In the 1990s, there was a serial bomber in the USA named Eric Rudolph. Rudolph bombed abortion clinics, gay bars and even the 1996 summer Olympics. To escape the law, Rudolph took to the woods of North Carolina where he escaped capture for years, allegedly aided by his nearby family. He was even, rather depressingly, somewhat of a local hero in North Carolina. Rudolph was a Christian – He ascribed to Christian Identity which “elevates white supremacy and separatism to a Godly ideal,”. He was also nuts.
When all of this happened 20 years ago, no one condemned Christianity for Rudolph’s horrible actions. Not one word I that I recall anyway, no one thought that Christianity led him to it. He was crazy, poorly educated and a terrorist.
Timothy McVeigh blew up a federal building in Oklahoma City in April 1995. McVeigh too was a Christian and big fan of the US constitution. In his own words (from a letter to his friends):
I have sworn to uphold and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and I will….I have come to peace with myself, my God, and my cause. Blood will flow in the streets, Steve, Good vs Evil. Free men vs. Socialist Wannabe Slaves. Pray it is not your blood, my friend.
Timothy McVeigh was crazy and a Christian. Like Rudolph, I don’t remember anyone blaming Christianity as a whole for McVeigh.
This past week there were horrific killings in Paris, starting with the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris ending with 17 dead. The killers – the Kouachis – were Islamic Militant Muslims. They are also crazy. And there are people blaming Islam. From the extreme tweet of Rupert Murdoch:
Maybe most Moslems peaceful, but until they recognize and destroy their growing jihadist cancer they must be held responsible.
To the somewhat more benign assertions which quote Steven Weinberg: for good people to do evil — that takes religion.
Which is just patently untrue – there were the Stasi, the Nazis, Chairman Mao – none of them were religious. Dogmatic, yes, religious, no.
I am no religious scholar, but I do believe in the rights of people to believe whatever the hell they want to believe. This is why I am a card carrying Democrat. I also absolutely believe that Charlie Hebdo had the right to publish whatever they wanted to – no matter who found it offensive or not. We have the right to free speech and we have the right to offend, not offend, paint our faces blue. We do not have the right to kill people. And while it is true that all of the terrorists I have mentioned, like serial killers, ascribe to a dogmatic code – in reality this has nothing to do with religion per se. These are just crazy people ascribing to a dogmatic code, because that is what psychopaths do. Son of Sam, the serial killer in the 1970s, who insisted he was told to kill people by the neighbor’s dog; he had a crazy, dogmatic belief too.
There is a discussion to be had about the rise of militants, this is for sure. With terrorism of this particular variety seemingly on the rise, we need to talk about why this is happening. But the best way to do that is not by picking the low fruit a la ‘religious people are crazy, that’s why’. This dismissive idea does nothing more than alienate people who are just as interested in avoiding mass shootings as anyone else. Generalizations of this kind kill open, informed discussion; turning us all into reactionary idiots.