January 28, 2008

What Is Christian Extremism?

The tagline for Atheist Revolution is "Breaking free from irrational belief and opposing Christian extremism." Most people are familiar with the concept of "religious extremism," but what exactly is Christian extremism?

I trust that you are used to hearing terms such as "religious extremism," "Islamofascist," "Islamic extremist," and the like. If you have been exposed to any of the U.S. media's coverage of Bush's unjust war in Iraq, you have encountered these phrases countless times. They provide us with a useful starting point in defining Christian extremism.

Christian Fundamentalism

In the interest of both brevity and improved understanding, I will place the following discussion in a Christian context, exploring the meanings of Christian fundamentalism, extremism, and terrorism. What do we mean by Christian fundamentalism, and what criteria identify a Christian fundamentalist? Drawing on multiple scholarly sources, we can utilize the following criteria:
  • Biblical Inerrancy/Literalism (at least with regard to creation)
  • Evangelism
  • Premillenialism (expectation of second coming, rapture, etc.)
  • Separatism/Sense of Persecution
So, a Christian fundamentalist is someone who fits this description.

Christian Extremism

The Christian extremist shares these attributes with the Christian fundamentalist but meets some additional criteria not met by the fundamentalist. That is, fundamentalism subsumes extremism so that all extremists are fundamentalists but not all fundamentalists are extremists. The following are the additional criteria met by Christian extremists:
  • Exclusivity (conviction that those who do not share their religious viewpoint are not "real" Christians)
  • Other-Condemnation (intolerance and condemnation of the other)
  • Anti-Intellectualism (especially with regard to science)
  • Social Conservatism and Anti-Liberalism
  • Theocratic Strivings (biblical law takes precedence over secular law)
  • Opposition to Modernism
Christian Terrorism

But what about Christian terrorism? Unlike fundamentalism and extremism, in which the focus is generally on one's worldview, terrorism involves a focus on behavior. A terrorist is one who engages in acts of terrorism, not one who simply contemplates them.

In this context, a Christian terrorist is one who commits acts of terrorism in which the Christian worldview serves as justification. While a Christian terrorist is likely to be both a fundamentalist and an extremist, this is not absolutely necessary. Bombing abortion clinics is an act of Christian terrorism likely to be associated with extremism (and thus fundamentalism as well). Gay-bashing inspired by Christian homophobia and intolerance may be perpetrated by persons who would not be classified as extremists or even fundamentalists, although it is probably more likely to find members of such groups overrepresented among perpetrators.

Thus, we can consider Christian extremism to be an exaggerated form of Christian fundamentalism, including additional attributes beyond fundamentalism. We should also be aware that only a small subset of Christian extremists will qualify as Christian terrorists.

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