Media goes nuts over Army general's comments on religion
After reading dozens of articles about comments U.S. Army Lt. Gen. William Boykin made to church groups, Weblog still can't figure out what all the fuss is about. Apparently, many believe the following beliefs make him unfit for military service: that America is engaged in a spiritual war, that Satan is more of a threat than Osama bin Laden, that Islam is tantamount to idolatry, that America is grounded in a Judeo-Christian heritage, and that Islamic terrorists have targeted the U.S. because of that heritage.

Now, CT has written quite a bit on all of these things, and we probably wouldn't state things quite the way that Boykin did (here's us on whether Islam is idolatry, for example). But while Boykin's phrasing needs more nuancing, the rhetoric of his critics is simply startling.

The chief inquisitor is William M. Arkin, a former Army intelligence analyst and consultant. After a month of "investigative" reporting, he was behind both an NBC Nightly News broadcast and a series of articles in the Los Angeles Times targeting Boykin as "divisive" and "controversial." He says Boykin's comments suggest that the war against terrorism is a religious war. "I think that it is not only at odds with what the president believes, but it is a dangerous, extreme and pernicious view that really has no place," Arkin told the Times. (And, for the record, that's where the quote ends. He doesn't say "has no place in military leadership. It apparently has no place anywhere.) In a Timesop-ed piece, he calls the Lt. Gen. "an intolerant extremist."

An "intolerant extremist," it should be pointed out (as the Times did in one of its articles), who regularly talks to churches about how radical Islamic terrorists are as different from most Muslims as the KKK is from most Christians.

Let's look at some of these "intolerant, extreme" comments.

Who is that enemy? It's not Osama bin Laden. Our enemy is a spiritual enemy because we are a nation of believers. You go back and look at our history, and you will find that we were founded on faith. Look at what the writers of our Constitution said. We are a nation of believers. We were founded on faith. And the enemy that has come against our nation is a spiritual enemy. His name is Satan. And if you do not believe that Satan is real, you are ignoring the same Bible that tells you about God. Now I'm a warrior. One day I'm going to take off this uniform and I'm still going to be a warrior. And what I'm here to do today is to recruit you to be warriors of God's kingdom.
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What's so offensive here? That bin Laden isn't the enemy? That Satan is? Is belief in Satan diametrically opposed to military service? Is the belief that Satan is a spiritual enemy of the American state?

And we ask ourselves this question, 'Why do they hate us? Why do they hate us so much?' Ladies and gentlemen, the answer to that is because we're a Christian nation, because our foundation and our roots are Judeo-Christian. Did I say Judeo-Christian? Yes. Judeo-Christian. … Our religion came from Judaism, and therefore these radicals will hate us forever.

Again, what here makes Boykin unfit for service? If anything, it puts the lie to the idea that Christians like him are intolerantly anti-Semitic.

There was a man in Mogadishu named Osman Atto. … He went on CNN and he laughed at us, and he said, 'They'll never get me because Allah will protect me. Allah will protect me.' Well, you know what I knew that my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God, and his was an idol. But I prayed, Lord let us get that man.
"Three days later … we got him. We brought him back into our base there and we had a Sea Land container set up to hold prisoners in, and I said put him in there. They put him in there, there was one guard with him. I said search him, they searched him, and then I walked in with no one in there but the guard, and I looked at him and said, 'Are you Osman Atto?' And he said 'Yes.' And I said, 'Mr. Atto, you underestimated our God.'"

Okay, there's some confusion about the word "our" there, but is the comment really that noteworthy? When the Council on American-Islamic Relations called the comment ill-informed and bigoted, were they saying that Atto's God really is their Allah? Isn't their usual line that terrorists like Atto aren't true Muslims?

That this has made the news in so many outlets (The Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Newsday, Associated Press, Reuters, AFP, Voice of America, BBC, The Daily Telegraph, The Guardian, others) is surprising, but far more predictable are the comments of liberal and Muslim pundits.

