For Christ's sake

Recently, in a thread discussing the latest Al Qaeda terrorist threats, one commenter dredged up the appalling tactic of moral relativism, where he implied that we couldn’t condemn the links between Islam and terrorism, because as we all know, Christians have done some pretty hideous things in the name of their faith, too.

(For the record: I don’t consider myself a Christian. I was raised Methodist, and have had considerable exposure to other faiths, including Judaism, but call myself a “born-again agnostic.” But as an outsider, I feel I can bring some “objective” perspective to the question. And this isn’t the first time I’ve done this sort of thing; I have major issues with the Catholic Church, but felt compelled to speak up on the election of Pope Benedict.)

I challenged him to cite ten incidents of Christian-inspired terrorism from the last twenty years. To be more precise, “Unless you’d care to cite say, ten incidents of Christian-inspired terrorism in the last twenty years. Terrorist incidents where the terrorists proclaimed that they were doing it for Jesus, and significant numbers of Christians either refused to denounce it, or said it was “provoked.”

He reworked it to the last 40 years, and came up with this list:

1-3. Eric Robert Rudolph’s bombings of abortion clinics in 1997 and 1998, plus his bombing of a gay nightclub in 1997. In case you doubt his religious intent, from one of his letters sent to authorities after the bombings: “We declare and will wage total war on the ungodly communist regime in New York and your legislative bureaucratic lackey’s in Washington. It is you who are responsible and preside over the murder of children and issue the policy of ungodly perversion thats destroying our people.”

Eric Rudolph. One lone wacko, not an organized group.

4-23. The KKK (a “white Christian” organization) firebombed 20 black churches in Mississippi during the summer of 1964.

19 incidents in one summer 40 years ago. And the backlash was immense.

24. The firebombing of Vernon Dahmer’s house by the KKK in 1966. He had offered to allow blacks to pay the poll tax at his store.

Same bit, with the Klan.

25. The murder of Barnett Slepian, an abortion doctor, by James Charles Kopp in 1998.

Again, one lone wacko, with no organization behind him. And more of an “issue” crime than a “religious movement” issue. He wasn’t fighting a perceived enemy of Christianity, but one who opposed a single issue that has far more repercussions outside of religion.

26. The Atiak massacre in Uganda by the “Lord’s Resistance Army” (a Christian rebel group) in 1995. Around 200 civilians were killed. According to the Christian Science Monitor, a “field commander” for the LRA allegedly told one of his troops “that an angel ordered the massacre.”
27. About 100 refugees were killed at attacks on the Achol-pi Refugee Settlement by the LRA in 1996.
28. Another twenty refugees were killed in a separate attack by the LRA at the same settlement in 2002.
29. Also in 1996, the LRA abducted 152 girls from St. Mary’s College in Aboke. After negotiations, 109 of them were later released.
30. In Kitgum in 1997, the LRA killed another 412 civilians.

Not familiar with this group, so I’ll let it slide. I suspect, though, the differences that prompted these acts are less theological and more tribal.

31. The 2002 Soweto bombings in South Africa by a group called The Warriors of the Boer Nation. In an email where the group claimed responsibility for the bombings, they referred to themselves as “fighters for God and the Boer people”.

Another group that I’ve never heard of before, but casual research shows them more a white-supremacist group than a religious movement. Racial, not theological.

32. In 2000, a group known as “God’s Army” took over a hospital in Burma, holding 750 patients and medical staff hostage. They threatened to detonate two bombs if their demands were not met. God’s Army is a splinter group from the Christian Karen National Union.

Another I’ll grant, pending further research.

But my point is simple: yes, all religions have committed atrocities in their past. It’s part and parcel of the package. But the important thing is that the great religions outgrow that stage.

The first Jews were brutal and relentless in their early days. Go and read the accounts of the conquest and settlement of the Holy Land. But they’ve settled down remarkably since then, to the point where they make it damned difficult to convert, and “evangelical Jew” is one of my favorite oxymorons. Some even say that they’ve grown too peaceful and tolerant, and point to centuries of persecution — and I have a hard time arguing that point.

Christianity started out as brutally oppressed, but eventually conquered their oppressors and became the dominant faith in Europe. Then they found out that it’s good to be on top of the food chain, and started such wonderful innovations as the Inquisition, the Crusades (a debatable action, but it is indisputable that a lot of bad things were done in their name), and the like. But again, they outgrew it. There’s no more “conversion by the sword,” and nations that are predominantly Christian tend to be the most hospitable to other faiths.

Islam, however, is still in its violent, conquering stage. I hope they’ll outgrow it, but I’m not willing to bet on it happening any time soon. And to point out that it can be dangerous to not be Muslim in a Muslim land isn’t racism, it’s simple fact. Beheadings are a fact of life, as are routine discriminations and other assaults. In Saudi Arabia, Christians are forbidden from openly revealing their faith (a perverted version of “don’t ask, don’t tell”), and Jews are outright forbidden from entering at all. “Terrorist” isn’t quite synonymous with “Muslim extremist,” but it’s the safest bet before more details are known. When that nutjob shot up the mall in Tacoma, Washington yesterday, who didn’t immediately think it was an Islamist?

As I said, I hope they’ll outgrow it, and soon. But in the meantime, I’m not going to bet on it happening.

And to compare Islam and Christianity when citing the role of religion as a threat to the peace is not only insulting, blind, and stupid, it’s just plain wrong.

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