Last week, at the National Prayer Breakfast President Obama said something that probably should have been said years ago. Ever since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, a significant segment of this country’s population and its leadership have been allowed to express a religious bigotry that is nothing less than shameful. With the speech, the President blew anti-Muslim bigots out of the water. What he said wasn’t actually all that special; he simply expressed common sense.
He started by making note of the radical Muslims who commit some of the worst atrocities in the world and claim they’re doing it in God’s name for Islam. Killing others and then claiming you have a special relationship with God is wrong, no matter who you are. Of course, no one had a problem with that part of the speech at all. But then he said something that has every pretend right wing Christian politician and pundit in the country screaming at the top of his or her lungs. That’s because he brought his point around to Christians, and no one can say anything bad these self-described “disciples of Christ,” right?
Wrong. It’s not possible to be honest without acknowledging our own failures, and let’s face it; American Christian history isn’t clean and neat. Even now. This is part of what President Obama said:
How do we, as people of faith, reconcile these realities — the profound good, the strength, the tenacity, the compassion and love that can flow from all of our faiths, operating alongside those who seek to hijack religious for their own murderous ends? Humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout human history.
Lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.
Who can argue with that? Oh sure, you could make a claim that the Crusades and the Inquisition were a long time ago and hardly resonate now. And that would be fair, in a way. Hopefully, we’ve evolved as a people. Yet, there are actually politicians and pundits on the pseudo-Christian right wing who are excusing those disgusting spectacles. And let’s be real here; we really are still dealing with the effects of slavery and Jim Crow, just as the Middle East is dealing with empire and its dissolution. We’ve changed the law, but as recent events have taught us, it’s not over quite yet. (And the President didn’t even mention the genocide committed to get this land in the first place and claim it in the name of Jesus, God and several monarchs.)
The thing is, the statements above rubbed many on the right the wrong way, but they’re not what has caused the most ire on the part of right-wing pseudo-Christian politicians and pundits. No, it’s the next thing the President said that has drawn the most heat:
I believe that the starting point of faith is some doubt—not being so full of yourself and so confident that you are right and that God speaks only to us, and doesn’t speak to others, that God only cares about us and doesn’t care about others, that somehow we alone are in possession of the truth.
Put your ear to the ground and listen closely to most of the loudest of the pseudo-Christian Republicans and you’ll find that most of the responses have to do with the statement above. Strangely, they don’t deny that Christians have done some horrible things, but they actually excuse them and blow them off. It’s like everything else in right-wing land; doing the right thing always takes a back seat to not “looking weak.” Their complaint isn’t that Obama is mischaracterizing the Christian faith, because he’s not. Their complaint is with the notion of “apology.” It’s much like their claim that Obama went on an “apology tour” when he took office. We’re ‘Murrca… nothing we do is so bad that we should have to apologize.
Anyone who thinks Christians have nothing to apologize for may actually want to read the Bible they claim to believe in so much. In Matthew, especially Chapters 18 and 23, Jesus himself went on and on about what was wrong with the Jewish religion, and in the process explained what God wants from his followers, at which point he practically mandated humility, to the point that followers of Christ shouldn’t even pray in public, let alone proselytize. In the process, Christ also took some time to explain why religion is not a great way to get to Heaven.
But I digress…
The real problem with the crap coming from the pseudo-Christian right wing is that they (unwittingly) rationalize the messages coming from Muslim extremists who are committing terrorist acts. Really; what’s the difference between a group of Muslims proclaiming that their religion is the only one God cares about and a group of Christians proclaiming the same thing? And while many claim extremist Christians are good because they aren’t killing anyone at this exact moment, didn’t we just end two wars against Muslim countries? In any case, it wasn’t so long ago that groups like the Ku Klux Klan were operating through much of the U.S. and committing terrorist acts (mostly) against black people. And before some of you on the far right claim they weren’t Christian, please explain all those burning crosses. Groups like that were backed by a number of Protestant Churches, and they were active well into the 1960s. They still bubble up these days, and the entire “Christian Identity” movement is a remnant of that sort of thing. They bomb abortion clinics and kill abortion doctors in the name of Jesus. How is that different from what ISIS is doing, except in degree? And I haven’t even gotten into the last civil rights struggle we may ever have to deal with; the anti-gay movement, which is almost 100 percent anchored by pretend “Christian” imagery.
It hasn’t been that long since the KKK was committing terrorist acts against anyone who wasn’t alabaster, and beating people to death for marching for their civil rights, one of which was the right to march. They lynched people for being attracted to other than “their own kind” and sometimes just for the hell of it. They blew up homes and churches full of black people. And before right wingers try to claim they weren’t “Christian,” I’ll ask them to explain all those burning crosses. The entire “Christian Identity” movement has its adherents to this day. In fact, it seems they’ve taken up policing these days. And I haven’t even mentioned what is hopefully the last civil rights struggle we ever have to deal with, the anti-gay movement, which is almost 100 percent anchored in pretend “Christian” imagery.
The point is, Obama is absolutely right. While Muslim extremists are the most lethal group the world has to deal with at the moment, Christians cannot claim the high road at the moment. Of course, if they were following the tenets of their own religion, they shouldn’t anyway. There is never an excuse for any action that denies people their rights, whether its the right to life or the right to free will.
Besides, Jim Crow really isn’t over. When you look at the shootings in Ferguson, the choking in Staten Island and what happened with Trayvon Martin, pay closer attention and you’ll hear the same racist rhetoric that was considered “normal” in the last century. If you really examine the rhetoric, you’ll find that it’s based on the concept that white Protestant Christians are superior to everyone, especially African-Americans. In what way does their rhetoric differ from the rhetoric of groups like ISIS? It doesn’t.
And frankly, we, a supposedly “Christian” nation, bombed the hell out of a majority Muslim nation based on a series of lies about 12 years ago. Though Bush at the time asserted that it wasn’t a war against Islam, most of the rhetoric coming from his staunchest supporters belied that. The anti-Muslim bigotry coming from the right side of the debate used and continues to use the same rhetorical style as ISIS and other Muslim extremist groups. The only reason they don’t commit the same sort of terrorist acts these days is because times have changed and they can no longer get away with them.
In short, there is less difference between Christian extremists and Muslim extremists than the Christian extremists would like everyone to think. Listen more closely to the rhetoric and the actions, and you’ll see a disturbing level of sameness.