"Everyone is entitled to their own religious beliefs, no matter how ill-informed or bigoted, but those beliefs should not be allowed to color important decisions that need to be made in the war on terrorism," CAIR executive director Nihad Awad told the Times. "Gen. Boykin should be reassigned to a position in which he will not be able to harm our nation's image or interests."

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Likewise, said Interfaith Alliance head Welton Gaddy, "The remarks of Gen. Boykin fly in the face of the pleas of the president and violate the basic principles of tolerance and inclusion that are implicit in the culture of this nation."

U.S. Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) said in a letter to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, "I urge you to reassign or reprimand him; we cannot afford to have such an extremist speaking on behalf of our nation and our military."

Here's the shocker: some newspaper editorial pages went much further than even Awad, Gaddy, and Conyers, calling not for his reassignment, but for a full discharge. The San Francisco Examiner called for a denial of his right to free speech.

"As a citizen of this country, Boykin has every right not only to hold this opinion, but to try to persuade others to hold it, too," said an editorial. "But … as a soldier—and an officer—his words and actions become the concern of the entire American public. … There is no right for an officer in uniformed service of his country to proclaim which religions are good and which are bad."

The Examiner compared Boykin's comments to those of Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who told Muslim leaders, "The Europeans killed 6 million Jews out of 12 million, but today the Jews rule the world by proxy. They get others to fight and die for them."

The paper said that Boykin's comments, "while somewhat less obviously inflammatory, nonetheless were deplorable because of who said them and when."

The Los Angeles Times, editorializing on Boykin a day after Arkin slammed him on the op-ed page, drew an even closer connection with Mohamad. "The two men perceive the world in similar terms. One sees a perfidious plot against Asian and Islamic values; the other … appears to believe that the entire Islamic world is America's enemy." (This, one day after its news page reported, "In his public remarks, Boykin has also said that radical Muslims who resort to terrorism are not representative of the Islamic faith.")

"Boykin mocks Bush's attempts to emphasize that the U.S. is targeting terrorists, not Islam," the Times claims, though no one claims he has ever done anything of the sort. Like the Examiner, the Times believes the Lt. Gen. shouldn't be free to talk about his religious beliefs. "At his level anything said outside his living room will be seen as speaking for the U.S. military. … It's up to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to retire the Pentagon's self-proclaimed crusader before he does more damage."

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Boykin, whom no one has quoted as proclaiming himself to be a "crusader," told NBC News that he's going to curtail his comments in the future. "I don't want … to be misconstrued. I don't want to come across as a right-wing radical," he said. He reiterated those comments today.

Vietnam lightening up?
Weblog was heartened to see an article from the Vietnam News Agency today noting the Government Committee for Religious Affairs's praise for the Evangelical Church of Vietnam, which won official recognition in 2001. The government has been persecuting Protestant ethnic minorities; might this be a sign of greater tolerance? Or might it just be a sign that John Hanford, U.S. State Department's ambassador-at-large for religious freedom, is visiting the country?

A clarification
Some understood Weblog's Wednesday posting as suggesting that Christopher S. Johnson of Midwest Conservative Journal has deformed feet (" … one foot and nine toes … "). He in fact has 10 toes, nine of which have withdrawn from the Episcopal Church USA.

More articles

Anglican troubles:

Australia's hate law case against anti-Islam speech:

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  • Unholy free speech row catches fire | This is a case in which important interests intersect: freedom of speech and religion versus the right not to be vilified; tensions between the world's two biggest religions; constitutional issues; even concepts about the sort of society Australia aspires to be (The Age, Melbourne, Australia)

  • State hate laws in limbo | Victoria's hate laws were thrown into question yesterday when a judge said they might be in conflict with the Australian constitution (The Age, Melbourne, Australia)

  • Vilification test case heats up | A test case for Victoria's new race and religious hate law could go to the Supreme Court after a Christian movement claimed the act was invalid because it conflicted with constitutional freedom of speech rights (AAP, Australia)

