The Qur’an and the Fig Tree

Timothy R. Furnish, Ph.D., is a recovering college professor and current writer, researcher and analyst specializing in Islamic history, sects, eschatology, ideology and Mahdism. He learned Arabic at taxpayers' expense while in the U.S. Army and, later, studied Farsi, Turkish and Ottoman while a doctoral student at Ohio State University. He blogs at Occidental Jihadist.

My recent HNN blog What Would Jesus Do with a Qur’an? Actually He Might Burn It ignited a firestorm of controversy (puns intended), especially after Robert Spencer was kind enough to pick it up for Jihadwatch.  This blog was the theologically-focused sequel to the more political one the previous day, Fahrenheit 9-1-1: Burning Qur’ans and Bibles, which had slammed our government and military for apparently privileging Islam and the Qur’an over Christians and the Bible (especially considering that just a year ago the American military burned Biblesen masse in Afghanistan).  An Iranian cleric, whom I met in Tehran in 2008, maligned me via Facebook as an “anti-Muslim Christian,” while Sean Hannity’s former worse half, Alan Colmes (or one of his website apparatchiks), accused me and Spencer of intolerance.   

But not all disapproval has been so shallow or easily dismissed.  An old and very  good friend of mine, the Reverend Wiliiam Charles Treadwell  (rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Waco, TX) took me to the theological woodshed for daring to argue that Jesus might approve the destruction of those parts of the Qur’an that deny Christian teachings about Him, as well as the ones that, prima facie,promote violence.  I realize that this is not the Theology News Network, but considering the keenly religious dimensions—Christian as well as Islamic—of not just this one specific issue but of the entire twenty-first century clash of civilizations, it is entirely appropriate to examine conflicting views of how the Messiah Jesus (remember, the media always refers to “the Propet Muhammad”) might act in certain situations—considering that one-third of the human race, and three-quarters of the American population, professes  allegiance to Him.

Herewith Father Chuck’s critique, with what I deem the most important points highlighted:

[T]he reason I think you are terribly wrong is not because I am afraid it might inflame the radicals.  Last time I checked they were pretty jacked up already.  The reason I think you are wrong is because assuming Jesus would burn the Qur'an is poor exegesis and poor theology of the death and resurrection of Christ.  The biblical passages… where Jesus strikes out at people  are done to religious "insiders," meaning those who claim to be God's chosen but who do not live up to the expectations of their faith.  The "things" he strikes out at (the fig tree) are clearly apocalyptic metaphor for those "insiders" who are expected to produce fruit but who are not.  Jesus did not strike out against the Romans or any other outside group, only insiders who should know better.

In our modern context I don't think Islam can be considered "insiders" to which we apply the teachings of Jesus.  They clearly do not think they are.  Therefore Jesus is speaking to us—Christians who claim to know Christ and to follow Christ.  And this is the reason the burning of the Qur'an is abhorrent to the Christian faith.  The summary of Jesus' entire teaching ministry is utterly contrary to violent emotional reaction to other people's bad behavior.  The Parable of the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin and the Prodigal [Son]… speak just the opposite…. Christians make a lot of noise about how Christianity is a better way than other religions, and I hold firmly to this truth….[and] we have an opportunity to show it.  So instead of whining about how no one cried out when they burned the Bible, we have an opportunity to show “the more excellent way” [St. Paul, I Corinthians 13]…. to respond to hate….to fear…to uncertainty with love.

Burning the Qur'an might feel good, but it will not further the cause of Christ….  As they nailed him to the cross he did not say "rain down fire upon them."  He said, "forgive them Father, for they know not what they do."  THAT is the difference between Christianity and any other religion I know….

Let me preface my rejoinder by acknowledging that “those of use who construct images of the historical Jesus always blend in some of our own features.” (1)  This goes for individuals, political parties, authors, and even—dare I say it?—ministers and priests.  I am conservative, Republican, Christian, and a military veteran who works as an academic specialist on violent Islamic ideologies;  Fr. Chuck is a priest in a mainline liberal denomination, shepherd of souls, Democrat and like most Americans he has never worn camouflage except to hunt.  Inevitably, those predilections and biases will seep into how we view, and try to apply, the teachings and the example of Jesus Christ.  That said, neither of us can be reduced to caricatures of “conservative” and “liberal” Christian:  I am neither an “evangelical/fundamentalist” nor a Biblical literalist (I don’t buy a six-day creation, for example; and, mirabile dictu, I believe evolution, albeit directed by God, occurred); Fr. Chuck, I know for a fact, is neither a pacifist nor, like many in his denomination, willfully ignorant of the Islamic roots of jihad. 

Now to the issue at hand.  There are, by my estimation, five substantial charges in Fr. Chuck’s writ against my contention that Christ might approve of burning some parts of the Qur’an:  1)  poor exegesis  (primarily, seeing the fig tree account as anything but apocalyptic; 2)  misapplication of  the position of Judeo-Christian “religious insiders” to Muslims; 3)  Jesus’s forbidding of “violent emotional reactions to others’ bad behavior;” 4)  the alleged “whining” utilization of the tu quoque argument by those on my side; and 5)  that anyone supporting torching Qur’ans is only doing so because it “feels good”—which does “not further the cause of Christ.”

I will treat these points in ascending order of importance. 

Like Marty McFly when called “chicken,” I automatically bristle when anyone directs the term “whiner”   my way.  Perhaps Fr. Chuck and others on that side of the aisle (or, in his case, the altar) perceive as mere complaining my condemning the deafening silence from the media and the Muslim world when Bibles are burned by the U.S. military or by Muslims themselves.  However, I don’t see it that way; my point in bringing up such seemingly acceptable Bible bonfires is to point out the hypocrisy of political leaders such as President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton, as well as that of Muslims for whom, according to their own religion, both the “Torah”—the Hebrew Scriptures—and the “Injil”—the New Testament—are holy (albeit corrupted) books that should be revered only slightly less than the Qur’an—not razed.  Likewise, while no doubt there are Christians (and, to be fair, atheists, Hindus and others as well) who would enjoy sending a Qur’an up in smoke, I for one am not among them; as I pointed out in my first blog on this topic, I think that Dr. Henry Jones’ statement that “goose-stepping morons…should try reading books instead of burning them” equally applies to non-Nazis, as well.  But what about those who have read the Qur’an and decide legitimately—not out of spite, but in emulation of the Ephesian converts to Christianity, who burned books of magic (2)—that the frankly anti-Christian Islamic scriptures need to be disposed of in like fashion, if only symbolically (knowing full well that there are millions of copies of the Qur’an extant)?  Perhaps, under these parameters, the Qur’an could be burned clinically, even dispassionately, as a token of Christian rejection thereof.  Not likely, but possible.

Such a Vulcanesque disposal might at least heed Fr. Chuck’s warning that Jesus prohibited “violent emotional reactions to others’ bad behavior.”  Now, while I doubt Pastor Jones was exactly channeling Mr. Spock in his approach to the whole issue of placing Qur’ans and Bics in very close proximity, note that he did first broach the idea on July 12, 2010—sixty days before the 9/11 target date.  With that long a period of premeditation, it’s hard to argue that Jones was being emotional at all; “Sudden Qur’an Torching Syndrome,” thus, is not a diagnosis that would seem to fit Pastor Jones’ intentions.  (The same might not be true of the New Jersey man who publicly burned a Qur’an on 9/11 and was subsequently fired by the New Jersey Transit Authority—he does seem to have been emotionally reacting to, ironically, the public , and ultimately successful, pressure aimed at dissuading Jones.)

Fr. Chuck’s final two points are the most challenging for anyone trying seriously to grapple with the question of what the historical Jesus Christ would bid His followers do with the scriptures of the world’s second-largest religion:  how to exegete the only two clear-cut examples of Jesus employing violence in his personal, pre-Resurrection life (cursing and thereby killing the fig tree (3); driving the moneylenders from the Temple (4)); and whether anyone other than Jews (at the time of the events) or Christians (today, as those who accept his Messianic and divine role) can be considered “religious insiders” to whom Jesus was directing his teachings and mission.  True, many Christian scholars reason, as does Fr. Treadwell, that Jesus’ killing of the fig tree is an apocalyptic sign presaging judgment on Israel if that nation would not repent and bear fruit. (5)  But is that the only possible exegesis of this event? (6)  In both Matthew and Mark Jesus, when explaining the withered fig tree to the Apostles, says nary a word about any apocalyptic judgment; rather, he tells them that if they have sufficient faith they could do the same or greater (such as moving mountains).  And what’s particularly striking about the fig tree’s destruction is that Jesus does indeed seem to be, frankly, having a “violent emotional reaction” because He was hungry and the lack of figs simply made Him mad!  Note, too, that the Lord appears to be a bit irrational because, as Mark says, “it was not the season for figs.”  How is a poor fig tree supposed to bear its fruit out of season?  I am a Christian who believes Jesus Christ rose from the dead in order to atone for my sins, yet I cannot help but think that He was having something of a divine (low blood sugar-induced?) fit at an uncooperative fruit tree.  Perhaps the alleged apocalyptic pedagogy that is tortured out of these passages is simply to hide that fact; it’s certainly not a given that the fig tree event is “clearly apocalyptic metaphor,” as Fr. Chuck would have it.

This brings me to a point I only touched upon in my previous blogs but which I think deserves greater treatment:  why are there no statues in churches of Jesus shriveling the fig tree, or with a whip in hand overturning moneylending tables in the Temple courts?

We have all heard people say a hundred times over…that the Jesus of the New Testament is indeed a most merciful and humane lover of humanity, but that the Church has hidden this human character in repellent dogmas and stiffened it with ecclesiastical terrors till it has taken on an inhuman character.  This is…very nearly the reverse of the truth.  The truth is that it is the image of Christ in the churches that is almost entirely mild and merciful.  It isthe image of Christ in the Gospels that is a good many other things as well….In any case there is something appalling, something that makes the blood run cold, in the idea of havinga statue of Christ in wrath….The Church can reasonably be justified therefore if she turns the most merciful face or aspect towards men….it is very much more specially and exclusively merciful than any impression that could be formed by a man merely reading the New Testament for the first time.  A man simply taking the words of the story as theystand would form quite another impression…full of mystery and possibly of inconsistency; but certainly not merely an impression of mildness(7)[emphases added].

Over the centuries the Church has created and exhibited statues and icons of Jesus crucified, resurrected, healing, walking on water, multiplying loaves and fishes, transfiguring—but not  of Him divinely nuking a fig tree or going Indiana Jones, “Temple of Doom” on moneylenders.  As Chesterton says, there have been good reasons for that overemphasis on the meek and mild Jesus; but let us not pretend that this is the only Christ described in the New Testament.  In the truly apocalyptic passages, the returned Jesus is terrifyingly described as riding a white horse, with eyes of flame, wearing a robe dipped in blood; indeed “from His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron….” (8)  I have little doubt that the Returned Christ of St. John’s vision would not hesitate to burn Qur’ans; and I’m not sure that the Gospel one who gets surly when hungry and is fond of whips might not do so, as well.

Finally, Fr. Chuck opines that Muslims are “not insiders” like Jews (and, later, Christians) and thus cannot be targets of Christ’s warnings and wrath, as were the fig tree and the Temple loan sharks—nor, by extension he seems to be saying, should they or their holy book be targeted by Christians in any fashion.  Allow me two observations on this topic.  First, destroying Qur’ans, by fire or any other method, would in no way constitute an attempt to impose Christian norms on Muslim “outsiders;” rather, it would simply represent an admittedly provocative Christian rejection of Islamic teachings which in many crucial areas (the Crucifixion and Resurrection; the Atonement; the Trinity) are diametrically opposed to those of Jesus and the New Testament.  Second, Islamic theology is predicated on the very idea that  the revelations of monotheism given by the One True God to the Jews and then the Christians were corrupted and that Muhammad’s revelation re-created the pure community of faith that had eluded Moses and Jesus—so in a very real sense, Muslims certainly do claim to be “insiders.”  Now, of course, they are not going to subject themselves to what they see as the corrupt teachings of the false New Testament Jesus, but I wonder what Christ would tell Muslims were He here today?  Somehow I think a reference might be made to false prophets (9) or to the fact that even demons can be monotheists. (10)

Fr. Chuck and a considerable number of Christians on his side (not just liberals, either) seem certain that they know how Jesus the Christ would deal with this issue.  I, on the other hand, am not so sure what Christ would say to his followers holding a Qur’an in one hand and a bottle of lighter fluid in the other;  I suspect that He would disarm them with a gem along the lines of “let him who has never sinned light the first match.”  But I also believe He might very well tell both Christians and Muslims “go, and read the Qur’an no more.”  And He just might treat the Qur’an like the fig tree.

(1) Dale C. Allison, Jesus of Nazareth: Millenarian Prophet (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1998), p. 216

(2) Acts 19:19

(3) Matthew 21:18ff; Mark 11:13ff, 20ff; Luke

(4) Matthew 21:12ff; Mark 11:15ff; Luke 19:45ff; John 2:15ff.  In John’s account Jesus uses a “scourge” or “whip of cords” to do so.

(5) See, for example, N.T. Wright, “Jesus, Israel and the Cross,” originally published in K.H. Ricards, ed., SBL 1985 Seminar Papers (Chico, CA: Scholars Press, n.d.), pp. 75-95; available at

(6) Of course, eschatological metaphor and real events are not necessarily mutually exclusive, as explained by N..T. Wright, “Doing Justice to Jesus: A Response to J.D. Crossan, ‘What Victory? What God?,’” Originally Published in Scottish Journal of Theology, 50, 3 (1997), pp. 359-79; available at

(7) G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man (Garden City, NY: Image Books, 1955 [1925]), pp. 190-91

(8) Revelation 19:11-15

(9) Matthew 7:15

(10) James 2:19

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More Comments:

Maarja Krusten - 10/6/2010

Hey, Tim, don’t worry about it. I spent some time upthread discussing my convos w/ young women I know who totally went D in 2008. That’s what I drew on. They aren't caricatures. They are real ppl just as are ppl u know. You seem to think I’m projecting something when I'm reporting. Hey, we all know what we see and hear around us. If that doesn’t fit your wife or women you know, no prob. I’m not criticizing her or them. Why should I care how they vote? (Or they me?) I’m passing on what *some* women have told me.

I do think you passed up a Sister Souljah moment but man, it’s just a blog, right. And if you’re not looking to affect how people vote (i.e., put peeps in the WH), no prob, I misinterpreted that, sorry. My work experieces blah blah whatev.

If I was inartful in complimenting you for meaning well, I actually did mean well, sorrt. Hey, at least I clicked on your essay and read it this time, right?
I’m outta time (gotta get back to work) and ready to move out and on. Let’s just part by saying we’re very different, look at stuff differently, may or may not vote the same way down the road but whether we support the same or different things, that’s cool. Hey, that’s what makes America great. We can at least agree on that small thing!

N. Friedman - 10/6/2010


I have not said the right than left is better about Islamism. I have merely taken the view that, overall, the left is living in denial about that topic. And, it shows in the poor policy decisions made by the current government. That, however, was not an endorsement of prior governments. Consider: we have had major problems with Islamism since 1979, when the Islamists came to power in Iran. Neither party has figured out how to deal with things, as the Islamist virus continues to spread and result in lives destroyed and ruined.

However, right now, the government is on the left side of the spectrum and the particular leader seems - which could, of course, be an incorrect perception - to live in a world that seems unreal.

In any event, this is far from Tim's topic. However, I think no one minds my saying it - although some may disagree.

This is not, however, about getting voters to do this or that. This is about ideas, whether we are talking religious ideas, as Tim was discussing, or about how things are playing out in the world, as I brought up.

N. Friedman - 10/6/2010


You write: "Does the fact that you and N. Friedman both quickly decided that the threads here had wandered too far afield when I mentioned Kovachov’s comment mean anything more than that?"

I did not decide that you wandered too far afield. I merely noted, in agreement with Tim, that you had wandered from his topic. In that I have answered your various posts, clearly that there was wandering from the topic - which I termed, to be funny, like playing telephone - was not important to me. I have always enjoyed posting back and forth with you, regardless of the topic.

I also do not think Tim was complaining. I think he was merely making an observation that the conversation had wandered.

Timothy Furnish - 10/6/2010

Fine by me. Thanks.

Maarja Krusten - 10/6/2010

Hey, Tim, don’t worry about it. I spent some time upthread discussing my convos w/ young women I know who totally went D in 2008. That’s what I drew on. They aren't caricatures. They are real ppl just as are ppl u know. You seem to think I’m projecting something when I'm reporting. Hey, we all know what we see and hear around us. If that doesn’t fit your wife or women you know, no prob. I’m not criticizing her or them. Why should I care how they vote? (Or they me?) I’m passing on what *some* women have told me.

I do think you passed up a Sister Souljah moment but man, it’s just a blog, right. And if you’re not looking to affect how people vote (i.e., put peeps in the WH), no prob, I misinterpreted that, sorry. My work experieces blah blah whatev.

If I was inartful in complimenting you for meaning well, I actually did mean well, sorrt. Hey, at least I clicked on your essay and read it this time, right?
I’m outta time (gotta get back to work) and ready to move out and on. Let’s just part by saying we’re very different, look at stuff differently, may or may not vote the same way down the road but whether we support the same or different things, that’s cool. Hey, that’s what makes America great. We can at least agree on that small thing!

Timothy Furnish - 10/6/2010

OK, turns out Maaraj was rather cryptically referring to a new thread she'd started....look down at the bottom of the comments page.

N. Friedman - 10/6/2010


I think you made a substantive argument about Christian teachings, not about public policy. I certainly spoke of public policy, but that is a different matter. You only touched on public policy on this posting board, not in your article.

Timothy Furnish - 10/6/2010

Your first assumption is wrong. I certainly did not in this article, nor frankly do I rarely ever, hope to persuade people how to vote.
You seem to hold a caricaturish view of women voters. My wife, an attorney, is probably more conservative than me. That goes, as well, for many woman I know at my church and in my personal life. Admittedly, this is anecdotal, but your easy assumption about what is and is not "off-putting to women by "conservative men" is not necessarily accurate.
You do not seem to actually read my posts verbatim, but to inject them with your own meaning. Did you not see that post where I said that I had NOT EVEN SEEN your one about Peter Kovachev? I guess not, because you still pillory me for somehow intentionally ignoring it when, as a matter of fact, I had not seen it (and frankly have not had time to respond to it today).
And what exactly do you meant "you learned some things about the right?" First of all, NF is not a Republican, as he has told you. Second, even IF he were, would the responses of two people tell you something about "the right" or simply about him and me? Methinks the latter.
And frankly your last paragraph is rather needlessly patronzing. We "mean well?" We don't "get where [you're] coming from?" Did it ever occur to you, Maarja, that perhaps you're "mystifying" because your argumentation is disjointed, faulty and often non sequitur?

Maarja Krusten - 10/6/2010

OK, one mo’ time. I’m assuming when you write you want to persuade people to take what you write into account when they consider voting. If what your write about Islam only is a side issues unrelated to policy and voting – largely theoretical and interesting but will little impact on real life, then yeah, I strayed too far into. I’ll try to sum up why I took the threads where I did, then admit defeat on reaching out (but affirmation or victory for what I suspected coming in):

TF and NF believe right better than left on issues related to Islam.

Right not in charge right now.

FT and NF have no leverage on Islam related issues over current WH, which Dems will hold at least until 2012.

For right to hold WH, needed votes in past and future (2012), including women’s votes..

Conservative men sometimes do things that are off putting to women, especially young women. Enough such people withheld their votes from GOP in 2008 to give BHO the WH. Is that fixable? Dunno. Will stop trying to help. Not my battle, not of the right myself. Litmus tests, party purity, skittishness about Sister Souljah moments all add up to seeming conformity on right. Reasons unclear (my personal view is that moderates and liberals are more inclined to do soul searching, admit when things went wrong, man up and try to fix them. Conservative men seem more likely to just ride the vehicle off the cliff, not clear why.)

MK not surprised but mildly disappointed at way TF and NF handled thread, esp. PK lam-o comment. (Dudes, you SO totally missed a Sistah Soulja moment. Even after NF mentioned Afghan men treating women badly upthread, on a much more serious issue, neither of you could bring yourselves in a supremely low risk situation here to say in response to a tiny bash of me here on HNN, “wow, K’s comment was out of line, sheesh, why’d he say that to you, MK?”

Woulda, coulda, shoulda, too late now. But I did learn some things about the right.

As they say, you have to give to get. It’s ok, I can look elsewhere, many other women are, too. Maybe solidarity works both ways and the PK experience suggests that I’m looking in the wrong places by reading stuff by conservative men.

Be well, dude, thanks for trying. I totally think you mean well. But all this illustrates to me what a mess the right is at the moment. It’s seen better days, might again one day. I don’t mean to be mystifying, there’s no requirement that anyone get where I’m coming from, LOL. There’s plenty of room for me to roam elsewhere.

Did I really just spend part of my lunchtime on this? Yikes!

Tim R. Furnish - 10/6/2010

I had not even seen these comments when I said that the conversation had meandered far afield--I was commenting on that other massive thread, above. So your statements about "winning the argument" and such are irrelevant.
Honestly, I find your line of reasoning difficult to follow. Somehow you try to make everything about policy, whereas I did not discuss policy at all.

Tim R. Furnish - 10/6/2010

N., I'm with you: Maarja, I don't know what you're talking about. Are you talking to/about me? I didn't shut any conversation down--I just haven't been on here since last night.
N., help me out--did I discuss policy AT ALL in my post on the Qur'an and the tree? I don't think I did.
Maarja, no offense, but you seem to be debating an imaginary opponent.

N. Friedman - 10/6/2010


You have thoroughly lost me. I have no idea what you think on the topic of this board. The topic was substantive in nature, not about party politics.

And, I am certainly not looking to help the Republicans.

Maarja Krusten - 10/6/2010

By son of man I mean Jesus' human side, through Mary, not that I don't believe Jesus is my Savior. Not probably worth my clarifying -- you and I probably can't help each other due to many gulfs, but still....

by Smartphone

Maarja Krusten - 10/6/2010

One person’s reaction to the question of why Jesus acted as he did with the fig tree.

You write in your essay, “I am a Christian who believes Jesus Christ rose from the dead in order to atone for my sins, yet I cannot help but think that He was having something of a divine (low blood sugar-induced?) fit at an uncooperative fruit tree. Perhaps the alleged apocalyptic pedagogy that is tortured out of these passages is simply to hide that fact.”

Perhaps the answer lies in that, nothing more. The Son of Man is the son of man, and man does not always act rationally or even well. The tree, for which bearing figs was out of season, did not warrant such treatment by any standard of good behavior. And could, if left alone, been productive and helpful to him for quite some time, serving the Son of Man, and man, very well. Yet it suffered the fate it did. Fortunately, the Bible, especially the New Testament, is full of better, more positive examples of how to deal with and cope with life, its frustrations and challenges.

Perhaps there is a parable here. Consider Peter Kovachov’s response to me under the essay from last week that Ron Radosh wrote about the International Spy Museum. I did not write my response to Dr. Radosh from a left-wing perspective, I established solidly anti-communist cred for myself. Yet something in my response to Dr. Radosh led Kovachov to post in reply to me, “"I'm not likely to ever manage a museum, but if I ever wind up with a multitude of yowling and urinating stray cats in my flat, I will immediately seek your expertise with regard to their care." I laugh that off as the type of status, domination seeking, but clearly empty male communications tactic that Dr. Deborah Tannen describes in her work. (She is an acknowledged expert; even the Texas Attorney General’s Office, hardly a wimpy, touchy feely place, uses her books in its course offerings for lawyers and other employees.)

Should I laugh off Kovachov’s comment as symptomatic of a certain type of conservative man, perhaps one unfamiliar with U.S. culture and its embrace of dissent, pluralism, and debate? Does the fact that you and N. Friedman both quickly decided that the threads here had wandered too far afield when I mentioned Kovachov’s comment mean anything more than that? Obviously, in linking to Kovachov’s comment above, I was testing those who oppose present U.S. policies to see the extent to which they understand why the right does not hold the White House right now. And also checking to see whether you would remain silent in the face of what he said to me.

Perhaps, like Jesus with the fig tree, people sometimes react instinctively, showing something about who they are. Whether it is their defining characteristic – in Jesus’s case I would say no – depends on many other things. All in all, you’ve shown me something with the essay. The help the tree could give right now is rejected. That doesn’t mean all is lost for your side. How it all comes together in the future remains to be seen. Thanks for the insights, I’ll keep pondering these issues, although I won’t continue the thread marked scary :-)

Maarja Krusten - 10/6/2010

N., see my declaration of victory below. It's got nothing to do with victory. I actually was trying to help your side.


Maarja Krusten - 10/6/2010

Bingo. I knew when I linked to Mr. Kovachov's "I'm scared of you" comment suggesting that I am fit to take care of urinating cats that the convo here would end. That some conversative men do things like that in public discourse (Kovachev seems to focus on foreign policy and the Middle East as his issues) lies at the heart of why Obama is President and why you are unsatisfied about the direction in which the U.S. is going. It is directly related to how we ended up in a position where people are arguing about the book burning dude in Florida. Yet it seems to be an "undiscussable," as the say in the book, Driving Fear Out of the Workplace.

Far from wandering far afield, I've tried to explain why you are in a position where you are frustrated about U.S. policy in the first place. Because Bush and Cheney could have used the goodwill after 9/11 to establish a lengthy period of the GOP holding the White House. They let it slip away. And you are where you are now.

But I have no skin the in the game. Your side can struggle, or not, makes no never mind to me as an independent woman. That you essentially shut the convo down when I linked to Peter Kovachov's comment speaks volumes to me of why the GOP is where it is. Fine with me!

C ya around!

N. Friedman - 10/6/2010


You are quite right that we have strayed from the topic. I trust that you have heard of the game telephone.

As for your topic, I can certainly agree with you that the intolerance and violence and religious imperialism that dominates a considerable amount of Muslim thinking - Islamist thinking, to simplify matters (whether or not it is technically different from Islam or not), but also to make clear that I do not have people like the fascinating Fahrettin in mind - and behavior needs to be countered. However, it is not for the sake of any one religion. It is so that we do not descend into a new dark age. And, it is not so much the number of Christians vs. Muslims that counts. It is, what sort of world do you want to live in, what we see in Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan, on the one hand, or New York, Paris, London and Tel Aviv, on the other hand?

