Lots of people view religion like race or ethnicity: it's just a neutral part of diversity. In reality, religion matters a great deal - and can be good or bad, true or false.
In my last piece, I analyzed Madonna’s recent statement that “a good Muslim is a good Jew, and a good Jew is a good Christian, and so forth.” Her comment brings to mind a similar statement she made about a year ago when, during the middle of a concert, she endorsed Barack Obama by shouting out “We have a black Muslim in the White House! Now that’s some amazing s***! … And Obama is fighting for gay rights, so support the man, g-damnit!” Madonna’s outburst provides some insight into what it means to live in a society where multiculturalism is the ruling ideology. The surest sign of election in such a society is openness to diversity. If Obama is Muslim and pro-gay, that’s cool because it gives one the opportunity to feel good about oneself for being supportive of his diversity. The operative rule for such voters is not “what’s good for the country,” but “what’s good for my self-image.”
Let’s imagine some of the possibilities as this self-congratulatory mindset takes hold of American voters:
Voter: “Wow! What a great country this is!”
The first gay, neo-Nazi, anti-Semitic, anti-Catholic president is elected.
Voter: “What a fantastic uniform! They say he designed it himself.”
The first twenty-first-century slaveholding president is elected.
Voter: “What’s wrong with that? Thomas Jefferson had slaves.”
These examples may seem far-fetched, but it should be kept in mind that what constitutes political correctness will change with the times. That’s to be expected in a relativistic society. What’s considered as progressive opinion will be whatever fashionable people are thinking. For example, anti-Semitism and anti-Catholicism are already more fashionable than was the case ten years ago. The point is to discern what sorts of things merit self-applause in a particular time frame. Right now, diversity – almost any kind of diversity – is fashionable. Sammy Davis, Jr. used to say that he had three counts against him because he was black, homosexual, and Jewish. Nowadays, however, such multiformity will merit you double diversity points (except maybe the Jewish part).
This brings us back to Madonna. The day after her performance, perhaps in the realization that she might otherwise be branded as a right-wing conspiracy theorist, she clarified her endorsement, saying, “I was being ironic on stage. Yes, I know Obama is not a Muslim – though I know that plenty of people in this country think he is. And what if he were? … I don’t care what religion Obama is, nor should anyone else in America.”
This, of course, is more of the see-how-open-and-non-judgmental-I-am self-flattery we’ve come to expect from entertainers – but, like her original affirmation, it provides some insight into the multicultural mind. If nothing else, Madonna has a good grasp of what sells to her audience, and she calculated correctly that her “I don’t care” attitude would go over well with them.
“I don’t care what religion Obama is, nor should anyone else in America.” For many Americans, that is a non-problematic assertion. In fact, that attitude has a long lineage that goes back even further than the day Americans decided that John F. Kennedy’s religion didn’t matter. For example, President Dwight Eisenhower once observed that “[o]ur form of government makes no sense unless it is founded on a deeply felt religious faith, and I don’t care what it is.” At the time, Eisenhower came in for quite a bit of criticism for the second half of his statement, but nowadays it’s a good bet that far fewer would see any problem with it. After decades of multicultural conditioning, the equivalence of all cultures and religions is taken as a self-evident truth in our society. The notion that all religions are equally OK suits us just fine.