, using schools as an agent.

When the Pledge was recited while I was growing up, I would stand (I didn’t know I could remain seated) and I would pray in silence (turns out you can say the Lord’s Prayer in the same amount of time it takes to recite the Pledge of Allegiance).

Would I have remained seated had I known that was an option? Probably not. The peer pressure to stand would have been great (not to mention, teachers who honestly and sincerely believe they are doing the right thing instruct children to stand even if they’re not reciting the Pledge. Legally, such teachers are mistaken, but their hearts are in the right place).

And let me get this out of the way: it is NOT a show of disrespect to our military for anyone, child or adult, to decline to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance. The men and women who serve in our armed forces do so to protect our freedom, not to force us to violate our religion or our conscience. It is a perversion to tell me what I must do to show respect for those who serve, fight and even die for my freedom. What part of “freedom” are some people not understanding?

It is not unAmerican or unpatriotic to sit out the Pledge. It is unAmerican and unpatriotic to force someone to stand up for it when he or she objects to it on principle.

So here’s my advice to anyone upset with the American Humanist Association and its “Don’t Say the Pledge” campaign: Embrace it. Embrace every child and adult who exercises his or her fundamental right to sit out the Pledge, for whatever reason. Let them know, and let everyone around them know, that the right to sit down is part of what makes this country great. Do that, and you help this country earn the allegiance it is seeking.

As an adult, I typically remain silent for the Pledge during government meetings or other events I cover. But in my mind, for various reasons, I have my own pledge, one that is no less patriotic.

I pledge allegiance to the United States of America, to the democratic republic it both is and strives to be, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

[Clarification: This post is not intended to present a complete history of how “under God” came to be inserted into the Pledge. I am well aware that it was inserted during the Eisenhower Administration, not the Truman. And Eisenhower was motivated to insert the words because of a sermon he heard on the topic. The major point I was making is that the insertion of those words was motivated by religion, not mere civics].

Time to hold Fox and Friends to a lower standard

Brian Kilmeade and Steve Doocy stuck their foots in their mouths again on “Fox and Friends” Monday.

For those who missed it, here’s the rundown: Kilmeade, Doocy and Anna Kooiman were discussing the video of Ray Rice knocking his fiancee unconscious in an Atlantic City elevator when the conversation segued into the message sent by celebrity victims of domestic violence who stand by their men.

Click on this link for the video: http://www.sportsgrid.com/nfl/fox-friends-on-the-ray-rice-elevator-video-take-the-stairs/

So Kilmeade’s takeaway from all this? “I think the message is, take the stairs.”

Say what?

And Doocy’s response: “The message is, when you’re in an elevator, there’s a camera.”

Say what?

FoxFriends
The comments are an embarrassment to the public discourse, even for a show like Fox and Friends, which exists on the border separating journalism and commentary from entertainment and mind-boggling stupidity. Kilmeade and Doocy crossed that border Monday.

There they were, making a serious point and raising a serious question (why do so many abused women stay with their abusers, and what message do they send?), then failing to explore the serious question they raised with an ounce of substance. Finally, they cap it off with two tasteless jokes, undermining the seriousness of any point or question that they raised.

Disgraceful.

I note with some amusement that professional journalism associations have not condemned the comments. I’m pleased with that, because to criticize the comments would be to confer journalistic legitimacy on Doocy and Kilmeade, and this exchange is Exhibit A for anyone who wants to make a case that these two are not journalists.

To hold Doocy and Kilmeade accountable to the standards of professional journalism is as foolhardy as it would be to hold the Ringling Brothers Clown College to those same standards. They are what they are — buffoons who should be ostracized by real journalists.

Kilmeade has made a number of gaffes that have required explanation and apology in the past. My only interaction with him, which was indirect and not private, was in 2009, when he somehow managed to equate interracial marriage with bestiality. As Dave Barry would say, I swear I’m not making this up. At the time, I was president of UNITY: Journalists of Color, and I called for two things from Fox: An apology, which we got, and a chance to begin a dialogue with Kilmeade and the show’s producers, which was ignored.

