According to a recent news account, a project called the Christian Observance Index, brainchild of Reverend Ralph Feis,
. . . has been in the works since 2006, with researchers quietly holding behind-the-scenes meetings with scholars, activists and government officials.
“We have been soliciting the opinion of scholars throughout the Christian world, asking them what defines a Christian country, from the point of view of Christian law,” said Feis.
“What are the principles that make a country Christian? We can say among them is justice, protection of religion and minorities and elimination of poverty, and so on.”
By the end of this year, the institute expects to release the results of an unprecedented poll, conducted with the Gallup Organization, that asked people in all of the world’s predominantly Christian lands how well they felt their country complied with Christian principles.
“The COA will create an annual rating, a score to rate countries on how compliant they are,” said Reverend Feis.
“And we’d like to index both Christian and non-Christian countries, because we know some non-Christian countries will score higher than some Christian ones on some principles like justice, protection of minorities and so on.”
Revered Feis admitted the project was ambitious. Determining Christian principles had been the easy part, he said.
In classical Christian jurisprudence the ruler must be someone who is “wise and upholds Christian law,” he explained.
“Early scholars debated a third point: whether the ruler must also be pious.
“And the answer is no. As long as the ruler is committed to upholding Christian law, piety should not be a hurdle to reigning over people.”
Is it only because I’m a Jew that this makes me uneasy? I doubt it. Even though Reverend Feis comes across as pretty liberal in a number of ways, I would bet that few of my Christian friends will welcome the idea of some organization taking it upon itself to issue a rating of every country in the world on its “Christianness.”
Fortunately, I made all this up. Well, not exactly. The report above is lifted almost word-for-word from an article headlined, “Shariah Index Will Rate Countries’ Islamic Law,” that appeared in July 2009 in The National, an English-language newspaper published in the United Arab Emirates.
The only things I changed were to substitute the word “Christian” for “Muslim,” and “Christian law” for “Shariah.” Also, the real name of the “Christian Observance Index” is the Shariah Index. And the real name of “Reverend Ralph Feis” is Imam Feisal Rauf.
Yes, that’s the same imam whose plan it is to build a mosque and Muslim center near “ground zero.” We’ve been told repeatedly that Imam Feisal is a true moderate, the very kind of Muslim leader that we need to encourage. So he may be. But how much is known about what he stands for and what his “moderation” may consist of? On first hearing, an index to measure the “Islamicity” (his term) of every country does not sound like an exercise in tolerance and multiculturalism.
So what? Isn’t his building project a matter of religious freedom, pure and simple? Well, no. Of course, Muslims have the exact same right to practice their faith as any other Americans. But even our most basic rights are not absolute. Freedom of speech does not include the right to yell “fire” if there isn’t one. Freedom of assembly does not mean you can congregate wherever you wish. Freedom of the press does not imply the right to libel. And freedom of worship does not entail building whatever and wherever you wish.
As the percipient Peter Wehner has pointed out, few would say this was nothing but a first amendment issue if the sponsors of the ground zero project were cheerleaders for al-Qaeda. Imam Feisal is nothing of the kind. To the contrary, he told 60 Minutes on the morrow of 9/11 that “fanaticism and terrorism have no place in Islam.” But he added that “United States policies were an accessory to the crime . . . [b]ecause we have been accessory to a lot of innocent lives dying in the world. In fact, in the most direct sense, Osama bin Laden is made in the USA.”
Before I would endorse the right of the Cordoba Initiative to erect its complex next to ground zero, I’d like to know a lot more about what this center will represent, including more about the beliefs of its mastermind who blamed America for bin Laden and who is ranking the world’s countries according to their “Islamicity.”