Who’s Afraid of a Christian Extremist?

westboro baptist church and me
Image by Burstein! via Flickr

A friend of mine recently shared that he was as afraid of Christian extremists as he was of Muslim extremists. This is a common view; American Christian extremists are viewed as a group of bigoted, intolerant people who would see the majority of Muslims as terrorists and homosexuals as a grave threat to society.

The most extreme variety of so-called American Christian extremists would be the unfathomably bizarre nut-balls from the Westboro Baptist Church.  While I don’t think anyone takes Fred Phelps and his band of lunatics seriously, when prominent ministers publicly said that the earthquake in Haiti or 9/11 was God’s judgment, people were rightly outraged. Or in more recent news, there were the comments of Rep. Peter King about Muslims, which I think is what justifiably upset my friend.

But should we really fear a true Christian extremist? Well, no. I would argue that the people who take radical positions of hatred aren’t real Christians, no more than the so-called Christians who burned suspected witches at the stake or pillaged and raped during the Crusades.

Before you cry foul, this is not me falling into the “no true Scotsman” fallacy. (I love saying that in an outrageous, Groundskeeper Willie-like Scottish accent. Try it.)  Actually, the fallacy being committed is on the other side, and that is the fallacy of equivocation. It’s easy to fall into in this case, allow me to explain. There are “Christians” (scare quotes!) who are really nominal Christians – they might believe in God and say some of the right things, but often they don’t even believe the core tenants of the Christian faith. These are often people who equate being Christian with being American, or going through certain religious rituals when they were a child. Then there is the biblical definition of a Christian, given by Jesus himself. Jesus said –

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

A true follower of Jesus is a person who will be continually growing into a life of self-sacrificial love. Moreover, we see in the Bible that Jesus and Paul continually warned believers about false brethren; wolves in sheep’s clothing, people who claim the name of Christ and yet deny Him by their works.  We are told that “by their fruits ye shall know them” and that “he that hates his brother is a murderer, and no murderer has eternal life abiding in him”.  Now this isn’t to say that real Christians haven’t opened their mouth and said something regrettable, but a true Christian living in fellowship with their Master will be filled with regret when they act unkind and will try to make amends.

So what does a real ‘born again’ Christian extremist look like? Someone who took Christ’s teachings to the extreme – which according to the Bible centers in on preaching the gospel to all nations, self-denial and loving your neighbor – would produce someone like a Mother Theresa, William Booth, George Müller, or a William Wilberforce. In other words, they would be a selfless person with praiseworthy ethical standards. (Of course not every Christian is expected make philanthropy their vocation, but a Christian will try and be a person of genuine love no matter where they are.)

Often I hear people say they don’t want Christians legislating their morality. In this day in age, they seem to especially apply this to sexuality – abortion, pornography, homosexuality, etc. But this is question begging when you think about it; for it assumes that secularism is correct, and moreover that secularism is a morally neutral view. The American type of Secularism that’s popular now basically says that only what the hard sciences prove is true, and your personal beliefs should be kept out of the public square. This view makes everything but what is supposedly scientific relative.

But these two views, scientism – the belief that only the sciences give us truth; and moral relativism- that idea that that an individual’s beliefs are relative and there is no absolute moral truth – are horrid philosophies to build a society on. There are a number of reasons I say that, but for the sake of time I’ll give you two reasons why that is: They’re logically self-refuting, meaning they don’t pass their own test. The statement “no statements are true unless they can be proven scientifically”, is self-refuting insofar as it can’t be proven scientifically, and “everything is relative” becomes a relative statement; it might be true for you, but not for me. No one consistently lives this way.

So there really is no morally neutral legislated morality, for all legislation is a group of people “pushing off their morality” on you and I – from speed limits to where are tax dollars go.  People who you say that you shouldn’t push-off your views on others basically are saying they want you to adopt their view while hiding under a guise of false neutrality. Everyone on Capitol Hill is working to legislate their morality.

Furthermore, Christians are largely the ones who championed causes dealing with child labor, public schools, inequality, the civil rights movement, etc. Many of the positive reforms America has experience are a result of true radical Christians, people like Martin Luther King, who awakened the conscience of a nation of the self-evident truths that it founded itself upon – “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”.

Today many Christians often apply these self-evident truths to a number of arenas – such as with the lives of the unborn. I’m not here to get into an abortion debate, but a Christian working to banning various abortion procedures is not wanting to legislate their morality anymore than the left-wing feminist who thinks that every woman has a right to electively have an abortion. They are both guided by certain philosophical reasons and should be allowed to debate their views in the public square. Neither should be dismissed out of hand because their views are allegedly “unscientific”, or are supposedly religious and should be held privately. Sadly, we can’t even begin to have any sort of reasonable discourse with this sort of thinking, yet all too often it’s the christian who is the one being charged with being narrow minded.

Anyway, that’s my all over the place rant. What I said doesn’t reflect the views of my friend to my knowledge, I honestly don’t know their views very fully, but I respect his point and can see where he’s coming from. Anyway, his comments triggered some thoughts and now they’re out there on the interwebs for all to see. The takeaway: Welcome extreme Christianity, but beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing.