The Christian Jihad

I have been kind of withholding a post on the Planned Parenthood shooting because I have been waiting for more details on the shooter’s ideology to be confirmed. However, I read a pretty great article this morning about the theology of Christian terrorism which has prompted me to make a response. I want to make it clear though that I cannot confirm the motivations of Robert Dear and, as a result, cannot be certain that it was a terrorist act. As a result, I will try to keep this in general terms, speaking on the social structures surrounding this event and the responses that it has evoked.

Luckily, it seems that the vast majority of people seem to condemn the actions of Robert Dear, even those who would identify as “pro-life”. However, in certain right-wing circles of the US, the response has been disturbingly muted. For example, most of the GOP Candidates have been avoiding giving an opinion on the shooting, or have deflected the blame. You could make the argument that they haven’t commented because we can’t confirm whether it actually was a motivated terrorist attack yet or just a crazy guy committing a mass shooting at random. However, this is clearly a weak argument, as a lack of facts wouldn’t have stopped them from immediately commenting on a more “convenient” event, such as the Paris massacre, which fits into their message. Put simply, I have little doubt that the GOP Candidates would condemn this shooting in a heartbeat, but the bullshit of American partisanship is forcing them from being seen as defending Planned Parenthood, because there is a sizable contingent of their voter base which is sympathetic to Robert Dear.

For a laugh, I decided to check The Blaze’s responses to the shooting, as I expected them to have the most publicly toxic responses and to provide me with a window to the mindset of the militant American evangelical crowd. I was actually happily surprised to see no outright sympathy for him, but there was (predictably) a ton of deflection of blame from the right. One particular article caught my eye though, by IC2S veteran Matt Walsh, which claims that “Abortionists and Planned Parenthood shooter are just two sides of the same coin”. Now, thankfully Walsh actually states in the article that he does not approve of the methods that Dear used against Planned Parenthood, he also states unequivocally that he feels no need to publicly condemn it either. He also makes the incredibly bizarre assertion that “the Planned Parenthood shooting only proves that Planned Parenthood is evil”. I find these points to be equal parts strange and extremely callous. Presumably, Walsh feels that this shooting is a case of a murderer murdering mass murderers. Within Walsh’s conservative, “eye for an eye” morality, this makes Dear’s actions difficult to condemn… which is the whole problem.

Look, you don’t have to be a left-winger to condemn the Planned Parenthood shooting which, in all honesty, looks likely to be a case of domestic, Christian terrorism. You don’t have to be right-wing, or even “pro-life”, to oppose abortion either. However, partisanship and tribalism has soured our morality and taken away our humanity when we can’t even acknowledge that maybe, just maybe, terrorism is something that we can commit as well. If it turns out that Robert Dear was indeed motivated by Christian anti-abortion rhetoric*, then this is pretty clearly a case of a Christian committing an act of terrorism not unlike the Islamic terrorists we have been condemning and killing for so long.

This brings me to the heart of the matter – if you kill innocent people in order to bring about an ideological end, you’re a terrorist. If you support Robert Dear then you’re on the same level as those who support Al Queda or the Islamic State. The only difference between the two comes down to ideology. If you support the Planned Parenthood shooting but cry out for us to keep Syrian refugees out of the country because they might be terrorists, then brother I would suggest that you remove the plank from your own eye. I pray that we may learn how to come to understand and reconcile with our enemies and become a culture in which such acts of violence can be rightfully condemned without fear of oppression.

*Even if he was insane, this rhetoric still matters, as it would be what influenced him in the first place. I’m not entirely convinced that it should shoulder the blame per se, but they should at least acknowledge that maybe their messages were a part of the problem.

Please follow and like us:

IC2S Playlist Update 25/11/2015

First up this week we have “Kashmir” by Led Zepplin from their album Physical Graffiti. I know that you know this song. Everyone knows this song. It’s just so damn good and the usage of middle-eastern-style sounds was just inspired… and there’s not much more I can say than that. I didn’t intend for this entry to be so lazy, but it’s occurring to me while I’m writing this that there really isn’t much that I can add to the conversation on Led Zepplin or “Kashmir” which hasn’t already been said. As a result, I will say “enjoy!” and move on to the next entry.

