Wednesday, February 22, 2006

And the Award for Most Ridiculous Self-Delusion Goes To...

Unless you've been living in an Afghan cave, you're aware of the worldwide protests and riots sparked (in part) by a Danish newspaper's publication of cartoons deemed offensive to Islam. You've probably also heard the constant smug, self-righteous declarations of "You don't see Christians resorting to violence every time someone insults Christianity!" No, of course not!

We in the West are so innately superior to Muslims that we would never resort to such barbaric means to express our religious frustrations. You see, we're civilized, unlike those backward Arab types wandering the desert. When Christianity is insulted, Christians just pray for the poor lost souls who have never known Jesus. If the Muslims knew Jesus, they'd be peace-loving, tolerant, free-speech promoting, democracy-spreading saints like "us."* Right? I've got to call this one as I see it. Bullshit!

Let's begin with the basic premise of this assertion. Christians (in the name of free speech) are tolerant of those who insult their religion and never, ever resort to violence based on a mere blaspheming of their faith. We'll ignore the straw man waiting in the wings. There really is no need to delve into the ancient history of witch hunts, crusades and inquisitions. More than enough evidence can be found to refute this point in the brief history of post-World War II Christendom.

Do you remember the movie Dogma? Before it was even released, based solely on preliminary reports of the movie's contents, Catholics were up in arms over the film's supposed blasphemy against Catholicism's most sacred tenets. No, they didn't burn down the local KFC or anything. What they and other Christians did was to stage massive angry protests and boycotts, attempt to censor the film, and send over 300,000 pieces of hate mail to director (and practicing Catholic) Kevin Smith and Miramax head Harvey Weinstein. Included in this lovely tolerant correspondence -- in which Smith and Weinstein were "politely" reminded that insulting someone's religion isn't nice -- were a variety of death threats and a slew of anti-Semitic tirades.

How about the movie The Last Temptation of Christ, based on the often banned novel of the same name? (Often banned? Free speech, huh?) Beginning while the film was still in production, Christian groups staged massive protests, sent death threats to the filmmakers, and brought on the anti-semitism despite director Martin Scorsese's own Christian beliefs. But what's this? October 22, 1988. Paris. Catholic fundamentalists throw molotov coctails into a theatre in "protest." Thirteen theatre-goers are injured, four severely burned. Quel horreur! But these are Christians! Non-violent, peace-loving, tolerant Christians who wisely concede to the necessity of respecting a person's right to offend, even at the cost of having their own religion blatantly insulted and degraded. I'm so confused.

But it's different, right? Different, yes. Perhaps worse. These Christians were living in Western, predominantly Christian societies responding to images created by other Christians. There was no "clash of civilizations" playing out next door, no real threat of a non-Christian country invading and occupying a Christian nation. They had not been engaged, for centuries, with powerful non-Christian nations who colonized their holy lands and repeatedly defamed their religion, even desecrating holy shrines. They weren't living in a powder keg of religious, economic, and political frustration. They had power and the means to exercise it. They had real access to non-violent, potentially effective means of protest, such as just not watching the film or boycotting or peacefully petitioning the film's distributors or any number of things.

Does the fact that Muslims are living in the powder keg, that they are dealing with a "clash of civilizations" and the after-effects of colonialism, that they've watched a Muslim nation overthrown by a "Christian" one, or that they don't have any potentially effective non-violent means of stopping the publication of such images excuse the riots? No. But under the circumstances, while inexcusable, they're far more understandable.

Okay, so I can find a couple of examples of Christians being un-Christian-like. So what? These are just blips on the radar screen. They're anomalies. Remember 9/11? At least Christians aren't terrorists! Again, I call it like I see it. Bullshit!

The "war on terrorism" and our whole civilization's discussion of terrorism has focused exclusively on the Islamic brand with little real consideration for the realities of terrorism as a political tactic or as a tool of non-Muslim religious extremists. From our pain and rage at the most devastating terrorist attack in our nation's history, we've developed tunnel vision. We see only the enemy of the moment, the enemy who is so conveniently nothing like "us." The Muslim terrorist looming ever larger in our collective imaginations overshadows the domestic terrorists grown right here in the West. Although surely, Muslim terrorists groups are a real threat, they're also the convenient scapegoat permitting us to ignore the growing threat posed by domestic Christian terrorism.

