This page recently included an op-ed piece by Cal Thomas with a headline reading “Muslims Want to Take Over America.” The opening paragraphs shined light on how tenaciously Christian radicals like Thomas cling to their anachronistic beliefs. Thomas rejected Britain’s current Prime Minister’s belief that, “There is nothing in Islam that justifies this truly dreadful act (the murder of a British soldier by Muslim extremists). Thomas opted instead to accept the century old view of Winston Churchill who once said Islam was “a military and proselytizing faith.”
In other words, Cal Thomas and his ilk haven’t learned anything new in more than a century and they’re darned proud of it.
His argument reminds me of the “Six Blind Men of Indostan.” They were the sightless men who each touched a single, different part of the elephant and claimed they understood the entirety of the animal. The poem ends, “And so these men of Indostan disputed loud and long, each in his own opinion exceeding stiff and strong. Though each was partly in the right and all were in the wrong!”
We are all much like those “Six Blind Men of Indostan” when it comes to our religion beliefs. Each of us is guessing, some making educated guesses, others making guesses consistent with their own prejudices.
In recent weeks, the Cheyenne Interfaith Council (CIC) has sponsored a series entitled “Who do they say I am?” It’s the question Jesus asked in Mark. “Jesus and his followers went to the towns in the area of Caesarea Philippi. While they were traveling, Jesus asked the followers, "Who do people say I am?" The CIC has attempted to answer that question from the perspectives of Muslims, Jews, Unitarian Universalists and Christians of different cultures.
Each faith community touches only a part of the elephant, only glimpses a part of the whole. In its mission to encourage thoughtful, respectful dialogue between people of all faiths, the CIC fully understands that, “Though each was partly in the right, all were in the wrong!”
Churchill isn’t the best model for contemporary discussions about difference among God’s people. In the same writing in which he offered a then-accepted view of Islam, he also said “Negroes,” are “Strong, virile, and simple- minded savages” who “live as we may imagine prehistoric men.” Churchill said they have “no ideas beyond the gratification of their physical desires.”
Thomas wouldn’t choose offer up Churchill’s assessment of blacks today but he freely quotes similar outmoded, disproved, and hurtful 19th century Churchillian views of Muslims.
If Thomas is going to employ stereotypes to bolster weak arguments, the least he could do is to update his stereotypes.
During the CIC seminars, participants crowded the Laramie County Library to learn. The size of the audiences is a message. People are more interested in learning the truth than in relying on the skewed and marginal views of people like Cal Thomas. Thoughtful people know the world is too small and too dangerous to accommodate bigotry and hateful discourse.
There’s too much at stake and when people of “good faith” talk about their views. It’s apparent that all of us, Jews, Muslims, Unitarian Universalists, evangelical and progressive Christians and others agree on the important ideas. We all agree on “love your neighbor” and treat others as you would be treated.” We agree that helping the “least of these” is our purpose in life. It’s not an exaggeration to suggest we all agree on 80% of the core beliefs of our different faiths.
The 20% is mostly dogma and ritual. Matters of eternal insignificance cause us to “dispute loud and long, each in his own opinion exceeding stiff and strong.” We waste time that could be used to heal the sick, feed the hungry and house the homeless.
People like Cal Thomas like to stir our juices. They focus on minority, radical views. We’d do the world a favor to look instead to the future and our own experiences of those they would have us hate.