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Austin Cline

Militant Christians: Where's the Criticism? Where's the Hand-Wringing?

By April 17, 2007

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Nazi Propaganda
Some Christians in America spend a lot of time wringing their hands over the existence of "militant" atheists who dare to question, challenge, or criticize religious theism. Apparently, the existence of these militants is so threatening that some Christians think it appropriate to compare them with bomb-throwing extremists and fundamentalists. What about the presence of militant Christians, though?

Some Christians may have trouble accepting the idea that militant Christians even exist, especially given how popular the belief is that Christianity is a religion of peace and love. The truth is, though, that Christianity is not inherently any more peaceful or loving than other religions — and Christians are more than capable of becoming militant in the interest of pursuing their religious agenda. To deny this is to deny reality.

Jeff Sharlet writes in Rolling Stone about BattleCry, the largest youth crusade group in America:

"When you enlist in the military, there's a code of honor," [Ron] Luce preaches, "same as being a follower of Christ." His Christian code requires a "wartime mentality": a "survival orientation" and a readiness to face "real enemies." The queers and communists, feminists and Muslims, to be sure, but also the entire American cultural apparatus of marketing and merchandising, the "techno-terrorists" of mass media, doing to the morality of a generation what Osama bin Laden did to the Twin Towers. "Just as the events of September 11th, 2001, permanently changed our perspective on the world," Luce writes, "so we ought to be awakened to the alarming influence of today's culture terrorists. They are wealthy, they are smart, and they are real." ...

"The devil hates us," he exhorts, "and we gotta be ready to fight and not be these passive little lukewarm, namby-pamby, kum-ba-yah, thumb-sucking babies that call themselves Christians. Jesus? He got mad!" Luce considers most evangelicals too soft, too ready to pass off as piety their preference for a bland suburban lifestyle. He hates what he sees as the weakness of "accepting" Christ, of "trusting" the Lord. "I want an attacking church!" he shouts, his normally smooth tones raw and desperate and alarming. He isn't just looking for followers -- he wants "stalkers" who'll bring a criminal passion to their pursuit of godliness.

If a Muslim imam gave a speech similar to what's described above, I suspect that we'd be hearing it all over conservative Christian media — Christians would be complaining loud and long about the threat of Muslim extremists and terrorists. Luce says that Christians ought to be awakened to the influence of "culture terrorists," but the rest of society needs to be awakened to the influence of extremists like Ron Luce. If someone like Luce isn't an extremist and a militant, then how can those labels be applied to atheist critics of religion and theism?

Just in case you want to excuse the above statements and simple metaphors to get listeners passionate about Christianity in their lives, consider:

"This is a real war," Luce preaches. When he talks like that, he growls. "This is not a metaphor!" In Cleveland, he intercuts his sermons with videos of suicide bombers and marching Christian teens. One of the most popular, "Casualties of War," features an elegiac beat by a Christian rapper named KJ-52 laid over flickering pictures of kids holding signs declaring the collapse of Christendom...

Ron Luce regards the conflict between his brand of Christianity and secular culture as very real. He also believes that there is a conflict between his brand of Christianity and everyone else who considers themselves a Christian. Luce believes that he is leading a movement of "hard core" fundamentalism that will — he hopes — radically reshape the future of America and Christianity:

[H]e also knows that from their numbers, he's growing a new hard core for American fundamentalism. Luce recruits the politically powerless -- kids too young to vote. "That makes 'em want to fight," he tells me backstage after one of his events. "They get so livid. They're mad. They've been very cleverly marketed to. Kids started finding out that we cannot just stand back and let these people do this to us." ...[his shows are not] meant to save souls -- most of the kids say they accepted Jesus when they were four or five -- but to radicalize them. ...

Luce selected more than 6,000 for his Honor Academy, some of whom become political operatives, media activists and militant preachers who then funnel fresh kids into the Academy. It's a vertically integrated movement, a machine that produces "leaders for the army," a command cadre that can count on the masses Luce conditions as its infantry.

Ron Luce believes that soon America will only be 4% Christian — at least, as he defines what it means to be a "Christian." For him, self-professed Christians who don't meet his definition seem to be just as much of a threat as secular, irreligious atheists like me. He himself, however, is the danger to America: to secular democracy, to civil society, and to domestic tranquility. Both atheists and Christians, not to mention adherents of other religions, have good reasons to worried about Ron Luce's brand of Christianity — a brand that is undeniably militant in character. You can't use such militant language, all the while denying that you mean it in a metaphorical way, and not end up with some violence at some point.

