February 17, 2015

Dear Christians: Christian Extremism still exists

Dear Christians is a recurring column that deals with my intersection between belief and nonbelief. It looks at my personal views of belief and deals with the myths of nonbelief that I was taught growing up. All opinions are, of course, my own. To see more Dear Christians columns, click here.

On February 5, President Obama spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast, which is held every single year. It's pretty standard for the president to appear and speak at the event and we can all make of that what we will.

Us nonbelieving types were pretty buoyed by his continued commitment to including us, who do not consider ourselves as "children of God" by mentioning not once, but twice, that it is okay not to believe. Here's one example (full transcript available here):

And here at home and around the world, we will constantly reaffirm that fundamental freedom -- freedom of religion -- the right to practice our faith how we choose, to change our faith if we choose, to practice no faith at all if we choose, and to do so free of persecution and fear and discrimination.

Woo hoo!

Anyway, it's become apparent that he also angered some Christians and most of the right wing of our political structure when he said this:

Humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout human history.  And lest 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.  In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.  Michelle and I returned from India -- an incredible, beautiful country, full of magnificent diversity -- but a place where, in past years, religious faiths of all types have, on occasion, been targeted by other peoples of faith, simply due to their heritage and their beliefs -- acts of intolerance that would have shocked Gandhiji, the person who helped to liberate that nation. 

I don't understand what is so shocking about this. It's true, isn't it?

The subtext here, of course, is that Islam is not the only religion that can produce violent tendencies. I find the Inquisition and Crusades particularly applicable, myself, because they were in full swing when Christianity was 1200 to 1600 years old (arguably, they lasted until it was in its 1800s)--the same relative age that Islam is now.

It may not be a particularly flattering comparison. After all, at points during that time period, Christians were responsible for the deaths of say, 3,000 Jews in a certain day. They promoted their anti-semitism by spreading rumors that Jewish people used the blood of Christian infants for a variety of purposes. They slaughtered each other--Protestants killing Catholics, Catholics killing Protestants, everyone killing "heretics" and nonbelievers. This is a part of our history.

The biggest complaint, however, seems to be that it's just not relevant. Christians aren't actively persecuting people today, after all.

Now, we can argue about the accuracy of that. I live in a state, for instance, where I am technically not allowed to hold public office--our state constitution requires that public officials profess a belief in a Supreme Being, and I have no such belief, unless Ragnar Lothbrok counts and I don't think that he does. I'm a woman with progressive social values in America, and I feel persecuted when Christian values leak into our laws, when companies are allowed to flounce science and label whatever they want to as an abortifacient or to declare that abortion is immoral and should be illegal. That truly feels like Christian persecution. Perhaps the biggest one in our modern society, for me, is the idea of banning marriage equality because of Christian morality. I just...can't. It's an oppressive move.

But all of that is, of course, subjective. When we're looking at the violence of ISIS or the attacks in Paris or Copenhagen, well, now that's a whole different animal, isn't it? Obviously, Christians are not doing that sort of mess.

That is, quite simply, untrue.

In the early 2000s, for instance, the National Liberation Front of Tipura was active in northeastern India. Their efforts included allegations that 20 Hindus were murdered for refusing to convert to Christianity, as well as accusations that they used the threat of or actual rape to force individuals to convert. They were also responsible for the assassination of a popular Hindu leader.

Another Hindu leader, Swami Lakshmanananda Saraswati, was gunned down in 2008 after accusing Christian groups in the area of plotting to assassinate him multiple times.

Nagaland and Manipur, two other Indian states, also have had issues with Christian extremism.

Coincidentally, if you remember the Kony 2012 campaign, Josephy Kony is/was the leader of the Lord's Resistance Army. The LRA wore crucifixes and even recited bible passages before going into battle. They were also accused of using children as soldiers and raping and pillaging and slaughtering without remorse in their resistance to the Ugandan government. So there's that.

On somewhat smaller note, the Ut√łya Island attack that left 77 people dead was carried out by a self-styled "Christian crusader."

In the US, a short list of recent terror attacks carried out by Christians would look something like this:

  • Wisconsin Sikh temple massacre, August 5, 2012
  • Dr. George Tiller's murder, May 31, 2009
  • Knoxville Unitarian Universalist Church shooting, July 27, 2008
  • Dr. John Britton's murder, July 29, 1994
  • Centennial Olympic Park bombing (and other bombings carried out by Eric Rudolph), July 27, 1996
  • Dr. Barnett Slepian's murder, October 23, 1998
  • Brookline MA Planned Parenthood bombing, 1994
  • Alan Burg's murder, June 18, 1984
  • Oklahoma City bombing, April 19, 1995

You can find more details on each of those in this piece from Raw Story.

As recently as December, Larry McQuilliams may have had religious motivations for a rampage through Austin.

And even more recently, Amnesty International has pointed out terrorist massacres and ethnic cleansing by Christian groups in Central African Republic. That report was released February 12.

There is no outcry here for Christians to disavow this violence, not in the United States and most certainly not unrelated attacks in other areas of the world to which they have no connection.

And that is absolutely as it should be--no, you shouldn't be responsible for what's going on in India or Central African Republic in such a way that you are expected to apologize for it. Obviously, we all decry and condemn these actions, because we are all human beings, regardless of our shade of belief.

But the fact that they exist, and that so many Christians are willing to overlook them, is still glaring to people approaching the issue of religion and religious violence from a rational perspective.

Conservative Christians, especially, have been among the loudest voices calling for American Muslims to decry the violence that is committed in the name of Islam worldwide.

To me, it seems like there's a verse that would be appropriate here...

Something, perhaps, about the mote in your own eye...

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