Thursday, July 28, 2011

Right-Wing Media Outraged Norway Attacker Accurately Labeled A Christian

From Media Matters courtesy of Eschaton:

On The O'Reilly Factor, O'Reilly claimed: "The New York Times and other liberal media have branded the Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik a Christian, even though there is absolutely no evidence the man is a follower of Jesus Christ." O'Reilly later claimed: "There is no evidence this man was a member of a church. No evidence that he followed the teachings of Jesus Christ. As you know, they're nonviolent. OK? No evidence that he had anything to do with the Christian faith. Yet, they call him a Christian because he says he is? Come on."


On the July 27 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade asked Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham if she was "surprised" that the media "quickly label[ed]" Breivik a "Christian." Ingraham replied that Breivik didn't represent "any mainstream or even fringe sentiment in the Christian community."

More here.

Well, maybe Breivik doesn't represent "any mainstream" variety of Christianity, but he definitely represents the fringe. The KKK, Timothy McVeigh, various militia groups, anyone who has ever taken a shot at an abortion doctor or bombed a clinic, all these people are self-identified Christians, often with more mainstream support than people are willing to admit, who both advocate and engage in political violence because of their Christian faith. And those are just some examples off the top of my head from the last twenty years: indeed, Christianity's history is extraordinarily bloody and violent, from the destruction of the Serapeum, to the Crusades, to the Spanish Inquisition, to the wars between Protestants and Catholics, to the "Christianizing" of indigenous populations under European colonial control. Jesus may have been called "the prince of peace," but his followers have often been warriors and torturers.

Breivik is, in short, following the grand tradition of Western Christianity, which is written in blood.

But what really gets under my skin about this is how Christianity's defenders so easily shrug off this fact. I mean, it's all like the standard response when you tell a fundamentalist about how you hate Christian hypocrisy: "Well you know, Ron, we're all hypocrites; it's just that some of us are trying to make themselves better." And of course "some of us" are Christians. So the argument is something along the lines of "don't judge Christianity by the actions of Christians; rather, judge Christianity by its principles and values." But there doesn't really seem to be any universal agreement about what those principles and values actually are. Southern Baptists support the death penalty and torturing POWs; Catholics don't. Both Southern Baptists and Catholics oppose women in key clerical positions, but increasingly lots of other Christian denominations embrace women in leadership roles. Some churches ordain gay clergy; others think this is a sign of the end times. Orthodox Christians reject the trinity, and therefore Christ's divine nature; Catholics and Protestants think this is heresy. And on and on and on.

Christianity is a big tent religion. Whether you like it or not.

So it's kind of impossible to refrain from judging the actions of individual believers and Christian groups in lieu of judging the philosophy. I mean, for all intents and purposes, all you have to do is grab a Bible and declare yourself a Christian and that's that. You're a Christian. Indeed, the only way humanity has to judge Christianity is by the actions of people who call themselves Christian. Because that's what Christianity is, people who call themselves Christian.

Now don't get me wrong. There's no way I'm going to say that Breivik's actions are in any way representative of most people who are self-described Christians any more than I'm going to indict Muslims for the actions of Al-Qaeda, or Jews for the actions of the Israeli government. My whole point is that it's a complicated situation. We must necessarily take a nuanced and sophisticated point of view if we're ever going to understand violent religious extremism.

But make no mistake: as various Muslims and Jews, most notably Israeli settlers in the Occupied Territories, have become more violent in defense of their religious views in recent years, so, too, have Christians. And that's a problem that denial will only make worse.