A man attends a mosque several times a week for prayer, participates in Islamic religious observances, and self-identifies with the faith. He opens fire on a room full of people one morning, killing them all. When asked why, he says “God told me to do it.” He’s called an Islamic extremist.
Another man attends a church every Sunday and prayer meetings every Wednesday. He participates in Christian religious observances and self-identifies with the faith. He opens fire on a room full of people one morning killing them all. When asked why, he says “The Bible told me to do it.”
Last night, I had a conversation with two Christians who argued that that the gentleman in the second scenario should not be labeled a “Christian extremist” because the phrase is an oxymoron. According to them, no true Christian would ever kill people in the name of God. A person who would do such a thing is simply considered a murderer, but certainly not a legitimate member of the Christian faith.
I find this line of reasoning utterly confusing. Most Muslims also view Islam as a religion of peace. How can the first man be a legitimate Muslim in our eyes if, when using the same criteria, the second man is not a legitimate Christian?
There’s a really interesting double standard when it comes to Muslim and Christian extremism. It seems that when Muslims do ugly things in the name of their religion, we brand all of that religion’s followers with responsibility for the ugly acts of its minority. But when Christians do ugly things, we denounce the perpetrators. We declare them illegitimate… We kick them to the curb and declare our churches, our doctrines, and the Bible “not guilty.”
Many churchgoers will say that Christianity is a religion of peace despite the past and present actions of its followers, but are unable to affirm that Islam is a religion of peace without choking on the words as they come out of their mouths. Many Christians gloss over the ugly, violent texts found in the Bible, but speak of the Muslim faith in a negative light because their holy texts contain violence. Is the Bible’s violence somehow more justified than the Quran’s? And is our understanding of Jesus really as peaceful as some say? As I pointed out last night:
…Many Christians believe that Jesus will lead a battle of Armageddon against all of the world’s non-believers upon his return. I don’t personally read the book of Revelation with that interpretation, but I did in my days as an Evangelical as it was the most commonly accepted view of the end times. According to most Evangelicals, the Christian story begins in a Garden and will end with a blood bath. Jesus himself will lead a slaughter that most Christians consider “justified.” And orthodoxy teaches that God/Jesus will subsequently torture remaining non-believers for eternity in a lava chamber called Hell. I would say that the Christian story as many understand it has a history of violence and is expected to culminate in violence because of the Bible’s most commonly approved narrative. I don’t think the problem is with one or two verses. I think it’s an issue of greater context.
I often wonder how we can be so blind to our biases about extremism. Christian history is plagued with it, and it still persists in many forms today. This is not something I can personally explain… I only know that it’s my responsibility to avoid such biases whenever possible. In the mean time, I would like to leave you with another comment I made during last night’s discussion:
I think it’s irresponsible for us to say: “Here’s a book. This book is from God. God condones all of the actions in this book. Read it and do likewise…”, and THEN say– “We are not responsible for what people do with this book.” People who do violence in the name of Christianity believe the Bible provides them with the all permission they need for their actions. We’re naive to pretend that the Bible is without fodder for extremism. When it comes to reading, teaching, and understanding the Bible, we have a lot of work to do. We can’t do that work until we start taking responsibility for our texts AND the actions that have arisen from applying them.
That is all.
You May Also Enjoy Reading:
1. How Visiting A Mosque Impacted My Spiritual Journey
2. My Response to: “You liberal Christians use the Bible selectively.”
3. A Few Thoughts on Hell and The Power of Religion