Secondly we have “Long Live the Party” by Andrew W.K., from his album The Wolf. Over the past couple weeks, I’ve been really getting into this album and have been listening to it almost every day. As much as I like I Get Wet, The Wolf is just a more interesting album in almost every department. The songs do skew towards Andrew W.K.’s reputation as the “god of the party”, but there are also some which show his current status as a “positivity activist” of sorts, such as “Never Let Down”, “The End of Our Lives” or “I Love Music”. Apparently telling stories about positivity is what his whole radio show on The Blaze is about which, considering the rest of The Blaze’s raw sewage output, is rather strange and just baffles me on how Andrew W.K. managed to secure it.

Please follow and like us:

IC2S Playlist Update 08/07/2015

First up this week on the playlist is “She is Beautiful” by Andrew W.K. from his debut album, I Get Wet. This has to be one of the most badass love songs ever. Between the really fast tempo, the heavy sound and Andrew W.K.’s harsh vocals, it just creates a freight train of awesome barreling straight towards your pleasure centers. I have warmed up a bit towards Andrew W.K. since I last posted a song of his (although, for whatever baffling reason, he is apparently a program host on The Blaze!?!). I rather like I Get Wet, but I was really disappointed to see that Andrew W.K. ditched the harsh vocals in his later albums. This basically killed any interest I might have had in those albums, but at least there’s still some good stuff on his first 2. I dunno, I don’t really have any more to say about it than that, “She is Beautiful” is just a pretty straightforward, but awesome, song.

Stepping into something a little darker, we have “American Made” by Living Sacrifice from their album, Ghost Thief. I have been aware of Living Sacrifice for quite some time (one of their former guitarists played for P.O.D. from 2003-2006), but I never actually listened to anything of theirs until this past year. “American Made” has been on regular rotation on Weathered Steel for the past year, and it hasn’t become tired in all that time for me. The song doesn’t exactly break any new ground (very heavy sound, anti-consumerist message, etc), but it is very technically proficient and sounds great, even if you can’t tell what the hell the vocalist is saying about 95% of the time. I’m going to have to start digging into Living Sacrifice’s back catalogue to see just how good they can get, but if “American Made” is any indication, then I’ll probably be in for an enjoyable time.

Please follow and like us:

Translating Ideology

So the other day I had the horrifying idea of checking out what The Blaze thought about the gay marriage ruling a couple weeks ago in the United States. This was partially due to some unresolved thoughts that cropped up in my previous encounter with The Blaze, when one of their contributors claimed (extremely poorly) that Christians were obligated to support the death penalty. At the time, I had never head of The Blaze, but I was left under the impression from their “About Us” page that they were supposed to be non-partisan news source which was only concerned with “the truth”… which just so happens to be ultra-conservative American traditions. Uh oh.

Well, even with that in mind, my search ended up being even worse than I had expected. Page after page of outright hatred and doomsaying over something that isn’t going to affect the vast majority of the readership in the slightest… it’s like they don’t even realize that most other Western nations have allowed gay marriage for quite some time now without society breaking down into anarchy, or religious freedoms being adversely affected.

However, the worst article of them all, titled “Gay Marriage Still Doesn’t Exist, No Matter What the Supreme Court Says” by Matt Walsh, just left me absolutely dumbfounded. Here’s the link if you’re interested, but I’m not going to break it down point by point like I normally would, because that would give it too much credit. After reading this, I actually felt quite troubled for a long time, trying to process what I had read. Normally I would put out an impassioned rebuttal, refuting the idiocy on display. However, this time it was different. There is no nuance to this rant. It is either extreme ignorance at best, or pure, unadulterated, blind hatred. As a result, I can’t really address the content of the message, but rather the frameworks which make something this vile and pants-on-head-stupid possible.

