Everyday Muslims and everyday Christians find themselves adrift in the same boat, branded by religious extremists
This we know: America’s conservative evangelicals are in no way reluctant to articulate their positions/policies, be they substantive or not, serious or not, relative to any conceivable political/social/cultural issue.
They do not care how laughable those positions/policies might be. They do not care how embarrassing or even shameful those positions/policies might be to the larger, universal Christian community. They do not care about the disconnect between those positions/policies and the most basic ethical underpinnings drawn from the sacred texts of Christendom and considered authoritative for the faith, life and order of the church.
What drives conservative evangelicals is a topic requiring far more space than is available here. Indeed, it is an area of study fraught with possibility for future Ph.D candidates.
What matters to conservative evangelicals is less complex: Collective catharsis, for them, at bottom, the airing of grievances, with as large an audience as possible. The louder the volume, the better. The more demeaning, vicious and threatening the words, chants, internet comments, signs and actions, the better. The more red and contorted with anger the faces, the better.
They all make for a more effective media presentation, which makes for more cameras, microphones, reporters, print space and air time; i.e., as large an audience as possible to hear their tales of betrayal and victimhood and their battle cry about “taking our country back” and “making America great again.”
It is, thus, for the evangelical community, neither personally, inappropriate, nor tribally damaging to give voice to its darkest angels. It is, instead, encouraged; partly because of its potential persuasiveness – victims love kindred spirits – and partly because of its politically potency. After all, anger and fear that is combined, amplified and then imbued with Christian ideation is arguably the single most powerful and, thus, valuable emotional commodity in the political life of present-day America.
Hence, to the delight of the White Supremacy movement, the KKK, the tossed salad of White Militia organizations, basically, the entire spectrum of right-wing hate groups, conservative evangelicals make no attempt to lower the volume of either their blatant racism or their exclusivist xenophobia.
To the equal delight of the NRA and the gun manufacturers that pull its strings, evangelicals make no attempt to downplay their enthusiastic support for any legislation that permits more and more people to purchase more and more weapons that they can holster or shoulder into more and more public places.
After all, they say, it is an evangelistic tool. People are drawn to the safety of a church where they see congregants going through the front door with AR-15’s slung over their shoulders and where they know the minister to be packing a 9mm Glock in a shoulder holster beneath his cheap suit coat.
Republican hawks and chicken-hawks alike know they can count on the “bomb the shit out of them” or “carpet bomb them back to the 7th-century” attitudes held by the evangelical community relative to ISIS or, for that matter, any Muslim country. They’re looking at you, Iran! that doesn’t cotton to belief/faith in their notion of divinely-ordained American dominance.
It is manifest destiny in 21st-century terms. It is nationalism (not patriotism) dressed up in religious symbolism. It is the heresy of “civil religion” resurrected from an unmarked grave in a potter’s field, brushed off, cleaned up and prominently displayed in the living rooms of homes, the chancels of churches and, if the courts allow them, the grounds and halls of government buildings.
Big Oil, Big Ag and other Big Polluters don’t have to worry about conservative Christians trotting out any troublesome pro-environmental rhetoric. Not when one of the leading lights at their various “values conferences,” Ann Coulter, draws cheers for saying things like “God gave us the earth. We have dominion over the plants, the animals, the trees. God said, ‘Earth is yours. Take it. Rape it. It’s yours.'” And not when many evangelicals take pride in the ignorance of denialism – climate change, evolution, etc.- by equating any acceptance of settled science with “political correctness.”
Finally, the amazing proliferation of Christian hate groups – some pushing what amounts to domestic terrorism – owes to the equally amazing willingness of evangelicals to loudly and openly lobby for a social/cultural agenda so harsh, vicious, uncaring and judgmental as to be jaw-dropping relative to any credible biblical narrative of Jesus and his first and second-generation followers.
The rise to prominence of the evangelical community and its Tabloid Christianity has created an ironic dynamic for mainstream, progressive, every-Sunday-in-church, practicing Christians like me. Oddly, curiously, but understandably, we find ourselves adrift on open water in the same boat with mainstream, every-Friday-at-the-mosque, practicing Muslims.
Like them, we are seriously reflective about our faith and our tradition. Like them, we seek to understand it, articulate it and live it in authentic, credible, faithful ways. Like them, we are aghast at the words and actions of extremists in our faith community.
But we are both stigmatized by those extremists. They have so prominently abused our sacred texts and so prominently blasphemed the authenticity of our ways of life that the larger world no longer distinguishes us from them. Seriously, does anyone think that sniffing out nuance is a prevailing characteristic of that “larger world?”
An old friend of mine teaches Comparative Religion at a right tall-towered, ivy-covered university in New York City. He is one of those reflective, mainstream, every-Friday-at-the-mosque, practicing adherents of Islam who is aghast at what extremists have made of the faith around which his life is centered. And equally aghast that many of those who don’t know him are, he says with a laugh, “Wary of an old man, clearly ‘not from here,’ who steps into their subway car carrying a briefcase.”
Vested with the same intuitiveness, I am not unaware that eyes begin to narrow and become quizzical, beer coolers disappear, language loses its salt and conversation becomes uncharacteristically superficial when friends at my tennis club use the words “ordained” and “religion” while introducing me to newcomers.
Tabloid Islam brands Muslims such that a faithful, authentic member of the Islamic community automatically in the eyes of many, a potential terror threat. Tabloid Christianity brands Christians such that a faithful, authentic member of the Christian community automatically becomes, in the eyes of many, an angry, fearful bundle of trash-talking, prudish, contradictory judgmentalism.
My friend in New York City wants strangers on the subway to once again talk to him about the travails of the Giants and the gentrification of Brooklyn. I want strangers on the tennis courts to once again feel free to pull a Budweiser out of the cooler and not look at me funny when I occasionally drop an F-Bomb following a blown volley.
It is like having to serve time for some dire malfeasance committed by a crazy, distant uncle that you’d never even heard of before his picture showed up on the front page of the local paper and the story mentioned that he had relatives in your little village.