A Religious Right Heretic Says Interfaith Dialog is Heretical

Interfaith dialog is heretical? Screw that. Give me some Baal with my breakfast.

Even in the late Roman Empire, when Christianity had gained the upper hand, there were Christians who were willing to live and let live with their Pagan neighbors, the Council of Nicaea and the Theodosian Code notwithstanding, just as earlier many Pagans have lived in peace with their Christian neighbors.

Not every Christian in Alexandria participated in the murder of the great female mathematician and philosopher Hypatia, nor did every Jew or Pagan join in anti-Christian mobs earlier. You would think we could certainly have interfaith understanding today.

But that is difficult to do when the Religious Right and the Republican Party are proclaiming that only Christians have First Amendment rights. After all, non-Christians do not really belong to religions because Christianity is not only the “true” religion but the only religion. And if you don’t have blond-haired, blue-eyed Republican Jesus complete with AR-15, you’re not a real American.

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And so it is hardly surprising in this climate to find that California pastor Jack Hibbs gave a talk at a conference in Minneapolis last fall where he had no kind words for interfaith understanding:

Islam is today is being embraced by so-called evangelical churches announcing that we worship the same god and they’re our brothers. Listen: That is not only false, it is a demonic doctrine being propagated by heretics.

Sadly for Hibbs, Muslims do worship the same God. Islam an Abrahamic religion like Judaism and Christianity. In fact, theologians in the Byzantine Empire saw Muslims as Christian heretics, and not as members of an entirely new religion.

In fact, one of the first Christian polemics against Islam was written by a Byzantine, John of Damascus, his ‘Heresy of the Ishmaelites (not the only polemic he wrote – he went after Nestorians, Jacobites and Manicheans as well), which the Orthodox Christian Information Center calls “especially relevant for our times.”

John’s attitudes moved west throughout Christendom and Arabized Christians or Mozarabs have left us texts in response to Islamic conquest of Iberia (Spain and Portugal) in the 8th century, treatises which also refer to the Muslims as heretics. As a heretic, you worship the same god; you just have “perverse” ideas about him.

Keep in mind, the word heresy comes from the Greek word for “choice” because heretics have “chosen” not to believe the Orthodox “truth.” In other words, religious tolerance is not only linguistically, but practically speaking, impossible under Orthodox dogma.

Never mind that the version of Christianity practiced by Hibbs and other members of the Religious Right, is itself heretical, having become some monstrous amalgam of Old and New Testament, in which huge tracts are ignored in the interest of promoting a culture war in support of certain, specific, bigoted points of view. For example, disobedient children are not stoned, as required by the Law of Moses, but gays are singled out for special attention, and Jesus is ignored for a very thoroughly cherry-picked wrathful God of the Old Testament.

Muslims also receive special attention, though they are nowhere mentioned in either the Old or New Testament, and Hibbs went into full wrath mode when he called Allah the “Babylonian moon god Baal”:

Now look, you may hold that view today simply because maybe you’re not a heretic, but you might be ignorant that this is a war against an ancient doctrine, an ancient god with a little ‘g,’ and ancient system that used to go around by the name of Baal. It is the moon god of the ancient Babylonian empire. Babylon had 360 gods. The chief god was the moon god. Don’t you think it’s interesting that all around the world, mosques have a moon symbol, a crescent on top of their buildings?

Religious Right figures love to invoke Baal. For example, Rick Perry’s buddy John Benefiel, who claims the Statue of Liberty is a demonic symbols, said last year that “demon” god Baal has control of the United States and that he – Level 30 Demon Hunter Benefiel – has made it his personal quest to break that control. According to Benefiel, homosexuality is one of Baal’s “strongholds.” And Glenn Beck went full mental when he blamed Occupy Wall Street on worship of Baal and Moloch.

As I wrote here back in 2011, “Baal (or Ba’al) is a very misunderstood god. Everything most people know about him is wrong, and this is no surprise, given the rep he gets in the hate-fest called the Old Testament.”[1] One of the things Hibbs is wrong about is that Baal is not a moon god.

Baal is a god of the Canaanites. In Canaanite mythology he was the “Cloud Rider, the weather god who rode across the heavens daily in his chariot, governing wind and weather.”[2] He was known to the Canaanites as Baal Zephon (Baal of the North) and to the Hebrews as Baal of Hazor, Baal of Hermon, Baal of Meon, Baal of Peor, Baal of Tamar.[3] Baal is also the storm god, who lives on Jebel Aqra (ancient Sapuna), where, gifted by the gods, he has “a palace of blue lapis and silver which they brought down from the clouds”[4] What Baal is not is a god of “homosexuality” though like any other pagan god, he is not against homosexuality.

Now my purpose here is not to preach the gospel of Baal or Mohammed or of anyone else. My point is that there are still people who worship Baal. Canaanite religion is still very much with us today, as are many other religions, ancient and modern.

People of many different religions have always been part of the American scene, and as Thomas Jefferson said of his Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, “the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo and infidel of every denomination” were meant to be included in “the mantle of its protection.”

Certainly, we cannot include everyone if we cannot talk to them. Under the Constitution, all religions are equal, whatever devotees of one or the other might believe about “true” religion. Hibbs and his friends might want to brush up on that Constitution, because like it or not, it, and not the Bible, is still the law of the land.

And Hibbs be damned, we should all be talking to one another, as often and as much as possible. Being able to do that is the best part of being a citizen of a pluralistic modern liberal democracy. After all, the more we talk to each other, the better we will get along. After all, it’s harder to hate those you get to know.

And how can that be a bad thing?

[1] Nor does it help that he was made the “heavy” in the popular Blizzard role playing game Diablo II, which draws on Abrahamic mythology rather than history. A reasonable substitute for Baal in this game would be YHWH. We have to wonder in this case what reception the game would have had.
[2] William G. Dever, Did God Have a Wife? Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel (Eerdman’s, 2005), 157.
[3] Dever (2005), 235.
[4] Robin Lane Fox, Travelling Heroes in the Epic Age of Homer (Vintage, 2008), 244.

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