I got sent a Washington Times article this morning by a lot of people (and I’m seeing cheering about it elsewhere on the internet). The article declared:
The Defense Department came under fire Thursday for a U.S. Army Reserve presentation that classified Catholics and Evangelical Protestants as “extremist” religious groups alongside al Qaeda and the Ku Klux Klan.
For those who don’t know, the Washington Times was established as an arm of the Unification Church by Sun Myung Moon with the stated goal to combat communism. It’s not the type of news source that I trust without corroboration. So I ran a google search to see who else was reporting on this since it seemed unbelievable (our army has a problem with being to accommodating to religious silliness and intrusion, not the other way around). The google search turned up your typical list conservative hysteria sites like The Blaze, all of which linked back to the WT article as their source. The WT article itself had no external links. So I popped over to CNN.com to see if they had reported on it. Nada.
So regardless of your opinion on such a declaration if it did really happen, I’m leaning toward it not really happening.
For the record though, I don’t think you can label entire religious groups as extremist. I think all of them are extremely wrong and extremely silly, but that’s not what is being conveyed by the word “extremist”. And this is coming from a guy who despises religion about as passionately as one can. I think, if we’re going to be fair, we should reserve the label for specific groups of Evangelicals and Catholics who are willing to engage in violence on account of their beliefs. While most Evangelicals hold the wretched opinion that gays do not deserve equal rights, most of them won’t harm gay people or blow up an abortion clinic. They can be convicted of hate easily. And while baseless hate is often a product of fundamentalist religion (which is why I hate religion so much) and a moral failing, it is not a crime.
There are certainly extremist groups out there, lots of them, populated by Evangelicals and Catholics whose dedication to their particular beliefs make them a threat to society. I’m all for them having the label. But it would not be fair to dump it on all followers of those religions.
al Qaeda, Hamas, the Filipino separatist group Abu Sayyaf, and the Ku Klux Klan, which the slide identifies as a Christian organization.The presentation identified seventeen religious organizations in a slide titled “religious extremism.” They include
The KKK is a Christian organization. So are the Christian organizations that provide food for the needy. The difference is that despite the racism in the bible there’s no good secular reason to be a racist, while there are plenty good secular reasons to be charitable.
The SPLC has dubbed organizations “hate groups” for promoting Christian teachings on morality and sexuality.
That particular teachings are Christian does not mean those teachings are not hateful or foolish. The problem the Southern Poverty Law Center has with the expressed opinions of many fundamentalist groups isn’t that their opinions are Christian, it’s that they are deleterious to equality and to societal health. That’s why Christian groups who say we should feed the poor don’t make the SPLC’s list of hate groups.
Anyway, long story short, I wouldn’t place too much stock in this story, and I wouldn’t be terribly excited if it were true. If a religious group is spreading hate, I want them on the list and not left off because of some underlying assumption that Christians can’t be hateful, but I also don’t want all members of a religion treated as if they are all equally dangerous or equally hateful. I like being fair. We can treat them like they’re all equally wrong, but not as if every Catholic is an extremist.