Doug Logan
2 min readJan 31, 2016

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Devout Muslims and the Separation of Church and State

Are Muslims out to get us? On the scale of Ridiculous to Imminent, the discourse needle on that question seems to hover closer to Imminent, which is ridiculous. So it helps when someone brings the conversation just a bit closer to earth.

New York Times columnist Ross Douthat is not of the usual conservative stripe; he’s more of a stern, old-fashioned, holier-than-thou, smarter-than-thou, finger-shaking Catholic intellectual and moralist: ‘I get God’s plan, and I tell you this for your own benefit…’ Even so, he does a good job in this column framing questions that need answering about the challenges of Muslim assimilation in American society, and the problem for Americans in recognizing those challenges.

He identifies a lot of us here: “…secular liberal Westerners, who take a more benign view of Islam mostly because they assume that all religious ideas are arbitrary, that it doesn’t matter what Muhammad said or did because tomorrow’s Muslims can just reinterpret the Prophet’s life story and read the appropriate liberal values in.” Then he says why these assumptions might be muddleheaded. And he plants a good skewer: “arid secularism.” Yowch.

Still, that benign view — based, by the way, not so much on the idea that “all religious ideas are arbitrary” as on the understanding that religious scriptures and fundamentalist dogmas are man-made and therefore fallible and malleable — is the view that will work in the long run, provided the lid stays on civilization long enough. Speed the day when all scriptures are found in the bookstore under “Moral Philosophy,” “Mythology,” and “Good Reads.”

Western secularism must seem spiritually dry and unfulfilling to anyone of a fundamentalist bent — Muslim, Christian, Mormon, Orthodox Jew — but in spite of its many idiotic displays it celebrates and honors creation more effectively than religion alone, because it encourages God-given brains to range far and wide, to explore, to understand more about the universe, and to accomplish. And this would not be possible without the binary wisdom of freedom of religion on one hand and separation of church and state on the other, allowing for both personal worship and public comity.

In this context there are and have always been people in every religious group who cannot abide that wisdom, and step over the line, and make trouble. We’ve managed, and we will again. Part of the management is to pay attention when more than a few of the devout in any religious population are willing to countenance and rationalize violence done in God’s name, whether motivations are pious or political. The other part is not to freak out.

This essay was originally published on www.burgoo.net.

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Doug Logan

Editor and writer. Books, magazines, web. Boats and the sea, U.S. and global affairs, poetry, general interest. @rhumblines