This Week in God

THIS WEEK IN GOD…. First up from the God Machine this week is a discouraging but predictable shakeup in the membership of an important interfaith initiative, called the Interfaith Coalition on Mosques.

Last year, the Anti-Defamation League began an interfaith initiative that supports the rights of Muslims to build mosques, and enlisted leaders of several major religious groups to help in the effort. [Tuesday], the Southern Baptist Convention’s Richard Land announced he is leaving the Interfaith Coalition on Mosques because he has received too many complaints from his constituents. Land told the Associated Press that many Southern Baptists felt he was promoting Islam, and not just protecting religious freedom. “I don’t agree with that perception but it’s widespread and I have to respect it,” Land said.

In explaining his decision, Land said his religious right allies do not want to stop Muslim Americans from worshiping. “My constituents, many felt, ‘Yes. We certainly believe in religious freedom. People ought to have a place of worship. But it’s a bridge too far not only to advocate for that, but to file suit,'” he said. “I do think it’s important to note that people were not calling me and saying Muslims don’t have a right to have mosques.”

This is incoherent on multiple levels. For one thing, the lawsuits Land disapproves of became necessarily because bigots were trying to prevent Americans from building places of worship. For another, many of Land’s allies have explicitly argued that Muslims don’t have a right to build mosques.

Perhaps more importantly, Land’s rationale shows a striking cowardice. He participated in an interfaith endeavor that protected Americans’ right to worship, but he’s quitting because his allies lied about the coalition’s efforts.

Land said, after the lies became “widespread,” he has to “respect” his allies’ misguided perceptions. Under the circumstances, “respect” seems like the worst possible choices of words.

Also from the God Machine this week:

* The Hawaiian state Senate recently voted to end the practice of opening its sessions with state-endorsed prayers. Some religious right outfits are outraged. Conservatives hate big government overreach, except when it comes to government endorsements of religion. (thanks to reader M.M. for the tip)

* This week, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, 400 rabbis representing all four branches of American Judaism took out an ad demanding that Glenn Beck be sanctioned for “monstrous” and “beyond repugnant” use of “anti-Semitic imagery” in going after Holocaust survivor George Soros. Fox News said it didn’t care, though the group included the chief executive of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and his predecessor, the dean of the conservative Jewish Theological Seminary rabbinical school, and a number of orthodox rabbis. (thanks to reader D.J. for the tip)

* Some Republican lawmakers in Georgia have decided to respond to the recent shootings in Tucson to push a measure allowing firearms in houses of worship.

* And as part of the Roman Catholic Church’s effort to turn back the tide of Western secularism throughout Europe, the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Culture has a new initiative aimed at promoting dialogue between theists and atheists. The first event will be in Paris in March.