When Christians start to whine and complain about "militant" atheists, be sure to point them to Ron Luce and ask them whether his movement qualifies as militant or not. If so, demand that they explain how and why any atheists are militant in any analogous manner — and why they treat atheists as more of a threat than Luce. If they deny that Luce's movement can be described as militant, then perhaps you should just turn and walk away because I doubt you're dealing with a person with whom any sort of reasonable, productive conversation is possible.

Comments
April 17, 2007 at 2:28 pm
(1) Catherine says:

Ha, you’ve got to see this latest doozy that I just came across and that I think you should address: http://newsbyus.com/more.php?id=7906_0_1_0_M

April 24, 2007 at 8:15 pm
(2) John Hanks says:

We need enough open atheists and doubters to fill the vacuum. It usually takes just one person to break the spell of the conventional.

April 25, 2007 at 8:44 am
(3) Liam O'Sruitheain says:

For the record, I am not a Christian, Jew or Muslim, so I have no partisan axe to grind in that direction. My own spiritual practices are influenced primarily by the meditation teachings of the Sufis and Sikhs. However, when Mr. Cline claims that Christianity (collectively) is no more inherently peaceful than ANY other religion, he is turning present-day reality on its head. “Mainstream” Christianity certainly went through its own dark period of history. But the salient point is: it evolved. Can the same be said of “Mainstream” Islam? My own academic career was devoted to the study of history, especially the Ottoman Empire. I have read the Quran in its entirety . . . something many self-described Muslims have not done. I have traveled widely and spoken to a host of Muslims, both here and abroad. In all honesty, I have met very few who could be truly described as “moderates” in their attitudes about what the relationship should be between religion and the state. There have certainly been crimes and atrocities committed in the NAME of Christianity. If however, there is any historical truth to the descriptions of Jesus, as told by his contemporaries in Biblical scripture, nothing that he himself was reported to have said or done could justify the crimes that have been committed in his name. There is no evidence that Jesus justified the plunder of caravans in the name of religion . . . no evidence that he consumated a marriage with a child bride . . . no evidence that he advocated the killing of “infidels” . . . no evidence that he reduced non-believers to the inferior status of “dhimmitude”. Yet, these same such offenses are either explicitly condoned in the Quran, or described, even by Muslim sources, as having been performed or allowed by the “Prophet” Muhammad. The Muslim sources themselves are thoroughly documented in the works of renowned scholars like Alfred Guillaume, Bernard Lewis, Ibn Warraq and Serge Trifkovic. The Islamic world was the primary master and mover of the African slave trade for almost a thousand years before any European exploration-age slave ship landed in West Africa. The original disciples of Jesus simply recognized that slavery was a human reality and an INVENTION of the politics of men. Unlike the Quran, they did not try to justify it as something “Divinely” ordained. It is manifestly obvious that the financing of madrassahs and “fundamentalist” indoctrination centers for the training of young Muslim fanatics began decades ago, when the Saudis first became a wealthy oil power . . . long before 9/11, long before the first Gulf War, long before the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, long before even the creation of the state of Israel. When Osama bin Laden was still receiving financing from the CIA to fight the Soviets, he was quoted — according to CNN — that a Jihad against America was “inevitable”. Every time George Bush even mentions the word “God” in public, the paranoids of the secular Left act as if a “Christian” theocractic dictatorship is about to be imposed on this country . . . . at the same time we are allowing the Saudis, Libyans, etc. to build more mosques in our country, export more Muslim immigrants to our shores, and push for the acceptance of even more foreign Muslim clerics . . . a significant number of whom have openly called for the destruction of secular democratic government and the imposition of a “Caliphate” in the very democratic countries which have given them the freedom and sanctuary to proselytize their totalitarian ideology.
By the way, Mr. Cline’s course is supposed to be about the nature of logic and critical thing. Why does that automatically come under the heading of “Atheism”? Could this be, “God” forbid, an example of intellectual presumption and bias? Why does Mr. Cline’s criticism of religion seem to be monopolized by the ridicule of Christianity, and not also of, Judaism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, or my own spiritual mentors, the Sikhs? Could it be because he realizes that Sikhs, Christians, Jews, Bahais, etc. are much less likely to riot in the streets, burn down embassies or kill nuns, over a simple criticism or bit of sarcasm, than the hordes of Muslims who have done, and continue to do those things on a regular basis? As far as I am aware, the fanatics who drove jet planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and who tried to slam one into the White House or Capitol building, were not blond-haired, blue-eyed Baptist or Pentacostal Jihadists from Montgomery, Alabama.

