Religious Illiteracy and the FBI
What are the consequences of religious illiteracy? How deeply does this problem affect government, business, and public policy?
The Atlantic recently profiled a newly published book entitled, The FBI and Religion: Faith and National Security before and after 9/11, edited by Sylvester A. Johnson (who was a former professor of mine at Northwestern University), and Steven Weitzman (University of Pennsylvania). Published by the University of California Press, this work is a critical addition to the scholarly study of how religious il/literacy impacts public policy and security.
Writing for The Atlantic, Emma Green questions Weitzman about the historical relationship between the FBI and American religious communities. She highlights the vast difference between religion as a theoretical category and religion as a lived experience-- one that is both internally diverse and constantly in flux. In one example, Green observes,
"The book describes a double invisibility for Jews in the struggle between America and communism. The concept of 'Judeo-Christianity' is not about real, live Jewish people. It’s about a historical tradition that theoretically ended when Christianity began." (Emphasis mine)
The implications of such an oversight-- of disregarding the needs and experiences of diverse religious individuals "on the ground" in favour of a static historical impression of what a given religion might be-- are exactly as dire as Green states: invisibility. As a result of this illiteracy, the FBI set about defending Judaism without actually protecting those Jews who fell outside of the categorical boundaries Hoover had imposed. How is that possible? Weitzman explains:
"Although [J. Edgar Hoover, first director of the FBI] loves Judaism, actual Jews are a problem. He couldn’t really acknowledge that there might be an authentic, non-religious, secular Jewish culture—the left-leaning Jewish culture associated with Yiddish and New York. For him, those kinds of Jews weren’t really Jews. And it’s almost as if he had to defend Judaism against that kind of Jew."
Weitzman and Johnson have created an informative text on the interrelationships between religious literacy, politics, and security-- it's sure to be a fascinating read.
Read the article here.
Learn about the book here.