Fundamentalist America scares people. As ex-fundamentalists such as Jonny Scaramanga have argued, the small-f sort of separatist Protestant fundamentalism can easily be imagined to encourage violence.
A few days ago, Mark Juergensmeyer argued on Religion Dispatches that the temple atrocity in suburban Milwaukee should be considered an act of Christian terrorism. Juergensmeyer argued,
“It is fair to call [shooter Wade Michael] Page a Christian terrorist since the evidence indicates that he thought he was defending the purity of white Christian society against the evils of multiculturalism that allow non-white non-Christians an equal role in America society. Like the Oklahoma City bomber, Timothy McVeigh, and the Norwegian militant, Anders Breivik, Page thought he was killing to save white Christian society.”
As well it might, Juergensmeyer’s claim ignited a storm of ferocious discussion about the nature of the killings and their relationship to Christianity. Some commentators argued that the killer’s brand of white supremacy bore little relation to even nominal Christianity. Others insisted that conservative Christianity promotes exactly this sort of violence.
ILYBYGTH readers will want to read through these comments. The heat and anger of some of the writers shows how difficult it can be for outsiders to discuss Fundamentalist America calmly and sympathetically. For instance, as one commenter argued,
“You guys – I’m referring to the giant festering mass known as Evangelicals/Teavangelicals/Fundamentalists – are abject subhumans, by
your own doing. Your blatant disrespect and disregard for the truth, science,
and intellectualism have made you, imo, the most dangerous demographic to
modern civilization on the planet.”
That’s strong language. And while I think it would be denounced by many anti-fundamentalists, it still represents the kind of emotion lurking in the background of these kind of culture-war discussions.
The main point here is that people have been killed. Our sympathies must start with them and their families. But we must also resist the urge to use this horrifying act of violence to unleash even more hate. As with other outbreaks of culture-war violence, such as the shootings of doctors who provide abortions or the murder of people due to their sexual orientation, this kind of murder sends a frightening signal. In other places and times, as we’ve noted here before, “culture war” slides all too easily into regular, bloody war.
It is the job of all of us to contain and limit that violence, not encourage it. When we live in a gunpowder factory, we must all watch out for anyone who drops lit matches.