Speaking before the National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday, President Obama denounced those "who hijack religion for their own murderous ends," citing, for instance, the Islamic State militant group, "a brutal, vicious death cult that, in the name of religion, carries out unspeakable acts of barbarism." Given the group's gruesome executions of its hostages and its utterly horrific execution of children, including the mentally disabled, one could hardly dispute the president's characterization of its fundamentalist adherents.
Nevertheless, the president's speech rankled conservative critics. Obama, you see, committed the grievous error of pointing out that brutality and violence have hardly been the province of any one religion.
"[L]est we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ," Obama noted. "In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ," he added, referring to segregationists' fondness for Biblical injunctions against interracial mingling.
The right-wing reaction was swift -- and, at times, nothing short of hyperbolic.
"The president’s comments this morning at the prayer breakfast are the most offensive I’ve ever heard a president make in my lifetime,” proclaimed former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore, 65, who lived through the presidency of Richard Milhous Nixon, whose bigoted utterances would make even Steve Scalise blush. Gilmore, for what it's worth, is one of approximately 7,000 Republicans floating a 2016 presidential bid, despite the fact that he lost his last election, a 2008 U.S. Senate race, by 31 percentage points.
Bill Donohue, the perpetually red-faced leader of the Catholic League -- a "league" that appears to consist primarily of Bill Donohue -- charged that the president's remarks were designed to “deflect guilt from Muslim madmen," castigating the president's comparisons as "pernicious."
Donohue's comments come one month after he responded to the terror attack on the satirical French newspaper Charlie Hebdo by saying that the paper had "provoked" the attack by lampooning Islam and other faiths.
Fox News commentator Todd Starnes, meanwhile, cast the president's remarks aside by writing that the Crusades "ended some 700 years ago" -- an argument that may have proven more persuasive if not for the far more recent use of Christianity to justify atrocities from segregation to the slaughters, rapes, and kidnappings perpetrated by Joseph Kony's Lord's Resistance Army, which seeks to take over and rule Uganda based on the Ten Commandments.
For his part, Starnes' Fox colleague Erick Erickson wasn't even sure the president's remarks merited a response. "I’d be more inclined to listen to the President talk about faith if he showed he had faith in anything other than himself," the meathead pundit tweeted. Still, Erickson took to his RedState.com blog to express his wish that Obama "would stop professing himself to be a Christian."
Erickson, it bears mentioning, has raised funds for the Alliance Defending Freedom, a right-wing Christianist legal group that works internationally to defend draconian laws that prescribe prison sentences for gay people. But don't let the president dare say that Christian extremism has ever existed.