My theory is that there’s a statistical relationship between the overall conditions people live under and the appeal religions offer to escape the harsh conditions of life. Moreover, as times get tougher, the religiously inclined tend to become more extreme, fanatical and even violent.
When I parted ways with Christianity back in 1990, overall conditions in the US were far better than today when measured by just about any metric. The decline of religion had already begun. Life was good in America, and religions have little appeal when life is good. These conditions were also prevalent in places like the UK, Canada, Denmark, Sweden and in several other countries where the standards of living were high. Yet in other parts of the world like Africa, Afghanistan, Yemen and others life was not so good—and it still isn’t good. Consequently, religions thrive in many of these nations as do extreme factions of those religions.
The factors leading to the rise of violent Christian extremism in America is perplexing. On the one hand, some of the factors are easy to spot. Poverty, homelessness, expensive healthcare, the inability to afford a higher education, racial discrimination; all of these factors cause many to seek religion as a method of escaping the harsh realities of life.
But the move towards extremism and violence by Christians is unwarranted. Violence has nothing to do with how Christ himself expressed that his gospel be spread. Although our politics may be highly partisan now, nothing warrants the violent overthrow of our democracy. While Americans may have their differences, (which in itself is a sign of a thriving democracy), our divisions are far less polarized than those in other countries engaged in civil wars.
If anything, the motivation by violent Christian extremists to be violent seems to be entirely based on the fact that they are inclined to be violent.