Politics and law:

Government funds for religious organizations and study:

  • Bias out if groups receive state aid | Church-affiliated social service organizations that receive state funding in Georgia no longer will be able to discriminate in hiring against gays or against applicants who are not of the same faith, under the terms of a lawsuit settled out of court Thursday (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

  • Earlier: Faith-based aid may hinge on high court | The Supreme Court plans to rule on a case that could decide the fate of Gov. Sonny Perdue's proposal to rewrite the Georgia Constitution so that religious organizations can more easily provide state-funded services (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

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  • Theology student aid not subsidy of religion | Over the past 40 years, the liberal community has steadfastly insisted that God should be barred from the public sphere. This is not law. It is religious prejudice (Armstrong Williams, The Sun News, Myrtle Beach, S.C.)

Pledge of Allegiance:

  • No problems with pledge in area schools | The Pledge of Allegiance may be controversial in some parts of the country, but apparently not in Whitfield and Murray counties (The Daily Citizen, northwest Ga.)

  • Is Scalia too blunt to be effective? | Justice out of case about which he cares (The Washington Post)

  • Take the pledge out of the Cold War chest | It's dangerous when we start injecting God into political debates, and there's something wrong about asking schoolchildren to declare their belief in God at the same time that we ask them to pledge their loyalty to their country (Sheryl McCarthy, Newsday)

  • The right call on 'under God' | Newdow is a courageous and altogether correct reaffirmation of the First Amendment's "Establishment Clause" (Peter Brandon Bayer, The Philadelphia Inquirer)

  • What if 'God' faces a courtroom ban? | This is the God of no particular faith, and surely no "establishment of religion." (Editorial, The Boston Herald)


  • Global survey reveals religion a bigger priority than politics | A first-ever worldwide poll on religious beliefs shows that religion outranks politics in importance to individuals and that people think politics, not religion, fuels violence (The Washington Times)

  • Believers insist faith helps, not hurts - Intl survey | The thousands of Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jews and Muslims surveyed in Israel, India, South Korea, the United States, and other areas, also said they thought that more piety would improve their countries (Reuters)

  • What binds diverse peoples | Given the "clash of civilizations" theory and widespread political manipulation of religion that's behind a great deal of violence in the world today, far more understanding of religion's role in shaping peoples' outlooks is needed (Editorial, The Christian Science Monitor)

Church and culture:

  • African mix of church and culture inspires millions | A group of uniquely informal churches that marry African traditions with Christian beliefs is experiencing phenomenal growth among black South Africans and is rapidly becoming the new mainline denomination (The Mail & Guardian, South Africa)

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  • High rate of corruption blamed on 'prosperity gospel' | According to Josiah Idowu-Fearon, archbishop of the Kaduna Province of the Anglican Communion (This Day, Lagos, Nigeria)

  • God's five-star resort | Welcome to heaven, where you'll learn Important Lessons—and look fabulous! Eat all you want without getting fat! But watch out for dinosaur crap, and leave that bong at home (Laura Miller,

  • Catholics warned against Hinn's meetings | Last month, Ivan Cardinal Dias, archbishop of Mumbai issued a circular asking parish priests to give a 'timely warning' to their congregations not to attend Hinn's programmes when he visits the city (Mid-Day, Mumbai, India)

Missions and ministry:

  • New religious section of prison opens | One in 10 male prisoners in the Wellington region say they have found God (Stuff, New Zealand)

  • Group aims to mail Jesus video to every N.C. household | It has already gone to 17 western North Carolina counties (Associated Press)

  • Reaching out to the community | Presbyterian church hosts Urban Outreach Conference to discuss helping neighbors, needy (News-Press, Glendale, Calif.)