April 25, 2007 at 10:25 am
(4) Austin Cline says:

However, when Mr. Cline claims that Christianity (collectively) is no more inherently peaceful than ANY other religion, he is turning present-day reality on its head. “Mainstream” Christianity certainly went through its own dark period of history. But the salient point is: it evolved.

Your argument is essentially: today Christainity isn’t as violent as it used to be, therefore it’s wrong to say that Christianity is not inherently more peaceful than other religions. This is an invalid argument because adherents of an ideology being peaceful now does not automatically mean that the ideology itself is inherently peaceful — or at least more peaceful than other ideologies.

There are many ways in which adherents of an ideology can be peaceful without the ideology itself being inherently peaceful. They might, for example, be under the influence of a peaceful culture which minimizes the non-peaceful elements of the ideology — elements which might once again gain more force in a different culture. They might also choose to simply ignore the non-peaceful elements without eliminating, thus leaving the option for them to be emphasized again by others at some point. In neither case is the ideology inherently changed; instead it is simply expressed and filtered differently.

If however, there is any historical truth to the descriptions of Jesus, as told by his contemporaries in Biblical scripture, nothing that he himself was reported to have said or done could justify the crimes that have been committed in his name.

Funny, but those who have committed crimes in the name of Christianity have had little trouble citing Jesus in their arguments. If your claim is to have any merit, you must specifically and directly engage those arguments, not dismiss them with a rhetorical wave of the hand and pretend that there’s nothing there worth discussing.

The original disciples of Jesus simply recognized that slavery was a human reality and an INVENTION of the politics of men. Unlike the Quran, they did not try to justify it as something “Divinely” ordained.

They didn’t need to — that divine sanction for slavery already existed in the Jewish scriptures. Jesus is recorded as speaking out against many things; the absence of even a mild word against slavery cannot be construed as anything less than that it wasn’t important.

By the way, Mr. Cline’s course is supposed to be about the nature of logic and critical thing. Why does that automatically come under the heading of “Atheism”?

It doesn’t “automatically” come under the heading of atheism, but the importance of knowing how to construct sound, valid arguments in the context of discussions about religion is demonstrated quite well here. In my experience, a thorough understanding of the basics of logic and reasoning is more than sufficient to refute a majority of theological arguments.

Could this be, “God” forbid, an example of intellectual presumption and bias?

No, just a recognition that there is a dearth of sound logical reasoning in matters of religion. In my experience, it’s quite common for religious theists to offer various arguments in defense of religion, religious beliefs, religious history, and theism which are filled with a wide variety of fallacies and other errors in reasoning. The same is true in other contexts as well, of course, like politics — and that’s why I encourage people to learn more about logic generally. There’s little value in learning how to use logic and sound reasoning when it comes to religion, but not in other contexts.

Why does Mr. Cline’s criticism of religion seem to be monopolized by the ridicule of Christianity, and not also of, Judaism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, or my own spiritual mentors, the Sikhs?

There are critiques of other religions and religious believers, including Sikhs (did you look? I suspect not… but you chose to make accusations anyway), but I focus on what’s most relevant to most atheists who are likely to read material here. That means Christianity and Islam.

As far as I am aware, the fanatics who drove jet planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and who tried to slam one into the White House or Capitol building, were not blond-haired, blue-eyed Baptist or Pentacostal Jihadists from Montgomery, Alabama.

No, but Christians are the ones saying that atheists cannot be moral, cannot be patriotic, cannot be good citizens, should not hold public office, do not have a right to be free from their religion, etc. This makes them and their religion highly relevant for discussion and critique.

July 31, 2007 at 8:21 pm
(5) greensandblues says:

Your argument is essentially: today Christainity isn’t as violent as it used to be, therefore it’s wrong to say that Christianity is not inherently more peaceful than other religions. This is an invalid argument because adherents of an ideology being peaceful now does not automatically mean that the ideology itself is inherently peaceful — or at least more peaceful than other ideologies.

Christianity is called so because it is based on the teachings of Christ. You will not find a teaching of Jesus in biblical scripture that is violent. So therefore, it actually is inherently a peaceful ideology. To say otherwise would be to expose your ignorance of Jesus’ actual teachings.

