Our President-Theologian

Whatever else may be said about the terrorists who are slaughtering Christians, fellow Muslims, and people of other religions, it strikes me as extremely arrogant that the President of the United States should take it upon himself to declare who is and who is not a true Muslim, or who is and who is not a Muslim religious leader. In his address to a White House gathering last week, the president stated with something like ex cathedra certitude that the leaders of ISIS are not religious leaders but simply terrorists who have falsely interpreted the Muslim religion: “They are not religious leaders” he said, and “. .we are at war with people who have perverted Islam.”

That assertion may be true, or it may not be true, but it depends upon how someone interprets the religious writings of Islam. For instance, what weight does one give to the earlier writings versus the later writings? So, for a non-Muslim, who is certainly not a religious scholar and who does not read the sacred books in their original language (very important for Muslim scholars) to set himself up as the judge of who is and who is not a true Muslim reveals both “extreme” arrogance and ignorance. What the precise interpretation of these ancient texts is – which will greatly determine who is a faithful Muslim – is surely a question that ultimately can only be resolved from within this ancient religion.

If I were a Muslim, of whatever school, and there are many such sects depending upon particular readings of the sacred texts etc., I would be gravely offended that an infidel would take it upon himself to determine whether I or any other Muslim was a true religious believer or a true religious leader. Indeed, there is no final authority in Islam that can determine who is or who is not a valid Imam or religious leader. How then does an infidel take it upon himself to make such judgments? If that is not threat to Islam coming from the infidel world, what is?

What is going on in the president’s mind and/or the minds of his speechwriters is deeply disturbing. These kinds of declarations are not to be accounted for by his rare departures from the written text. They are too consistent and too often repeated. His persistent apologia for Islam in the face of these terrorist acts by men who identify themselves as faithful Muslims is quite strange. It is out of sync with his other near obsessions regarding things like “gender identity.” There his administration clearly holds that people are to be taken absolutely at their word when they declare that their gender is opposite to their biological makeup.

Just last December, for instance, the Department of Education published a memo, which established the administration’s decision that Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendments is to be interpreted as protecting students’ identification of their gender and bring all aspects of educational planning, implementation into line with that self-identification.

George Orwell (Eric Blair) and his adopted son, Richard Blair, in 1949 [Art Resource, NY]
George Orwell (Eric Blair) and his adopted son, Richard Blair, in 1949 [Art Resource, NY]
So the youngest children in schools who are biologically identifiable as one sex are to be respected and accommodated if they choose to declare that they belong to the opposite sex, regardless of the biological facts. But adults who identify themselves as Muslims or Muslim leaders are not to be believed, respected and accommodated if they do not meet the criteria of the president and his advisors on religious matters. There is something so bizarre about this that it suggests we are in the presence of a much deeper problem.

We seem to have arrived at the world portrayed in the Huxley and Orwell novels dealing with totalitarian leaders who have abandoned the truth for the power of propaganda, newspeak, manipulation, and doublethink. Words no longer have any direct reference to reality. They are pure instruments of political manipulation. Both those authors understood well the power language has to manipulate, but it was Orwell who spelled out the methodology in explaining the work of the Ministry of Truth, so ironically named.

One task of the ministry is to develop and promote the new language or newspeak, which his novel describes as,

a loyal willingness to say that black is white when Party discipline demands this. But it means also the ability to BELIEVE that black is white, and more, to KNOW that black is white, and to forget that one has ever believed the contrary. This demands a continuous alteration of the past, made possible by the system of thought which really embraces all the rest, and which is known in Newspeak as DOUBLETHINK.

History, the past, has to be totally altered to accommodate the big lie, for instance, and it results in just the way our political leaders can speak so glibly of the Crusades or the Inquisition without any real understanding of either.

Tell the lie often enough and people will begin to believe it. The totalitarians of the last century understood that well. Orwell’s description is still true:

To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just as long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies – all this is indispensably necessary.

All this is happening in the newspeak world of politics today despite the greater availability of information than ever before. One can make absurd judgments about other people’s religious standing because truth is whatever serves the political agenda. Objective historical truth? Forget it. What is Truth? That cynicism was voiced by a political figure also, and it led to the death of Truth Himself. Today it is leading to social chaos.

Fr. Mark A. Pilon (1943-2018) was a priest of the Diocese of Arlington, VA. He received a Doctorate in Sacred Theology from Santa Croce University in Rome. He was a former Chair of Systematic Theology at Mount St. Mary's Seminary, and a retired and visiting professor at the Notre Dame Graduate School of Christendom College. He writes regularly at littlemoretracts.wordpress.com.