Republicans and conservatives say the darnest things.

First, Ann Coulter. Don’t think I am obsessing over here just because this is my second mention of her in two weeks. (Click here to see the first.) I don’t recall having written about her madness before these latest strikes. But it was hard to resist returning to the subject after reading an account of a lecture she delivered to the impressionable minds of Northwestern University. She took the predictable potshots at liberals. And then she proclaimed that the war on terror is a “religious war.” She explained, in a way:

“This is a religious war, not against Islam but for Christianity, for a Christian nation. When this nation was founded, there was nothing like it. Our founders said there is a God and we are all equal before God. The ideal of equality and tolerance is like nothing that has ever existed in the world before. That, too, is a Christian value. The concept of equality, especially when it comes to gender equality, was not invented by Gloria Steinem. It was invented by Jesus Christ. As long as people look long enough, they will always come to Christianity.”

Are equality and tolerance historical Christian values? (Note she does not bother to use the more PR-friendly and inclusive phrase “Judeo-Christian values.”) Ask the victims of the Inquisition or the Crusades. America’s Christian founders may have preached equality, but they hardly practiced it. See slavery. Did the “ideal of equality and tolerance” only appear with the birth of the United States? Check out the preceding Age of Enlightenment. (Locke celebrated a state of nature in which people were happy, tolerant, free and equal.) And Jesus invented feminism? Then why did the “Christian nation” of the United States deny women the right to vote? Why has the Catholic Church refused to ordain female priests? Why do certain fundamentalist Christians insist that women submit to their husbands?

And where currently is this tolerance that Coulter speaks of? Her Christian supremacist comrades–such as Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell–blast away at Islam and other religions. General William Boykin, a top Pentagon official, derided Islam while giving talks before evangelical Christians. And when George W. Bush last week commented that Christians and Muslims worship the same God, fundamentalist Christians howled in protest. The Reverend Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals and a frequent visitor to the White House, said, “”The Christian God encourages freedom, love, forgiveness, prosperity and health. The Muslim god appears to value the opposite. The personalities of each god are evident in the cultures, civilizations and dispositions of the peoples that serve them.” How’s that for tolerance?

Robertson has even accused Episcopalians, Presbyterians and Methodists of representing “the spirit of the Antichrist” and repeatedly called Hinduism “devil worship.” And Coulter showed little tolerance when she wrote of anti-American Muslims in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, “We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity.”

Plenty of Christian leaders, of course, are tolerant and equality-minded. Some support a gay bishop. (And some of my best friends are Christians!) But the history of Christianity shows that this religion has created a big tent that can accommodate mass-murdering bigots and courageous freedom-loving champions of equality. It is foolish, ahistorical, and wrong for Coulter to assert that Christianity equals equality and tolerance. After all, is she a fan of liberation theology?

One should not get too exercised about Coulter’s uninformed view of history. But her remarks represent the fervent desire of Christian supremacists to transform the war against al Qaeda into a titanic religious battle. Thank God most mainstream churches–including the one based in Rome–do not see it that way. Perhaps they have learned from the past.

Now, we turn to the GOP. Rather than theologize the war, the Republican National Party and its chairman Ed Gillespie have politicized it. There’s nothing wrong with that. Bush’s conduct of the war on terrorism and his actions in Iraq should be electoral issues. He should run on his record, and there would be nothing unfair about GOPers telling voters to vote Republican if they’re satisfied with developments in Iraq and encouraged by Bush’s handling of the terrorist threat. But that’s not what the Republicans are doing. In its latest–and much-noticed–television ad, the Republican Party claims, “Some are now attacking the President for attacking the terrorists….Some call for us to retreat, putting our national security in the hands of others.”

That’s not true. Bush has not generally been criticized for going after the terrorists who attacked the United States. The critics have argued that the war on Iraq did not target al Qaeda. That’s why ret. General Anthony Zinni, ret. General Wesley Clark, ret. General John Shalikashvili, Senator Bob Graham and other non-peace-movement types opposed it. Even now, as Bush and his aides claim the war on Iraq is the central front in the war on terrorism, his chief military commanders there say that U.S. troops are primarily fighting Ba’athist remnants, not al Qaeda terrorists and other jihadists who might have slipped into Iraq. And the major Bush opponents–such as the leading Democratic presidential candidates–do not call for “retreat” or to place U.S. national security “in the hands of others.” They have urged that the United States partner up with other nations to deal with the mess in Iraq.

Gillespie and Coulter are just making things up–the past, the present, whatever. I wonder, if they were able to clear drafts of their ads and speeches with the world’s most famous carpenter’s son, what would Jesus do?

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