A few words about Christian terrorism.
And I suppose the first words should be about “those” words: “Christian terrorism.” The term will seem jarring to those who’ve grown comfortable regarding terrorism as something exclusive to Islam.
That this is a self-deluding fallacy should have long since been apparent to anyone who’s been paying attention. From Eric Rudolph’s bombing of the Atlanta Olympics, a gay nightclub and two abortion clinics to the so-called Phineas Priests who bombed banks, a newspaper and a Planned Parenthood Office in Spokane, from Matt Hale soliciting the murder of a federal judge in Chicago to Scott Roeder’s assassination of abortion provider Dr. George Tiller, from brothers Matthew and Tyler Williams murdering a gay couple near Redding, Calif., to Timothy McVeigh destroying a federal building and 168 lives in Oklahoma City, we have seen no shortage of “Christians” who believe Jesus requires — or at least allows — them to commit murder.
If federal officials are correct, we now have one more name to add to the dishonor roll. That name would be Hutaree, a self-styled Christian militia in Michigan, nine members of which have been arrested and accused of plotting to kill police officers in hopes of sparking an anti-government uprising.
Many of us would doubtless resist referring to plots like this as Christian terrorism, feeling it unfair to tar the great body of Christendom with the actions of its fringe radicals. And here, we will pause for Muslim readers to clear their throats loudly.
While they do, let the rest of us note that there is a larger moral to this story and it has less to do with terminologies than similarities.
We are conditioned to think of terror wrought by Islamic fundamentalists as something strange and alien and other. It is the violence of men with long beards who jabber in weird languages and kill for mysterious reasons while worshipping God in ways that seem outlandish to middle American sensibilities. And whatever quirk of nature or deficiency of humanity it is that allows them to do what they do, is, we think, unique. There is, we are pleased to believe, a hard, immutable line between us and Them.
Then you consider Hutaree and its alleged plan to kill in the name of God, and the idea of some innate, saving difference between us and those bearded others in other places begins to feel like a fiction we conjured to help us sleep at night.
“Preparing for the end time battles to keep the testimony of Jesus Christ alive,” it says on Hutaree’s Web site. And you wonder: Who is this Jesus they worship and in what Bible is he found? Why does he bear so little resemblance to the Jesus others find in their Bibles, the one who said that if someone hits you on your right cheek, offer him your left, the one who said if someone forces you to go one mile with him, go two, the one who said love your enemies.
Why does their Jesus need the help of men in camo fatigues with guns and bombs? In this, he is much like the Allah for whom certain Muslims blow up marketplaces and crowded buses. Muslim and American terrorists, it seems, both apparently serve a puny and impotent God who can’t do anything without their help.
Sometimes, I think the only thing that keeps us from becoming, say, Afghanistan, is a strong central government and a diverse population with a robust tradition of free speech. The idea that there is something more is a conceit that blows apart like confetti every time there is, as there is now, a sense of cultural dislocation and economic uncertainty. That combination unfailingly moves people out to the fringes where they seek out scapegoats and embrace that feeble God. And watching, you can’t help but realize the troubling truth about that line between “us” and “Them.”
It’s thinner than you think.
— Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald. He chats with readers from noon to 1 p.m. CDT each Wednesday on www.MiamiHerald.com. firstname.lastname@example.org