Why we all can’t just get along

Pastor John Hagee is a bigot, and his bigotry against Catholicism ought to force John McCain to disown him. But that in that bigotry he is merely being true to the Reformation roots of Protestantism. Tolerance counsels us to ignore the theological beliefs of our fellow-citizens when they are merely false, bizarre, or silly. But there are limits to the tolerance that ought to be accorded the intolerant: even if their intolerance reflects their religious beliefs.

One of the bizarre elements in the right-wing coalition now (imshallah) about to lose its grip on power in the United States is the assembly under the same tent of right-wing Catholics and right-wing Protestant fundamentalists.

Theologically, right-wing Catholics are more likely than others to think that Protestantism is heresy and that Pope John XXIII and the Second Vatican Council were wrong to soften the Church’s claim to sole ownership of the Keys; to them, “No salvation outside the Church” means, simply, “All Protestants (and, of course, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, pagans, and atheists) are going to Hell.”

On the Protestant side, fundamentalists are closer to the anti-Catholic polemic of the original Reformers than are contemporary “mainstream” Protestants. A generation ago, someone like Mike Huckabee would have been just as dubious about whether Catholics count as Christians as he was this year about whether Mormons do. Three centuries ago, Cotton Mather or Jonathan Edwards wouldn’t have regarded it as even an arguable point: Rome was the new Babylon, the Beast described in Revelations, and that was all there was to it. That’s why it was illegal in the Massachusetts Bay Colony to celebrate such Romish, quasi-pagan holidays as Christmas.

So when John McCain’s supporter, the lunatic Pastor John Hagee, calls the Roman Catholic Church “The Great Whore,” an “apostate church,” and the “anti-Christ,” he’s merely being faithful to the roots of Protestantism. Indeed, compared to Martin Luther, whose polemical works are full of unprintably scatological attacks on the Papacy, Hagee’s choice of language is rather moderate.

Certainly it’s fair to call Hagee, who believes, falsely, that all Muslims are under an religious obligation to murder Christians, a bigot. [Update: Hagee also has some rather odd views about Jews*.] And it’s certainly fair for Catholics to demand that McCain denounce (or was it repudiate?) Hagee’s support. [So far, McCain, confronted with some of Hagee’s more outrageous beliefs, has said merely that he is “very honored” by Hagee’s backing and that “I am very proud to have Pastor John Hagee’s support.”]

Of course, the notion that Hagee ought to be too hot to handle makes a hash of the American-civil-religion story that everyone’s faith is merely a private matter that ought to be left out of politics. Pastor Hagee and Minister Farrakhan both have perfectly sincere religious beliefs that tell them to hate various other people based on religion and race. But (as John Locke pointed out a long time ago with reference to the Catholicism of his period) there need to be limits to toleration when it comes to intolerant beliefs.

* Hagee on the Jews:

It was the disobedience and rebellion of the Jews, God’s chosen people, to their covenantal responsibility to serve only the one true God, Jehovah, that gave rise to the opposition and persecution that they experienced beginning in Canaan and continuing to this very day….

How utterly repulsive, insulting, and heartbreaking to God for His chosen people to credit idols with bringing blessings He had showered upon the chosen people. Their own rebellion had birthed the seed of anti-Semitism that would arise and bring destruction to them for centuries to come…. it rises from the judgment of God uppon his rebellious chosen people.

Oh, and he looks forward to nuclear war in the Middle East as the harbinger of the Rapture.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com