Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: What! You too? I thought I was the only one.

-C.S. Lewis

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Eric Rudolph and Silence

I don't say that prominent Muslims clerics shouldn't denounce the violent element in their midst, but where are the prominent Christian leaders' remonstrations of Eric Rudolph? Aren't these the same leaders who wonder aloud, "where's the outrage" over Islamist terrorist acts? Well I wonder then, where indeed is the outrage? It couldn't be because they actually agree with Eric Rudolph, could it? That they're so taken with their cause that they're willing to overlook the means by which it is achieved?

To my mind, the most instructive thing one can do if one seeks to "understand" the origins of terrorism and how it operates within a society is to look at the Christian fundamentalists of our own country and how they have responded to an act of terror that, from a certain point of view, could be seen as furthering their goals. They have, of course, elected not to respond at all. Not every pro-life group has been so reluctant to to call Eric Rudolph an unqualified killer, but unfortunately, these voices are difficult to hear above the deafening silence of their leaders. There has been no statment by James Dobson condemning the act of hatred, no howls of disagreement when Eric Rudolph says "force is justified," no Pat Robertson asking us to pray for an end to the use of violence. Their refusal to speak out gives the stamp of approval to all the wannabe Eric Rudolphs who make up hateful fringe of America. Even though La Shawn Barber is right to point out that Eric Rudolph is hardly a Christian, the fact of Rudolph's actual personal beliefs are irrelevant here. The real issue at hand is that others, whose misguided view of Christianity compels them to violence, might see the relative silence from the Christian leadership as the green light for future activity. Being a hero, being a martyr, doing the task that others might wish but not dare do, even at the price of your life or freedom, carries a strong appeal.

Fundamentalism, as another word for orthodoxy, breeds violence. Once orthodoxy to a certain worldview is considered the ideal, it doesn't take very long to make such orthodoxy mandatory. And since the human race is not comprised of robots, some will naturally reject such a worldview and seek out an alternate path. The fate of these guys is usually to be killed by those who would have them conform. This is probably the single dominant theme of human history. Of course, in places like America, our government system is pluralistic enough and liberal enough to prevent any single group from consolidating power so much as to be able to pull this off. In fact, as you may know, the 1st amendment specifically addresses this issue and wisely makes it illegal. In Christian Europe 500 years ago, orthodoxy was the law. If you were a heretic, you were burned alive. Killing non-believers isn't unique to a particular moment in history and it certainly isn't unique to any certain religion. It is, however, in every case, unique to the institutionalization of orthodoxy.

In many countries today where the dominant religion is Islam, the fundamentalists have achieved their goal of temporal power. The terrorists in those countries are empowered by a ruling class who refuse to condemn violence, instead pointing out the terrorists' "understandable" goals and decrying the injustice that "forced" them to violence. This is hardly a call for change in tactics and exactly the kind of thing that emboldens a new generation of terrorists. There will always be, in every society, violent haters. The trick is to make sure that those who advocate violence as a cure for non-orthodoxy never feel empowered to act.

I'm sure that Christian fundamentalists who seek to order our country on "Biblical" terms don't intend for their efforts to end in violence and death, but history tells us that is how it would end if successful. This is not to downplay the disgusting acts of Islamist terrorists. I don't even imply that Christianist terrorism is even close to the level of Islamist terrorism. But do I think that Christians are more immune to whatever lures a person into terror than Muslims? Absolutely not. I would argue that the terrorism we see from the two religions is roughly proportional to the amount of temporal power each religion's fundamentalists currently enjoy. As such, Islam has a lot, Christianity practically none. The roots of terror are not planted by the foreign policy of another country, but by the tacit approval of otherwise well-intended people whose view of faith has become so warped as to believe the ends justify the means.

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