Friday, July 1, 2011

Radical Christian Extremism

Here and there across the interwebs this last week, I've caught whiffs of a recent conference.  It was an event sponsored by Google, in which the participants were all individuals who had either participated in or been directly effected by radical, violent extremism.  They included former violent jihadis, armed militants, skinheads, neo-Nazis, gang members, and other fun folks to have around.

The meeting was in Dublin, Ireland, a nation that has known it's own share of Troubles with those who have radicalized their position to the point where killing and harming others becomes acceptable.   It was an interesting meeting, by all accounts.

What was striking in reading summaries of the meeting were points of commonality that all violent movements or groups share.  Those commonalities are 1) the deep seated human desire for belonging and acceptance; 2) the assumption that anyone "outside" of the group is automatically of lesser value than those "inside," and  3) the creation of an environment in which outsiders or particular groups are demonized, feared, and hated.   These conditions are present across the board, whether a group is ethnic, secular, nationalistic, or based in the teachings of a religious tradition.

Here, of course, I get to thinking about how extremism and radical faith have played out among followers of Jesus of Nazareth.   There has, of course, been plenty of blood spilled putatively in the name of the Prince of Peace.  Between multiple wars in Europe, the Crusades, and the Inquisition, the history of our faith has seen all too many moments when it's been used to justify crushing the unbeliever.  Typically, that unbeliever has property we want, or just so happens to be part of a culture that our government wants to subjugate so they can take their stuff.   Power does work that way.  We've fought over ecclesiastical hierarchy.  We've fought over differences in theology or biblical authority.

When I get down to it, though, I have trouble seeing a radical commitment to the ethos that Jesus actually taught as having any potential to leading to violence in deed or in word.  Extreme commitment to Jesus doesn't look like war, or like terror, or even like writing self-righteously trollish comments on the blog of someone with whom you disagree.

Christian absolutism looks a great deal more like St. Francis than it does Torquemada.  If you're radicalized by Christ's teaching to love your neighbor and your enemy, and view every human being as a potential vessel of the grace of the Spirit, then it's really rather difficult to justify seeking their harm in any way.

It's not always bad to be a radical.