I’ve think we’ve got it wrong.
The most dangerous people in the world aren’t those with the least to lose, it’s those with the most to lose, the flag-waving, Bible-believing patriots who will stop at nothing to preserve the status quo.
Yes, Bible-believing. Why these people? Because they have fused the preservation of their faith with the preservation of the state. Therefore, they view the fight against terror as a holy war. The same goes for secularism or any other force that threatens Christianity’s privileged place in society. They abide by the dictum, “Without God, all things are permissible.” Little do they realize that exactly the opposite is true. As philosopher Slavoj Zizek says,
it is for those who refer to “god” in a brutally direct way, perceiving themselves as instruments of his will, that everything is permitted. These are, of course, the so-called fundamentalists who practice a perverted version of what Kierkegaard called the religious suspension of the ethical.
I can think of no better example of a religious suspension of the ethical than the use of torture and death against our enemies. As Brian Zahnd notes in a recent blog post, six out of ten white evangelical Protestants support torture against suspected terrorists. Perhaps this will change now that the recently released report on CIA torture tactics following 9/11 reveals that such enhanced interrogation techniques yielded nothing of value, but probably not. As Brian points out,
For three hundred years everyone knew that it was dangerous to be a Christian, and therefore knew what it was to be a Christian. Then things changed and Christendom was born. Christendom was the subordination of Christianity to the sovereignty of empire… The constant rival to the kingdom of Christ is empire, and the supreme obsession of empire is security. Empires always justify their violence in the name of security.
As long as Christianity is conflated with empire, North American evangelicals will continue to be among the most dangerous people on the planet, because they have the most to lose if the current system fails. Those obsessed with self-preservation have only two options: fight or flight. Ironically, self-sacrifice, the very hallmark of Christianity, is no longer an option for such people.
I’m not talking about the Westboro Baptists here or any other fundamentalist group from which it’s so easy to disassociate. I’m talking about Bible-believing, churchgoing, mission-oriented, coffee-obsessed, conference-attending, gospel-sharing, hair-splitting, hipster-tolerating, same-sex marriage-opposing, rapture-anticipating, gun-toting, Illuminati-suspecting, I-stand-by-Israel seeker-sensitive types. People who make the best neighbors over here–bending over backwards to help you move or visit you in the hospital–but who are just as quick to vote in favor of other people doing whatever nasty thing is required to preserve their comfortable suburban existence. It could be nefarious acts conducted in a dingy CIA black site or surgical strikes and boots on the ground in a dusty battlefield in Africa or the Middle East.
Not our will but God’s be done.
As Zahnd says though, such Christians have reached a crisis of decision.
They can choose security. They can choose to endorse torture in the name of security. But to do so is to renounce the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Torture-endorsing Christians either need to change their mind or they need to change their name.
So the next time you wonder who are the most dangerous people in the world, ask yourself, what have you got to lose?