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July 2014

The Case Against Extremism

By John Carter

Intolerance of the views of minorities is a common characteristic of religious extremists, whether they call themselves Atheists,1 Christians, Jews, Moslems, Hindus, or Buddhists.  What we are talking about here are extremists — way out, right wing fundamentalists, zealous defenders of the faith — who operate within these and other established groups.  The extremists — never wrong, always vocal, sometimes vicious — will persecute non-conformists in their midst, irrespective of the territory they occupy.  Witness the shameful harassment and overt persecution of gays in Nigeria.2
The so-called Christian church during the Middle Ages was a persecuting power, as described by the Old Testament prophet Daniel. (See Daniel 7:25)  Millions of dissenting Catholics, Protestants, Jews, and Moslems were murdered by the fiercely orthodox intolerant leaders of the “Holy Church.”  They were religious terrorists in robes.
No wonder that one of the greatest thinkers of the twentieth century declared that almost all organized religion is bad.
While there are many good atheists, it cannot be denied that militant atheistic fundamentalists murdered millions in Russia during the reign of Communism.  Atheism is often a knee jerk reaction against phony religion, and that’s exactly what happened in 1917.  The Czar and his government, supported by his church, were corrupt to the core, and an oppressed people eventually rose up against the established order.  It was just too bad they replaced an icon adorned box of rotten apples with a hammer and sickle covered case of rotten red tomatoes.  Communism’s biggest folly was to throw the Baby out with the bathwater; not only did Lenin, Stalin and company get rid of an oppressive church-state system, they got rid of Christ (so they imagined), the Prince of Peace and defender of the poor.  The masses soon discovered the rotten tomatoes were every bit as toxic as the rotten apples.  When will we ever learn?
Today the world in horror watches right wing fanatical Islamic hordes as they rip the heart out of society.  Once there were 60,000 Christians in Mosul, Iraq; now there are none.  “Convert or be expelled.  Accept the Moslem faith or leave with only the clothes you wear.  Stay and we will kill you,” is the message of the ISIS fanatics. 
How did this tale of horror start?  Have you heard of Pandora’s box?  Better to leave alone than to release the deadly creatures upon an unsuspecting world.  But that is another topic.
Where does all this leave us?  What should we do?  Here are some starters:
1.    Cultivate an attitude of tolerance, keep an open mind, study the evidence, and hold fast to the truth.  If Richard Dawkins wants to rail against Christianity and God, so be it — that is his right.  Perhaps he is subconsciously reacting to some ugly experience he suffered as a child at the hands of a professing Christian.  Perhaps we are hearing his pain.  Who knows?  It is our duty to show him and his disciples unconditional love.  Is that not how God treats us?  Richard today is the charismatic leader of a new religion (not so new) that shouts that we are meaningless blobs of enlarged protein molecules that came from nowhere and were created by no one.  Let’s not ridicule him personally.  Disagree if you will, but don’t attack him.  Richard is a child of God, and Christ loves him.  A wise person will listen, weigh the evidence, and make up his or her mind.  He will not flail like a wounded animal.
2.    Don’t clump everyone into the same camp.  Most Moslems are horrified by ISIS. Most Moslems are decent people.  Years ago I preached in a Christian church in Jordan. The pastor there told me the story how he had lost his wife and daughter at the hands of Moslem terrorists.  When he regained consciousness in the Amman hospital, there waiting patiently was a royal figure. Leaning over the injured Christian pastor, the Moslem king whispered, “In the name of Allah, forgive us.”  The king personally paid all the hospital expenses, and restored the pastor’s home. He could not bring back the slain wife and daughter, but he did what he could.  We Christians, especially in America, must not forget that good King Hussein of Jordan was a Moslem.
3.    Passionately believe that every person has the right to express and advocate his or her convictions, though in a civil respectful way.  You and I have the right, some would say obligation, to argue, debate, preach, write, propagate, and defend those ideas we hold dear to our hearts.  Freedom of thought and liberty of utterance are what make us different to the dictators who control much of the world.  This freedom of utterance means in essence and reality, that you have the right to attempt to convert me to your viewpoint, though you do not have the right to be rude.  You also do not have some divine right to coerce me to accept your beliefs against my convictions and conscience.  This obviously is where ISIS and other fanatics violate the sanctity of the soul and blaspheme the name of their God.  Men and women must be free to choose, even if we think their choices are bad.  Moslems have the right to choose to become Christians and Christians have the right to become Moslems.  Jews have the right to choose to become Christians, and Christians have the right to embrace Judaism.  Hindus have the right to choose to accept Christ, while Christians have the right to repudiate Christ and worship the gods of the Hindus.  Two great provisos are that these decisions must be made freely without coercion and after a thoughtful consideration of the facts of the case.  Although I would passionately argue that the religion of Jesus is God’s true religion, I also would passionately argue that individuals have the right to choose differently, even if those choices in my opinion are wrong.  God made us to be free.
If you are blessed to live in a country where the people have freedom to choose their destiny, where liberty is written into their laws and enshrined in their hearts, be thankful for that Divine providence that gave you freedom.  Most countries don’t have it.
The big problem with religious extremism (including the religion of militant atheism) is that it seeks to impose its thinking upon the rest of us.  That is something the God of freedom would never do.

1. Theos, from which atheist is derived, is the Greek word for God.  A theist believes in God, an a-theist does not.
2. A tolerant person, while he may disagree with the gay lifestyle, will respect gays as persons made in the image of God.


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