As I expected, Jesus Jihad: Could There Be a Christian Bin Laden? has received a torrent of objections. I want to do deal with them all. After that, I don’t anticipate talking about this again.
1) “Terrorism is not sanctioned in the Bible.”
It’s highly unlikely that a fundamentalist Christian organisation committing acts of what we would call terrorism would call itself “terrorist”, or think of itself in those terms. They would rationalise it in some other way. That does not mean they would not be employing means of terror to further their aims.
2) Some have argued that I am attacking forms of belief which do not exist. I *was* a Christian fundamentalist, and I am talking about what could happen in terms of what I, and my fellow churchgoers, believed about the Bible. You can’t say I’m talking about a straw man. You can say that I’m talking about a minority view, and you would be right. But it only takes an individual to be a terrorist.
3) Others have just said that the “terrorist’s manifesto” I presented, based on Scripture, is a distortion of Biblical belief. Of course it is – that’s the point. I never said this was a “good” interpretation of the Bible. In fact, my argument is essentially “the Bible is open to misinterpretation” which, when you look at it that way, is evidently true and actually quite banal.
4) Some people have argued that anyone could see that these are misinterpretations of the verses in question. I’m not sure that’s the case at all. But let’s suppose that it is. Most Christians would also say the prosperity gospel is also a gross misinterpretation of scripture. Many verses used to support it are clearly not even about money. Yet, according to calculations by UnkleE elsewhere on my blog, it has at least 5-6 million advocates in the USA alone.
5) Some questions have been raised as to whether it is fair to call fundamentalism irrational. I believe I have demonstrated irrationalism adequately with my discussion of the Word of Faith prosperity gospel, Creationism, and paranoid conspiracy theories, elsewhere on this blog. These are all wildly irrational beliefs supported by fundamentalists in substantial numbers.
6) The type of fundamentalism I am discussing insists that the Bible contains no contradictions and is without error. Scholarship is not encouraged. The view is that the Bible can be taken literally and understood by the layperson.
This means that any argument along the lines of “generally understood theology contradicts this position” is irrelevant. I was taught that anyone could understand the Bible at face value from reading it themselves. Who’s going to correct misunderstandings, then? I’d say that, from a surface reading, all the verses linked to in my hypothetical “Christian Terrorist Manifesto” support the overall argument very well.
7) In non-denominational churches, trust in and obedience to authority are emphasised. Anyone can set himself up as a leader, and people do all the time. This culture of almost unquestioning obedience is wide open to abuse. It is this credulousness among believers that cult leaders exploit, and a terrorist Christian leader could exploit too.
8) One valid criticism that has been raised (the only one so far, in my mind), is of this part:
“Of course, evangelicals will distance themselves from this, saying these people “aren’t true Christians.” But that defence doesn’t work. If you insist that all Scripture is equally the Word of God, and that the Bible is 100% consistent…”
There are, of course, evangelicals who are not inerrantists. According the the Evangelical Alliance, 54% of UK evangelicals strongly agree the Bible is inerrant; only 5% strongly agree that the Bible contains errors in its original manuscript. So this section was not as well written as it could have been. This seems to have served as an excuse for some people to dismiss the rest of my argument entirely.
Anyway, my post is a challenge to those who say the Bible is infallible and literal, but who don’t wish to support acts of violence. How do you reconcile those two positions? I accept that for many Christians, it doesn’t pose a challenge to their theology at all.
The most important point
The frustrating thing in all of this is that Christians, perhaps understandably, have taken my post as an attack on the Christian faith as a whole. It doesn’t help that I’m an atheist, of course. But it’s frustrating to see the unwillingness of Christians to criticise extremist tendencies within the church, for fear of disloyalty or promoting church disunity. “They’re my brothers and sisters in Christ,” is the standard defence.
I don’t really think we’re going to see Christian terror attacks in the UK. But we are seeing Christians abusing children en masse in fundamentalist schools, and their fellow Christians should not think that they are doing a service to the faith by defending them.