Newt Gingrich And Theocracy

by Jonathan Chait | July 22, 2010

Since 9/11, some liberals have occasionally compared the fundamentalist tendencies of the religious right with the fundamentalist tendencies of radical Islam. Conservatives often objected -- not without some basis, because the comparison was hyperventilated. But now you see an American conservative leader straightforwardly advocating the Christian version of Saudi Arabian religious intolerance. Newt Gingrich writes:

There should be no mosque near Ground Zero in New York so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia. The time for double standards that allow Islamists to behave aggressively toward us while they demand our weakness and submission is over.

In this context, "double standards" means that the United States maintains a more pluralistic attitude toward religious minorities than Saudi Arabia does. Now, you could make the same kind of argument about any repressive policy in a place like Saudi Arabia. If women are not allowed to walk around freely in Saudi Arabia, then men should not be allowed to walk around freely in the United States!

Naturally, Gingrich would say that my proposal does not follow from his. Why? Well, because his argument depends on a parallel identity: Saudi Arabia is a Muslim country, and the U.S. is a Christian-Jewish country. Indeed, conservatives assert this so routinely that it's no longer controversial or newsworthy: The United States is a Judeo-Christian country. (It sometimes attracts notice when they drop the "Judeo.")

If you want to understand why this is such a toxic premise, just look at Gingrich. Because the premise that we are a Judeo-Christian nation naturally leads to the conclusion that non Judeo-Christians ought to enjoy less religious protection. That can be seen in his formulation of "us," which excludes Muslims. And at that point there's no longer any moral basis for differentiating the U.S. from Saudi Arabia. It's not that they're a theocracy and we aren't. It's that we're one kind of religious country and they're another kind.

To be clear, I'm not saying we are a theocracy or are becoming one. I'm saying that the now-dominant right wing view destroys any principled basis for giving equal treatment to religious minorities.

Source URL: http://www.newrepublic.com//blog/jonathan-chait/76468/newt-gingrich-and-theocracy