Wait. Christian terrorism? What the heck am I prattling on about now? There is no such thing! Right? Oh, how I wish it were true. But I'm Southern, so I can't be that self-deluded. The civil rights era, not far removed for those of us born into the first generation of fully integrated Southerners, was rife with episodes of Christian terrorism. In recent days, Christian terrorism has predominantly focused on abortionists and gay people, but its most violent era lay in the not-so-distant past when the Baby Boomers were young. All things considered, the overwhelming majority of terrorist attacks committed in the United States have been carried out by Christian extremists.

The greatest perpetrators of violence against African-Americans and their white supporters during the civil rights era were the "knights" of the Ku Klux Klan. The KKK, oddly, considers itself a Christian organization doing G-d's will. Although most of their opponents would not consider them very Christian, just as most opponents of Islamic terrorists don't consider them very Muslim, the ideology of the Klan is based on historical Christian ideology. Before the Enlightenment replaced religious justifications for racism with secular ones, Christian interpretations of the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament held that white European Christians were the true heirs of Abraham, chosen to rule over all other peoples. According to Christian racial theory, G-d ordained the separation of the races at the Tower of Babel and cursed the entire African race as it was supposedly descended from Noah's ne'er-do-well son Ham. The KKK -- deeming integration and racial equality a threat to the order imposed by G-d -- bombed, burned, beat, and murdered its way through the South in response to the civil rights movement.

The KKK is not alone, the Christian Identity movement, embracing a similar Christian racial ideology, boasts more than 350,000 members throughout the United States and the British Commonwealth. The myriad groups that make up this movement regularly resort to terrorism.

As I mentioned earlier, however, modern Christian terrorism is now focused predominantly on abortionists and gay people. The 70's brought us many things, most of which we remember with a cringe. Perhaps the most influential and the most relevant to this essay were the gay rights movement, the Roe v. Wade decision, and the resurgence of Christian terrorism.

For the past couple of decades, the abortion debate in this country has been punctuated by the bombing of abortion clinics, the harassment and intimidation of clinic employees and clients, and the murder of abortion doctors. The gay rights debate, on the other hand, has been mired with the bombing and burning of gay establishments, the murder of gay leaders like Harvey Milk, thousands of violent hate crimes, and the occasional wingnut opening fire in a gay bar. Christian extremists like Eric Rudolph (who bombed a gay nightclub, multiple abortion clinics and the Atlanta Olympics) have been the major perpetrators of these acts of terrorism.

Yes, those who commit terrorists acts are extremists riding the fringes of Christianity. (The same can be said of Muslim terrorists.) However, these extremists are simply the unofficial militant wing of a vast network of Christian organizations that provide the fuel for the terrorist fire. The religious right's rise to prominence in the 80's and 90's put a more "acceptable" and more powerful face on the hatred and religious furor that drives Christian terrorism. But make no mistake, the religious right is just the political offshoot of Christian terrorism in America.

Just as vast Muslim religious networks provide the ideological fervor and recruiting grounds for Islamic terrorist organizations, the Christian fundamentalist movement provides the basis for violence committed against gay people and abortionists. From the insanity of Fred Phelps to the bizarre rantings of Pat Robertson, the religious right's scapegoating of gay people (abomination to G-d and threat to the sanctity of marriage, child molesters, perverts who bring the wrath of G-d down on America) and abortionists (mass murderers) aids the terrorist cause and provides the extremist with the "moral justification" he needs for his acts.

As the religious right becomes ever more powerful, the terrorists become ever more dangerous to our way of life. Unlike the Muslim extremists who may endanger our safety, the Christian extremists amongst us actually have the means to endanger our freedom. But keep focusing on the Muslims, this won't hurt a bit and it'll be better for you in the end. After all, Christian fundamentalists are good people who mean you no harm. They just want to save your souls. Right? Bullshit!

*Although I converted to Judaism many years ago, I was raised a Christian. Here, I'm referencing not my own religious beliefs but the lovely false dichotomy of a Muslim them vs. a Christian us which denies the role of non-Christians in the creation of Western civilization and the existence of millions of Muslims in the West.

3 Comments:

Blogger Rob the Webkahunah said...

wow. did I strike a nerve?

12:31 AM  
Blogger Melinda Barton said...

Not really. I've been watching the coverage, reluctant to write on it lest I become some kind of Islam expert or something. I thought someone would say what I just did, but apparently it's up to little old me again to rip the world a new one. I must admit that seeing people I respect (not just you) fall for the nonsense being perpetuated in the coverage was a little disconcerting.

11:43 AM  
Anonymous dreamwalker said...

Excellent post.

3:02 AM  

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