  • Coffee program expands to more churches | Catholic Relief Services, Lutheran World Relief and World Relief said they will sign a pact on Friday with the U.S. Agency for International Development to work with small coffee farmers in Nicaragua (Associated Press)

  • Sister pilots boats, delivers God's word | Captain Joy Manthey, who is also a nun, keeps prayer books and a rosary within arm's reach as she pilots the triple-deck paddle-wheeler (The Cincinnati Enquirer)

  • Fijian PM backs apology for eating missionary | "I believe in the Bible that says once a wrong has been done, apology and asking for forgiveness is most appropriate and yes, I support them in their intention," Laisenia Qarase said (AFP)

Pop culture:

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Sexual ethics:


  • Conversions spark controversy in Sri Lanka | The issue of religious conversions is snowballing in Sri Lanka, with nongovernmental organization, The National Peace Council asking the government to investigate into a spate of recent attacks on churches, even as a journalist was allegedly attacked by Christians last week (

  • Earlier: The Joy of Suffering in Sri Lanka | How Christians thrive in the land where ethnic and religious strife is always just around the corner (Sept. 29, 2003)

  • Prayer and politics | Serb fears grow as Albanians dynamite churches (Tunku Varadarajan, The Wall Street Journal)

  • Faith sustained Ukrainian Christian | Enslaved by the Nazis, imprisoned by the Russians, Zina Ivoninskaya enjoyed her children and prayed (The Oregonian)


  • Priest charged in church thefts | A Roman Catholic priest who told police he stole about $100 a week for more than 20 years from the collection baskets at St. Martin of Tours church in Bethpage was arraigned in Nassau District Court in Hempstead yesterday (Newsday)

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  • L.I. cops bust pilfer-rap rev. | A priest already facing criminal charges in New York City was arrested by Long Island cops yesterday, charged with grand larceny for allegedly stealing $86,000 in parishioner donations from a Bethpage church over the past two decades (New York Post)

Messianic Jews:


Life ethics:

  • | The Internet tries to stop a disabled woman from starving to death. (Jeremy Lott, The American Spectator)

  • A chilling precedent | The forced starvation of Terri Schiavo may be part of a larger effort to dehumanize the severely disabled (World)

Pope John Paul II's 25 years:

  • Pope's tribute: History and a prayer | Pope John Paul II celebrated his 25th anniversary at the head of the Roman Catholic Church (The New York Times)

  • A pontiff for our time | The Catholic Church celebrates 25 years of John Paul II's papacy (Time)

  • Everybody's pope | In Europe some time ago, an absurd debate occurred in the Protestant churches: Should John Paul II be considered as the world's spokesman for all of Christianity? This was an absurd question. Of course he spoke for all believers, and of course he still does. Who else is there? (Uwe Siemon-Netto, UPI)

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Mother Teresa:


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  • Sex abuse victims said likely to okay deal | Lawyers for more than 500 people who claim they were molested by priests said Thursday they are confident the required 80 percent of the alleged victims will accept the Boston Archdiocese's $85 million settlement offer (Associated Press)

  • Priest loses abuse suit | Two San Bernardino County brothers, former altar boys, win a total of $26 million. Their lawyer says it's unlikely they'll collect (Los Angeles Times)

  • Challenge to abuse law questioned | Alleged victims of priest ask Stockton diocese to drop its legal bid to have the statute of limitations waiver declared unconstitutional (Los Angeles Times)

  • Church sex files 'should stay closed' | A Roman Catholic Archbishop has said there is no reason to reopen the Church's files on sexual abuse for independent investigation (BBC)

  • New clergy abuse settlement is announced in Bridgeport | Diocese will pay $21 million to 40 people who claim they were the victims of sexual abuse in cases involving 16 local priests (The New York Times)

  • Boston archbishop turns to social issues | With settlement talks resolved in the clergy sex abuse scandal, Boston Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley has started speaking out on social issues — a sign to some that the archdiocese at the center of the Roman Catholic molestation crisis is finally starting to recover (Associated Press)

More stories of interest:

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