Tim R. Furnish - 10/6/2010

Frankly, my friends, you've both meandered far off the topic: would Jesus Christ approve of burning a Qur'an? And, even assuming He okayed it for Himself--would that extend to His followers, two millennia later?
My answers are: I don't know; and maybe.
But Maarja, your rather myopic focus on policy (particularly Presidential policy) misses the point and, it seems to me, obsesses about process and sacrifices substance. One of my seminary professors used to always ask, after long (sometimes abstruse) theological discussions: "so what?" what's the 'so what?' here?"
The "so what?" here is whether Christians, as the only religious community on the planet larger (2.3 billion) than that of the Muslims (1.5 billion), can stand up to the aggressive, too-often intolerant, expansionist of the number two religion. Everyone--even atheists and non-Christians--had better hope so.

N. Friedman - 10/6/2010


I have not been saying that Bush was right on my issues. I have said that I find Obama to have made a series of really bad decisions, decisions that will damage the US going forward and to have seemingly formed a host of ill considered views on such matters which will, unless he reassesses his thinking, will lead to further bad decisions. Bush made his own series of mistakes regarding issues that concern me. He is not someone whom I hold in high regard.

I am not really all that concerned with what other voters think qua being voters. My concern is that we face a serious issue that the left side of the political spectrum has chosen to elide from their stated concerns and to rationalize away when confronted with uncomfortable facts.

I like Peter but his views are his, not mine. In any event, my views on women's rights are decidedly feminist, although I do not view feminism as an ideological matter. I just believe that women should be treated with the same dignity and rights and as men. By the way, there is a marvelous book about the state of modern feminism, The Death of Feminism, by Phyllis Chesler. You would find it a fascinating read. While I do not agree with everything she writes, the book is, at all times, engaging and intelligent and informative. She clearly does not make things up to fit her theories, some of which are very interesting and original. Moreover, the chapter on her marriage to a man from Afghanistan, her move to Afghanistan, her time in Afghanistan and her escape from living in a purdah in Afghanistan, is worth your time.

Clearly, we are talking past each other, if you are writing about voters. My concern is with policy as policy, not whether it is popular.

Maarja Krusten - 10/6/2010

Perhaps the Palin reference is confusing. I meant that the fact that she polls better among GOP men than GOP women may mean women see through her and recognize what it is that men like about her but don't like the fact that she is being supported for that. (Complicated, I know.) I know several GOP women who absolutely roll their eyes about Palin, don't believe she is courageous or admirable or has any leadership qualities and mostly just laugh at her. (And at Rich Lowry, who seemed so bedazzled at her in 2008, snickering at his "starbursts.") She's not a candidate for anything so my opinion on her doesn't much matter. I'm not a fan of her, as I can admit now that she holds no public office and is a tv host. To me, she represents a side of politics and "punditry" that is decidedly lacking in bravery.

Maarja Krusten - 10/5/2010

N., we're still talking past each other, old friend. I'm mostly talking about voters. Take a look at this exchange between Peter Kovachev and me at Ron Radosh's essay about the Spy Museum last week and you can see how some conservative men mess up opportunities to win over women to their POV. Kovachev actually seems to think it is a good idea to tell me "I'm not likely to ever manage a museum, but if I ever wind up with a multitude of yowling and urinating stray cats in my flat, I will immediately seek your expertise with regard to their care."

My response to him and his full comment to me at:;bheaders=1#145314

That type of approach just doesn't work, obviously.

My focus here actually has been on how *voters* prioritize issues, not so much on how *presidents* do. I actually don't have time to go back and study what has been released from the Nixon materials and what remains restricted to get very deeply into some of what I used to work with.

As to voters, Gallup for September 2010 shows Obama's overall approval rating at 45% with the youngest voters as his strongest supporters among all age groups. Hence my saying that some of the lame stuff like the Oklahoma dudes voting as they did to publicize women's information but not men's is going to continue to drive young women Dem, not GOP. Despite the fact that young people actually don't support abortion on demand as much as such age groups once did. It's the sneering, patriarchal, even misogynist approach among some GOP supporters that turns them off, from what my young female friends have said. And as you know, Sarah Palin does not have have good overall approval numbers and within the GOP, has more support from men than women, telllingly.

Here are the numbers for the groups whose approval of Obama in the last polling cycle exceeds the overall rating of 45%:

Non-Hispance black 91% approve
Democrats 79% approve
Liberals 75% approve
18-29 year olds 57% approve
Hispanic 55% approve
Moderates 54% approve
Postgraduate education 53% approve
Not married 53% approve
East coast 52% approve
Montly income less than $2,000 53% approve
Women 47% approve
College graduate only 46%

So all those groups rate Obama more highly than his overall rating. Lesson to the GOP and to those, who however well meaning, like you and Dr. Furnish, keep lambasting Obama and saying the GOP is right on *your* issue -- you have to find some ways to counteract the drag of the *other* GOP domestic policy positions, if you have a hope of capturing more of the 18 to 29 year olds. Right now, the age group that approves of Obama least is the 65 and over crowd, and you know what time is going to do to that number. Yep.

N. Friedman - 10/5/2010


One thing I am sure that we agree upon here is that we are approaching the issues raised by Tim Furnish very differently. I cannot disagree with your analysis of party politics, how parties determine what issues to push and how politicians attract voters. While I have views on such things, I lack a systemic understanding and, quite obviously, I have not had the privilege you have had to sit down with the internal government records of a president. That is a rare privilege, one that you have, from what I have seen on the Internet, approached with great skill.

It still seems to me that, looking back on what presidents have done, I can only assume that presidents examine issues and make judgments and that a president A ranks problems and adopts different policies than a president B might have done. So, I am not sure that a structural analysis of how the presidency works is a sufficient basis to understand why President Obama does what he does, rather than do other things.

In this regard, there was Nixon's opening to China. I have to assume, since it was not all that popular a move to GOP party faithful, that he made a strategic judgment and decided to live with the political consequences. I assume that his advisers presented him with options along the way but I also have to assume that Nixon, who had previous worldly experience, decided that opening to China was a matter of urgency, given the perceived need to counter the Soviet Union.

Likewise, FDR thought Nazi Germany an overriding concern. So, he pushed the US to be ready for war and helped those who were fighting with that noxious regime.

Obama, it seems to me, is doing something like that and should be judged for the choices he makes. I think he has made a lot of very poor choices, ones that make a serious war more likely.

Maarja Krusten - 10/4/2010

N., I think we're just approaching this issue differently. I'm not saying it's a matter of Dem. v. GOP. I'm saying you, N., now have a Democratic president in charge in the White House in part because many young women found the grumpy old "wish we still were back in the 19th century when it was a man's world, hrrmph" vibe unattractive in 2008. I know that from hearing some of them, among my friends and acquaintances, discuss such issues. Polling results show that, too.

My point isn't that anyone should support one party or the other. Feel free to support whichever you want, fine with me, I've gone back and forth depending on a number of factors.

What I'm saying is that issues such as the ones you and Dr. Furnish don't exist in a vacuum. You get (or don't get) the result you want in terms of one area of policy because of the impact of myriad policy and tactical choices. Where you may see strength and resilience on the right in your issues, others may see wimpiness, refusal to cope with social changes, or pity parties on other very different issues which they happen to focus on. At least, that's what some of my younger friends suggested in 2008. Who wins depends on how people assess the big mix of issues and prioritize them. (In 1996, Bill Clinton got 54% of the women's vote and 43% of the men's vote. Probably why Derbyshire grumped that women shouldn't be allowed to vote, hah!) It's never been the same, each cycle is different.

2008 was a youth and hope and come together, America, "we can do better year." 2010 may be an economy and anxious-seniors year ("Hands off my Medicare!" or as some libs snark, "I've got mine, the hell with you"). Certainly its much more a year of division than 2008, when even Julie Nixon Eisenhower (Richard Nixon's daughter) contributed to Obama's campaign.

We'll see what exit polls show. I've seen some concern by neocons about the extent to which some very energized Tea Party folks, many of whom seem determined both to keep taxes low and slash spending, want to reduce domestic AND military spending, potentially leading to a hollower military. Since the GOP voters trend older, Medicare looms large as issues for them. If tinkering with it is regarded as not acceptable, then cuts will have to come elsewhere. Although foreign aid makes up a tiny proportion of the budget, many Tea Party folks seem determined to slash that, too.

These cycles are normal. We've previously seen soccer Moms or Angry Men described as the focus of politicians' efforts. Things shift. Anyone who follows elections knows that. Some of your foreign policy issues just were linked to some unpopular domestic policy issues in the minds of many young female voters in the last election. Bottom line, if you're unhappy with foreign policy now, you have to consider domestic policies, too, because they led the the results you saw in 2008.

Randy I. Kline - 10/4/2010

In regard to Moslems picking the rules they want to obey...I wish you well my friend. In Christianity, if we fall short (sin) just once, we are separated from God for eternity. Thankfully, He sent His son to pay this penalty and as a result we experience the forgiveness and eternal life with the Father that can only come through Christ Jesus.

Glad to hear that the Qur'an does not sanction the killing of innocents that believe differently. That should prove comforting to those traveling in Europe this week.

Certainly the German Christians needed help in overcoming the fascist dictator...that's where we came in.

N. Friedman - 10/4/2010

Hi Tim,

Maybe the word "loony" is the wrong term. My impression is that the preacher has more a polemical than a political dispute with Islam. Let him practice his own faith without offending those of other faiths.

You and I tend to agree. My position is aimed, apart from being analytical, towards protecting our liberties and defending all of us from the horrors that Islamism represents. I am not, however, Christian nor is my position intended to advance - or hinder - Christianity.

N. Friedman - 10/4/2010


I was not expressing support for the GOP. You are correct that the GOP has baggage, especially but not only on women's issues. I do not see this as an either or issue, Democrat vs. GOP.

In the 1930's, Democrats more often than the GOP understood the menace that the Nazis represented. During the Cold War, both parties, except at the extreme end of the Democrats, more often than not, understood what the Soviet ideology meant - although, in Vietnam, there was considerable disagreement about strategy to achieve the containment of the Soviet empire. Today, Democrats tend not to get it while at least some in the GOP do. But, that is far as go here. Mostly, we now still have denial, denial, denial from all involved.

In the case of the loony preacher, the President did not only say his own piece, but he had members of his administration directly contact the loony preacher. He had military leaders express alarm. This all amounted to an intimidation campaign. So, it was not merely the President expressing an opinion.

I am not a Republican. I have never been a Republican. The only Republican I have voted for is Jacob Javits, whom you may remember. I am not carrying baggage here for the GOP. I am taking the view that we face a very serious menace and that when we do as the Islamists demand - i.e., effectively enact blasphemy laws by forbidding the burning of books thought sacred by Islamists -, we harm ourselves.

Consider: in the Guantanamo prison, special Korans are provided to the prisoners. They are special because "infidel" are not allowed to touch them. Rather, they are specially sealed and the guards use only gloves to touch the book. Were it up to me - and, here I am leaving aside whether we are speaking specifically about that prison or some future prison -, my position would be that the prison should not reward the "infidel" label but, instead, offer Korans potentially touched by infidels - no special treatment that accepts Islamist Manichean categories.

Tim R. Furnish - 10/4/2010

Sorry: "let" in the second paragraph should be "lest."

Maarja Krusten - 10/4/2010

Again, I simply disagree. Nothing intimidating to me about Obama's comment. But then, I’m pretty hard to intimidate. Someone needs to suggest to some of these people to man up, stop being such babies, and not showboat about such things. You're saying the president can't, if he speaks without threating action. I don't know about that. There are all these fear mongering little men with microphones on cable tv and radio bleeting and panicking about every little thing. Why shouldn't a president use his microphone to speak up about some things from time to time, too?

As to women, I’ve avoided taking the thread in this direction, but ok, since you keep bringing up women, I’ll go there. You shouldn’t overlook the fact that the right trails some baggage on women’s issues in this country. It’s not as if people can flick a switch and say, I’m here on issue x, in foreign policy, so I have to buy in on issues y and z on domestic policy, too if if switch my party allegiance. It’s not as if they can give politicians their proxies on some issues and not others.

I was a Republican when I was a young women but I’m not surprised that so many young women voted Democratic in 2008. I won’t mince words. Some men on the right have done things that hurt the GOP with women. Consider the Oklahoma state legislators demanding in 2008 that women have personal information published about them if they underwent abortions. (Not stating my position on abortion, another Maarja policy dodge, just focusing on how men with political power can treat women in such matters.) With no requirement that information about the men who impregnated them be published. That is so lame. I mean, really, people know how pregnancies occur. No point in putting the spotlight on the women and acting as if men play no role in their becoming pregnant. We long ago left behind the 19th century, when the males could play and have their fun and the women were left to deal with the consequences of actions, such as unplanned pregnancies, that men often initiated. It’s moves such as that (and John Derbyshire of NRO saying the U.S. would be better off if women were not permitted vote) that make me shake my head about some of the right's image issues.

Heck, even GOP columnist Kathleen Parker discussed what she perceives as the image problem, when she wrote in 2009 of Jamie Leigh Jones (a U.S. citizen who was a rape victim in Iraq) and proposed legislation to help people like her, that there are problems for “Republicans, who can't seem to shake their white-male-patriarchal-oppressor image. Picture it: 30 Republicans, all men, all white, pitted against a young woman who says she was raped by a gang of Halliburton thugs. . . Is there a better metaphor for the popular perception of how the parties differ?”

Those are not my words, those are the words of a GOP columnist who probably never will vote Democratic. I know when you say that you see better reasoning from the right regarding Islam that you don’t necessarily agree with the Derbyshires and whatnot. But don’t over look the fact that they form part of the right, creating an image that is better on some issues than others. Just as the left has various components that form its image, also good and bad. Everyone has to integrate those components; not everyone is going to come out at te same place.

