Sunday, July 24, 2011

Far-right Christianist terrorism, here and in Europe

This is a 24-minute report on far-right extremism in Europe from Aljazeera English's Inside Story - Is the right on the rise in Europe? 07/24/2011.



Like any terrorist attack, the killing in Norway calls for realism rather than a reaction based on fear. Fear and democracy don't go well together, as a rule. But I do hope it will make Americans more aware of the most significant domestic terrorist threat, the one from far-right Christianist groups.

Confessed Norwegian white Christian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik

Frank Schaeffer gives us a glimpse at the worldview of the American Christian nationalists in Christian Jihad? Why We Should Worry About Right-Wing Terror Attacks Like Norway's in the US Alternet 07/23/2011.


I have reservations about Schaeffer's conceptual framework, for instance, when he focuses on the Radical Right's challenging the legitimacy of the US government as the core of the problem: "It was in the context of legitimizing our government that actions by domestic terrorists like Timothy McVeigh became thinkable." One can question the legitimacy of some aspect of our government or even the entire form of government without directly encouraging murderous violence against innocents. A more complex mix of white racism, hatred of democracy, sexual authoritarianism and the creation of exaggerated fears only vaguely based on reality produces the poisonous violence of most of the American far-right incidents we've seen in recent years.

But in that context, the deligimation of the democratic features of the American government does justify extreme actions. Schaeffer cites his own father, who was an important leader in the American Christian Right. "In my father's book he called for the overthrow of the US government unless non-violent ways were found to overturn Roe v Wade. He compared America to Nazi Germany."

I pay attention to Frank Schaeffer's work on the Christian Right because he knows it well. Perhaps inevitably, given his own background as a former Christian Right activist and son of an important Christianist leader, he shows a tone of the convert warning the uninformed of the dangers of his former belief system. But he does seem to keep that particular enthusiasm in check most of the time.

And he's right about the role that the Hitler/Nazi comparison plays among the Christian Right, who use abortion (baby-killing to them) to say that American democracy is as bad as or not worse than the government of Hitler Germany. Obviously, the converse of that conviction would be that Hitler Germany's government was as good as or even better than the current American Constitutional democracy. Schaeffer:

In other words, Dad's followers were told that (1) force is a legitimate weapon to use against an evil government; (2) America was like Hitler's Germany--because of legal abortion and of the forcing of "Humanism" on the population--and thus intrinsically evil; and (3) whatever would have been the "appropriate response" to stop Hitler was now appropriate to do here in America to stop our government, which Dad had just branded a "counterfeit state."
There is also a considerable amount of projection at work in such claims. Those who would like an authoritarian government comparable to Hitler's or Mussolini's project the image of Hitler onto those they hate. Their intellectual and political ancestors in the isolationist Old Right of the 1930s and 1940s opposed the US role in the Second World War because of their admiration of Hitler and their hostility to the wartime alliance with the Soviet Union.

Schaeffer captures the Christian Right's fanaticism here:

To understand the extremism coming from the right, the fact that there are members of Congress who seem to be genuinely mentally unhinged leading the charge on the debt ceiling, you need to understand that this hatred of all things government has theological roots that have nothing to do with facts.

Theology is -- by nature -- not about reason but about faith. If God's will is to be served then so be it if America is plunged into chaos!
But this is a careless formulation. Mainstream and historical Christian theology doesn't reject reason or insist on the deniable of physical reality, although some forms stress irrational elements. (I've been wading through a book this weekend dealing with Hegel's early theological writings and their relation to Kant; trust me, Christian theology as such does not reject reason.) But what Schaffer puts his finger on in that passage is that religion, because it assumes that ultimate truth lies outside the world, is particularly well-suited for fanatical ideologies and cults of all sorts.

And Schaeffer points to the role Christian nationalism plays with the Tea Party and budget issues: "The extreme language of Evangelical/'pro-life' rebellion has now been repackaged in the debt ceiling showdown. It is the language of religion pitted against facts." He also sees something that our punditocracy doesn't, or at least pretends not to see, that the Tea Party "is nothing more than the Evangelical far right repackaged and renamed."

He also comes up with a term new to me that I'll probably make a part of my regular vocabulary, "Jesus Victims." He writes, "As they opened new institutions (proudly outside the mainstream), the Jesus Victims doing this 'reclaiming' cast themselves in the role of persecuted exiles."

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