Question of the day

October 29, 2008

The Maranatha Chapel Full Gospel caused a stir in Harlan this week with a question on the message board outside the church: Do you want a Muslim for your president? WANE TV did a story and sort of hinted at what the controversy might be — you know, something to do with the McCain-Obama presidential race. The Journal Gazette was more explicit about what the fuss might be about:

The sign refers to the persistent fallacy that Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, a Christian, is secretly Muslim, a sentiment even dismissed by Obama’s Republican opponent, John McCain.

Neither story tackles the assumption behind the question, which is that identifying someone as a Muslim is an acceptable insult. The intolerance is not in falsely claiming Obama is a Muslim but in the fact that such a claim is believed to have only one possible defense: Of course I’m not a Muslim. This puts a whole religion on the level of such pejoratives as liar, racist and homophobe.

It might be interesting to have a Muslim as a presidential candidate, because it might lead to an important national conversation. It is widely believed that Islam cannot keep its hands off  government in the separation-of-church-and-state tradition of the West, because the purpose of government under Islam is to enforce God’s law. Actually, there’s quite a debate going on about that in the Muslim community, not unlike the debates we had in the beginning of this country, when a religious people had to be convinced that keeping church and state separate would not harm their religious institutions. (Fascinating background article from the Hoover Institution here, if you want to read more.)

If a Muslim even wanted to be president, I presume he would be from the secular-government side of that debate. The candidate could start with a JFK-type speech, then engage us all — Christian, Muslim and otherwise — in a lively look at that murky territory between religion and government.

And I’m not a Muslim, either, by the way — not there’s anything wrong with that.

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7 Responses to “Question of the day”


  1. […] Question of the day The sign refers to the persistent fallacy that Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, a Christian, is secretly Muslim, a sentiment… […]

  2. Mike Harvey Says:

    Good observation. It could have just been a teaser for a sermon that was coming on Sunday about the need for tolerating or appreciating other religions. It could have been: Do we want a Zoroastrianist for your president? Do you want a Tenrikyoist for your president? Let’s find common ground. I don’t know the latest but it’s still possible that this type of sermon can back this idea up on Sunday… Now the pastor can come back with a “The world out there assumes we’re (fill-in-the-blanks) and they assumed wrong but Jesus taught (fill-in-the-blanks)… and we forgive them of course… “

  3. mark Says:

    So, it’s “widely believed” that Islam has difficulty with secular government because the religion instructs the opposite. But the reality is that, “actually” there is quite a debate about that in the Muslim community?

    Really? Where?

    Indonesia and Malaysia have been the closest to “secular” governments, but the trend in those countries is hardly in favor of separation of church and state. In much of the Muslim world there may be “quite a debate” but only so long as people are willing to face capital punishment for putting in their two cents or make their arguments from the safety of the shores of the USA.

    How is the debate going in Paris or London? Are women participating in the debate in Saudi Arabia these days?

    I’m hard pressed to think of a Muslim majority country where such secular structures as exist aren’t either imposed by a dictator or tolerated as a conditon of American economic and/or military aid.

    Yes, the US struggled with church/state issues and our positions today are more secular than they were two hundred years ago. The anology might be more compelling if Islam emerged on the world scene twenty years ago. It didn’t. How has their struggle with the concept of secular government fared over the same 200 years? The only periods of secular success that come to my mind involve either European colonialism or Soviet or US “client states.” Probably not a good idea to go back to those models.

    But I’m just part of the “widely believed” crowd. Perhaps you can set me straight on how things “actually” are.

    For the record, the Harlan thing is an embarassment.

  4. Mike Harvey Says:

    “There was a Master come unto the earth, born in the holy land of Indiana, raised in the mystical hills east of Fort Wayne….” – Richard Bach

    Since I live somewhat close to Harlan I heard word of a local mechanic… ye verily he has worked on my vehicle and performed miracles. Despite his reluctance to talk in a public forum he’s giving a guest sermon Sunday. I also heard recently that the local pastor would send out a message to draw attention to the event by putting out a message that could be deemed controversial. Suckers… This is probably how Tenrikyoism got started.

  5. Nance Says:

    I’m hard pressed to think of a Muslim majority country where such secular structures as exist aren’t either imposed by a dictator or tolerated as a conditon of American economic and/or military aid.

    Turkey.

  6. mark Says:

    Turkey is certainly the closest. Interestingly, it was described just a few days ago by Jurist magazine as “the last bastion of secular Islam”, although I am sure all that intra-Muslim debate remains healthy world-wide.

    Turkey did decide to increase the penalty for honor killings, under pressure from the EU. “Honor suicides” have inexplicably risen, though.

  7. Leo Morris Says:

    I did not say mosque-state separation has a good track record so far or that moderates are winning the day over the fundamentalists. I said there was a debate going on. From the piece I linked to: “Furthermore, in response to the more specific question of whether they would prefer an Islamic to a secular democracy, respondents split almost evenly, with a small edge for secularism in some countries. In Algeria, 39 percent favored Islamic democracy while 45 percent favored secular democracy. In Iraq, where Islam was chosen as “a fundamental source of legislation,” the survey indicated that 42.7 percent of respondents favored Islamic democracy, compared with 43.3 percent support for secular democracy. In Jordan, 43.5 percent supported secular democracy, and in the Palestinian territories the proportion was 37.2 percent.”

    Is it better to encourage the debate or ridicule it as insufficent? The former, I’d suggest.


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