Tim R. Furnish - 10/4/2010

You are of course right.
But why do you feel compelled to wield the adjective "loony" when talking about Reverend Jones--except perhaps for talismanic effect, let Maarja (or anyone else on here) think that you might actually have any sympathy at all for him?
I see this much as you do (and I can acknowledge Maarja's points, if not always agree)--but not exactly. As a Christian, I am frankly tired of apologizing for, and being ashamed of, my faith and my co-religionists. As I said in my blogs, I do not really feel comfortable with burning any books. BUT in light of the fact that we are now being told, not just by Islamists but by Muslims, that we had better NOT burn or otherwise disrepect a Qur'an--I almost think that burning one (or many) needs be done simply to drive home that point that we will NOT be intimidated,neither as Americans nor as Christians.
To paraphrase Captain Picard regarding the Borg in "Star Trek" First Contact:"We've made too many compromises already; too many retreats. They invade our countries and we fall back. They assimilate entire cities and we fall back. Not again. The line must be drawn here! This far and no further!"

N. Friedman - 10/4/2010


I am well aware that the argument given by the President as an excuse for intimidating the loony Florida preacher is that it would put our troops at risk. Whatever truth there may be to that assertion, that has been the argument, mutatis mutandis, used repeatedly in Europe when faced with anything and everything that Islamists decide to find offensive.

The European logic: Speak softly or people will die. So, more and more demands are made by Islamists. And, Europeans give more and more ground, all in the name of not offending Islamists, for fear that people will die. Notice, however, that in Europe, there is a substantial terror alert going on - this time over nothing in particular. Even Americans are being alerted about being vigilant in Europe. In other words, the tactic does not work. In fact, it encourages Islamists to make more demands.

The slightest offense given is challenged to the point where there is more and more self-censorship in Europe. So, operas are canceled. Art shows are canceled. Yogurt with calligraphy has to be sold in a different package. Medical practices well established - i.e. for health reasons - have to be changed. It goes on and on, with an endless list of demands, most of which the Europeans have backed down on - only to face a new demand.

In fact, there have recently even been a couple of notable incidents in the US, such as when a book about the Danish blasphemy drawings of Mohammad removed the offensive drawings, for fear that Islamists would object. And now, there is the incident - about which Obama is silent - regarding a woman in the US who has gone into hiding because she suggested people draw Mohammad, in solidarity, evidently, with the Danish drawing incident. She is on her own, in hiding with a false identity. Where is the President on this? Silent!!!

In my view, the President's argument here is a lame argument. What else, going forward, will be the cost paid to make Islamists happy? Should we simply enact blasphemy laws? That is where Europe is headed, if you follow European news. That is, projecting forward, the true meaning of the President's request to the loony preacher.

The issue with Islamists is that anything, nothing, something and everything is a stated "reason" for killing people. These are just excuses used to advance the Islamist agenda. It works because we allow it to work. If we told the Islamist "No," they lack the military prowess to force anything on us. And, if there is no gain from the tactic, the tactic would likely abate in due course. Instead, we allow Islamist bigots to curtail the rights - and the right to be offensive is protected by the Constitution, even if the offense, as with the preacher's offense, is blasphemy.

While I think the Afghanistan war is a fool's errand - a complete waste of life -, and while I certainly do not want to unnecessarily risk lives, the bottom line here is that we should not allow Islamist bullies to intimidate us. The loony preacher, who has essentially no following, should have had the support of the government, not because the preacher was in the right, but because, under our Constitutional system, what he is doing is Constitutionally protected speech.

Please note: what the preacher is doing is offensive. The public has a perfect right to make its view about his acts known. But, the government has no business getting in the middle of it. Similarly, with the Cordoba House affair, the imam has the right to build his project but the public has the right to make its view known. That is all protected in our system. The President, however, is undermining our Constitution when he suggests that anyone needs to refrain from exercising rights. He can call it, like any other citizen, offensive but he has no business intimidating.

Maarja Krusten - 10/4/2010

We'll just have to agree to disagree ;-)

As to infamy, are you referring to comments made by the administration about the pastor? I took those to mean the administration didn't want our people in muslim countries (military and civilian) to be put at greater risk then they already are, due to someone doing something in this country to inflame them. It's not as if anyone in the federal government threatened to arrest the pastor or anything. Even presidents have the right to try to persuade people by appealing to their better natures. So I don't see it as a big blow to the First Amendment. I'd actually like to see more Sister Souljah moments where people call out ones on their own side for saying dumb things, actually.

But what you say raises an interesting point. What if there is a "boy who cried wolf" syndrome at play regarding the right? In other words, people on the right have gotten their knickers in a twist over one small thing after another ever since the American people dared to elect Bill Clinton in 1992. Maybe they've debased the currency of conservative public discourse so much, it's hard to tell when they are raising questions about issues that really might be alarming. (It didn't used to be that way. In my younger days, I actually subscribed to National Review. Nowadays, I roll my eyes at Jonah Goldberg, Victor Davis Hanson, and the other Cornerites. I haven't looked at the NR Corner site in ages, too fraternity house juvenile for my taste.)

Is it too easy to write off some right wing pundits as lacking coping skills for living in a democratic nation or peversely enjoying being afraid all the time? And just to tune everything they say out, as same old, same old. Maybe.

In other words, when people are supposed to cower in fear about everything Democrats do, and some listeners think, "hmm, well that action by a Democrat actually sounds reasonable, why do I have to fear it?" some just stop responding to fear buttons. Something the right has to live with now. For some, the poor tactical choices have backfire. But no way to undo the silly staff that goes all the way back to "Vince Foster was murdred! Mena Airport! Aaaack, aaaack, Dems in charge, w SO r doomed!" To which I responded at the time, "Oh, grow up and just get used to the fact that Clinton won." But then, I have voted Republican sometimes and Democratic at others. So I'm a classic swing voter, who sees most president as governing from the center right or center left and who is unlikely to find demonization and scare tactics appealing from either side.

Glad, as always, to live in the U.S., where people can disgree, here on HNN and elsewhere.

Be well.

N. Friedman - 10/3/2010


There are two parts of the liberal side of the aisle. One has its roots in liberalism and is rational, forward looking and pragmatic. The other takes its cues from anti-imperialist ideology and holds that the West, the US and Israel are the cause of all that ails the Islamic regions.

The latter group tends not to let inconvenient facts get in the way. Instead, such group elides unwanted facts or explains them away. Now, elision and rationalization are not unique to any movement; but to the anti-imperialist left, the facts are so blatantly contrary to their position that they find themselves calling people who point out inconvenient facts "racists," "Islamophobes," "bigots" and worse - anything other than dealing with inconvenient facts.

Never in my life has a President of the US told a US citizen that his First Amendment rights to act like an idiot need to take a back seat. That, in its way, is as bad or worse than Nixon so far as civil rights are concerned. Bigoted as the Florida preacher may be - something I do not doubt -, the President's reaction was a moment of infamy for the country because the right to express an opinion in a dramatic, non-violent demonstration was deemed too dangerous. And, that was an opinion born of anti-imperialist ideology.

Then, there is his approach to Iran. This is straight out of the anti-imperialist play book. That book says that, were the US to approach Iran openly, Iran, being a rational actor, would respond favorably. The anti-imperialist play book assumes that Iran just wants to get along when, in fact, it is a revolutionary power which has no interest in getting along with the US.

There are other examples but the above will suffice to make my point.

No doubt you will respond that I do not understand how the presidency works. On that, I know you are correct. However, I can look at what is coming out of the administration. And, it comes out as if he were anti-imperialist, not a liberal pragmatist. Bad decisions, one after the next, are being made - decisions which are as bad or worse than those made by Bush II.

Maarja Krusten - 10/3/2010

Have you read Charles Marsh's God's Long Summer? It's a fascinating account of how Biblical teaching was used both by those fighting for civil rights during the 1950s and 1960s and by segregationists. This review covers it pretty well:

The reason I bring that up is that many of my comments here have centered on what seems to me erosion of values and the use of dishonorable tactics. People on both ends of the spectrum use bad tactics sometimes, but I’ve come to associate fear mongering much more with the right than the left. I’ve previously said that I think people such as Rush Limbaugh have sissified American conservatives and turned a philosophy for governing which actually has some reasonable elements into something incredibly weak. Here’s why.

Much of my reading in my spare time is about two topics, modern U.S. presidents and the civil rights movement. It is striking to me in reading books about the civil rights movement how brave were some of the students and adult activists who took part in direct action in the South during the early 1960s. And how I can’t think of anyone in this day and age who measures up to those whom John Lewis has referred to as being members of the blessed community. When I think of activism these days, I mostly think of people pushing fear buttons and using negative motivators. Somehow, the courage that people such as Lewis and Fannie Lou Hamer displayed in the early 1960s no longer seems to be admired or pointed to as a model.

Something happened in public life somewhere along the way. I can’t quite put my finger on what and when, although I sense some changes occurred during the 1980s. Some day I’ll have to study this to see if I can figure out why. I wasn’t particularly aware of it as it started to happen during the 1980s (I voted twice for Reagan). But somehow, especially on the right, it seems some critical values started to shift and fall apart then and they continue to erode very fast in the present day. Perhaps some forces lie dormant while Republican presidents are in office and just rise to the fore when the other party takes charge. Perhaps the right just had better spokesmen back in the days when I considered myself a conservative. People who didn’t need to play the fear card so often. But there’s more to it than that. I link some of it to Limbaugh and his shtick but will have to dig deeper to study it when I eventually retire.

Maarja Krusten - 10/3/2010

Dr. Furnish, didn't mean to send you reeling, LOL. I actually think a lot of conservative opinionators' build-up of "the left" as a big, scary force is just a shtick, something done to "scare the folks." I don't personally get the appeal of the “ooooh, people, ya gotta be scared all the time of OMG your own fellow citizens” thing but I certainly see and hear a lot of it from the Limbaughs and Becks. I find those radio and tv types to be silly and unmanly. Dana Milbank examines the Beck fear factory in today's WaPo at

In any event, I'm talking about the hard core Left of the type I remember from my college days (Vietnam War era). They are not influencing foreign or domestic policy now any more than they did in Clinton's day.

There are far fewer hard left voices with any influence these days then there are ones of the hard right. I don't find the hard right particularly scary, not as much as I found the hard left during the Vietnam war days, I mostly feel sorry for the people who are drawn to Limbaugh. It can't be fun to live in a country and so fear your own neighbors and co-workers who don't vote like oneself. And I don't find traditional liberals scary any more than I do traditional conservatives. Both fit in fine in the U.S. along a normal spectrum of thought, which, unlike you, I think Brooks captured pretty well. And which actually could work together.

I don’t see how anyone who has read David Remnick’s The Bridge could find Obama a scarier figure than Clinton or Carter or LBJ, that just doesn’t make sense to me. That’s why I tend to think a lot of the cable and talk radio stuff just is a calculated shtick. I don’t doubt, however, that there are ordinary voters who find Democrats scary just as some found the Bush administration scary. This just happens to be a time when the sort of thinking described in many of the publications of the Center for the Study of the Presidency and the Congress doesn’t have the appeal it might in better days. I’m thinking of

I don’t automtically score Republican presidents high and Democratic ones low in looking back at them. I actually think history will show that Bill Clinton was a pretty good president. Jury's still out on Obama, of course.

Have a good evening.

Tim R. Furnish - 10/3/2010

Maarja and N.,
I'm still reeling from Maarja's comment that "the left barely exists as a force in this country." What?! Obama is possibly the most Lefist Chief Executive in American history. Pelosi, Reid and the Congressional Democratic leadership are all very much on the Left. I simply cannot fathom what Maarja is talking about--unless your definition of "Left" is somehow different from any generally-accepted one.
N., I really don't have much to add to your (as usual) admirable summary of the issue. The Left--which is very much a force in this country (and will continue to be after its shellacking in a month)--seems collectively bent on whitewashing, if not defending, Islam and Islamism. That will be the death of our civilization if it goes on for many more years.

Maarja Krusten - 10/3/2010

I think everyone knows what is mean by “message discipline,” but just in case, here’s how I use it. Message discipline means there is a unified message, not that there is no internal discussion or debate within an organization. I use it to mean there is an agreed on response in public and that there are designated spokespeople. This is common in the public and the private sector, both. Message discipline can be and often is innocuous. However, in the Kutler Nixon tapes litigation in 1992, the concept turned out to be very problematic. (I think I’ve mentioned that I actually wrote to the Attorney General about my somewhat harrowing testimony experience as a federal employee, in which DOJ was “representing” me. I did receive a response, not from the AG, but from the DOJ Office of Professional Responsibility.) George H. W. Bush was president when I testified. He was a subject of or participant in some of the then unreleased Nixon tapes. The National Archives never has been able to tell the public much about everything that happened with the Kutler Nixon tapes litigation. However, in a speech in 1993 to the Society of American Archivists, Acting U.S. Archivist Trudy H. Peterson stated, tellingly, that in matters of litigation, “the government speaks with one voice.”

Maarja Krusten - 10/3/2010

Apology accepted, dude. I totally ge that you were expressing your views; it was the "I know, Maarja, that you do not like to take sides in things" line that made my go, whoa. A red flag for someone such as I, who actually often ponders issues of moral courages.

That said, I can see why my comment about regulation in the thread about predictors of behavior might have been confusing. I've always had a tendency to take what I read (as with this essay) and to express my thoughts about related areas to which my mind wanders. I sometimes wander far afield.

My musings about the differences between how some Americans say they view regulation and how they actually regard it were triggered by something I read a few days ago about people who live in the so-called red and blue states. I rarely stay precisely on thread anywhere I post. Perhaps it's a reaction to the message discipline we all -- or many of us -- usually apply at work, LOL.

N. Friedman - 10/3/2010

Quite possible.

N. Friedman - 10/3/2010


I was not - or, at least, I thought I was not - looking to pin you down. I was really and truly only stating my view about our world. I am really, really sorry. I had no intent whatsoever to do anything other than state my view - a response to what you wrote in view of what Tim Furnish wrote, not a criticism of you and not a scolding and not an attempt to pin you down. I can assure you.

I thought I was making a sincere, non-historical comment stating my concern about our times, most particularly about the reaction from the left side of the political spectrum. I certainly do hope that you share my concern but that is a different matter. That, however, is different from trying to pin you down, which had not occurred to me.

I do see your point, though, on re-reading my post and then reading your post above. Please consider that people state their views here all the time, with varying degrees of forcefulness. I have not taken such things as defining the scope of a response.

For what it is worth, I posted what I posted because I had, prior to posting, read a long article by a leftist which essentially attempted to elide Islamism from a discussion of terrorism, to which my response was rather visceral. So, apart from responding to your post, I had what I had read in the back of my mind.

Again, I apologize.

Fahrettin Tahir - 10/3/2010

I think the introduction of Islamic law would probably be an improvement on what Aghans do today.

Fahrettin Tahir - 10/3/2010

I think the introduction of Islamic law would probably be an improvement on what Aghans do today.

N. Friedman - 10/3/2010


I was not - or at least I thought I was not - scolding you. I was stating my opinion, perhaps too dramatically, about Islamism as forcefully as I could.

Obama has certainly continued some Bush policies regarding the Islamists but not others. My criticism of him in this instance was limited specifically to what I wrote about him interfering with the loony preacher's First Amendment right to do a symbolically distasteful thing. I have other criticisms regarding his approach but they were not relevant to this.

Perhaps, you read my disgust with the Democrats on things as being a comment about Obama more generally. Maybe it is. I do think he is tone death regarding the Islamist issues and that his actions are truly insufficient.

In any event, I apologize for any scolding. I would never do that on purpose to you. And, that really was not my intent.

I also certainly agree with you that citizens have the right to do this or that and you are certainly right that most of the public - except the part that self-identifies as being the Left - opposes the Cordoba House project.

N. Friedman - 10/3/2010


I was not saying otherwise. I was noting that such is what the Islamists - an ideological movement among a substantial sect of Muslims but certainly not all Muslims - offer the world.

Fahrettin Tahir - 10/3/2010

I don't think there is anything in Islam about cutting off your wive's nose.

There are some very backward regions of the World where such things happen (the Kurds also have such events) but that has nothing to do with Islam.

Maarja Krusten - 10/2/2010

N., please do back up and look at how you worded that comment posted under my musing on regulation. I didn’t say what the government should regulate and what it should not. I just laughed at the way people cherry pick where they want firm control over personal or business behavior and where they want to act more freely. You sound as if you’re trying to pin me down on defining prioritization of issues. I told you I can’t do that. I don’t make policy recommendations. The only area I can discuss is how *voters* and non-governmental actors act. And even there, I mostly discuss tactics (why hectoring and browbeating doesn’t work, etc.) , often by discussing how we act in our workplaces and families.

You’re a lawyer. Lawyers sometimes are sanctioned or investigated. (One of the Justice Department prosecutors in the Ted Stevens just committed suicide as he was awaiting the results of an internal agency investigation.) If a lawyer in your firm faced questions about his or her actions, I never would try to pin you down on HNN as to the merits of the allegations. Or call on you to take a position. Same with any other person writing here. I just wouldn’t put anyone on the spot that way. Why do to me what I wouldn’t do to you? There is something to the old Golden Rule, in my view.

As to using the argument that something is the all-defining issue of our time, and stating it under this particular essay, well, I really have to question why you did that to me. I never have said what we should be doing tactically or strategically in fighting those who oppose us. I have commented on polling that shows people turning more isolationist. You can’t and shouldn’t read into that where I stand.

Thundering you must side with me against evil doesn’t make sense. What if someone posted an essay here about global warming. And a conservative who doesn’t believe in it made some comments about the tactics of climate change activists. Would he change his mind if a poster responded by saying that global warming is the defining issue of our age, that nothing else we do matters if we fail to halt it, and that the people who oppose action now are doing it out of narrow, business-related self interest and a callous lack of caring for the more difficult life of future generations? No way. It would be ineffective as a response to the poster. I’d argue against such tactics just as I do against yours here.

Maarja Krusten - 10/2/2010

N., you know I am an employee of the federal government. Why in the world are you jeopardizing a longtime friendship here on HNN by scolding me about what you see as the defining issue of our time? When we live in a free country where each of us, man or woman, gets to decide what is the defining issue. Yes. We. Do. I’ve never scolded any single issue voter here on HNN for choosing to focus on that issue. I recognize that there are many complex factors that lead people to vote as they do. If I focus more on the internal collapse of values within the U.S., and the increasing use of emotivist and arguments and dishonorable tactics, I have the right to do so. Either persuade me to view things exactly as you do or accept the fact that you failed to do so. Don't cast it as a moral issue, the way you just did. That doesn't work.

And sorry but your focus on the left, which barely exists as a force in this country, makes no sense to me. Moreover, the current administration largely has continued the policies of the last one in regards to confronting terrorism. I just don't see what it is that so alarms you about the left. The debate here is about book burning and to some extent, Park 51, not about whether we should have invaded Iraq or what we should do about AfPak. With the country increasingly turning isolationist, the political will to act abroad may erode more and more on both sides. Budgetary issues, too, may force the hands of policy makers.

Don't the polls show most people oppose Park51? Why are you so insistent that I express an opinion on that, when you know that as a fed I must decline to do so? Although I am off duty, my words can be construed to carry the weight of federal authority, given my rank and grade. Nope. Not gonna do that, dude.

We obviously are not a theocracy here. We’re a democratic nation which values free speech and open debate. Why are you so focused on a dangerous left? I just don’t get it. (Latest Gallup figures for September 2010 showed conservative self-identification at 42%, moderate at 35%, liberal 20%.) Whether you agree with them or not, members of the Left have as much right to express their views as anyone else. Dude, that’s a fundamental characteristic of the US of A. Despite the fact that my family suffered by actions on the Communist left, and I am not of the left, you can bet I'm going to defend the right of liberals to speak up on book burning or Park51 or anything else.

I also would add that neither the right or the left exists in isolation. You're not looking at the two ends of the political spectrum wholistically. Sunny day or not, there are things happening right now to women and men in this country for which there is no pause button. As to tactics, American citizens have a right to disagree on whether it is better to model behavior or to try to confront the forces arrayed against us or to both model American values and to stand on principle and protect our nation and our values.

N. Friedman - 10/2/2010


Strike: "The second incident, which made the news in a substantial way first, was responded to with charges that Americans are Islamophobic because a loony preacher had a loony idea."


The Cordoba House incident, which made the news in a substantial way first, was responded to with charges that Americans are Islamophobic because, in the other incident, a loony preacher had a loony idea.

N. Friedman - 10/2/2010


I have been thinking about your comment in light of what Tim Furnish wrote in response, albeit a limited response from him. While it is, indeed, true that both left and right try, at their extremes, to silence opponents and force their views on the entire country, and while, all other things being equal, I would worry about both sides, all things are not equal just now. The problematic views coming from the Right can wait for a sunnier day. Certain of the problematic views coming from the Left cannot. They are dangerously deluded and destructive.

As I see things, what little cogent political analysis there is, is coming from the right and from those portions of the left which the hard Left wishes to brand rightist or racist or worse. I suspect that Tim Furnish and I agree entirely on this point.

The attitude of the Left towards Islamism, radical Islam or whatever you want to call it, is disgraceful and, in the end, suicidal for our country and, frankly, the world. [Chime in on this, Tim, if you read my post.] I know, Maarja, that you do not like to take sides in things, but my view is that this is the defining issue of our time - i.e., whether you are on the side of civilization or with forces who, as occurred recently in Afghanistan, cut off a woman's nose (and, it was the husband who did this, with help from the Taliban) and ears off for being disobedient to her husband.

The incident which seems to inspire Tim's article is the loony preacher from Florida who would burn copies of the Koran. This incident, of course, juxtaposes with the Cordoba House center proposed in the vicinity of the former WTC site. The second incident, which made the news in a substantial way first, was responded to with charges that Americans are Islamophobic because a loony preacher had a loony idea. Be that as it may, consider the situation:

The Cordoba House incident... The Left, quite correctly, points out that there is a legal right, under the Constitutions, for religious groups to build mosques and religious community centers, etc. The Right, with some exceptions, and some on the Left, such as the occasionally brilliant Abe Foxman of the ADL, do not disagree in theory with that proposition but, as you know, view the project as being in appalling taste. Good enough. However, for expressing reservations about the project, there is severe condemnation from the Left. In other words, criticism of a project which, to many, is in appalling taste is bigoted, according to the Left and, for the Left, such views ought slink away in disgrace.

In the Koran burning incident... The loony preacher is condemned by the Left and even by the President. In fact, the government steps in and, in essence, takes the loony preacher's rights away, forcing him, for all practical purposes, to back down. Hardly anyone, including our supposedly liberal president, on the Left stands up for the Constitutional right of the loony preacher. Rather, the preacher is condemned and his First Amendment right to be distasteful is considered beyond the pale. It is wrong, they say, to burn the religious books of a major religion (while, to this same group, it is fine to support, with government funds, an artist who associates Christian religious symbols with urine. [Note: I support the right of the artist to his artistic expression but want it clear how hypocritical the Left is being here, meaning that it is politics, not rights, which are being defended.]

Now: we also need to look at this from the perspective of the substance. Our country is in a war of sorts with religious fanatics of Muslim background. The world sought by those among these lunatics is caught in all of its meaning - violence, subjugation of women, conformity to religious dictates - by the incident (and it is not a rare event, by the way) described with the wife who had her nose and ears cut off for disobedience.

In a word - and I am not generally big on waxing moral but, frankly, if Islamism is not the face of evil, there is no such thing -, we are faced with people who mean us harm, are willing to do virtually anything, no matter how barbaric, to obtain their ends and who have an ideology which is as terrible and bigoted as any in the last 100 years. And, the biggest thing the Left can think to do in response is to worry about offending the sensibilities of the Muslim world. That, rather than calling out for decent Muslims to stand up against the Islamists, to march in protest (something that, when I was young, there were people on the Left willing to march for good causes, like civil rights) against the Islamists, etc., etc..

In other words, what we are seeing from the Left is disgraceful and terribly wrong headed and, frankly, dangerous.

It is for that reason, among others, that I have no use for today's Left. I remain a Democrat out of habit and because I find much that comes from the GOP to be wrongheaded - as the issues you have raised are, as I see them, reasonably representative of what I find distasteful on the Right.

I was a supporter of Dr. King. I heard him speak, outside the UN. However, that Left died. Instead, we have apologists for nihilistic religious fanatics. So, in the big scheme of things, I think Tim's point has to be taken seriously, very seriously indeed.

Maarja Krusten - 10/2/2010

I believe that people try to control behavior both from regulating some areas and not regulating others. In other words, the lack of regulatory protection (as with same gender couples) can be seen as just as controlling as the presence of regulatory requirements.

If one takes arguments about regulation at face value, red state voters would support easy access to RU-486 (no government interference with personal choice, let the individual and prescriber, not the state, work out what a person can access); are against food safety and consumer product regulation (toxic elements in imported medicines killing children here, as happened years ago in Haiti? Lead in toys? Potential E-coli contamination in food products? Federal codes of conduct and ethics regulations for professions, such as lawyers, bankers, etc? Not necessary, man is inherently moral and will do the right thing. And if he doesn’t, it’s up to the people affected to learn to live with the consequences or to lobby, without the force of law, for different outcomes.

One would expect red state voters to say, "We’ll take our chances that such things will be sorted out on their own, that’s what independent people who believe in markets regulating themselves do!"). And to believe people, among themselves or through the use of state law, should define what constitutes a loving partnership and civil union., without resorting to a federal Defense of Marriage Act Or that employers should set the rules on child labor, "hey, boss man is in charge so anything goes." Not so. Many people in red states seem to accept regulation in some areas (either through affirmation or prohibition of certain activities).

If the left is for regulation, per se, then voters in blue states would want government to tell them whether or not they may have access to artificial contraception or how to handle end-of-life issues, or whether people can home school or not. Not so. I believe more conservatives than liberals home school but I know of no movement among the left to ban home schooling. And more liberals than conservatives oppose the federal DOMA.

Call me cynical, but I think there are some control freak people on the right and the left, both. They just want to control different areas of people's lives. Few people actually support personal choice in a wide range of personal and business activities that do not involve criminal conduct. On both ends of the spectrum, there are people who want to regulate behavior by making certain things more difficult for others to do.

Maarja Krusten - 10/2/2010

Thanks for the thoughtful response, I totally realize "real life" calls :-) I have to disagree regarding the right's desire for regulation, I just see it as more likely to occur in different areas of family and personal life than on the left. Such as keeping same sex partners from having certain rights available to equally committed and legally married straights, especially regarding hospitalization and end of life issues, etc.

But I'm affected by the loss of my twin sister and the horror with which I reacted to seeing Terry Schiavo's case dragged into the political sphere. So, too, many of the public, as support for conservatives started to drop in the U.S. after the Schiavo case hit the air waves. I'm also affected by my strong dislike of the term "death panels" when I strongly support families preparing for dealing rationally with end of life issues before being enveloped with emotion. My twin sister knew from the time she was diagnosed with melanoma that she would die, she was diagnosed late stage. She had a living will, which I am not certain Catholic hospitals (which we did not use) and all conservatives would support.

Transporting my twin sister to the hospital from home on the day she died because she was struggling to breathe was a wrenching experience for me. There's a point where you don't want to see a loved one continue to suffer and where I believe that we ourselves should have the right to make decisions on measures to be used.

That's not an issue on which I trust the right any longer, as with many others involving personal relationships (especially those involving same sex couples), although I myself am straight. My message to the right tends to be, live your lives as you wish, applying your morality and values to the only person you have the right to control (oneself). But stay out of the personal relationships of others, the intricacies of which no other person ever really can understand.

Tim R. Furnish - 10/2/2010

I am trying to get ready for my two boys' baseball games in a bit so I don't have time to respond at length; but regarding David Brooks: his analysis is suspect (as usual) because one of his basic premises is completely wwrong--the South is not "sparsely populated" but is, in fact, the most heavily populated of the four statistical quadrants (South, Northeast, Midwest and West) of the US, with over 100 million people. Therefore, the rest of Brook's "analysis" simply breaks down, with the destruction of his central thesis.
And while I agree that extremists on both the Left and the Right are problematic, it certainly seems that currently it is those of the Left who wish to impose their views on everyone else and tell us "Do as I say or I'll call you evil and dangerous"--whether regarding cutting massive deficits, cutting taxes, confronting Islamic terrorists and victimization-peddlers--and NOT those on the Right, who in fact are much more likely to champion a "leave us alone" and limited government approach.

Maarja Krusten - 10/2/2010

You're right that beliefs - religious and secular both -- come in to play for some writers more so than others. I've spelled out my views of scholarship elsewhere on HNN so I won’t repeat them again. As you might guess, I am not a fan of Zinn. But I also am not a fan of Victor Davis Hanson.

As to ideology, I think David Brooks put it well in a column in 2004 (“It’s Not Just a Personality Clash, It’s a Clash of Visions”) when he explained:

"Politicians from the more sparsely populated South and West are more likely, at least in the political and economic realms, to champion the Goldwateresque virtues: freedom, self-sufficiency, individualism. Politicians from the cities are likely to champion the Ted Kennedyesque virtues: social justice, tolerance, interdependence.

Politicians from sparsely populated areas are more likely to say they want government off people's backs so they can run their own lives. Politicians from denser areas are more likely to want government to play at least a refereeing role, to keep people from bumping into one another too abusively."

Put that way, it’s understandable how in this great, big country, people form their views based on where they live, how they make their living, and experiences they’ve had personally and professionally. However, there’s a whole industry out there that is invested in making both the right and the left seem incredibly scary and alien and foreign to people on the opposite side of the spectrum. I’m comfortable voting for individuals from both parties because my experiences suggest that no president governs from the far right or the far left. Various factors (too many to enumerate) lead most to govern from the center-right or the center-left. Presidents tend to govern as pragmatists with, of course, an eye towards politics. And they are patriotic people who love America, regardless of party. As Bill Clinton once put it in an interview with Jon Stewart, the parties just have differing visions of how to handle some things.

From where I sit, for both Democrats and Republicans, the real drag on the both parties often are activists on the far left or far right, whose rhetoric makes it sound as if they want to make it illegal to disagree with them. Or as if they want to use governmental power to regulate strongly those areas of individual life in which they want others to behave as they think they should behave. (I see no distinction between the right and left on that one, the potential areas for strong regulation simply differ. So I don’t see the right as more opposed to “regulation” than the left.)

The “you must do as I say or I will call you evil and dangerous” vibe sometimes makes it seem as if the activists have no coping skills. (Imagine acting that way in the office with one’s diverse colleagues and members of a staff or management team (eyeroll) Demonization would never work in the workplace, or at least the type in which I’ve worked. Or in our familieis. But somehow, we’re supposed to pivot and abandon all the motivators that work for us at the office and with family and respond to hectoring and browbeating in the political sphere.) I view the “make myself feel good by demonizing you” ranting one sometimes sees on both sides something which shouldn’t be taken seriously and to date never has been by any president in office. But can skew public perceptions of both the left and the right. What is funny is that it just doesn't point to "values," at least to my ear.

N. Friedman - 10/1/2010

Hi Maarja,

Nice to hear from you as well.

While I tend to think you are more correct than not, I think religion does, at times, have bearing on which political candidate does well. That is not my thing, mind you, but there do appear to be many who will not vote for Romney because he is Mormon (although the fact that he is a man who appears willing to say anything, if it will get him elected, may be a bigger factor for him - such as being a driving force behind the Massachusetts healthcare insurance bill and then, when running to be the GOP presidential candidate, opposing his long standing position) and, somehow, I suspect that it did not help Lieberman when he ran for VP that he is Jewish.

But, I suspect, as you seem to believe, that religion is sufficiently removed from the public square in the US that religion only impacts public matters at the margins.

As for scholarship, belief comes into play for some writers and less so for others. Maxine Rodinson, a Marxist, wrote a truly brilliant biography of Mohammad. He checked his ideology at his house. By contrast, I think that people like the now deceased Zinn allow their ideology to color their scholarship, through and through. So, belief in this or that is not a predictor and, in any event, most ideologues are transparent so that you can often filter their ideology from useful information found in the scholarship. Not always, of course, because some ideologues make things up - all in whatever they believe to be the good cause, left, right or otherwise.

Maarja Krusten - 10/1/2010

Thanks, N., nice to see you here, btw. Just to clarify, when I speak of predictors, I’m thinking of people in the United States. What religion someone is not at the top of things to consider when I vote for a President and Vice President. Or examine the people who support or oppose them. My musings center primarily on my study of presidents and my own experiences within the government. At NARA and elsewhere, I worked with people who were straight, as I am, and people who were gay. With people who were religious and people who were not. Many things affected their values and character.

Just within the tapes unit of the Nixon Project, we had people whose political views ranged from conservative Republican (as I then regarded myself), to Libertarian-leaning Republican (the tapes supervisor, who was a Vietnam vet), to moderate Republicans and Democrats, all the way to Socialist-leaning Democrats. That never showed in our work. I know that from observation. I reviewed the work of the entire team and signed off concurrence (or not) with decisions on restriction for national security, privacy, law enforcement information, and other statutory requirements. And the two people who ended up standing up most firmly when taking incoming fire from the Nixonites were the two who most strongly identified as Republicans. Let me put it this way, I was not going to let my boss take the fall for Nixon’s reluctance to have historical information released. I had his back, that’s for sure. It’s been the same in other situations I’ve encountered. And I’ve noticed it in my study of presidents and their aides as well. Many things inform peoples’ values. I tend to look for clues other than religion or party in considering how someone may act in any situation.

Keeping this short as I’m at work waiting for meeting to begin and using my Smartphone.

N. Friedman - 10/1/2010

Hi Maarja,

You write: "In my view, denomination, political party, and ideology rarely are predictors of who will do what."

In my view, it depends. On many aspects, I think you are correct. On big questions, I am not so sure. I think, as Churchill thought, that you could knew pretty much where the Nazis would do, in the big and not so big sense, by reading Hitler's book. I think - this perhaps being heresy to some - that, post what Bertrand Russell's discussions with Lenin (if not earlier) revealed about the Communist movement, could know a lot about the sorts of things that movement would do, whether in the Soviet Union or in other lands that have been governed by that ideology.

In the case of Christianity, it is a deeply divided religion and, on top of that, in places such as the US, religious groups mostly, given the strong separation of Church and State, concern themselves most often with personal matters, not great questions. However, if you follow some denominations, you find, so far as I can tell, predictable views among members about, for example, abortion - pro or con, depending upon denomination. At least that is my impression.

Of course, I am not Christian. I am not religious either. My heritage, as you know, is Jewish. And, I think it fair to say that, like most Jews, there are some predictable views, arising both, no doubt, from the Jewish traditional but also the tragic history of Jews. On the every day level, I think that both largely explain what Jews do.

Fahrettin Tahir - 10/1/2010

Mr. Kline,

Most Moslems I know pick out the religious rules they want to obey. You will see few Moslems who eat pork but also few who spend any time thinking about the morals of making money. You could call that our sinful nature or societal norms defining how to interpret religious rules.

The Qur’an does not actually order killing people, except as punishment in cases like homosexuality. I do not understand it as ordering a never ending war against non Moslems. It does allow the use of force to expand the lands of Islam but whether that makes sense is obviously a political decision.

Hitler did not see himself as a Christian, for him a pacifist Jewish religion. But the fact is still that the Christian culture in Germany did not prevent his crimes. Islam has been moderately more successful in preventing war between Islamic states. We shall see what Iran makes out of that.

Maarja Krusten - 10/1/2010

Interesting question, isn’t it? I guess I should make it clear that I am mainstream Protestant, not Catholic or evangelical. We all look at things through the prism of our own experiences, to some extent. Although I’ve never studied comparative religions formally, I do know a little about them as many well-educated non-experts do, from having read articles by specialists. My primary interest centers on how people in power handle moral and ethical issues.

I’ve faced some of those “do the right thing” choices in very, very complicated situations myself during my federal career. Sometimes you can face them head on and prevail, sometimes you have to zig and zag around them, and sometimes you have to speak your piece but lose, even suffer punishment for having spoken up. In addition to studying the records of U.S. presidents and their aides, I’ve studied or watched as an observer or occasionally participated in situations where people struggled with such issues. It’s fascinating for me to see the different ways that people react. And the extent to which some situations which to the outsider may have moral clarity can turn ambiguous the deeper one digs into the issues. In my view, denomination, political party, and ideology rarely are predictors of who will do what. Even being a Christian or an atheist or agnostic isn’t always a good indicator.

Randy I. Kline - 10/1/2010

Mr. Tahir, thank you again for your thoughtful response. It's rare that an American Christian can engage a Turkish Moslem on such sensitive issues.

If I may continue, I was struck by your statement that societal norms take precidence over the Qur'an. As Christians, we view the Holy Scripture as a higher calling than the secular law, yet we are also called to submit to the legal authorities (as long as they are not in conflict with God's word) because they have been put in place by God. Unfortuanely for us however, our sinful nature many times reduces us to follow the expectations of contemporary civilization---giving us a lack of distinction as God's children.

From a Christian's standpoint, it would seem quite logical for faithful Moslems to kill,... if their Qur'an (as God's Word) would command them to do so. If one were to take the changing societal norms over the word of our unchanging God, we would certainly be in a constant crisis of faith. That being said however, if you would view societal norms as being superior to that of God's word, this would create an enormous crisis as well. How do you deal with these things?

As for the intrusiveness of the U.S. in the Middle East, you're absolutely correct in that most of us have no idea the impact we are having in your lives. We have a media that tells us what they want us to hear, but from those individuals whom I've known who visit there, the stories don't always match up.

You brought up an interesting point regarding the Christian behavior in WWI and WWII. It is staggering to think that the same country that produced Martin Luther also produced Adolf Hitler (and his followers). I would contend however that Christianity is still a religion of peace--but not a religion of passifism. Many in history have claimed to be Christian, but reveal themselves as something else by their actions. Nazis may be the best villan examples of this. When evil rises up as such, it is certainly within the realm of a Christian's beliefs to fight to defend themselves and the victims of such around them. As you may agree, peace usually comes at an incredible price.

N. Friedman - 9/30/2010

I would think that the Christian Testament could, if Christians sought to view it as such, be seen as including a set of rules. You cite to Luke and Matthew about loving God with all your heart, as if it were not, prior to that, part of the Jewish Scriptures, most particularly the Torah, Deuteronomy 6:4-9 - in English: "And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might." Classical Judaism interprets this as a commandment or, loosely translated, as a law. Christianity does not, as you know.

Judaism, of course, takes the Torah as containing rules/laws/commandments but, of course, as Christians have shown, the Torah does not need to be read that way. The remainder of the Hebrew Scriptures are not, so far as I know, read that way. So, Judaism takes a mixed view on the matter. Catholicism eventually adopted Canonical law, so it is not quite the case the Christianity needs to interpret its Scripture without law.

I tend, for what it is worth, to agree with you that the Christian Testament could be read to permit burning books. I rather doubt, however, that such is the classical understanding - and, based on your article, I think that is your view as well. However, I am with you on that point and I think your arguments are cogent.

Fahrettin Tahir - 9/30/2010

Mr. Todd,

American oil strategy has two targets. Assuring the supply for the capitalist economies and denying control of this resource to others.

I read that Mr. Carter tried to get alternative energies developed but was prevented from doing so because the oil was too cheap. They only had the problem that the instability built into the Middle East the British invented as they conquered these Ottoman provinces after WW 1 had begun to hurt them.

The Bush Iraq policy intended to reengineer the political architecture to make it more stable in the US interest. That failed. The place got more instable despite the horrendous costs of the war. Bush and co had miscalculated.

That is the situation where we are now. Available technology would allow cars to run electrically for most of the daily traveling. The oil companies could continue to make money by investing in the infrastructure needed. I can not comment the US politics behind that.

The House of Saud is a disaster for mankind.

Nasser died in 1970. The present Egyptian government does what the US wants. Osama ben Laden is said to have wanted to draw the US into an Afghanistan war where they would deplete their resources like the Soviet before them.

He will have popped his tomato juice bottle when the economic crisis hit the rich world.

Andrew D. Todd - 9/30/2010

I am not a Middle-Easterner, or a Muslim, or an Arabist, or an Orientalist. I know a certain amount of military history, though I know it as a reading field, rather than a research field, if you will allow the distinction. I would like to see what you think of the following narrative.

Sometime in the early 1990's, appraising the results of the first two Gulf wars (Iran vs. Iraq and Iraq vs. United States), and the war in Afghanistan, Bin Laden and his associates correctly perceived that the House of Saud did not have charisma, and had not had it for some time. The House of Saud was decadent, in fact, with princes who carried millions of dollars to Monte Carlo to blow on the Roulette wheel. The House of Saud did not have the capacity to win a democratic election, nor to gather the Saudi people around it in defending the country, a la outrance, against an invader, in the tradition of Winston Churchill or Charles De Gaulle in 1940, at a time when the leaders had little or nothing to offer. The House of Saud could not say "I can offer you nothing but blood and tears, toil and sweat," or "France has lost a battle, but not a war," and expect to get its orders obeyed. In 1990, in an act of desperation or cowardice, the House of Saud had effectively surrendered Saudi Arabia's oilfields to George Bush the Elder.

In a similar set of circumstances, a colonel named Nasser had, um, superseded King Farouk in Egypt. Bin Laden proposed to do likewise. However, he found that the House of Saud's remaining power was that of distributing oil money, and the oilfields were now occupied by several thousand American troops, who were effectively the guards of the House of Saud's treasury, and, under the circumstances, equivalent to a palace guard. An attempted takeover of Saudi Arabia, or of just the Hejez, might well have faltered in the face of the United States' refusal to pay the oil dividend to anyone it did not consider legitimate. The population of Saudi Arabia, like that of the other oil countries, had risen far above the ecological carrying capacity of the land, and suspension of the oil money, with the consequent inability to buy food from overseas, would probably have translated into actual famine-- as it did in Iraq. So the first move in seizing the rule of Saudi Arabia had to be an attack on the American guards.

These attacks were ineffectual. The Americans merely hardened their defenses, and retaliated with robotic aircraft, at no immediate risk to themselves. In desperation, the 9-11 plan was launched, in the hope that it would at least get America's attention. It did. As the saying goes, before you try to get the elephant's full, undivided attention, make sure you want the elephant's full, undivided attention.

Meanwhile, in the United States, there were elements leading to a confrontation. As I develop in the linked essay, the oil industry, centered in Texas, wanted to have its war while it still had power, before it was displaced by the electrical industry, centered in California.

response to:

Fahrettin Tahir - 9/30/2010

The definition of a Moslem is a person who believes in the unity of god and that Mohammad is his prophet. Anyone who thinks he is a Moslem is one. That also means you believe the Qur’an is God’s word. That can be a problem, because some of the orders in the Qur’an, like the necessity to murder homosexuals, are in conflict with the expectations of contemporary civilization. The more advanced Islamic societies have traditionally ignored such rules and Turkey, where I come from, introduced secularism in the 20th century which means people can believe what they want but laws will fulfill 20th century norms.

Islamism is a 20th century ideology born to replace nationalism, socialism and fascism which all failed to address the Islamic World’s problems. It is of course not independent of these ideologies and has incorporated elements from them, like anti-Semitism which is implied by some Qur’an expressions but was largely forgotten until its recent rebirth under Nazi influence. Some Islamist texts are really Nazi stuff with a little added Islamic formulations.

Islamism has been gaining strength helped by propaganda that God will solve all problems if Moslems obey his orders. Saudi Arabia is said to have been given all that oil by God because of its strict compliance of Islamic rules. The argumentation is very attractive for people who have no idea how to address their problems and is behind a lot of religious conservatism.

The United States is a very intrusive influence in the Middle East, motivated by the necessity to keep the oil coming. I think the normal American does not realize how intrusive in other people’s affairs his country is. Some of the locals hate that influence as I think the Americans would if somebody else was doing that with them. I remember the American Revolution with the slogan no taxation without representation. This does not mean the reactions the US gets help to solve the issues nor that the US really has an alternative. But the conflicts are there and should be recognized as such.

The Arab Middle East is relatively homogenous but Arabs, having a common literary language, make up only 1/5th of the Islamic world. They play a disproportionate role because of the oil. Without the oil the US could simply ignore them, as she ignores Black Africa.

Israel they see as they saw the Crusader states in the Middle East, a transient visitation. Since the people who suffer, the Palestinians are not the ones defining policy, they let the Palestinians keep suffering. It serves to distract the masses from the fact that their governments are failing them.

Burning Qur’ans would not address any one these issues. It would serve to distract the masses further and allow cheap verbal heroics against the infidel. People would get killed. It would make no sense.

Islam is not based on peace. No human society is based on peace. Christian societies are also not based on peace, no matter what Jesus said. Look at what the Christians were doing to each other in WW 1 and WW 2.

We remain a violent species.

Arnold Shcherban - 9/30/2010

History, has been said, repeats itself.
We have now one more proof of that saying in a quite bizarre and sad instance: exactly as it was happening in ancient times, 21st century people are at each other throat trying to prove that their religious fables are more... real and noble that the others' ones.
And those are are folks who are considered by society at large (on both sides) as the most educated and civilized.
This is the greatest joke or tragedy of our times!
And one more reminder to mankind about
the evils of totalitarian, in this case literally superhuman, ideology.

Randy I. Kline - 9/30/2010

Thank you for your insights. While I do understand the existence of different theological perspectives within the Moslem faith, I would not have thought of you without a central coordinating authority.

We have many denominations within Christianity however we recognize the authority of Jesus Christ as the head of our church and the centrality of Holy Scripture to guide our relationship with the Father. Without agreement on these essentials, one does not have the right to legitimately bear the name "Christian." Are you saying that no such set of essentials exist among Moslems? If not, how does one identify him or herself as a Moslem? (And please take this as an honest inquiry rather than a goad.)

There is another point about this that you may be able to help me (and others) understand. Historically speaking, a common enemy would typically unite a highly heterogeneous group,...even one of 1.5 billion. A religion based on peace, seeing rogue entities within would likely band together to subdue this apostasy. As an average guy on the street however, I'm seeing Moslems in the middle east banding together, but they are doing so in anger against Israel and the United States, (Little and Big Satan respectively). I also heard the Imam state that there would be a banding together of Moslems toward violence if Qur'ans were burned. The heterogeneity argument doesn't appear to hold-up under the empirical evidence. The chaos to which you referenced appears much more organized on this side of sword. Can you help me out with this inconsistency?

Randy I. Kline - 9/30/2010

Thank you for your insights. While I do understand the existence of different theological perspectives within the Moslem faith, I would not have thought of you without a central coordinating authority.

We have many denominations within Christianity however we recognize the authority of Jesus Christ as the head of our church and the centrality of Holy Scripture to guide our relationship with the Father. Without agreement on these essentials, one does not have the right to legitimately bear the name "Christian." Are you saying that no such set of essentials exist among Moslems? If not, how does one identify him or herself as a Moslem? (And please take this as an honest inquiry rather than a goad.)

There is another point about this that you may be able to help me (and others) understand. Historically speaking, a common enemy would typically unite a highly heterogeneous group,...even one of 1.5 billion. A religion based on peace, seeing rogue entities within would likely band together to subdue this apostasy. As an average guy on the street however, I'm seeing Moslems in the middle east banding together, but they are doing so in anger against Israel and the United States, (Little and Big Satan respectively). I also heard the Imam state that there would be a banding together of Moslems toward violence if Qur'ans were burned. The heterogeneity argument doesn't appear to hold-up under the empirical evidence. The chaos to which you referenced appears much more organized on this side of sword. Can you help me out with this inconsistency?

Maarja Krusten - 9/29/2010

Jut to clarify, I teleworked from 6:00 am to 3:30, signing off on paperwork, with a mid-day break to drive to the funeral home and then right back home. So I went off the clock at home at 3:30. Eyeroll. We feds really are all about the rules and regulations. Well, if nothing else, you're getting an entertaining (?!) glimpse into some aspects of the federal world. People do sometimes try to intimidate each other by filing I.G. complaints, etc.!

Maarja Krusten - 9/29/2010

Many thanks, Dr. Furnish -- interesting. To the extent I’m an expert in anything, it isn’t religion or comparative religions. I only know what I have learned from my own churchgoing experiences, reading of the Bible, etc. What I do know is secular power – the use of power, the abuse of power, how people use it and react to it; and how to react as an individual myself in the face of power (largely try to understand it; sometimes to accept it; sometimes to fight back; often to figure out what someone is afraid off and zig zag around it; often to forgive). So this essay and the direction some of the threads took covers new ground and thus is very interesting for me.

Speaking of power, since I’m posting this at 3:35 pm on a weekday, I’ll add my usual disclaimer when that occurs. Posted at home on personal time (I am not in the office today, I had to attend a funeral earlier today.)

Why do I post disclaimers? I left the employ of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in 1990 to take a job with another federal agency. When I went to the National Archives at College Park, MD one day in the mid-1990s to visit my late twin sister, who was a supervisory archivist and team leader in NARA’s records declassification division, I also stopped in briefly in the research room to look at some of the publicly available Nixon records. (My twin died of cancer in 2002.)

My former colleagues at NARA’s Nixon project greeted me warmly that day back in the 1990s. But someone else at the Archives who I suspect disagreed with me on some issues related to Nixon filed a complaint with the agency Inspector General, stating I was using government time to do personal research. (As an historian, I had a research card that covered access for both my governmental and my personal research.) The complaint was anonymous but a number of staff members at the Nixon project told me who they thought was the complainant. The complaint was easily resolved within my employing agency, as I was able to show the form I had signed to take a personal (vacation) day to go out to Archives II, as it is called. Anyone who really knew me well would have know that I would have my I-s dotted and my t-s crossed. Good thing, too.

As I said, I know secular power :-p
I have much to learn about so many other things, however.

Timothy Furnish - 9/29/2010

[Sorry, put this in wrong place initially.]
Thanks for your kind comments. It's pretty clear from the New Testament how Jesus would respond, and have us respond, in certain situations--but not always. Unlike the Qur'an or even the Old Testament, the New Testament is not a detailed rule book--although those two big ones Christ gave us ("love God with all your heart" and "love your neighbor as yourself") are even more difficult than specific, detailed rituals and rules.
That said, I must reiterate that "love" cannot simply be reduced to the mushy,relativistic "do whatever you want" approach that many in our culture (including Christians) would have it. Jesus could be very hard and loving at the same time, as many accounts in the Gospels (such as His many exorcisms) indicate.

Timothy Furnish - 9/29/2010

Thanks for your kind comments. It's pretty clear from the New Testament how Jesus would respond, and have us respond, in certain situations--but not always. Unlike the Qur'an or even the Old Testament, the New Testament is not a detailed rule book--although those two big ones Christ gave us ("love God with all your heart" and "love your neighbor as yourself") are even more difficult than specific, detailed rituals and rules.
That said, I must reiterate that "love" cannot simply be reduced to the mushy,relativistic "do whatever you want" approach that many in our culture (including Christians) would have it. Jesus could be very hard and loving at the same time, as many accounts in the Gospels (such as His many exorcisms) indicate.

Fahrettin Tahir - 9/29/2010

Mr. Mutik

A lot of people wear scarves because their mothers and grandmothers have always covered their hair since time immemorial.

It was also usual in the West to cover your hair with hats or even scarves until the recent decades.

People who do so do not in almost all cases see any connection with terrorism.

But of course the imams could show more - any! - engagement against terrorism and antisemitism.

Joseph Mutik - 9/29/2010

This is a link from "The Sunday Times" of London describing ways Muslims can show disagreement with the criminals;

Joseph Mutik - 9/29/2010

As far as I know there a Muslim can't be excommunicated. There are, of course, other ways the Muslim population can express the displeasure with the actions of other Muslims. We see all the time violent actions of Muslims groups against things that happen in the Western world, concerning Islam, like the Danish cartoons of Muhammad, when Muslim people died during demonstrations. No one has to die but why don't we see this kind of demonstrations organized by Muslims when other Muslims kill innocent people? I would expect that, at least, Muslims in the Western world would organize this kind of protests and would be nice if imams would publish fatwas declaring this kind of criminal acts of other Muslims non-Islamic behavior and forbid members of his mosque to give any kind of help to the criminals.

Fahrettin Tahir - 9/29/2010

Mr Kline

you say:

"yet allow so- called "extremists" to kill"

Do you think the murderers ask the moderates for permission to murder?

How do you imagine would a moderate subdue a killer?

You must understand that Moslems are a highly heterogenous group of 1,5 billion people without any centrally coordinating authority.

There was a caliphate until 1924 which did have some authority but the British disliked that authority over their colonial subjects. The caliphate was abolished.

And now, we have chaos ...

Randy I. Kline - 9/29/2010

As Americans we're all tired of the hypocricy...from our elected leaders, public officials and our state-run media. Many are also frustated by the duplicity of those Muslims that claim to be religion of peace, yet allow so- called "extremists" to kill innocent people all over the world. Without renouncing (and subduing) these murderers, they are ultimately sending a message of tacet approval of their actions. Most of us have had enough and it is quite logical that some are seeking to make a stand against it. That being said however, I don't see the answer being found in Christian-political activism, nor would I view Jesus as a book-burner.

In regard to standing against the aforementioned groups, I side with Fr. Chuck's application of scripture: "[St. Paul, I Corinthians 13]…. to respond to hate….to fear…to uncertainty with love." To me (and I think Fr. Chuck), this isn't a liberal passage of pacifism but more a call toward self-control and immitation of Christ on the cross.

I have also seen within my own demonination the destructive outcome of even the threat of burning Qur'ans within the missionary efforts in the middle-east. This act-or the threat of it by this Florida church, (and later the Kansas group)-- is certainly not furthering the cause of Christ. Rather, it is alienating outsiders to the gift of grace, and life everlasting-- offered only through Jesus Christ.

Yet, as stated ealier in Dr. Furnish's article, this isn't TNN, but rather HNN. Perhaps this issue is a great example of the inseparability of theology from history, both in the past and as it's being made....yet again, something that the liberal left would dispute.

Thank you Dr. Furnish for this series of discussion points that allows neither side-lining nor fence-straddling. It is most likely that the greatest stand against the terrorists... (within congress, the media and elsewhere) will be made in about 6 weeks on election day.

Maarja Krusten - 9/29/2010

Sorry, I should have compressed the link for my 2004 History News Service essay. See

Maarja Krusten - 9/29/2010

Thank you for your thoughtful response, I appreciate it. Yes, there are Americans who seem to “walk in darkness.” Not all, of course. There are many good people who basically are decent and who have good values. But somehow, they are not the ones who have the big microphones these days.

We all have our stories. For reasons which may become a little clearer here, I focus on what I regard as moral courage. And, as an historian, on how people handle facts and data. Sometimes, getting the truth out puts you in the line of fire, figurative speaking. Yet I’ve also seen redemption and will share a story of grace, if I may.

I’ve worked for three decades – nearly 40 – in a very data driven environment. How many people have the experience of voting for someone for president (Richard Nixon), then listening to his White House taped conversations, with all the good and the bad that they covered? I was 25 when I joined the staff of the National Archives in 1976. I worked with Nixon’s tapes and files for 14 years, screening them to see what required restriction and what could be released. Since then, much of what I once heard has been released, although nearly a thousand hours of a total 3,700 still remain to be released.

Some of what we hard and marked for release to historians was startling – Nixon’s comment that abortion was wrong except when the couple involved was mixed (one black, one white). (See )
His discussions of how to use the Secret Service – federal employees -- to spy on Sen. Edward Kennedy. His order that aides investigate what he called a “Jewish cabal” at the Bureau of Labor Statistics and replace what he viewed as “disloyal” Jews with non-Jews. Some of it was uplifting, as when he made the opening to the PRC. And some of it was enlightening. One really learns how people respond to power (both those who wield it and those who deal with them).

We at NARA went through some tough battles. I mentioned some of them in an article published by the History News Service in 2004 (“Will There Be a Last Nixon Cover-up?) at (In that photo from 2004, I look like a good Republican still, with my pearls and post-9/11 flag pin, but I had long since become an Independent.) Notice how I express concern in my 2004 article about John H. Taylor, who served as Nixon’s chief of staff after he left the presidency. And who was the longtime director of the private Nixon foundation. Among other things, Taylor once referred to my federal cohort at the National Archives as “junior prosecutors.”

In the summer of 2008, I saw that Taylor had started a blog (it no longer exists). I posted a comment and asked if we could “talk” at his blog. He said yes. I explained the archival culture and ethos and what my colleagues and I were all about. And shared my views of Nixon and other issues. He shared some of his views, too. In September 2008, I read an interview in which he provided some glimpses of his spiritual journey. In 2009, he resigned from the Nixon foundation. The man who once was Nixon’s chief of staff now is The Rev. Canon John H. Taylor, Vicar at St. John Chrysostom Episcopal Church and School in Rancho Santa Margarita, CA. And where John Taylor once called us federal employees “Hardy Boys,” and said “the archivists have done their worst” when we identified Watergate information, Father John recently wrote:

"But at the end of all our journeys, which will come all too soon, the Nixon story will be told not by any of us but by the records that Tim [Naftali] has now brought to Yorba Linda. I care what people think about Nixon today, of course. But I'm considerably more interested in what they think about him in 50 years as a result of the the work that students and scholars do in that bright new reading room, thumbing through Hollinger boxes and listening to tapes.

All along, you and your colleagues have been the true custodians of Nixon's legacy, however it comes out (and I do trust it will come out heavily leaning to the positive side). For that, you deserved thanks rather than brickbats."

(The passage I just quoted is usable by me, not confidential.)

What a journey, both for him and for me. Yes, there is grace on display in America, even when people start out in the political world, which has so many, many negative and potentially corrupting forces. Where I once feared – but stood up to – John Taylor as “a Nixon man” – we exchanged dueling letters in the Chronicle of Higher Education in 1996 – we now are friends in the virtual world. In many ways, I find him more approachable than any of the people I dealt with on the Nixon issues inside and outside the government.

Nixon himself once said, “The finest steel goes through the hottest fire.” Some go through trials and tribulations and become steel but do not use it for good. Others go through equally tough times and find grace as well as strength.

Jack Smith - 9/28/2010

Maarja - thanks for your questions, "why there is so much corrosion of values on display in public discourse?" "Why the ready acceptance of clear falsehoods by so many people these days?"

I am a Christian; and, my response is based on my "Biblical worldview." People accept falsehoods these days because they lack a Biblical foundation in their lives. In fact, Christians do not know what the Bible says about truth, so how can they respond in truth? My response to Dr Furnish's article was filled with Biblical references because the Bible is the only solid ground upon which one can base his or her views and respond to life issues. We have taken away the foundation so the "corrosion of values" is symptomatic of the real problem. We have become "lost" from the Way, the Truth and the Life. People act "poorly in terms of honor and integrety" because they either chose not to come to the Light of God, or they don't have the time to. The result is the same regardless. A recent survey by Pew Foundation revealed that atheists know more about world religions than Christians do and, in fact, few Christians know the very basis upon which their faith rests (

I sum it up by quoting Jesus, John 8:12 "Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, "I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life." If Americans have lost their ability to discern truth and stand for it, then we are simply a people who have grown so accustomed to "walking in darkness" that it has been rendered "normal" for us.

Maarja Krusten - 9/28/2010

Dr. Furnish, I like the fact that you write, “Let me preface my rejoinder by acknowledging that ‘those of use who construct images of the historical Jesus always blend in some of our own features.’” You then go on to explain what affects your world view and what you believe reflects the minister’s world view. Well done. None of us is infallible, we're all just human beings standing around and yakking based on how we look at things.

It’s important to try to understand what shapes different individuals’ perspective. I myself mention frequently that I used to be a conservative Republican (from 1972, when I cast my first vote, through 1989); that I spent 14 years working as a National Archives’ employee with the internal records (tapes and files) of the Nixon White House; and that we were attacked from the right, with some of the allegations about our conduct at work being unsustainable and false. (I once asked Ron Radosh why no conservative historians stood up to defend us when this occurred during the end of the George H. W. Bush administration. He did not answer).

Your essay is interesting and I learned some things from it. That’s not to say I agree with everything you wrote. From my perspective, Obama’s and Clinton’s statements don’t come across as hypocritical. I think that’s just an area where we will have to agree to disagree. No harm in that from where I sit. I view governing as a supremely adult act and the political process as far too reliant on schoolyard taunts and tactics. (There are many reasons why I stopped self-identifying as a conservative. Many were tactical and related to the rise of people such as Lee Atwater and Karl Rove and the acceptance by many right-leaning voters of their tactics.) There are far too many forces which appeal to individuals’ negative or morally corrupt qualities and which encourage people to act poorly in terms of honor and integrity.

To me, it seems natural that a president (Democratic or Republican) should occasionally use the big microphone to appeal to the better angels of people. Too often, politicians take the easy way out, ladling compliments on those who agree with them or overlooking bad behavior by them. And only calling out those on the other side. I’d like to see more people saying, “this is wrong and I will tell you that, regardless of whether it helps my party or not.” Or encouraging people to take an honorable path, rather than sliding into the gutter and flinging mud. That this does not happen nearly enough to me explains why there is so much corrosion of values on display in public discourse.

Which leads me to address a question to Jack Smith. I very much agree that people need to confront and look at hard truths. The area in my governmental work which resulted in our coming under fire from the right was a legal requirement that we uncover and make available “the full truth” about “abuses of governmental power” during the Nixon administration. One reason why I find values corroded these days is the over ready acceptance of falsehoods by voters, some of whom seem to identify themselves as Christians. How do you explain that? I’m thinking of things such as the use of terms such as “death panel” (which Rep. Bob Inglis, a Republican, pointed out was nowhere in drafts of the Affordable Care Act, an act of bravery for which conservative voters in his district did not reward him.) Or the circulation of a fake anti-Obama email attributed to historian David Kaiser, who has posted on HNN. My linking to his exposure of the email as fake did not persuade one of my hard right-leaning email correspondents to post an apology and retraction of his circulation of the falsehood.

Why the ready acceptance of clear falsehoods by so many people these days? Don’t they understand that this makes a mockery of the claim that some make, that they are “values voters?” I’m a Christian and my view of Christianity includes calling out false witness and advocating for facing hard truths, even about one’s own side. Why do I feel so alone in that? I don’t know if you lean right, left, or center (where I am) politically. But since you brought up truth as a value and the extent to which advocating it can place people in danger, I’d be interested in hearing why you think so many Christian conservatives opinion leaders are so risk averse on the issue of truth. Why do they think so ill of voters, implying as they do by their actions that people can’t handle tough words about values?

To me, much of the right wing rhetoric points at best to missed opportunities to model deep-rooted values and at worst, shallowness, expediency, even moral decay. Or it could just be that for far too many, it’s “all hat, no cattle.” Or that people are so spoiled and complacent, they’ve never learned how to take the tough and high road in public discourse. So they reach for the low as seeming “normal.” It is the fact that the values issue has become a laughingstock for me in the way opinion leaders handle it that I think has led many voters not to call themselves conservative, even though they may actually support some conservative policy positions. (Many of the people I know lean right on fiscal issues and left or center on social ones.)

Charles S Young - 9/28/2010

Or would the Qurans, as physical objects unlike the angels, be unable to fit on a pin at all?

Arnold Shcherban - 9/28/2010

In 21st century these folks continue to believe in ancient myths...
It is just inexplicable that many people, some well-educated, intentionally and completely block their rational thinking in favor of blind worship of... Nothing.

Paul Siff - 9/27/2010

Why not? We can all learn something new. The person who has ceased to learn becomes intellectually ossified.

Jack Smith - 9/27/2010

Why would Dr Furnish want to find out more about Islam? He already has a PHD in the topic. He knows Islam and he also knows Christianity; out of this knowledge, he has chosen. I, for one, consider him similar to the one described in John 10:2, "But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep." The "door" is Christ (John 10:9). A "shepherd" is one who helps others to enter the same way that he has come -- through the door.

Jack Smith - 9/27/2010

I find it amazing that the Quran declares a "correction" for the precise statements that the Bible contains which declare the deity of Jesus. This is the one factor that distinguishes and exalts Jesus above all others, including Muhammad. Jesus stated that the "witness" to the truth of his claims was God Himself (John 8:16-18). God's "witness" was the atoning death of his Son for the sins of humanity and the bodily resurrection of his Son, Jesus (Romans 1:1-4). Of course, Islam dismisses this event by simply declaring that Christ was never crucified in the first place (Surah 4:157). The Bible says to do so is to "render God a liar" (1 John 5:10-11). Whether Muslims would burn the Bible is really not the issue; the issue is whether they will believe the witness of the Father relative to His Son. They have not and will not.

Jack Smith - 9/27/2010

One thing Jesus did do was stand for truth (which he declared to be the revelation of (John 14:6)). He refused to mince words when dealing with those who refused to listen to him. In John 8, Jesus quite clearly puts humanity into two groups: those who hear his words and believe and those who do not. Those who refused to hear and believe were declared liars who did not know God while professing to know God (John 8:41, 44, 55); and then "sons of the devil" by Christ(John 8:43-44). Then, to make certain that everyone realized the claim he was making about himself in relation to God, he stated, "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am" (8:58). With this statement, the people picked up stones to throw at him (8:59). In their mind, Jesus' statement was so inflammatory it deserved his death!
Whether Jesus would burn the Quran or not is answered by John 8. Why else would his statements result in the Jews seeking to kill him? Seems to be of little consequence what might result in his death -- whether at the hands of Muslims of today or Jews of yesterday. Jesus stood for the truth regardless of how offensive it was to his hearers.

Paul Siff - 9/27/2010

Perhaps it might be useful for Mr. Furnish to seek native-born Americans of European ancestry who've converted to Islam, and find out what about the religion appealed to them. He might learn something, which he could then communicate to the rest of us.

Fahrettin Tahir - 9/27/2010

My grandfather, son of an Islamic theologist told me the Hebrew scriptures and the Bible were God's word and I should read them.

They were only wrong on certain points where the Quran corrects them.

One key point is that for Islam Jesus is not the Son of God but a prophet born of omnipotent God's will without a father.

I do not think the theological differences justify burning books nor can they be solved with that method. I can not imagine any Moslem actually burning a Bible.

In real life burning Qurans will lead to demonstrations where experience shows people get killed.

It is also necessary not to forget that wheras religious fanatics are a real problem we are at the same time dealing with real life political issues, like oil, which cause conflicts.

And perhaps a muted question: is Afghanistan about religion or geopolitics?

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