And that’s the shame of it, because a dialogue then might have helped. Well, it would have helped a journalist interested in getting better at his job.

But Brian Kilmeade is not a journalist, as he has demonstrated repeatedly. No sense holding him to a journalist’s standards.

Oh, yes, Kilmeade kind of sort of — okay, didn’t apologize for his Ray Rice comments on Tuesday. He said: “Comments that we made during this story yesterday made some feel like we were taking the situation too lightly. We are not. We were not. Domestic abuse is a very serious issue to us, I can assure you.”

Mr. Kilmeade, you were taking the situation too lightly. And you are. Domestic violence is a very serious issue, but not to you. You have assured me of nothing other than your failure as a commentator and communicator.

But look on the bright side; it’s not like anyone expected any better from you.

Carry on.

Convert or Die: Unacceptable for any religion

I don’t know what it is about Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson’s comments on ISIL* that infuriated me the most. His statements struck a chord for many Americans sickened by the militant group’s beheading of two American journalists and the Obama Administration’s allegedly insipid reaction to it [I included the word “allegedly” because I am not passing judgment, pro or con, on the administration’s response]. Robertson’s solution for how America should handle ISIL is, to me, as sickening as ISIL itself. Yes, I feel that strong about it.

Let me be clear about what I’m not saying. I’m not saying America should not respond to ISIL. I’m not saying our response should not be decisive and unequivocal. I’m not saying we should not eliminate the threat any way that we can. At the same time, I’m no expert on Middle Eastern politics (neither is Robertson, by the way). I would like to see this handled intelligently. Robertson’s solution is not intelligent. It is abhorrent to any decent thinking person whose views are governed by reason rather than bloodthirsty passion.

Here’s what Robertson actually said:

Watch the latest video at video.foxnews.com

In this case you either have to convert them, which I think would be next to impossible. I’m not giving up on them, but I’m just saying, either convert them or kill them. One or the other.

Convert them or kill them. Note that I’ve linked to the Fox News video and transcript of Robertson’s comments, and I invite you to watch and read them in context. I will be quoting from that transcript, but lest I be accused of taking his comments out of context, I strongly urge you to read them in context before deciding whether you agree with me.

I’d much rather have a Bible study with all of them and show them the error of their ways and point them to Jesus Christ, the author and perfector of having your sins removed and being raised from the dead. I would rather preach the gospel of Jesus to them. However, if it’s a gun fight and a gun fight alone, if that is what they’re looking for, me, personally I am prepared for either one.

Honestly, I doubt Phil Robertson is prepared for either one. I doubt he’s prepared to preach the gospel to ISIL, and I doubt he’s prepared to enlist and take the fight to them, “personally.” But I do think his sentiment is honest.

Look, I’d much rather have ISIL converted to Zen Buddhism if it will stop the violence. To me, the key is getting ISIL to stop and renounce the violence. Religion has nothing to do with it. The problem with ISIL is not Islam, it’s what ISIL has shown it will do in the name of Islam. Changing religions is meaningless if it won’t change their behavior.

You can speak your mind, Rev. And I can criticize what you say. It works both ways.

But make no mistake — Phil Robertson’s comments had nothing to do with peace and everything to do with imposing his religion at the end of a sword (or the barrel of a gun). Don’t believe me? Read his words IN CONTEXT. Here’s what preceded “convert them or kill them”:

Worldwide, planet-wide, Biblically speaking, two groups of people, the children of God, and the whole world is under the control of the evil one. That’s First John 5:19. The evil one works in those who are disobedient. Galatians 3, they are prisoners of sin. Second Timothy 2, the Bible says they’ve been taken captive by Satan to do his will.

Listen, let me show you one. I’ve got the old — hey, America, Declaration of Independence, it’s my book marker. Don’t forget that. Listen to this, Sean. Solomon, one of the wisest men on earth if not the wisest, he’s speaking of wisdom, “Whoever finds me, wisdom finds light. Watch and receives favor from the lord. But whoever fails to find me,” this is the God of the Bible, “harms himself.” Now, listen to this on this ISIS thing, “All who hate me love death.”

