Religion

Spain’s Blurred Cultural Divides (or how Newt Gingrich can’t even get xenophobia right)

The Alhambra, from Mirador San Nicolás

The Alhambra of Granada: Muslim Nasrid Fortress; Holy Roman Emperor Charles V's palace; Catholic churches and ex-mosques in view. Photo taken outside the Saint Nicholas church in the Albayzin "Muslim quarter" of the city.

Newt Gingrich states,

“The proposed “Cordoba House” overlooking the World Trade Center site – where a group of jihadists killed over 3000 Americans and destroyed one of our most famous landmarks – is a test of the timidity, passivity and historic ignorance of American elites.  For example, most of them don’t understand that “Cordoba House” is a deliberately insulting term.  It refers to Cordoba, Spain – the capital of Muslim conquerors who symbolized their victory over the Christian Spaniards by transforming a church there into the world’s third-largest mosque complex.” [Emphasis mine.]

I’ll overlook Gingrich’s gross overstatement of the historical facts (this excellent post by a medieval historian refutes his statements in detail) and get to the more glaring irony in his statement. Say hello to the “world’s third-largest mosque complex,” that symbolic victory over Christian Spain (which before the conquest was neither unified in religion nor statehood):

Yep, that just makes ya tremble in fear of Islamist conquerors, doesn’t it? Newt Gingrich uses Córdoba as an example of the Muslim destruction of Western or Christian culture, yet the very building in question stands today not as a mosque, but a cathedral. (Ironically, the world’s third-largest Christian complex lies a couple of hours’ drive away in Seville – a mosque converted into a cathedral after the Catholics conquered the Muslim-ruled Al-Andalus.) Continue reading

Reigious Crackdown in Russia

Today’s New York Times has a saddening article about diminishing religious freedoms in Russia. While the constitution provides for freedom of religion, the Russian Orthodox Church has overwhelming power over Vladimir Putin’s government, which it is quietly using to persecute and eliminate other religious denominations, calling them “sects” in the derogatory.

Some protestants get random visits from the F.S.B. (think post-Soviet K.G.B.) and can no longer rent spaces of their own or express their beliefs in public- many have moved into hiding, meeting in private homes.

There are definitely much worse places in the world as far as freedom of religion is concerned – Turkey and China especially come to mind. But it’s disappointing to see a country take a step backwards when it comes to freedom. I hate to think of what life for followers of non-Christian faiths must be like in Russia.

Any religion can fall into the self-righteous trap of believing it is the only true one and all others are false, making this decision by faith alone. But even then, this does not give that group a free pass to do wrong to those with other beliefs. As Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”

I surely hope that I will never make the mistake that the Russian government and Orthodox Church has made.

9/11 Commentary, in Context

There has been a lot of fuss recently over various presidential candidates’ pastors’ comments. Barack Obama has had some, and John McCain’s pastor is now facing scrutiny as well.

I believe that, except for Governor Huckabee, who is himself a clergyman who chose to run for office, these issues have no relevance to any political campaign, and can only be used as personal proxy attacks with limited factual significance.

However, as this issue currently dominates national news, and it touches on two very important issues – my faith and my politics – I think it deserves to be addressed.

Rev. Wright’s comments post-9/11 were taken out of context by the media – he was quoting a US Ambassador as part of a larger sermon with a different message. Consider his comments in context, compared to those of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson on 9/13/2001:

I do not share viewpoints with either of the above videos. I disagree with parts of both. I agree with other parts of both. But the issue deserves better attention than the sensationalism being encouraged by the media and by desperate campaigns right now.