First of all, this message is endorsed and given a voice on a freaking news site. Sure, the disclaimer at the bottom of the article claims that “TheBlaze contributor channel supports an open discourse on a range of views. The opinions expressed in this channel are solely those of each individual author”, but c’mon – an article does not make its way onto a news source without getting approved through the editorial process, which effectively endorses the content whether they want to make it official or not. When they post up the article I’m going to write up about how 90% of Christians say they enjoyed gay sex when they tried it, then maybe I’ll start giving that disclaimer the benefit of the doubt.

Also, The Blaze hardly counts as “journalism”, but it has an audience and the pretenses of being a news source, so it gives this article way more legitimacy than it would have on the shit-slinging blog it would normally appear on. As of the time of this writing, Walsh’s article has gotten almost 100,000 shares, which is incredibly distressing. I imagine that a good portion of those are probably people making fun of the authour, but those shares are still exposing more people to this awful perspective and drawing more people to The Blaze.

Just as intended.

The most important factor in the creation of Walsh’s article though is ideology. This is actually why I can’t respond to the article directly, and why you either didn’t need me to break it down for you to understand why it was insane, or have no idea what I’m going on about right now. Walsh is so far ingrained into his own ideological framework (which seems to consist of ultra-conservatism, evangelicalism and/or fundamentalism, American nationalism and apparently the divine inspiration of the US constitution, among other things), that it becomes basically impossible to reason with him unless you share the same ideology. Obviously this can be applied to any ideology, including my own, but I would at least like to think that my own is based in rationality and logic, making it accessible to the majority of society to understand, and I try to hold my beliefs in some humility (rather than harping them as the concrete “TRUTH” as Walsh and The Blaze do).

With websites like The Blaze and Fox News catering to, and spreading, this sort of extreme ideology, the existence of articles such as this leaves me rather disturbed. I like to believe that my arguments can at least get through to someone, whether they agree with them or not (and that is ultimately up to them to decide of course). However, when faced with someone whose ideology is so different from my own that our respective thought processes and realities are basically night and day, I don’t know how to even respond. It’s like we speak entirely different languages, or aren’t even the same species.

For the sake of this argument, let’s say that this is what Matt Walsh looks like.

You probably encounter this conundrum all the time. For example, look at the conservative church’s ideology regarding Israel. They believe that the modern nation of Israel is God’s chosen people still and give them their support no matter the circumstances (which they generally don’t look into anyway). Furthermore, they view all Arabic states as Israel’s enemies, who mindlessly are drawn into attempting to destroy the nation in a battle of good vs evil. However, this ideological framework is incredibly dehumanizing towards the innocent Palestinians who get caught up in the conflict. It ignores all the flagrant human rights violations that Israel is committing (and in fact, our unwavering support for Israel empowers their ability to get away with it). It also makes it seem like conflict is inevitable, part of a conflict that has been going on endlessly for a thousand years, but this completely misses the modern roots of the conflict which stretch back to the era of colonialism and can be potentially defused in time. The extremely bitter sides of the abortion “debate” also can be boiled down into a conflict of ideology – one side views it as a human being at conception, others as a fetus.

As long as we stubbornly hold onto our ideologies and refuse to even consider anyone else’s perspectives, we’re going to continue to run into situations like these where we can’t engage in any meaningful dialogue. Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s an easy solution to this issue: it takes time for people to change, so the only real solutions are to work on them with compassion, or ignore them. I’m hoping that, through education, we can someday see an end to hateful ideologies, such as those held by Matt Walsh and The Blaze… until then though, we’re going to have to bust out Google translate and try to get through to those whose thought processes are so radically divergent from our own.

Please follow and like us:

SHOULD Christians Support Capital Punishment?

