Political Apostasy?

The internet headline from the respected but oxymoronically-named Christian Science Monitor this morning said, “Car bombings hit Shiite pilgrimage, underscoring Iraq’s sectarian divide”. It was not an unusual headline, just another bloody day in Baghdad with at least 63 dead as minority Sunnis target the now-majority Shiites. This violence has been proceeding regularly with 670 deaths from 18 attacks in Iraq in just the last 12 months.

Credit: imam-almahdi.com

Elsewhere, Kurds were similarly targeted. They are a sect strong in the north of Iraq, where most of the oil is. Meanwhile, a bloody civil war has broken out in Syria to the west of iraq, and again the principal cause appears to be religious, sectarian differences. The regime in power there, Assad’s tribe, is Alawite, a sect with close ties to Shiites. The passions are now so high that the Assad forces have taken to placing children on tanks as human shields and stories of slaughter and torture are common.

For those who might be interested there is an insightful quiz about the differences among Islamic sects imbedded in the Christian Science Monitor article. I got 10 out of 20 questions right, but that’s OK because it is really one of those things designed to educate. They will tell you right or wrong and provide information after each question. By the end of the quiz it was my impression that the differences among the sects seem to be insubstantial, even trivial. At the heart of the differences between the biggest groups, Sunnis and Shiites, is the question of who really succeeded Mohammad in authority. The quiz says,

The schism between the Sunnis and Shiites is rooted in disagreement over who would succeed Muhammad as Islam’s leader. The Shiites believe that his son-in-law, Ali ibn Abi Talib, was the rightful heir, while Sunnis believe the mantle fell to Abu Bakr, Muhammad’s father-in-law.

Seems pretty ridiculous, doesn’t it? I am reminded of one of the classic Star Trek TV episodes in which Kirk, Spock and company sought to intervene between two warring tribes on an alien planet. It turned out that the principal difference between them was that the bodies of one race were pigmented white on the left side and black on the right, whereas the other race was just the opposite. I find that no less bizarre than what separates Shiites from Sunnis, but such beliefs have already resulted in an all-powerful theocracy in Iran where, since 1979, their supreme religious leader is seriously considered God’s (Allah’s) deputy on earth.

It might seem easy for us Americans to look down our noses at the sectarian violence that pervades the Middle East these days, but I must tell you that we may be closer than we think to such passions and violence ourselves. The American Civil War, I submit, is evidence enough of the potential of political and economic motives toward violence, branded patriotism in the process, but adding religion to the mix makes it all the more passionate. Consider, please, this example from a letter to the editor of this morning’s Joplin Globe (6/13/2012) here in the Bible belt:

“It’s sad when a great country like ours that was founded on Christian ways now has a president and vice president that are not Christians and don’t believe in the Bible. If they did they would know what they said about same-sex marriages is an abomination to God, which means it is disgusting to him. But they did it to get the gay vote and their money.”

The author, Mr. Clovis Steele, accuses the president and vice-president of being “not Christian”, despite ample evidence to the contrary. But it must be noted that the vice-president is a Catholic and the president is a somewhat generic Protestant of a non-white religious flavor. These sects may differ, I suppose, from Mr. Steele’s. In making his assertion however, which he bases on the same-sex marriage political decision, he sets up a political requirement which would seem to be at odds with the Constitution. In other words, he seems to be saying that a politician commits apostasy if he separates his official actions from the tenets of his own religion, even for the benefit of people of faiths different from his. His assertion of the fallacy that the U.S. was founded “on Christian ways” would seem to confirm this. As stated clearly in the First Amendment, the U.S. was specifically founded to exclude any official religion.

Saladin. Credit: dailyhistory.wordpress.com

The political divide this election year has been made even more divisive by religious issues like same-sex marriage and abortion. What then, I wonder, might be the result if a man who espouses a strictly minority faith, one considered by some other Christian denominations to be a “cult”, were to succeed to the Presidency? Might the United States then be headed the way of Syria and Iraq, to widespread sectarian violence fueled by militias better armed than the police? That would be ironic indeed, especially since America is the chief cause of the complete economic and political mess that is present-day Iraq, a country formerly held effectively in a state of non-violence (at least collectively) by a ruthless dictator.

