Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

Imperial Aspirations, Religious Freedom and Public Education

Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

Imperial Aspirations, Religious Freedom and Public Education

Article excerpt

I. The Modern Religious Problematic

If the foundation of democracy is public education, and if democracy presupposes the possibility of rational debate then public education is imperiled by the classical formulation of Christianity which has denied the place of reason in the validation of matters of comprehensive convictions. Because the dismantling of public education, as many Christian conservatives demand, implies a self-contradictory argument for a democrat (ie a citizen of a democracy) and because the alternative is also self-defeating, I argue that an appropriate and credible formulation of the Christian faith must be open to rational validation. The implications of this essay are that Christianity must be so understood as to formulated according to the humanist commitment and that indeed some of Christianity as it is practiced and preached today is dangerous to the foundations and current institution of democracy. I do not take aim here solely at the fundamentalist and conservative Christians, though they do seem to be on the forefront of efforts to eliminate public education. I am instead convinced that a broader critique is necessary and have discovered in the work of some of today's postcolonial theorists, a method in cultural critique which allows Christian theology to see in its own history and culture, patterns of imperialism which deny the impulse behind the central ideological concern of Jesus of Galilee, namely to establish a kingdom of God.

I begin by noting that I became particularly interested in thinking about the hegemonic in theology and in religious practice after September 11, 2001 when we began to hear a great deal of rhetoric that sounded like the example of General Boykin, who upon his return from Iraq in 2004 began speaking at mainly southern Baptist churches around the United States about the US responsibility to spread freedom around the world. He was quoted in CBS television in September of 2004 asking and answering his question: "Why do they hate us?" he asks, "The answer to that is that we're a Christian nation ... We are hated because we are a nation of believers. [Our] spiritual enemy will only be defeated if we come against them in the name of Jesus. (1) Was he alone in this business? I had a suspicion that though many publicly denounced him, the theological justification for for such xenophobic diatribe lies latent in much Christian thinking, to the extent that even "liberal" Christianity denies the role of reason in religious justification.

II. Christian Insurrection

General Boykin has had a long history in the United States military. He was a member of the Elite Delta forces and was instrumental in a number of high profile US military operations. Because of his reputation, he was chosen to "reform" the prisons in Iraq, to "Gitmo-ize" them, to quote Sydney Blumenthal. An investigation was launched in response to public criticism over Boykin's statements like the one made on CBS. The conclusion of the "Boykin Report" was simply that he should have cleared his speeches with the Department of Defense. He was also cited for failing to preface his talks at these evangelical meetings with a disclaimer stating that his views, were not necessarily those of the Department of Defense. (2) But nowhere was Boykin criticized for his bigotry, nowhere was his abuse of power denounced. Instead his first amendment rights to free speech were defended and in the process the first amendment's religious freedom clause took another blow.

Boykin's scornful question is not a new one. The psalmist in Psalm 2 begins by asking a similar one: "Why do the nations rage so furiously together?" That his question has the same impulse as Boykin's is not immediately apparent to the Christian theologian and preacher, so used is she to reading the text from the mindset of the Psalmist, who answers the "Why?" in the negative in the second half of the couplet which forms verse one. …

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