It is possible to use “militant” language when dealing with an inherently peaceful religion. People like Ron Luce do use “militant” language. The battle that Ron Luce is describing is exclusively a spiritual battle, not a physical battle. (Nowhere in his talks or interview does he invoke actual physical warfare.) There are many scriptures in the New Testament that refer to a spiritual battle. (James 4:1)
Also:
For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. – 2 Corinthians 10:4

There is no mistaking that this is talking about spiritual warfare. The author is using military analogies to describe spiritual things. I suppose one would have to understand that in order to understand Ron Luce’s use of language.
I have actually heard Ron Luce speak. He is definitely a radical….but he is a spiritual radical and not a military radical. To argue that his teaching could be misunderstood or interpreted as violent teaching….well, I like to judge everyone, (pastors, priests, teachers, politicians, etc.) by the evidence of their work.
So far, Ron Luce’s students haven’t murdered, raped, or pillaged. They seem to be raising awareness of things that today’s teenagers see as harming them.
I guess we’ll see how things play out and judge the result of his work!

July 31, 2007 at 9:19 pm
(6) Austin Cline says:

Christianity is called so because it is based on the teachings of Christ.

It is based on far more than that.

You will not find a teaching of Jesus in biblical scripture that is violent.

That is not true. The teaching of hell, to cite just one example, is inherently violent and hateful.

September 4, 2008 at 5:09 am
(7) Ashok Sahu says:

In Orissa, a State in India the Christian Church is directly linked with the Maoist militants. Recently, on the 23rd August 2008 the Church priest constituted a group to kill an 84 years old Hindu saint who had spent his entire life by serving the poor and uneducated tribal people in Kandhmal district. As the death news spread like wild fire in the State, thousands of people thronged the streets and protested against the brutal killing. When the dead body of the Saint Swamiji Laxanananda Saraswati was being taken around the district mourners in thousands accompanied the body and became violent and attacked road side churches and the houses of Christians.

One Dr. John Dayal, the General Secretary of the All India Christians Council, Archbishop Chinnath Raphael of Orissa, Father Alfansoe Baliar Singh, Member of Parliament Radhakanta Nayak are suspected to the chief conspirators of the murder of the Saint and four of his divotees including a lady Mother Baktilata.

October 7, 2009 at 4:22 pm
(8) joey burgess says:

I pray that my God takes mercy on your souls at the time of judgment.

March 21, 2010 at 5:23 pm
(9) Liam O'Sruitheain says:

Why is it that self-appointed “intellectuals” find it so difficult to accept the obvious? The mere fact that some “Christians” have deliberately, or ignorantly, misinterpreted or twisted the New Testament teachings of Jesus does NOT mean that the teachings of Jesus were responsible for the crimes committed by those “Christians”. That fact should be obvious to any 6 year-old. Jesus had to deal with the political REALITY of his own time. The political reality of his time accepted slavery as an INSTITUTION. Are we supposed to just blindly accept that Jesus “justified” slavery simply because he did not dwell on that political subject? He was preaching SPIRITUAL salvation . . . a fact which Mr. Cline, for obvious reasons, appears to ignore. Jesus was trying to TRANSFORM and ELEVATE the minds and hearts of human beings . . . not overthrow the existing order in a political revolution. The “Golden Rule” is an IMPLICIT instruction to rid oneself of the MINDSET that LEADS to evils like slavery. It is self-evident that Jesus was trying to teach us that a true SPIRITUAL elevation of our own consciousness would also transform our behavior for the better . . . gradually eliminating our own selfish natures that lead to the infliction of injustice upon others.
I cannot speak for Mr. Cline’s experience, but I have known MANY American Christians of various denominations. I have NEVER known ANY of them to advocate denying atheists the right to RUN for political office, or declaring that atheists are incapable of acting morally simply BECAUSE they are atheists. They simply believe that practicing TRUE spiritual discipline, self-restraint and spiritual transcendence, through Christ, makes one stronger in true compassion and ability to withstand deliberate evil. No one is saying that Mr. Cline is under any obligation to believe that. It doesn’t matter what he believes. However, he should at least be willing to accept that his own experiences of those who call themselves “Christians”, however negative they may be, are not necessarily the experiences of others . . . and I say that as one who is NOT a Christian. Granted, I have not read EVERYTHING that Mr. Cline has ever written. If he HAS also been EQUALLY critical of other faiths besides those in Christianity . . . more power to him. ALL beliefs . . . INCLUDING atheism . . . are capable of producing ideological zealots and fanatics. My point was simple: At this particular point in time, it is ISLAM . . . not Christianity . . . that seems to produce an overwhelming ABUNDANCE of fanatics.

