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Thursday, 6 October 2011

1.6 – Politics or Religion. Which is the Driving Force Behind ‘Christian terrorism’?

The militant Christian Right is generally considered a religious movement as adherents cast their ideology and actions in incontrovertibly religious terms. However, their goals also contain secular elements; namely political and territorial issues, (although they are always presented in overtly religious tones).  For example, whilst Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma-bomber, outlined his plan in terms of religious faith, he claimed to primarily be fighting against undue interference from the national American government in the lives of ordinary Americans. Do such secular goals eclipse religious faith as the root cause of the violence perpetrated by the radical Christian Right groups: are politics and creating social chaos the primary motivation for ‘religious terrorism’?

Despite the extremist statement, ‘democracy is opposed to Christianity, the rule of man placed above the rule of God’,[1] politics plays an important role in the Religious Right ideology, whether extremist or pacifistic. The non-extremist Religious Right has major political significance in America, and ‘is a highly significant political lobby group, whose influence has grown in recent years, especially during the presidencies of George W. Bush (2001-08)’.[2] Although they do not use violence to achieve their goals, they prescribe the same ideology as extremist groups and promote Christian morality and conservatism, and literal interpretation of the Scriptures.

The radical Religious Right aims to overthrow the secular regime in America with religious politics based on Biblical scripture, and one of the key objectives within Christian extremism is the resurrection of a theocratic state. (Reinhold Niebuhr counselled against such ‘moralism’,[3] and claimed that an intrusion of religious thought into the political mechanics of statehood was a negative input.) It is believed to be ‘the moral obligation of Christians to recapture every institution for Jesus Christ’,[4] and some branches of extremism interpret this to include even traditionally secular institutions like the United States government.  This goal, which is similar to those of radical Jewish and Islamic sects, is lodged in politics and involves the whole restructuring of society. Although all extremist groups referred to claim to be acting with religious imperative, militant interpretation of Christianity apparently involves pursuing goals of political, economic and cultural conservatism.

Indeed, bringing Christian politics into power was a matter of primary importance for Michael Bray, and some leaders of the Christian Right, ‘not only entered the electoral arena but also sought to influence policy via dialogue with political leaders, including the president and his close advisors’.[5] Christian radicals attempt to unite and purify America, by infiltrating all social, political and educational arenas, and spreading the doctrine of Christianity through the platforms provided. The final goals may be religious in content, but the methods with which they are addressed are lodged in secular politics and creating social chaos. Indeed, despite the religious rhetoric and theological aims employed by the majority of the Christian Right movement, most active terrorist groups tend to focus more on violent social activism committed in the name of God. They campaign against a wide range of issues including abortion, radical Islam, gun control and the curriculum in state schools.[6]  The Movement appears to be a political agenda laced with Christian ideas and theologies.

The militant Christian Right movements claim to uphold and promulgate ‘Christian values’ on earth, and declare that violence is religiously permitted, if not decreed as a method by which to rid the world of the ‘enemies’ of God. Christian extremists claim every aspect of life to be governed by religious law, and claim that faith provides the reasoning behind any action whether violent or not. Kerry Noble, a leading figure in the Christian Identity Movement, stated that faith provides guidance for everything, ‘whether relocating, living communally, casting out demons, or having a baby by natural childbirth’.[7]

However, all leading Christian figures state that Christianity and terrorism are incompatible, and deny that faith plays any role in extremist Christian behaviour. They claim that scriptural reinterpretation has perverted the religion and is only employed to provide a smokescreen for underlying political and hate-fuelled ideologies. One Catholic priest claimed the Holy Scriptures have undergone such extensive reinterpretation they do not represent the Christian faith anymore.  Speaking of the white-supremacist and pro-life groups he said, ‘any kind of Christian sugar coating on their activities is just an excuse…’[8]

It has also been claimed by opponents of Christian militancy that controversial social issues are incorporated into their doctrine of religiosity in order to provide a wider audience from which to gain support for their more radical and puritanical aims.  For example it has been claimed that ‘abortion is just a skirmish in the battle over the family in the war seeking cultural fundamentalism.’[9] It is an emotive topic that can be usefully employed to agitate and organize a movement which otherwise gets its energy largely from atavistic and racist emotional orientations of followers. However, Teehan claims that, ‘violence done in the name of religion is not a perversion of religious belief…but flows naturally from the moral logic inherent in many religious systems, particularly monotheistic religions.’ He continued to describe how ‘religious morality and religious violence both spring from the same source…’[10] This implies that religion cannot be perverted as the direction for violence is found in the same text that prescribes the tenets of faith. Teehan also highlights the close relationship between religion, violence, and politics.

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