Could ISIS become the Westboro Baptist of jihadism?

Could ISIS become the Westboro Baptist of jihadism? September 10, 2014

Yes, I know, it’s a woefully contrived analogy. Hateful Christians with “God hates fags” signs are a completely different phenomenon than terrorists who massacre a whole countryside of people. But it’s a wishful thought that I want to have. Because I think Westboro Baptist has played an important role in turning the tide against the religious right in our country. Could it be that the absolute awfulness of ISIS will turn the tide against the religious right in the Islamic world?

Westboro Baptist exemplifies the logical extreme of the doctrine of nihilistic divine misanthropy that is prevalent in less potent forms throughout conservative evangelicalism in America. Based on a perverse misreading of Romans 3, this doctrine says that God is steaming with anger against human sins that we consider to be minor moral infractions because God is infinitely more perfectionist than we are and because we are so completely corrupted that we can’t see how astoundingly evil we are. This is why even good non-Christians who exhibit all the character qualities of the fruits of the spirit and the Sermon on the Mount deserve to be tortured in hell forever if they haven’t said the magic sinner’s prayer, because God is a misanthropic nihilistic infinite perfectionist.

Before Westboro Baptist came along, there was a game of one-up-man-ship in conservative evangelicalism around this doctrine. Whoever preached the most brutal God had the purest Christianity. There was no extreme that was too extreme. But Westboro Baptist made the maniacally angry God into a farce by showing what this doctrine causes people to do. They would have never become an embarrassment to the religious right if they had just picketed funerals of gay people. But then they tried to out-extreme all the competition by picketing military funerals claiming bizarrely that God was causing our war casualties as punishment for the existence of homosexuality in our country.

I realize it’s ridiculous to say too definitively what really causes cultural shifts to happen. But Westboro Baptist’s embarrassing antics have coincided with a major rebellion among my generation of evangelicals. And they have been like gasoline on the fire. Westboro Baptist was a major reason why hundreds of thousands of young evangelicals like me were finally was able to say That can’t be right! Well, I mean Westboro Baptist and Pat Robertson and Ted Haggard and Dinesh D’Souza and C.J. Mahaney and Bill Gothard and Mark Driscoll and a lot of others. But Westboro Baptist has been the most ridiculous of the comically radical misanthropes of far-right Christianity.

Thankfully fundamentalist Christians in our country have not yet started deputizing themselves as divinely sanctioned executioners of the wicked like their counterparts in ISIS, although Charisma magazine’s call for genocide last week was very worrisome and I imagine that most of the open carry activists in Texas are also “born-again Christians.” Obviously what ISIS is doing is in a completely different league from Westboro Baptist in many ways. But in one basic way, they are engaged in the same radical one-up-man-ship that defines right-wing religious zeal. Their Allah has to be more brutal and misanthropic than everyone else’s Allah so that they can be the purest Muslims.

I have no idea what kind of cultural context Muslims in my generation find themselves in halfway across the world, but I want to believe that somehow watching these sick evil sociopaths blaspheme their faith so maliciously would be enough to cause some sort of shift in Islam analogous to the way that rebellious evangelicals in my generation have shattered the strongholds of the religious right in our country. I want to believe that a critical mass of Muslims are going to say F*** this, Allah is merciful, not some frothy-mouthed, rabid psychopath. Could all of the bloodshed from sectarian religious violence over the past several decades finally give birth to some kind of spiritual renewal? I know Muslims who are beautiful, merciful people. I wish they were in charge in the same way that I wish the Christians who actually have the heart of Jesus had more power in our churches. One can dream.

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  • BrotherRog

    Actually, if they became the Westboro of Islam, that would be a good thing. Right
    now, they’re acting like the KKK mixed with the Crusades. Westboro are the butt of jokes.

    • George Carty

      Being a Brit, I long had the opinion that al-Muhajiroun (under whatever alias they’re using this week) were the Muslim equivalent of Westboro.

      ISIS on the other hand remind me more of Tamerlane (who combined Mongol barbarism with Islamic fanaticism).

  • Al Cruise

    ” woefully contrived analogy” No I don’t so. We have had a long period with a secular legal system, policing, and military in a democracy. That in itself kept radicals like Westbro from crossing the line, if they did, they would be dealt with in short order. ISIS is operating in a vacuum of those checks and balances and they know they can rule the day without consequences. The mindset of the two groups is probably closer than you think. However circumstances on the ground permit one group to get away with only rhetoric.

  • Eric

    I just saw a presentation on ISIS last night and they have more financial resources (~$2bn) than Hamas, Hezbollah, Al Qaida, and other terrorist groups *Combined*…. So, “no, I don’t think they’ll be like WBBC, since they’re getting funding from private wealthy individuals up the wazoo.

    • George Carty

      How much of ISIS funding comes from donations by outside sympathisers, how much comes from oil sales, and how much from extortion rackets and other criminal activities?

      • Eric

        Let me get the stats again from the guy that did the presentation!

      • Eric

        According to the un-sourced graphic in the presentation:
        $1.095 Bn – Oil
        $430 Mn – Robbing banks
        $343 Mn – Other
        $36 Mn – Stolen Antiquities
        $96 Mn – Laundering Money in Mosul

        • George Carty

          Thanks for that — would that suggest that bombing the oil installations in ISIS-controlled territory (in order to deprive them of this revenue source) would be a good idea?

  • Westboro Baptist was a major reason why hundreds of thousands of young evangelicals like me were finally was able to say That can’t be right! Well, I mean Westboro Baptist and Pat Robertson and Ted Haggard and Dinesh D’Souza and C.J. Mahaney and Bill Gothard and Mark Driscoll and a lot of others.

    I expect those “lot of others” had a lot more impact on you than the actions of one cult alone.

    I share your hopes that this Islam will provoke a reaction, but I don’t know if it’s likely. While plenty of Muslims can find the good in their religion, I’m unimpressed by the morality of Islam itself. Islam is 700 years younger than Christianity, and it seems to be as barbaric, regressive and dangerous as Christianity was 700 years ago. The difference is today’s Muslims can see examples of peace, tolerance, and diversity in the west that weren’t available to 16th century Christians.