March 21, 2010 at 5:43 pm
(10) Liam O'Sruitheain says:

ASHOK SAHU . . .

It should be obvious that accusations and suspicions are NOT facts . . . until they are conclusively PROVEN to be facts on the basis of OBJECTIVE evidence. If you have OBJECTIVE documentation . . . and not just hearsay . . . that Christian leaders in India were responsible for the murder(s) you mentioned, by all means . . . let us see it. You forgot to mention the numerous CHRISTIANS in India who have been reported, BY MAJOR NEWSPAPERS, to have been murdered by Hindus and Muslims . . . simply because they peacefully proselytized their own faith.

March 21, 2010 at 6:22 pm
(11) Austin Cline says:

Why is it that self-appointed “intellectuals” find it so difficult to accept the obvious? The mere fact that some “Christians” have deliberately, or ignorantly, misinterpreted or twisted the New Testament teachings of Jesus does NOT mean that the teachings of Jesus were responsible for the crimes committed by those “Christians”.

And the mere fact that you disagree with some Christian doesn’t make you right.

Jesus had to deal with the political REALITY of his own time. The political reality of his time accepted slavery as an INSTITUTION.

Why did he have to “deal” with the reality instead of preaching against it — you know, like he did with other things?

He was preaching SPIRITUAL salvation . . . a fact which Mr. Cline, for obvious reasons, appears to ignore.

Feel free to support this.

Jesus was trying to TRANSFORM and ELEVATE the minds and hearts of human beings . . . not overthrow the existing order in a political revolution.

So, treating slaves as equals wouldn’t elevate any hearts or minds? Telling the rich to give to the poor wouldn’t overthrow any institutions?

I cannot speak for Mr. Cline’s experience,

…but you’ll make assumptions and accusations about me anyway.

but I have known MANY American Christians of various denominations. I have NEVER known ANY of them to advocate denying atheists the right to RUN for political office,

Except for all those state constitutions which explicitly forbid atheists from holding office. And the fact that more people would refuse to vote for someone simply because they are any atheist than any other minority group.

or declaring that atheists are incapable of acting morally simply BECAUSE they are atheists.

Then you need to get out more because more Americans believe that atheists don’t share fundamental values than any other minority. Atheists are told all the time that they have no basis for morality — by Christians.

They simply believe that practicing TRUE spiritual discipline, self-restraint and spiritual transcendence, through Christ, makes one stronger in true compassion and ability to withstand deliberate evil.

OK, prove it.

However, he should at least be willing to accept that his own experiences of those who call themselves “Christians”, however negative they may be, are not necessarily the experiences of others . . .

Right, I’m saying all the time that my experiences must be the same as your… wait, I’ve never said that. Never. So why are you just making things up like this?

Granted, I have not read EVERYTHING that Mr. Cline has ever written. If he HAS also been EQUALLY critical of other faiths besides those in Christianity . . . more power to him.

If you cared you could… oh, I don’t know, maybe do a search and look? Maybe?

My point was simple: At this particular point in time, it is ISLAM . . . not Christianity . . . that seems to produce an overwhelming ABUNDANCE of fanatics.

And is that due to something inherent in Islam, or in the political, social, and economic circumstances in which we find Islam? You seem to implicitly admit the latter since you admit that fanaticism is found in Islam “at this particular point in time.”

Then again, if there wasn’t something already in Islam which made fanaticism possible, those circumstances wouldn’t mean quite so much, would they?

April 6, 2012 at 11:11 am
(12) Luna says:

Just a question, more than a comment, Mr. Cline: although I agree with your statement that there is nothing inherently peaceful about religion, are you making the argument that there is anything inherently peaceful about humans irrespective of religion? I’m trying to figure out if you believe religion _causes_ bad behavior, or if you’re just pointing out that it facilitates an absence of critical thinking, which in turn excuses/encourages bad behavior and discourages an objective analysis of what is ethical and what isn’t.

It seems to me that we are capable of violence in the absence of religion, but religion provides us an easy out from guilt when we use it to justify violence. Without a God to blame things on, the only person who can take responsibility for one’s actions is oneself, so you must face your own mistakes and “evil” more directly. Sure, there’s no God to punish you, but there’s also no God to save you, and the lack of such a shield is probably more likely to deter bad behavior than a lack of authority is to encourage it.

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