Passions derived from religious differences are deeply embedded in human nature, and we are playing with fire when we allow them free rein.  That would be the opposite of tolerance.

About Jim Wheeler

U. S. Naval Academy, BS, Engineering, 1959; Naval line officer and submariner, 1959 -1981, Commander, USN; The George Washington U., MSA, Management Eng.; Aerospace Engineer, 1981-1999; Resident Gadfly, 1999 - present. Political affiliation: Democratic.
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8 Responses to Political Apostasy?

  1. henrygmorgan says:

    Jim: Some of the world’s greatest satire has been based on religion, and especially on the petty differences that often set these sects off against each other. Mark Twain, as in his Letters from Earth, or my favorite, Jonathan Swift, in numerous works, but nowhere better than in Tale of a Tub. In this marvelous late-17th early-18th century work, he describes a family in which the father leaves a beautiful, highly-ornamented coat to each of his three sons with strict instructions not to alter their coat in any way. Almost immediately the sons set about changing their coat. One son, representing the Catholic Church, begins to add huge amounts of ornamentation to his coat; the second son, representing the newly-established Calvinists, present-day Baptists, Methodists, and other fundamentalist-oriented religions, immediately commences stripping every ounce of decoration from his coat; the third son, representing the Church of England, refuses to make any changes to his coat, unwilling to accomodate himself to the two other movements. Swift means the coat to represent the Faith that God has bequeathed them and to which they are to make no changes. Not as forceful, perhaps, as Mr. Steele’s commentary, but doubtless in the same vein. As Mark Twain noted, every true believer is endowed with the True Religion . . . thousands of them.


  2. Archon's Den says:

    They grasp, and hold to them, the right to make any and all definitions. If you don’t agree with them, you’re a heretic, even though the epithet holds no real semantic value. I disagreed with a local Bible-thumper who was trying to sell the concept of how *Peaceful* Christianity and the Catholic Church were. When I mentioned the Inquisition and the Crusades, the response was that, “They weren’t Real Christians!” Whatever makes you feel good pardner, just don’t try ridin’ that kitten out of the barn.


  3. Jim Wheeler says:

    I actually thought about Jonathan Swift when I was writing this post, Henry. Sad to think people haven’t evolved politically since his time, but that clearly is the case. Your mention of Mark Twain is of course appropriate – I’m glad you mentioned him. Thanks very much for your interesting, perspicacious comments.


  4. ansonburlingame says:

    Politics is all about a quest for power, by individuals and groups. It required about 1500 years after Christ for Ptrotestants to form a new perspective on the Christian religion. But before that occurred Christians split into the Romam and the Orthodox camps.

    Islam split almost at the same thime that Mohammed died. But there is more to the Sunni, Shia spplit in faith. There is a distinct enthinc divide therein as well, Arab versus Persian. If someone waved a magic wand over the Middle East to remove the religious divide, Iran would still strive for hegemony over Arabs based on enthnicty. Same with the Turks, with their more Asian heritage vs strictly the Arab and Persian influences.

    Throw the Jewish race and Kurds into such a mix and we see the Middle East today, without a religious lens, in my view. The religious portion on brings the divide into a sharper focuse, again in my view.



  5. This may not be the best place to say this, but it’s the best I can think of at the moment.
    Problem: I used to be able to go to
    Reader > Blogs I Follow > and your latest posts would be there.
    No more.
    i didn’t change anything, you’re just not there any more. I had to find you here by going to comments you’ve made on my blog. Same with Duane. Not there any more. Any ideas?


    • Jim Wheeler says:

      That is a puzzle, Helen. Personally, I haven’t been in the habit of blogging through wordpress.com, I simply sign up for emails to blogs and I get one whenever there’s a new post. I note that when I go to the wordpress site and click on “blogs I follow”, there is “edit list” right after that selection. If a desired blog is missing I can only surmise that you might have to subscribe to that specific blog again. I have no idea why that might have happened. The specific sites for mine and Duane’s are:



      • Thank you for this, because I lost Duane’s too. I’ve looked at the Support Forums and there are lots of people complaining that they’ve lost the Blogs I Follow.
        When I found yours, the “follow” was still checked. I unchecked it, and then checked it again, but you still
        don’t show up on my list. Looks like lots of people are having this problem.
        Thanks for replying.


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