Erick Ericson (L)
Erick Erickson, a prominent right-wing commentator on contract with CNN, lashed out at perceived hostility to Christianity in President Obama’s speech to the United Nations on Tuesday.
The pundit took issue with Obama’s claim that “The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam. Yet to be credible, those who condemn that slander must also condemn the hate we see when the image of Jesus Christ is desecrated, churches are destroyed, or the Holocaust is denied.” He argued that criticizing “those who lander the prophet of Islam” is somehow anti-Christian:
The fact is, many religions do not recognize Mohammed as a prophet. In the widest swath of Islam, that denial is, in and of itself, slander. So what exactly are you saying Mr. President? As an exit point, with all of President Obama’s statements on tolerance in his speech, we should remember that tolerance is really not a Christian virtue. As Archbishop Chaput of Philadelphia noted, “We need to remember that tolerance is not a Christian virtue. Charity, justice, mercy, prudence, honesty — these are Christian virtues. And obviously, in a diverse community, tolerance is an important working principle. But it’s never an end itself.” The Archbishop also noted that evil preaches tolerance until it is dominate and then it seeks to silence good. That’s not a statement that the President is evil in any way, shape, or form, but we should be mindful when the secular world demands tolerance for all, tolerance for all means we cannot have standards of faith to live by, because those standards obviously require we be intolerant of sins this world has embraced.
Very prominent Christian theologians have embraced the bedrock Enlightenment principle of religious tolerance, and for good reason — the principle enshrines protections for people with diverse “standards of faith” from being interfered with by state or society. This principle is the same one that undergirds the free speech protections for the anti-Islam video itself; as Obama put it: “We [unconditionally respect free speech] not because we support hateful speech, but because our Founders understood that without such protections, the capacity of each individual to express their own views, and practice their own faith, may be threatened.” Obama’s criticism of the video is rooted in the idea that people should take into account the way their actions affect people with different belief structures, not a call for exempting purportedly offensive speech and beliefs from First Amendment protections. It is also ironic that Erickson is criticizing the idea of tolerance in a post where he blames Obama for an insufficiently strident condemnation of Muslim intolerance.
Erickson’s specific arguments in favor of his position are no more persuasive than the overarching point. He says that Obama creates a double standard for Christian and Muslim sensibilities, asking “why does Barack Obama’s government continue funding the National Endowment for the Arts [NEA], which funded Christ in piss, the Virgin Mary painted in dung, etc.?” But the two art installations Erickson is referring to were made in the late 80s and 90s (respectively), and the pieces were at-best indirectly funded by the NEA. More to the point, the fact that the NEA may have funded some art offensive to Christians decades ago is not a reason to defund the institution (which costs little and funds valuable work) today.
Erickson claims that Christians tolerate dissent, whereas “if you impugn Mohammed, you get a fatwa on your butt.” But only a tiny fraction of the world’s 1 billion Muslims have participated in riots or committed violence as a consequence of offensive paintings, and polling data suggests most Muslims support free speech rights.
He also argues that Obama justified the murder of Ambassador Christopher Stevens despite Obama’s eulogy for the Ambassador in his speech, suggesting that Obama called the violence which took Stevens’ life “understandable.” It is unclear what statement of Obama’s Erickson is referring to here. While it is true that the President said ” the United States rejects efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others” that is not remotely the same thing as saying the violence it provoked was “understandable.” “[W]e must all unequivocally oppose the kind of senseless violence that took the lives of these public servants,” Obama concluded.