10/23/2003WASHINGTON -- The American obsession with the separaton of church and state is rearing its contentious head here and there, yet another manifestation of the increasingly odd mood of our country. A Southern judge wants the Ten Commandments enshrined in the courthouse; an atheist out West wants "under God" out of the Pledge of Allegiance.
It's not a new struggle. Ever since the founding fathers proclaimed in the First Amendment to the Constitution that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," such questions have proliferated.
But even as most Americans have more or less come to grips with the church/state question, today's American foreign policy has swung wildly out of balance.
In foreign policy today, supposed spokesmen for church, state and the international community are wrestling out their differences in venues better suited for gentlemanly diplomacy or a tough negotiation of differences.
How on earth did this come about?
This week's star of the non-separation of church and state in foreign policy is the good Lt. Gen. William G. "Jerry" Boykin, an apparently talented intelligence officer and former member of the Special Forces who is also an evangelical Christian. He confused the military uniform he wears, pledging him to protect a country that believes in the separation of church and state, with his own beliefs when he debased the Islamic religion before a series of church meetings.
The words are well known by now. He was leading a "spiritual battle" against Satan. The only way for the United States, "a Christian nation," to defeat terrorists was to "come against them in the name of Jesus." He realized when he served in Somalia in 1993 against a Somali Muslim militia leader that "My God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol." Finally, he proclaimed that "President Bush is in the White House because God put him there."
Evidently our perfervid speaker was not aware that, contrary to Christianity and most world religions, Islam is downright finicky about idols: There are none in Islam, the human form being totally prohibited even in Muslim art. The general was also a little shaky in other parts of his history: The Prophet Mohamed was so tolerant for his age (the seventh century) that he saw the Muslim Allah as existing existentially as the same god of the Jews and the Christians, upon whose religions he syncretistically based Islam.
But there were other malefactors in the world of tolerance this week, too. Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has been a good leader for his prospering, largely Muslim people -- but he is also Mr. Big Mouth of Asia. His unwelcome and insulting words about the Jewish people -- that they "rule the world by proxy and get others to do their fighting" -- were dangerous indeed. But they caused so much outrage that few heard his REALLY insulting comments.
The controversial prime minister went on to call Christians a "cultural menace for mankind," imposing a global culture of free sex, sodomy and incest. (Is that ALL we've done?) But then he reminded his own Muslim compatriots that they had achieved nothing in 50 years of war with Israel, that it was time to use their brains and abandon violence in pursuit of realistic goals.
No matter where you look in the world, foreign relations are being waged not with the old tools of diplomacy, negotiation, institution-building and, when necessary, threats, but with accusation backed by the heightened voices of religious division and hatred.
The new element is the United States, which until recently had mostly a secularist American-interest foreign policy, one in which religion played only a muted and historical role. Now we're butting, bull-into-china shop style, into the oldest and most dangerous game in town, pitting religion against religion. And our troops are increasingly endangered in Muslim countries overseas while our leaders spout off.
Most of the overt and immediate blame goes to this administration. President Bush said in Aquaba recently that he had been called by God to make peace. American dollars back religious Jewish projects in Israel, such as the settlements, making it appear to the world that America agrees with every Israeli move; and Christian evangelicals serve as President Bush's "cushion" for wars that are perceived across the world as purely anti-Islam.
It's not hard to know what should be done: This injection of religion into foreign policy should be stopped. It goes wholly against our history. Islam after 9/11 is a problem -- of course -- but the small number of fanatics could be easily split off from the traditional Muslims by fairer American policies, in the Middle East particularly. Gen. Boykin should be removed, if only for his carelessness. And, oh please, guys, let up on the "God sent me!" until you can offer a little proof.
Finally, virtually none of the real problem areas -- take Israel/Palestine -- are about religion at all. They are about politics, they are about land, they are about justice and respect. And even as the U.S. is getting caught up in religious name-calling, the cool European Union is employing the old principles to become the biggest trade and investment force in China, a resurgence that many believe is defining the new world while we are loquaciously busy elsewhere.
Maybe we should ask them to pray for us.