So you scratch your head and you say, well, why is it that when we’re not even over there in the Middle East, why do they continue to slaughter each other when we’re not even on the premises? They can’t blame us. We left Iraq. You said what happened in Egypt and Syria, you say in Libya. They just slaughter each other. You say, what? “All who hate me love death,” Sean.

Did you catch that? If you’re not Christian, you’re under the control of the evil one, taken captive by Satan to do his will. ISIL, to Robertson, is just an example of evil. If you’re not a Christian, you’re another example of evil. If you’re not a Christian, you harm yourself. If you’re not a Christian, you love death.

Robertson has a right to his religious beliefs, and I have a right to call his application of his religious belief slanderous, barbaric and dangerous. I’m not criticizing Robertson’s religion. I could care less what he does on Sundays (or any other day, for that matter). I’m criticizing his views on what America should do in his religion’s name.

[Side note: I do find it odd that Robertson can slander all non-Christians in such a blanket fashion, while anyone who criticizes him is accused of attacking his religion. My view is, if your religion makes statements and judgments about me, then I am entitled to respond to it without being accused of “attacking” it. But we can handle that double standard another day].

So when we piece his comment together, here’s what he’s saying: ISIL is a threat because ISIL hasn’t found the God of Christianity. What we need to do is make them Christian. If they don’t want to become Christian, we have to kill them.

There is nothing laudable about that position.

ISIL is a threat because ISIL is willing to wage war and commit atrocities in furtherance of its vision of an Islamic State in the region. What we need to do is stop them from waging war, by convincing them it’s not in their best interest or by crushing them until the threat is eliminated. Millions of Muslims live in the United States peacefully, and in the world, peacefully. The quarrel is not with Islam, per se, as much as it is with what certain people are willing to do in its name. It is a political battle, not a religious war.

A friend of mine suggested the following: “I think he is pretty much saying..let’s kill them. And really…what are the other options? He is really stating the obvious…convert them so that they no longer act on hatred and bloodshed OR do unto them what they are doing unto others. What is bothering you the most about his statement? That he is speaking of Christianity or that he believes they should be killed? These are barbarians. Plain and simple. If he would have left out religion completely and simply said I would rather change their minds on how they feel about us but if I can’t and all they want is a fight then that’s what they will get…would that be more acceptable?”

Let’s clear something up: Robertson DID NOT SAY “convert them so that they no longer act on hatred and bloodshed OR do unto them what they are doing unto others.” His solution was not focused on changing their behavior, it was focused on changing their God.

That’s the fallacy in his comments: it presents us with a false dilemma. Convert or kill, as if there are no other options. There are oodles of other options, all of which have one goal in mind: a peaceful alternative to the need for force. “Convert” is arguably the least peaceful alternative on the list, one almost guaranteed to instigate further hostility. THAT’s why it’s dangerous and repugnant. Robertson himself admits that “convert” is not even remotely likely. He’s right about that. But the alternatives he ignores, the ones that don’t make any religious demands, have a greater capacity to bring peace, assuming ISIL wants peace (which doesn’t seem to be a reasonable assumption at this stage).

Anyone who thinks the solution to a problem in the Middle East is to force Muslims to change religions under threat of death is a first class, grade A, bona fide moron.

The solution to murder in the name of religious extremism is NOT to threaten war in the name of another religion.

So, the answer to my friend’s second question [“if he would have left out religion completely and simply said I would rather change their minds on how they feel about us but if I can’t and all they want is a fight then that’s what they will get…would that be more acceptable?”] is an unqualified YES!

“Convert or die” was the cry of the Crusades and the Inquisition. It is also ISIL’s m.o. It has no place in enlightened civil dialogue in the 21st Century.

*ISIL and ISIS are the same organization. I use ISIL because as an acronym, it more accurately reflects what the organization claims to be: The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Click here for an explanation.

Funny how? (Is America ready for a white First Lady?)

Did it amuse you? I’m talking about Robert De Niro’s joke while introducing First Lady Michelle Obama at a recent Obama fundraiser in New York. You missed it? Here’s what he said: “Callista Gingrich. Karen Santorum. Ann Romney… Now do you really think our country is ready for a white first lady?”