This weekend, I stumbled upon a news article that absolutely floored me. It was called “Why Christians Can, And Should, Support the Death Penalty” by Mary Ramirez, and was posted on The Blaze in response to the Dzhokhar Tsarnaev trial verdict… bloody hell, I never expected that I would be writing so many damned posts on religion when I started this blog back up…

Look, I can understand why someone would potentially support the death penalty, so this isn’t intended to be a political critique. This is an issue that can cut across party lines (but tends to be more common amongst conservatives). Where I take issue with this article is that Ramirez claims that there is some sort of compelling evidence that makes it so that Christians should support the death penalty, which is just a baffling statement. Now obviously I don’t know Ramirez personally so I’m going to have to go off of some speculation, but I would argue that Ramirez’s political and cultural stance has definitely coloured her opinion on this issue, far more-so than any actual Biblical study.

First of all, she cites a single verse to claim that the Bible condones capital punishment, Romans 13:4:

“For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.” (NIV)

It would seem pretty cut and dry if not for one problem – Paul is not Jesus, and the gospels themselves are pretty cut-and-dry on the issue of capital punishment. John 8:3-11 states that:

Jesus returned to the Mount of Olives, 2 but early the next morning he was back again at the Temple. A crowd soon gathered, and he sat down and taught them. 3 As he was speaking, the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They put her in front of the crowd.
4 “Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?”
6 They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger. 7 They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” 8 Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust.
9 When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman. 10 Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”
11 “No, Lord,” she said.
And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.”

Now, I am well aware of the textual issues of this passage, but I quite like a pair of justifications for it: that it was removed from the earliest copies of the gospels to avoid claims of condoning adultery (which I can totally see happening), or that it was a well-known event which was recorded elsewhere and added to the Gosepels at a later time. That said, even if it is not a part of the original passage, I have two rebuttals. The first is that it is consistent with Jesus’ other teachings (eg, Matthew 5, Matthew 7:1-3, Matthew 22:36-40). Secondly, its original “authenticity” should irrelevant to a Biblical literalist, since they believe that the Bible was basically written by God and is inerrant and without contradiction (in case my tone hasn’t given it away, I am not a literalist myself).

This leaves us with Jesus making one definitive statement while Paul makes another, so what should we make of it? Well, I would look at it thusly: Jesus’ commands supersede Paul’s. Paul’s writings are still important obviously, but he still boils down to a major evangelist interpreting the gospels and preaching them to people. This also can go some way to explaining some of the problematic or outright false statements in Paul’s gospels*. For example, read the rest of Romans 13 and you’ll see what I mean. Are we supposed to believe that the Taliban or ISIS are God’s servants because they have been put in a place of authority? Are we wrong to call out government programs, such as apartheid, unjust since Paul says that only wrong-doers need fear the government? Is state-sanctioned ethnic cleansing an acceptable use of the government’s power? Obviously the answer to all of these is no, which flies in the face of what Paul’s actual writing says if you’re a literalist.

That said, you don’t have to throw out this verse by any means – with the context of John 8:3-11 in place, Romans 13:4 suddenly changes from a command to support capital punishment to an endorsement of separation of church and state. It is within the state’s abilities to perform capital punishment, but it is not the place for a Christian to partake in it.

Anyway, moving on to Ramirez’s second point, she decides to focus in on the literal meaning of the commandment “thou shalt not commit murder”. I’m honestly not entirely sure why she does this, because it doesn’t seem to support her argument all that well, but I’ll go with it for now. It seems to me she’s trying to justify capital punishment by saying that the Bible doesn’t count it as murder, because the commandment against murder applies to unjust and unlawful killing only. This… is a strange argument, to put it lightly. For one thing, it feels like a regression on her previous point (and my arguments regarding that point have basically already refuted this point as well, so the more I talk about it, the more time I feel that I’m wasting). This just feels like someone grasping for a technicality to try to justify their own position, as follows:

Premise 1: The Bible commands that “thou shalt not commit murder”.
Premise 2: Murder refers to an unlawful and malicious act.
Conclusions: It is permissible for the government to perform capital punishment.

As you can probably see, this is a rather shaky argument and one that could easily get knocked down (eg, sure, maybe it doesn’t count as murder, but does that mean it’s still okay for the state to kill people? When it is permissible?). In any case, it feels redundant even giving time to this point.

