June 15, 2019

We Still Don't Hear Enough About Christian Extremism

reporter on camera

One of the most common questions I have been asked in the many years during which I have been writing Atheist Revolution is why I focus on Christianity as opposed to religion in general. I have explained why I focus on Christianity, but there is a version of this question that I am not sure I have addressed as clearly as I would like. Since I was just asked it again recently, I thought I'd write a response.

The variation has to do with the tagline for this blog: "Breaking free from irrational belief and opposing Christian extremism." The question is about why I chose to emphasize "Christian extremism" and not "religious extremism." It is a fair question, and I have considered changing the tagline more than a few times over the years. I have decided against doing so because the reason I wrote that tagline in 2005 when Atheist Revolution launched is still true today: we aren't hearing nearly enough about Christian extremism.

One of the main reasons I started this blog was that I thought there was something important missing from the public discourse in the United States. My friends, neighbors, and members of the national news media seemed to be very worried about Islamic extremism. When a Muslim expressed extreme views, he or she was rightly labeled an extremist. This form of religious extremism was correctly recognized as potentially dangerous. Strangely, equally dangerous views expressed by Christian extremists (e.g., gay people should be killed, atheists are not real Americans, most social ills are due to taking prayer out of school) were almost never labeled this way. Those expressing such views were rarely referred to as Christian extremists even though it was painfully clear that this is what they were.

One of the things I wanted to do with this blog was to call attention to this hypocrisy. I wanted to raise awareness of Christian extremism, help others realize that it was a problem that had a name, and encourage the use of its name. I wanted people to realize that Pat Robertson was a Christian extremist, and I wanted everybody to recognize that many members of Congress were not simply misguided conservatives pursuing destructive policies but were Christian extremists. I chose the tagline not because I regarded other forms of religious extremism as any less harmful but because even the most blatant forms of Christian extremism were not being identified for what they were.

All these years later, I am sad to report that I have perceived little progress. One does sometimes hear atheists who are active online refer to Christian extremists, but even this is rare. The "Christian Taliban" label was popular a few years ago but that was about it. For whatever reason, even we atheists seem reluctant to identify Christian extremism as Christian extremism. As for the mainstream news media, I'm not sure there has been any progress whatsoever. On the rare occasions when they cover something a Christian extremist has said or done, they never identify the person as a Christian extremist.

I find this every bit as objectionable today as I did in 2005, and that is the main reason I have not changed the blog's tagline. Our news anchors regularly and appropriately make references to a "radical Islamic cleric" while talking about our equally radical Christian extremist pastors as if they are perfectly normal. How many members of Congress have been in the news for pushing Christian extremist policies, and how many times have we heard them identified as such? The mainstream news media in the U.S. still has a massive blind spot when it comes to Christian extremism.

Why does this matter? I think it matters because what I am describing here has the effect of normalizing Christian extremism. Because of the widespread Christian privilege in the U.S., we do not see Christian extremism as being nearly as abnormal or dangerous as we might other forms of religious extremism. But by refusing to label it as extremism, we are normalizing it. When someone running for president publicly says that he or she does not accept evolution as a fact, we should be alarmed. This is not something that should be normalized. When members of Congress band together to promote sectarian prayer or openly attack the separation of church and state, we need to see this for what it is: Christian extremism.