Religious Rhetoric

Army Lt. Gen. William Boykin (search) found himself a target this week for having argued in church pulpits that God is on our side.

Among his assertions: "we're a Christian nation" and "our spiritual enemy will only be defeated if we come against them in the name of Jesus."

He thinks God placed the president in the White House at this time -- something the president himself has said -- and that Islamic terror groups worship not a god, but an idol.

Boykin subsequently clarified his remarks: "I do believe that radical extremists have tried to use Islam as a cause for attacks on America... They are not true followers of Islam (search)… They are simply terrorists... I am not anti-Islam or any other religion. I support the free exercise of all religions."

Two observations: First, it's folly to argue, as the general did, that God takes sides on battlefields. Every warrior thinks God is with him. At most, one side will be right; often, neither will be. In any event, General Boykin takes his orders from a mortal named George W. Bush.

Second, the general expressed a disquieting truth: A lot of thugs around the world want to slaughter of Americans and Jews in the name of Islam. The best example: Usama bin Laden -- or someone purporting to be bin laden -- blustering again about the need to kill Jews and crusaders.

Note the contrast. Gen. Boykin did not say: Kill or subjugate those who don't share our views. He expressed the first dictum of any religious faith, which is that God looks out for us. Note one thing more: America, a land peopled by those who practice every religion on earth, remains a outpost of tolerance in a turbulent world, despite the Sept. 11 slaughters and aftermath. Tolerant, that is, of everything but Gen. Boykin's right to speak from a pulpit.