Is “American” a Synonym for “Christian”?
by Sheila Musaji
Cenk Uygur recently posted an article about a you tube series by The Young Turks. In his article “Muslims are 100% American” he pointed out that:
“Whenever right-wing politicians start pulling the “this is a Christian nation” stuff on us, I cringe. They’re not saying this is a predominantly Christian country; they’re saying being American is somehow integrally connected to being a Christian. And that flat out isn’t true. Read the constitution.
Did you know that America was the first secular country in the world? We were the first country to say specifically that we are not ruled by any religion. So, when the Christian right try to turn that logic on its head, they are actually being as un-American as you can possibly be.
Whether the right-wing likes it or not, a Muslim American named Mohamed Abdullah is just as American as any Southern Baptist named George Thompson. I know that drives them crazy, but Christians don’t own this place. They need to stop treating the rest of us as renters.”
and, he suggested that his readers view a Young Turks video “What if Muslim ran an ad?”
He makes excellent points but as is often the case, the comments left on his site were even more revealing:
Ignoring the predictable hateful comments like: “muzzslimes are free to pack their camels and leave anytime they want… (comment #13). Others actually raise dialogue issues:
Where Muslims are in the majority they do not tolerate any other religion or life style that does not conform to their beliefs or customs. Saudi Arabia is a good example.Try to go there and propose building a church,a synagogue or even a Shia Mosque in a Sunni area. Why should a religion that preaches zero tolerance be tolerated in our society? Where Islamic Law is in force freedom ceases to exist. I have never heard a right wing Christian propose the establishment of a body of religious police to enforce their beliefs and lifestyle on everyone else. Perhaps Muslims in the West are more moderate in their views but knowing what transpires in Muslim nations around the world it would be naive to not be at least a little suspicious of their true motives. (comment #1)
In this comment and many others, there are a lot of “facts” stated as if everyone knows them to be true. Saudi Arabia is not a “typical” Muslim country, and the customs and laws of Saudi Arabia are representative only of their own culture and incredibly narrow minded interpretation of Islam.
And, unless American Christians are to be held responsible for every country on earth with a Christian majority (for example Rwanda and Bosnia), then it is a little hypocritical to think that American Muslims have any control over what goes on in other countries. Like any other American I may have an opinion about events in other countries and may even work to make that opinion know, but I have no control. I am not responsible for what happens in other countries, and whether or not there are injustices in other countries why should that make it necessary for Americans to commit the same injustices in order to even the score. I am an American citizen and a Muslim - and I have the right under the constitution to practice my religion (as does everyone else of every faith). If some countries do not give the same rights to others, shame on them, but to think that this would justify removing my rights is nonsense.
Even in the case of a country like Saudi Arabia about which I have a negative opinion of their legal system, government system and many customs claimed to be Islamic, I nevertheless make a distinction between ordinary Saudi’s and their government.
As an American who has been fortunate to be able to travel, I have heard the statement in every country I have visited: “I don’t approve of your governments’ foreign policy but I like American people.” Having also visited Saudi Arabia for Hajj and met many Saudis, I know that this distinction holds true as much for Saudis as for Americans.
There are South American dictatorships with nasty policies. There are ruthless tyrants in countries with a majority Christian population. The Rwandan and Bosnian genocides were carried out by Christians, and in Rwanda some clergy have even been convicted of participating in the genocide. This does not reflect on all Christians.
I am an Orthodox Christian priest, so please spare me the “godless liberal” comments. The ONLY protection that we,as Christians, have is the absolute separation of Church and State and the government neutrality towards religion—- neither approving it nor disapproving it—- whatever that religion may be. The reason this is essential for Christians as well as Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists, Hindus, Zoroastrians, and atheists or agnostics is very simple. There is NO “Christian religion.” There are many different interpretatons of Christianity and many Christian sects. If we call America a “Christian nation,” and begin to behave as a “Christian nation,” which sect’s belief system are we going to follow? Do we put icons in every classroom? How about a crucifix? Are 7th Day Adventists Christian? What about Mormons? How about Roman Catholics? Presbyterians? Who is to say? Inevitably, making Christianity a state religion winds up with one sect’s beliefs being the state religion. So we won’t wind up with a “Christian nation,” but, rather, a Presbyterian nation or a Catholic nation or a Jehovah’s Witness nation, or whatever. And Christians might not always BE the majority. What happens if Muslims become the majority? Or Jews? Or Sikhs? Or Atheists? No, the only protection for all of us to freely worship as we wish is for America to be completely neutral towards every religion, neither favoring one nor denying another. And let’s not forget that Muslims, Jews, etc. all pay taxes, too. WHY do the right wingnut “Christians” insist on cramming our holidays and our beliefs down everyone’s throat? Jesus said to go and TEACH all nations, not forcibly “convert” them. Finally, whenever religion has been joined with the coercive power of the State, it has resulted in absolute disaster, persecution, bigotry and strife. God forbid we ever take down that essential wall of separation between Church and State. The State must be secular, the Church as a separate witness to Jesus’ love, not the hatred and bigotry of the right wingnuts. Cenk is correct. (comment #15)
As an American Muslim, I believe that this comment is “right on”. I don’t believe that America can be defined as anything but a secular democracy (secular meaning neutral towards religion, not devoid of religion or hostile to religion) in which all religions are free to worship. As soon as we begin to define ourselves in terms of any religion we limit the participation of others. No matter who is in the majority, they do not own this nation, and every minority must have equal rights and status - otherwise this will no longer be America.
note: the Young Turks have a series of viceos at http://youtube.com/TheYoungTurks