A reader sent me this article and asked for my opinion on it. As always, I will try to quote extensively enough to avoid any potential mis-statement of his position, but I recommend reading the whole article before continuing with my commentary.
Don Miller begins by relating his shock and horror at discovering that he had been very close to what a terrorist believed was a bomb in the recent police sting in Portland Oregon. He then offers the following:
I’ve not talked about Islam or terrorism on this site at all. But reading about the young man, and hearing the talking heads discuss the threat on the internet has me wondering what we are really up against. Is it Islam? I don’t think it is. I think it’s extremism.
I think it’s neither. Yes, “extremist” is a name we give to people who do drastic things in the name of their particular ideology. But “extremism” is not a cause. It’s a symptom. When we look across the spectrum of extremism, we notice something common to all of them — rigid ideology. That is, a belief in the way the world is, or should be, which does not yield to either evidence or reasoned discussion. Also common to extremists is a general lack of regard for anyone who falls into the category of “other.” Only people who agree with an extremist are worthy of respect.
But it’s not even as simple as that. What makes one Christian a moderate and one an abortion clinic bomber? Why do some Muslims tolerate Christianity and others attempt to plant bombs in crowds of Christmas carolers? I have an idea, but I’m going to save it for later.
I don’t think our enemy is specifically a religious enemy, though I do believe some religions are false. I think our enemy is extremism, extreme black and white thinking, an extreme belittling of other opinions, an extreme and insecure demonization of others, an extreme desire to control, and to make the mistake of thinking extremism is produced only in the Muslim community is ignorance. Extremism is a fall of man problem, a human problem, not just a religious problem. There are liberal extremists, conservative extremists, Calvinist extremists, humanitarian extremists and so on and so on.
I believe all religions are false, but I agree that our enemy is not specifically a religious enemy. But I must ask Mr. Miller. What is non-extreme black and white thinking? How can a thing be either black or white, but also subject to interpretation or relativism? I think perhaps there’s a beam he needs to take care of before he starts picking out motes from other people’s eyes.
Miller’s inability to see the problem might very well stem from blindness to his own black-and-white thinking. He believes some religions are false. That’s an important point. He also, by implication, believes some (one?) religions are true. That’s… what is it called? Black and white thinking. And maybe he’s very nice about his belief, and doesn’t try to impose it on anyone else. But that’s his personal moral choice, not a natural extension of the belief that some religions are true and some are false.
I should also say that extremism is not without it’s causes. Many Muslim extremists are reacting to the outright oppression of their people around the world, or the afore mentioned immorality around us here in the west. But where a normal person may have an objective view of such things, and perhaps choose appropriate channels to affect social change, an extremist wishes to eradicate the other view completely.
It’s a solid point. Extremism often has real-world causes. Without getting into politics, I think it’s fair to say that anyone who doesn’t understand this point is guilty of a kind of extremism of their own. Perhaps it’s easier and more comforting to think of Muslims as evil, misguided people who are bent on the destruction of civilization. But that’s simply not true. They are people, just like us, who were born into a religious culture that shaped their perceptions of the universe in the same way that our Christian heritage shaped ours. We are as evil to them as they are to us. Our ways are as degraded and morally reprehensible to them as theirs are to us.
As a side-note, I’ll just say that the same thing goes for international politics, and only a great fool would think America completely without fault in creating the current state of affairs.
There’s something a little tricky in this paragraph, though. What makes a “normal” person normal? What makes “appropriate” channels for change the logical choice? Or, conversely, what makes an “abnormal” person choose extremism?
I should also add there is plenty of extremism in the evangelical church. Whether it’s burning a Koran, or a pastor standing before his congregation belittling other pastors, we see heavy to light extremism in churches all over America every Sunday.
Yep. And those of us outside the church can understand why. We can see how you could mistake “extremism” for the enemy, and why you’d be extremely interested in eradicating it from your religion. It’s a very noble, if misguided, goal.
But aren’t there Christian reasons for extremism? Absolutely. Biblical Christian extremism, though, looks very different. Biblical Christian extremism looks like being wrongly imprisoned without fighting it, or being stoned to death, or being crucified, or going hungry bringing food to the starving, or crossing a bridge in Selma, Alabama, or turning water into wine for a tipsy wedding party, or leaving your job to bring Christ to the hurting and so on and so on. Christian extremism is willing to die for people, not demonize them to validate their belittlement and oppression.
And now the full extent of the blinders is revealed. No, Don Miller. Christian extremism is exactly the same as Muslim extremism. The Muslims believe their moral justifications are just as noble and worthy as your Christian brethren believe theirs to be. You disagree with them, and that’s fine, but in the end, you still fall back to the position that you are right and they are wrong. And the reason for that justification is your religious belief. Your FAITH.
And Mr. Miller, they have just as much faith as you. The ones who have a little more than you fly planes into buildings. But your faith, and their faith, and the faith of all the Christians you hold in such high regard for having the decency to be moderates — That faith is the underpinning of extremism.
Shall we trot out the examples of Christian extremism in action? Let’s go ahead and do it, just so the point is abundantly clear:
Our culture is superior. Our culture is superior because our religion is Christianity and that is the truth that makes men free. — Pat Buchanan.
The god of Judaism is the devil. The Jew will not be recognized by God as one of His chosen people until he abandons his demonic religion and returns to the faith of his fathers – the faith which embraces Jesus Christ and His Gospel. — The Days of Vengeance: An Exposition of the Book of Revelation (1984)
We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity. We weren’t punctilious about locating and punishing only Hitler and his top officers. We carpet-bombed German cities; we killed civilians. That’s war. And this is war. — Ann Coulter
The long term goal [is] the execution of abortionists and parents who hire them. If we argue that abortion is murder, then we must call for the death penalty. — Gary DeMar
I do not believe the homosexual community deserves minority status. One’s misbehavior does not qualify him or her for minority status. Blacks, Hispanics, women, etc. are God-ordained minorities who do indeed deserve minority status. — Jerry Fallwell
If we are going to save America and evangelize the world, we cannot accommodate secular philosophies that are diametrically opposed to Christian truth. — Jerry Fallwell
If you don’t want a Christian nation, then go to one of the many nations that are heathen already, rather than perverting ours. — Jeff Fugate
Nobody has the right to worship on this planet any other God than Jehovah. And therefore the state does not have the responsibility to defend anybody’s pseudo-right to worship an idol. — Rev. Joseph Morecraft, Chalcedon Presbyterian Church, “Biblical Role of Civil Government” speech delivered on August 21, 1993 at the Biblical Worldview and Christian Education Conference.
While we’re talking about Christian atrocity, let’s go ahead and bring up the past because it’s worth bringing up. Shall we talk about Crusades, the genocide of the Native Americans, Witch hunts, Inquisitions, support of the Nazi Party, systematic exclusion of women, blacks, gays, and “heathens” based on passages of the Bible? What about denying an abortion to a nine-year old rape victim? Preaching that condoms cause AIDS? How about Mother Teresa’s systematic promotion and institutionalization of poverty? Do you have any idea where the name for the Bloody Mary came from? That would be the religious cleansing of Protestants at the hands of Queen Mary. What about the IRA versus the Loyalists?
No, Mr. Miller, your religion is atrocious. And I might add that I’m quite thrilled that at this particular juncture in history, enough of your fellow religionists have enough of a conscience not to engage in this kind of behavior. But a century or two of relative peaceful coexistence — not without objection, as many of those quotes attest — does not absolve your religion of its violent, misogynistic, hateful roots, nor its core message of exclusion and divisiveness.
If I do not accept Jesus as my personal lord and savior, your god will cast me into the lake of fire for eternity. If that isn’t an example of how a Christian ought to think of me and treat me, then for my life, I can’t imagine what could possibly count as one. As I said, I’m glad you don’t (openly or consciously) think of me in that way, but I don’t attribute that position to a proper reading of the Bible. I attribute it to your own conscience overriding your biblical mandate to be an extremist.
“For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law a man’s enemies will be the members of his own family.”
“… the brother shall deliver up his brother to death, and the father his child, … children shall rise up against their parents, and cause them to be put to death.”
These are the words of your god. If some of your flock take them literally, I can hardly blame them. It’s right there in black and white. And you, I imagine, take great pains to justify your position based on faith in the Bible. Well, so do they. And I can hardly choose between the two of you, since both of you pick and choose how you will interpret the words of your god. Based on your own whims and sense of morality.
The problem is not extremism. It’s a worldview in which facts, evidence, and reason are subservient to faith. In which one religion is true and others are false. In which people with good hearts like you can be blinded to the atrocity of your own beliefs through the vain hope that people with dichotomous religious beliefs can ever truly live in peace.