Finally, Ramirez addresses a third point, the defence of society. You’ll probably notice that this isn’t a “Christian” argument, it’s a political/personal one. Now this is fine normally, but for an article that’s supposed to offer Christian reasons why to support the death penalty (and is doing a fantastically poor job of convincing me), this is an out of place point and simply illustrates that she is shockingly lacking in evidence for her actual point. Again though, let’s just go with this one in any case. She starts her argument referring to a movie where someone overcomes conscientious objection in WWI, arguing that the need to defend their loved ones supersedes their convictions regarding killing. This is a fair enough point honestly, and one which I am not sure where I lie: as much as I like Benjamin L. Corey, I have trouble getting entirely on board the Christian pacifist train, despite largely agreeing on a philosophical level.

However, this point is rendered moot when Ramirez throws down the most outrageous sentence in the whole article:

“Did you ever stop to think about how ending the life of a monster like Tsarnaev is an act of self defense?”

This is just an insane mischaracterization for so many reasons. Most importantly, it is comparing two things incorrectly. If she was comparing conscientious objection to a police officer having to shoot someone who is actually an active danger to the public, then that would be one thing (in fact, this can be applied to Tsarnaev’s brother without a second thought). However, Tsarnaev himself is in custody and would have faced a lifetime in prison if he hadn’t been handed the death penalty – put simply, he isn’t going to hurt anybody anymore (and in fact, he’s probably going to get the shit kicked out of him by the other prisoners). Strictly speaking, it doesn’t matter whether Tsarnaev gets the death penalty or life in prison, because in both cases, as long as he serves his sentence, then that it justice. Considering that Tsarnaev isn’t a danger to the public, a Christian should hope that his death penalty sentence will be overturned and he will instead get life in prison.

There are a few very practical reasons why a life sentence is preferable to death. First of all, from the Christian perspective, it would be pretty reprehensible to take someone’s life without allowing them to attain salvation. On a related point is that so many years pass between the sentence and the execution that people generally have changed significantly. I’m not saying that they should be released by any means, but what are the chances that in ten years, Tsarnaev will understand the enormity and evil of his actions? Having someone who can speak out about extremism and delusion is far more valuable than eliminating them outright. That brings us to our next practical reason why not to execute prisoners, and that is that Tsarnaev will become a martyr to the cause. This has happened time and time again, and you could argue pretty convincingly that this is what Tsarnaev wants right now – which, again, is reason enough to deny it and work at reforming him. Also worth considering is the costs: many people think it’s too expensive to keep prisoners locked up, but it’s nothing compared to the cost of executing a prisoner, due to the necessity of the appeals process. And why is the appeals process necessary? Because of my last point, because innocent people have been executed in the past. Obviously Tsarnaev isn’t one of them, but in a more general sense, people have been sentence to death unjustly. I know that the existence of people executed unjustly flies in the face of Romans 13, but trust me on this one – in principle, the state should not end lives on the presumption that anyone can be exonerated if evidence of their innocent exists.

After all of that though, I have to say this: Mary Ramirez is more than entitled to support the death penalty. I myself supported the death penalty when I was in high school, which was probably the most devout period of my life up until this past year. However, my support of the idea at the time did not come from my faith, it came from my political principles at the time. However, if you support the death penalty then that’s one thing, but if you’re going to try to use the Bible to justify it and to claim that all Christians should do so as well, then you’ll need to do MUCH better than this.

*Paul’s epistles tend to be rooted very specifically in a time and place, but this conflicts often with “modern sensibilities” (slavery, feminism, etc). It was a reality at the time that slavery was a thing, that men were the uncontested heads of the household and that capital punishment was a common punishment for damn near anything. However, considering that times have changed and that these (amongst any other issues in Paul) are no longer everyday realities, can we argue that, for example, women are required to submit to their husbands or cannot lead a church congregation? I would argue that no, they do not – Paul’s letters were intended to teach the people of the day in the climate of the day, so interpretation is far more necessary than in other sections of the Bible.

Please follow and like us: