A Purpose-Driven Baathism

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Over at Slate, Christopher Hitchens explains that Saddleback pastor Rick Warren is not only a purpose-driven religious crackpot (his mentor, whom he identified as the "greatest pastor of the 20th century," is a rapture enthusiast, obviously) but also a chum of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad:

"Syria," he told his viewers back home by video, is "a moderate country, and the official government rule and position is to not allow extremism of any kind." This is a highly original way to describe a regime that is joined at the hip with the Iranian theocracy, that is the patron of Hezbollah in Lebanon, and that is the official and unabashed host of the fugitive Hamas leadership whose military wing directs massacre operations from Damascus itself. (One might also add that the Syrian Baath Party's veteran defense minister, Mustafa Tlas, published a book under his own name that accused Jews of using the blood of non-Jewish children for the making of those ever-menacing Passover matzos. I suppose it depends how you define extremism.)

Here is a photo of Warren presenting Assad with some sort of commemerative plaque:

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  1. Dude, get those ads out of the middle of the post.

  2. …Hamas leadership whose military wing directs massacre operations…

    I must have missed those Hamas-directed massacres. Any info on them?

  3. 1) What is it with politicians and preachers from other countries? First they got half of Congress to show up to some Moonie ceremony a few years ago, now we’ve got Assad and Rick Warren chilling.

    2) Seeing Assad and Warren in a picture below an ad asking “Is your man gay?” is just funny in light of Prop 8.

    3) Wait, could this be Obama’s Sekrit Mooslim connection?

    Barack Obama is having Rick Warren pray at his inauguration.
    Rick Warren hangs out with Bashar Assad.
    Bashar Assad leads a country full of Muslims.

    Even more interesting:

    Bashar Assad was on BBC World News with Nicholas Witchell.
    Nicholas Witchell was in 100 Greatest TV Moments with Graham Norton.
    Graham Norton interviewed…

    KEVIN BACON!

  4. “Dude, get those ads out of the middle of the post.”

    Here here. If this is the future of Reason. I’m out.

  5. what ad was it?

    awesome, Doktor T!

  6. “Sarah Palin’s IQ is 118. What’s yours?”

  7. And according to the same ad campaign, Bush’s was/is 141. What does THAT tell you?

  8. “Syria,” he told his viewers back home by video, is “a moderate country, and the official government rule and position is to not allow extremism of any kind.”

    I recall reading somewhere that the elder Assad was originally supported by the Jews of Damascus who prefered him to the likely alternative, an Islamic regime.

    Mind you that seems to have been back a ways.

    Since then the conflict with Israel has taken center stage and just as in Baghdad and Tehran those Jews that weren’t expelled have thought it best to leave.

    Still and all they remain a secular regime and any internal show of Islamism is likely to be crushed. All this while they funnel money to the blatantly Islamist Hisbollah and Hamas groups.

  9. Syria internally is quite a moderate country religious wise — they support a lot of religious extremists abroad for political purposes but the Syrian regime is secular and if it weren’t for the Alawites and the Assads the country would certainly now be in the hands of religious extremists, the Syrian Baath Party has violently crushed multiple uprisings by religious fundamentalists — as this isn’t Venezuela or Cuba its quite obvious Moynihan doesn’t know his ass from a hot middle eastern rock…

  10. Should the Reason drinking game‘s rules be amended to include instances where ad-related code is (unintentionally) included in a post?

  11. What a shocker, that there’s a passage in the middle assailing Warren for telling a Syrian audience that most Americans oppose the Bush administration’s policy in Iraq.

    No, seriously: a piece by Christopher Hitchens in which he uses denunciation of an autocratic leader as a cover for flaying an Iraq War critic! And Michael Moynihan linked to it!

    It’s like Bizarro World, except backwards.

  12. The whole “matzos have blood in them” libel actually probably benefits Jews these days.

    It distracts attention from the fact that the Passover celebration is pretty loathsome despite the fact that the matzos are blood-free.

    Basically we have a holiday where Jews celebrate the fact that God taught the Egyptians a lesson by exterminating their children while allowing Jewish children to live.

    It’s as if we had a bunch of Germans celebrating a holiday commemorating the liquidation of the Lodz ghetto by eating unleavened bread. “Woo hoo, a bunch of Jewish children died that day! Party time! Excellent! Let’s eat some crackers!”

    Often the religion threads here feature massive backpedaling by Christians over the various atrocities in the Old Testament, but the Jews have much less room to maneuver on that score. They’re still celebrating the atrocities in the Old Testament, and it’s hard for me to see how they even could successfully backpedal from them. It’s kind of a bind when that’s the only Bible you’ve got.

  13. Hey Moynihan, stop trying to get Hitchens to notice you.

    He’s just not that into you.

  14. Fluffy,

    There was the whole enslavement thing in Egypt that led up to the whole passover thing.

    I wouldn’t be too outraged if people wanted to celebrate the ending of slavery in the U.S. via the civil war, even if scores of people were killed.

  15. There was the whole enslavement thing in Egypt that led up to the whole passover thing.

    The Israelis were enslaved by male infants?

    Those were some tough ass infants.

    I wouldn’t be too outraged if people wanted to celebrate the ending of slavery in the U.S. via the civil war, even if scores of people were killed.

    If slavery in the US had been ended because a black biological warfare expert from the future went back in time and released a gengineered virus that killed all white infants and children below the age of ten, and the whites got scared and freed all the slaves, celebrating that event would make you scum. And I say that as someone who thinks that John Brown was in the right at Harper’s Ferry, and who doesn’t regret a single Confederate battle death.

  16. Also, MNG, the situation is complicated by the fact that the Israelites were never slaves in Egypt, and by the fact that the events of Passover never happened, and by the fact that the Mosaic migration was a much different event than that recorded in the Old Testament.

    So in one sense it’s kind of silly for me to even be outraged that people are commemorating an imaginary event.

    But the people celebrating it think they’re celebrating something real. [Or at least some of them do, I guess.] And choosing to engage in that celebration is a highly compromised act.

  17. You know, due to the wonders of targeted banner advertising, the more you guys talk about that ad (you know that of which I speak), the longer it’s going to be here. WTTW.

  18. You know, due to the wonders of targeted banner advertising, the more you guys talk about that ad (you know that of which I speak), the longer it’s going to be here. WTTW.

    I like the way you can “summon” ads now, like Beetlejuice.

    Watch, I’ll demonstrate:

    “Gay sex! Gay sex! Gay sex!”

    Enjoy.

  19. re: Fluffy

    If you think the Passover celebration really centers on celebrating genocide, then you’re quite ignorant.

    Why don’t you find a Jew and ask him or her why they are instructed to dip their fingers in red wine as the 10 plagues are read. Ask him or her what is the symbolism behind this somber ritual. Then you could ask why first-born male Jews are required to fast the day before the Passover celebration. What do you think this fast could be contrition for? Finally, if that isn’t enough to enlighten you, you could inquire as to the well-known midrash (Rabbinical scriptual exegesis) concerning how God commanded the choir of angels to stop singing as the Egyptian soliders drowned in the Red Sea.

    But, I suppose actually understanding the facts and cultural assumptions behind the festival would get in the way of your unwarranted sense of superiority, huh?

  20. Tough luck, Expatriate.

    Maybe the Passover ceremony isn’t triumphalism of the Bushite variety, but the festival has its roots in gratitude for Yahweh’s action, and acceptance of it. There may not be a Mission Accomplished banner in the background, but the events that are commemorated in the Passover festival 1) were a mass murder of innocents, including children and infants; 2) were conducted on behalf of the Israelites; 3) were assisted by the Israelites, to the extent that houses that were not to be subject to the mass murder were marked manually; 4) are morally endorsed by Judaism, since Yahweh’s acts are all explicitly beyond moral question.

    Unless there is extensive extra-biblical Rabbinical commentary denouncing Yahweh’s act of genocide? Hmmmm? And the other pettier acts of mass murder, including child murder, littered through the other books of the Old Testament?

    And now I guess at least one of my questions has been answered. I already knew how Christians backpedaled from the Old Testament, but wasn’t sure how Jews did. Should I take your post as an indication that Jews backpedal by claiming that their worship of a mass murdering tribal god is “somber” and “contrite”? And that although by definition their celebration of the acts of Yahweh necessarily includes an endorsement of those acts, It’s Not Really That Simple [TM] and you need to know all the “cultural assumptions” to get it?

