The Difference Between Islam and Christian Extremism

A recent article in ThinkProgress (yes, I read ThinkProgress occasionally) uncovers the little known and horrifying truth: Christians can also be religious extremists! Horror of horrors! Ban Christianity yesterday! According to the, typically, daft author of this boilerplate inflammatory exposé:

But there is a long history of terrorist attacks resembling McQuilliams’ rampage across Austin — where violence is carried out in the name of Christianity — in the United States and abroad. In America, the Ku Klux Klan is well-known for over a century of gruesome crimes against African Americans, Catholics, Jews, and others — all while ascribing to what they say is a Christian theology. But recent decades have also given rise to several “Christian Identity” groups, loose organizations united by a hateful understanding of faith whose members spout scripture while engaging in horrifying acts of violence.

Yes. People have done horrible things in the name of Christianity. I’m surprised this author didn’t bring up Hitler and the Lutheran complicity in the Holocaust. It’s a real pity because then I could have invoked Godwin’s Law on this tired argument on Christian extremism and dispensed with any more analysis.

As it is, all I really need to do is point out just one small, tiny detail: when Christians commit vigilante violence in the name of Jesus, they are explicitly disobeying His commands (specifically Matt. 26:52, among many others). In other words, Christian extremism is not consistent with the tenets of Christianity. Now, on the other hand, Islamic “extremism” is just the orthodox Islamic faith. Jihad has been enshrined in Islamic orthodoxy since the founding of the religion. Just consider that Jesus’ most important founding action was dying on the cross having given no resistance to his oppressors (like a lamb to the slaughter). And Muhammad’s founding action was taking over Mecca with an army.

Beyond all that, there is the reality of “irreligious extremism.”

I remember taking a college class in Chinese government and politics. My teacher said, with a great deal of gusto, that China had never experienced any religious wars because China has traditionally been irreligious for the most part. He went on and on about how pretty much all other countries had suffered loss of life from holy wars and religious conflict, and how China had been spared this ignominious fate because of its implicit atheism. I raised my hand and asked him how many Chinese people had died in dynastic revolutions up to and including the atheist Communist revolution in 1949 and the Maoist genocides after.

There are all kinds of religious wars, even ones between two factions claiming a divine mandate for rule. Man hands on misery to man. Some men claim all sorts of mantles to legitimize their brutality and lust. The question is, “Are they actually being consistent with what they say they believe?” A Christian terrorist is not being consistent with what he says he believes. But an Islamic terrorist? Ideologically consistent. And an atheist without morals? Also consistent.

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