Newt Gingrich demanded an apology from President Obama (who didn’t make the statement and wasn’t there when it was said, but whatever). And some people seriously agreed with him and seriously called for apologies from De Niro and the White House. And got them!

Have we all gone mad?

A friend of mine posted on Facebook, favorably, an article calling out De Niro for his insensitive joke (which I contend is inoffensive and, if anything, says something FAVORABLE about America). What follows is the dialogue between my friend and me, with his name and irrelevant comments removed. Enjoy.

Oh, we've already HAD white First Ladies? Who knew? Click on the image to visit the National First Ladies' Library

 

  • Me: De Niro’s comment was ironic and funny. The right is constantly lecturing the left to get a sense of humor, yet they pick on THIS joke to get indignant? Puh-leeeze.
  • Friend: If it was ironic and funny as you say, then why would the flack for Michele Obama, who De Niro was complimenting, call the comment ‘inappropriate?’ If she didn’t have a problem with it, then I’m sure she would have defended De Niro. Regardless of the context of the joke, why bring in race? I mean, I love De Niro, but he has to go there to be humorous? Really? Not to mention that the comment was absolutely stupid from a PR standpoint, considering the timing.In fact, I’d argue that if a right-leaning A-list celeb (Adam Sandler, Clint Eastwood, etc.) flips this around a…nd says something to the effect of, ‘Michelle Obama. Do you really think our country is ready for another four years of a black first lady?’ in the same gist that De Niro said his joke, they’d be crucified and painted as flaming racists. But it’s OK for De Niro to say it because he’s poking fun at possible first ladies who are white? Nope. There’s no place for it dude, by either side. Sorry.
  • Me: The difference is we’ve had 230 years of white first ladies, so De Niro’s comment is obviously absurd. The converse is not true, and without the inherent absurdity, there’s nothing funny about it. To equate De Niro’s comment with its converse (or is it inverse?) would be disingenuous. De Niro’s comment is funny precisely because it’s ridiculous. Lighten up!
 
  • Friend: Rafi, I get what you’re saying. I got the joke when I first read what he said. But to propose the converse (I think you’re right, it’s not inverse) isn’t really disingenuous when you consider recent history dude. I mean, it’s a hypothetical that, in a way, I hope would actually occur just to prove my point that such a double standard really does exist.
 
  • Me: A statement that America is not ready for another 4 years of a black first lady threatens to resurrect and/or inflame racism as applied to the first family. It is not funny. To joke that America is not ready for a white first lady is patently absurd with the added benefit of bolstering and complimenting America on its acceptance of the current first family. It is funny. The two jokes are thus nothing alike. Therefore, disingenuous is exactly the right word. America does not have a history of anti-white racism that would compel anyone in his right mind to take De Niro’s comment seriously. The history of anti-black racism, if we can call it history as opposed to current events, doesn’t have the same claim to innocuousness (if that’s a word). [emphasis added for this blog]
 
  • Friend: How many people do you think understood his joke?
 
  • Me: For the record, I think everyone got De Niro’s joke except for those looking for evidence of a double standard. Not saying a double standard doesn’t exist. Am saying, emphatically, that this is not an example of it.
 
  • Friend: Michele Obama’s flack calling the comment ‘inappropriate’ leads me to question that statement, unless you think she said that to quell the uproar from the right. (But I do understand how De Niro meant it.)
 
  • Me: Bingo.
  • Friend: Then that doesn’t say much for Michele Obama. If she knows De Niro meant no disrespect by it, why not stand up for him? Hell, if that’s the case, she may have missed an opportunity to argue the exact point you just did and turn this against the right.That said, I still think someone on the right who makes a similar joke gets lambasted. And I’m not necessarily saying that because I’m Republican or dislike Obama. I thought – and still think – Rush Limbaugh is an idiot.

 
  • Me: Someone on the right makes a similar joke would be blasted because it wouldn’t be funny.
 
  • Friend: What’s the difference between the two sides?
 
  • Me: Asked and answered.