The Christmas television commercials preceded Halloween this year, and I see some of my neighbors have their Christmas decorations up already.
Yes, folks, the annual War on Christmas season has begun.
At Patheos, Zen teacher and Unitarian Universalist minister James Ford writes “Why I’m Afraid of Christians: Or the Briefest Meditation on Wishing Happy Holidays to All.”
There is something hanging in the back of my mind when living in a country dominated by a group of people who have an ideology that puts me at the moment of my death firmly into the fires of hell for, well, forever. And it’s hard not to be vaguely aware of how easy a step it is from seeing someone as firewood in the future to seeing one as killable in the present tense.
Of course, it isn’t the only example of this latent threat of violence. Politicians decrying that atheists can vote comes to mind, too. Pandering to the religious majority, with just a hint of violence in the air. Just a hint. And personally I don’t see much different in the historical rhetoric of jihad and crusade.
But the constant declarations today of people in the religious majority lamenting how they’ve been put upon by having to share space with people of other religions or none is the really scary thing. Violence against religious minorities is a once, and I see no reason to think not, a future thing.
How likely is it that reactionary Christians in the U.S. might become violent? Violence linked to religion is on the rise around the world, according to the Pew Research Religion and Public Life Project. Is it possible religious violence might increase in the U.S. as well?
This may seem unlikely, but do see “Rumblings of Theocratic Violence” by Frederick Clarkson. Clarkson documents that there is indeed a large and well-connected subculture of extreme Christians in the U.S. who are calling for armed insurrection against the government. Some of these extremists are forging ties with the neo-confederate movement and forming paramilitary units.
As I wrote in Rethinking Religion, “religious” violence often is about something else and is just packaged as religion. What we’re seeing around the world is a lot of right-wing reactionism pushing back against cultural change and modernity generally, and for some reason right-wing reactionism these days likes to dress itself up as religion. Hence, a rise in what appears to be “religious” violence.
But there are two qualities found in most violent mass movements that need to be understood —
Passionate hatred can give meaning and purpose to an empty life. Thus people haunted by the purposelessness of their lives try to find a new content not only by dedicating themselves to a holy cause but also by nursing a fanatical grievance. A mass movement offers them unlimited opportunities for both. — Eric Hoffer, The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements (1951)
I propose in Rethinking Religion that fervent belief in a holy cause — which doesn’t necessarily have to be religious — by itself doesn’t usually drive people into violence. A holy cause combined with a fanatical grievance, however, will do nicely. If you look at violent groups around the world today, I believe you will see they all harbor fanatical grievances. In their minds, they have been wronged and abused and are entitled to payback.
The last couple of posts, “’Religious Violence’ Isn’t Just Religious” and “The Christian Right’s Pitiful Rearguard Action” both discuss the way the U.S. religious Right cherishes a belief in its own martyrdom, and that holding them to the same anti-discrimination laws as everyone else amounts to discrimination against them. And this is what makes them dangerous. The stronger their sense of fanatical grievance, the more dangerous they are likely to become.
I’m not saying the U.S. religious Right is going to become as extremely dangerous as ISIS. The provocations are not quite so strong — we haven’t experienced war here since 1865, and have not suffered occupying foreign powers. But I think the threat they pose is real, and it’s a big reason their increasingly hysterical screams of martyrdom have me concerned.