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Theology 101


“They hate everything you stand for and will never coexist with you, unless you submit.”

Lt. Col. Matthew Dooley made this observation during a course about Islam at the Joint Forces Staff College, Norfolk, Virginia. But this comment made by a Christian with regard to Islam might as easily have been uttered by an extreme adherent of Islam concerning Christians. Lt Col. Dooley is still in the U.S. military, though he no longer teaches this course and has declined comment on his removal from the teaching staff.

Several questions come to mind: First, in an hierarchical system like the U.S. military, where nothing is done without approval from a higher command, how was Dooley able to develop a syllabus with such strong ideological content? A likely answer to that question then suggests a predisposition among some in the military to confuse ideology and religion—a dangerous tendency in these perilous partisan times. But ultimately, I’m inclined to wonder what aspect of extremity inhibits ideologues of either stripe from percieving so little difference between themselves and the targets of their own rhetoric.

“They hate everything you stand for and will never coexist with you, unless you submit” could have been words from the ayatollah Khomeini or the ayatollah Pat Robertson. In fact, I’ve heard Robertson and Khomeini say substantially the same thing about one another.

Mr g

I’ve just finished a first reading of Mr g, a short novel by MIT physicist-humanist Alan Lightman in which the Supreme Being offers a first-person narrative of Creation. Lightman’s luminous reading of Genesis as a physicist has reignited my quest for spiritual life. And a hasty review of the various creation myths of my experience brings me to the simplest and most satisfying among them: Gnosticism. If you have another to offer, let me know.

My friend Howard Tabor, writer for The Daily Plantagenet, is an unapologetic unrepentant Christian of the Liberal persuasion rapidly declining in numbers. He was born into the Anglican tradition and has remained true to the pleasant perspectives of Sunday School in the 50s—and he’s comfortable, there. I, on the other hand, am not.

In his book Letter to a Christian Nation, author Sam Harris claims there are no Christian children (or Muslim children or Jewish children or Hindu children, etc.); that there are, rather, the children of Christian parents (or Muslim parents or Jewish parents or Hindu parents, etc.). Whatever the hell happened to me is a mysterious exception to Harris’ observation. The hybridity of my family’s situation—Roman Catholic grandmother, Congregationalist mother, Atheist grandfather, Agnostic-turned-Cathollic-three-days-before-his-death father) was doomed, I suppose, to propel me into the marketplace of religious experience. Peer pressure took a slight but mercifully short-lived toll. And small-c catholic reading habits only exacerbated the situation. At best today I am a full blown Gnostic and hardly reticent to make that claim.


So, as the story of religiosity in Agincourt unfolds, as it probably will during this election season, I shall try to be “fair and balanced,” though extremists like Lt. Col. Dooley will just as hardly fail to accept that claim.

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