  21. Since it’s worth taking purpose-driven religious crackpots at their word (words?):

    From where Warren sits (and believe me, when Rick Warren sits around the house…), Syria is in fact a moderate country. To wit:

    Sexual morality is very strongly encouraged, disparaging commentary of any kind is nearly absent, Christian worship is specifically protected and widely respected.

    And then there’s those, well shucks, there’s those ol’ intangibles: The rampant individualism that bemires the West is in Syria strictly subordinated to collective purpose (whose absence in these United States, I’m told by both parties, is a great shame to us). People put great value on families and good names. All male citizens learn cooperation and teamwork during two years of mandatory miltiary service. The language of Jesus H. Christ himself is spoken in one charming mountain village.

    From a Christian perspective Syria is better than moderate; it is highly attractive.

  22. From a Christian perspective Syria is better than moderate; it is highly attractive.

    you must have a seriously huge can to paint with that broad a brush!

  23. Warren seems like a bit of a political naif.

    Judging by the context, “moderate” probably means not a religious-fundamentlist, jihadist regime like Iran, Saudi Arabia, or the Taliban. A place where women aren’t beaten for not wearing veils.

    I’d probably use a term like “modernizing” or “secular” to make this distinction, but Warren’s a preacher, not a political thinker.

  24. re: Fluffy

    I’ll agree with you concerning points 1,2 and 3. However, I’m not sure I would agree with you on point 4. At least not until we define what we mean by “Judaism”. Do you mean Judaism as practiced by the majority of Jews circa 2009 AD? or are we talking about Judaism circa 70 BC, which is when the celebration of the festival of Passover was codified and standardized.

    Unless there is extensive extra-biblical Rabbinical commentary denouncing Yahweh’s act of genocide? Perhaps. Do your own research and get back to me on that.

    Should I take your post as an indication that Jews backpedal by claiming that their worship of a mass murdering tribal god is “somber” and “contrite”?

    Umm…yes, why else do you think Orthodox Jews dress in all black?

    And that although by definition their celebration of the acts of Yahweh necessarily includes an endorsement of those acts, It’s Not Really That Simple [TM] and you need to know all the “cultural assumptions” to get it?

    Yes, when it comes to spirituality it really isn’t that “simple”. But then, what the hell do I know, I’m a Buddhist!

  25. Joycean Apostate-

    I think Tim probably meant to say “from a Fundamentalist Christian perspective” or something like that. Certainly to a certain type of fundamentalist, the things that Tim described would sound pretty good.

    OTOH, I wonder how many fundamentalists of that type would be open-minded enough to appreciate the similarities between his preferences and the practices of a bunch of Arabs, many of whom are Muslim and some of whom practice forms of Christianity that a fundie might find heretical. The various Orthodox-affiliated and Catholic-affiliated Christian churches of the Middle East tend to have a lot of saints and symbols and rituals that would turn off fundies who prefer sticking to the literal word of God and all that. Although I suppose they might respect the ancient pedigree of those churches, tracing a direct line back to the earliest Christians.

  26. True, Thoreau, although Syria is actually more attractive to the traditional saints-n-incense religions you have in mind than it is to fundamentalists.

    That is, Syrian religious pluralism is communal more than individual. In terms of public tolerance and respect, you’ll get more mileage out of saying you’re a Chaldean or an Orthodox Christian than you’ll get out of saying you’ve got a personal relationship with Christ. There are thriving Orthodox Communities throughout Syria. Baathism was co-founded by an Orthodox Christian.

    I think followers of pointy-hat Christianity get a level of deference that wouldn’t be afforded to low-church or Anabaptist-derived Protestants — in part because evangelicals are frequently regarded as supporters of Israel, but also because their way of worship doesn’t fit as well into the local model. There are too few of them in Syria to test that assertion, but that may change in the future: There’s a sucker born again every minute.

  27. There’s a sucker born again every minute.

    Priceless.

    I like what Dennis Miller said about being told that he must be born again: “No, thanks. I got it right the first time.”

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