A recent documentary hosted by Raheel Raza found here helped me understand some truths about various levels of radicalism. It is worth watching because while it focuses on Radical Islam, the principles apply to other religions as well, especially Christianity. Radicalism as defined in my computer’s dictionary is: “political policies that advocate more sweeping political, economic, or social change than that traditionally supported by the mainstream political parties.” A cult is: a group, often religious, which uses psychological techniques, sometimes deviously, to gain and control followers. The rhetoric of both is often emotionally charged and based in fear. I submit that Radical Islam and Radical Christianity are both cults whose followers need to be shown a better way and whose leadership needs to be silenced.
Over the centuries Christians, like Muslims, have been persecuted as well as the perpetrators of persecution. One would think, having felt the impact of persecution both groups would reject such as a means to their own ends. We know from psychology however, that a child who is bullied at home often becomes the bully on the playground. In their extremes we end up with people like Joseph Kony of the Lord’s Resistance Army, and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi who is the current leader of ISIL.
BUT, extremists do not start out as extremists. And, it is too simplistic to think, “oh they got hurt, so now they’re hurting others.” Many people who have been damaged by poverty, prejudice, and other life experiences do not end up leading armies of violence and oppression. Something else happens to zealots along the way to becoming terrorists–someone takes them in, feeds their anger, directs their hate, and convinces them if they do not destroy the enemy (defined as anyone other than them) their enemy will destroy them.
An individual can do very little to combat a fully radicalized religious or political fanatic. And, that’s okay; the government and the military can and will deal with those who would use violence to terrorize the masses. But individuals CAN work to make our own corner of the world free of the ignorance, fear, and anger fanaticism feeds on. We CAN diligently analyze our own behavior and attitudes for the anger and fear which creep into our thinking because we neglect to pursue peace and truth. We CAN decide to stand on the side of understanding and choose to educate ourselves about what truth is. We CAN focus our activities toward reaching out, including others, and showing compassion toward the marginalized. And, we CAN also set aside our preconceived notions of “the other” and broaden our appreciation for what God called good–all of His creation–ALL of humanity. Heaven will be a very lonely place if we exclude those for whom we have little compassion.
Christian Radicals are no different from Muslim radicals. And, Christians on the path toward becoming radicals, who preach judgment, violence, and hate, like Kevin Swanson, are not any different either. Their indoctrination of the masses begins by emphasizing one’s differences, drawing clear lines between the “us” and the “them”. Everything that is not “us” is tinted with sinister intent. And, since we don’t know “them” (mostly because we are adamantly discouraged from getting to know them in any authentic way) we remain cautious, even wary, or suspicious. Ultimately, we are told to avoid associating with “them” for fear they might taint or influence “us”. Sure, the language varies, not everyone is preached at with hell fire and damnation. But even when the message is couched in nice, gentle language, the second a circle is drawn around “us” and some are left outside the circle the indoctrination has begun.
The more I have read the Gospels the more aware I have become of how little Jesus worried, how little He feared, how unconcerned He was with the power of the Jewish leaders who continually plotted against Him, or the Roman authorities who eventually had Him crucified. Jesus was never anxious, never undone by circumstances, and never overwhelmed by “what ifs”. Jesus was fearless, not because He commanded a battalion of soldiers but rather, because His enemies could never touch the one thing that mattered–knowing God’s love. Our enemies have power only when we are convinced they have the ability to take something of value from us. People like Kevin Swanson, (who by the way is admired by the recent GOP winner of the Iowa Caucus, Ted Cruz), want us to believe that letting same-sex couples marry somehow threatens traditional marriage, that giving women a voice somehow threatens our family values, and that opening our doors to Muslims or Syrian Refugees will somehow weaken the integrity of our country. In truth, Swanson’s radical views run counter to the principles which make the United States a great nation, but more importantly they run counter to Christ.
“Okay,” you say. “So, we won’t listen to Kevin Swanson, anymore.” That’s good, but that’s not my point, because you do listen to James Dobson, and Franklin Graham, and John Piper, and a host of other voices that might couch their fear and prejudice in nicer verbiage but still plant the seeds of radicalism–the us VS them which makes us better than them, more deserving, favored above the “other”. Being chosen is a half step away from thinking of yourself as more important, or more deeply loved. Once our emotional greed gets tapped our next inclination is to protect our position in the hierarchy. The transformation from representing an open armed God to a fear-filled judge happens one “You are the child of the King” and “They want to destroy our way of life” at a time. The reason our God is able to love you and me is because our GOD IS LOVE. It is God’s nature, His identity. He can’t help but love our enemies as much as He loves us. When we begin to truly understand this facet of who God is we will no longer be afraid.