Nicholas Kristof, op-ed writer for the New York Times, has struck again. In a rambling, stream-of-consciousness hit-piece, entitled "Jesus & Jihad," he tries to connect the Left Behind series with Abu Ghraib and militant Islam.
The disjointed narrative is not the result of sloppy writing. To the contrary, the abrupt transitions are strategic turning-points. Because his case would fall apart if he were to use linear logic, he eschews close reasoning for Joycean innuendo. This sort of sophistry is the shopworn ruse of every demagogue.
Kristof begins by taking the Left Behind series as his point of reference. Now, there is nothing wrong with commenting on the popular expressions of piety. To the extent that this series is both an influential and representative expression of much Evangelical religion, it is fair game in its own right.
But one of the problems is when Kristof appeals to the comic-strip theology of popular pulp fiction, with its cartoonish literalism, as a stalking-horse to attack the Bible, as well as more intelligent and responsible expressions of the Christian faith.
In addition, he indulges in a willful distortion of the opposing position. He equates the final judgment with "ethnic cleansing." But that loaded phrase has nothing whatsoever to do with the standard of judgment. For the church has been redeemed from every tribe, tongue, people and nation (Rev 5:9).
Kristof plays a rhetorical shell-game by taking the word "fundamentalism," which originally applied to an American religious movement, reapplying it to militant Islam, and then applying it once more, with the Islamic overtones, to Evangelicalism.
But this is nothing more than a semantic trick. It may be persuasive for liberal illiterates who don’t know the history of words, and readily confound words with concepts, but astute readers will not be impressed by this verbal legerdemain.
Somehow, Kristof manages to turn the Left Behind series into a rear guard action in response to militant Islam. But just as Kristof has no use for linear logic, he has no use for linear chronology. It should be needless to point out that the Left Behind series made its publishing debut long before 9/11. The entire series was planned and plotted out well in advance of 9/11. It is, as everyone who *knows anything knows, a literary adaptation of a dispensational timeline that has been around for decades.
More to the point, the idea of a martial messiah has extensive OT and NT precedent (e.g. Ps 2; 72; 110; Isa 9; 59; 63; Ezk 38-39; Dan 7; Mt 25; 1 Thes 4; 2 Thes 1-2; Rev 19-20).
To create a moral equivalence from a formal equivalence, based the fact that Muslims and Christians both resort to martial rhetoric and armed conflict, is like equating Hitler and Churchill on the grounds that both made use of bombers and battleships and belligerent oratory. This only illustrates the inability of the liberal mind to keep more than idea in its head at a time.
He laments "fundamentalism" for fostering a stark moral division of humanity. But, other issues aside, you need to know your enemy and fight him accordingly. If you enemy sees the world in black-and-white, then you need to see the enemy in black-and-white. If the enemy sees you as an unredeemable reprobate, then there’s no room for diplomacy. The enemy has made this a fight to the death. The enemy has opted to take no prisoners.
Kristof goes on to say that "we did imprison thousands of Muslims here and abroad after 9/11, and ordinary Americans joined in the torture of prisoners at Abu Graib in part because of a lack of empathy for the prisoners. It’s harder to feel empathy for such people if we regard them as infidels..."
This is a classic case of moral and logical poll-vaulting. Because the actual facts do not enable Kristof to mount a stepwise argument from one thing to another, he resorts to free association. It is a wonderfully economical style of writing because the writer can jam-pack so many fallacies into such a compact verbal space. It is much more time-consuming to unwind all the fallacies wrapped up in two little sentences.
1. He begins with the question-begging insinuation that it was a miscarriage of justice to round up Muslims after 9/11. Kristof offers no supporting argument for his operating assumption.
i) In criminal profiling, you target the individual or group most likely responsible for the crime. In a lynching, you profile Klansmen. This is just plain common sense. A survival instinct.
ii) Ashcroft rounded up illegal foreign nationals. They didn’t belong here in the first place. They were in violation of their visas.
iii) The attack on 9/11 was pulled off by domestic sleeper-cells, so that’s a natural and necessary target.
As to Muslims abroad, these were enemy combatants captured on the battlefield. This was not a random raid of everyone with a Muslim last name.
2. As to Abu Graib, Kristof would need to do the following to establish a causal connection:
i) The culprits were:
a) Avid readers of the Left Behind series and/or:
b) Fundamentalist Christians.
c) Their lack of "empathy" was the direct result of either (a), (b), or both.
Okay, so where’s the supporting argument to bridge the gap from theory to fact? All that Kristof gives the reader is a washed out bridge.
ii) Since conservative Christian ethics frowns upon sadomasochism, it is hard to see how the hanky-panky of Private English and her cohorts in the direct result of their indoctrination in, and devotion to, Christian fundamentalism.
iii) To the contrary, what I see in the prison flap is, in part, the MTV generation come of age. If a second party is to blame, let's turn the spotlight back on the liberal media.
iv) We also see the consequences of a co-ed military. For years, the liberals have lobbied for a coed military. This, of course, leads to a breakdown of sexual discipline.
v) Why should we feel empathy for the prisoners? Many of them were in custody for murdering and maiming our soldiers. But, of course, Kristof, as a bleeding-hearted liberal, naturally sympathizes with the victimizer over the victim.
I would invite Mr. Kristof to spend a night in a prison-cell with the detainees, and let him practice his empathy on them. It would give him a chance to commiserate with them on the root-causes of terrorism. Our prison guards could come around the morning after to collect the body.
Kristof trots out the old canard of African enslavement. But there was no race-based slavery in the Bible. For that matter, the two men who did the most to end the African slave trade were the both of them Evangelicals—John Newton and William Wilberforce. So this criticism is yet another non-sequitur.
He then says that religious intolerance is not what America stands for, or even for what the good Lord stands for.
I suppose this depends on whether you think that American history begins with the Warren Court.
As to God, you cannot be tolerant and also say what God does and does not stand for. Kristof is now indulging in the very thing he faults the "fundamentalist" for. He is speaking for God. He is saying that God takes a stand, that he takes sides, siding with one position or party against another.
The difference, then, is that Kristof is a far-left fundamentalist; he is just as intolerant of the people he condemns as the people he condemns, but without the theological support-system.