An American Kristallnacht?

Chuck Doswell – 28 July 2011

With the news that Norwegian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik is a fundamentalist christian nationalist, christians world-wide are scrambling feverishly to disassociate him from christianity.  It seems to me that this incident makes it all the more clear that every religious believer comes to his or her own interpretation of their religion.  This, by the way, is especially true for atheists and agnostics since there are no “sacred” atheist scriptures around which to build a rigid set of beliefs.  As rigid as the bible may seem to some to be, it’s apparently quite open to interpretation!

The christians who deny that Breivik is a “true christian” no doubt find it convenient to rationalize the evil of his actions with their pre-conceived notion of christianity.  So I ask:  were the christians who participated in the Crusades true christians or not?  Were the christians who participated in the Inquisition true christians or not?  Were the christians who burned witches at the stake true christians or not?  I could go on to include more recent examples, but I think the point has been made, here.  Much barbarism has been committed in the name of christianity over the 2000 years of its existence, and that barbarism continues to this very day, albeit without government sanction (not yet!).

Christianity, like most religions, is inherently inclined to stimulate its believers to extremism.  It taps into the tribalistic tendency programmed into every human by evolution – the “us versus them” mentality that dehumanizes anyone not a “true believer” to the point where it’s but a short step to systematic torture and annihilation for the infidels.  If not all christians come to the conclusion that they should go out and do evil acts in the name of jesus, it’s also true that many christians go along passively as evil acts are carried out by their more fanatical christian brethren.

In reality, all believers interpret their religious documents through a personal filter.  So-called fundamentalists are supposed to accept every word in their scriptures as literal, word-for-word truth, of course.  The large number of “fundamentalist” sects even within christianity suggests that even the fundamentalists generally “cherry pick” the ideas within their so-called faith, to suit their personal vision of what to believe.  The bible is full of explicit and implicit contradictions that simply demand some sort of interpretation.  For instance, how many “right to lifers” also support the death penalty for certain crimes?  How many believers in the Ten Commandments support killing during war?  It’s clear that different christians come to different conclusions about how to interpret their scriptures.

If you accept that humans have “free will” (an idea that is logically inconsistent with an omnipotent, omniscient deity) within christianity, this tendency toward individual interpretation evidently is approved by christianity.  It seems that christians are indeed free to believe whatever they choose.  But there’s a catch!  Whose version of christianity is the right one?  I can virtually guarantee that every christian believes that their version of christianity is the one true religion, and all the others are simply misguided. Why adhere to a denomination you don’t believe to be the one true version, after all?  For some, nonchristian beliefs are assumed to be heresy or inspired by satan, and to be heretical or working on behalf of the devil is tantamount to a death sentence in their eyes.  Wiping out the unbelievers would be doing the work of god, not an evil deed!

Many “moderate” christians believe firmly that they would never commit the actions of a terrorist, so they can say from their self-righteous perch above the rest of humanity that a terrorist can’t be a true christian.  But if the theocracy that some christians desire becomes a reality here, what’s to prevent the leaders of that theocracy from committing terrorist acts on unbelievers?  The history of christianity makes it very clear that this possibility is not just paranoia – fear with no foundation in reality.  Just ask the Germans who went through the agonies of Nazi facism how many of them stood up for the rights of the Jews and other persecuted minorities.  How many muslims in the middle eastern theocracies are standing up and denouncing the terrorist misdeeds of their islamist brethren?  Not all christians advocate a theocracy here in the USA, but many of them maintain that our laws and history make us a de facto “christian nation” despite the real history being just the opposite of that (separation of church and state!).

Are all those misguided unbelievers truly doomed to death and eternal damnation?  So it must seem to christian believers.  It’s just not that big a step from seeing others as fated to damnation to acting on that vision and hastening the process of their extinction.  Especially when there are passages in the sacred texts of these religions that call for brutal deeds to be visited upon unbelievers.  It’s only a matter of individual interpretation by “believers” that prevents christians from becoming a barbaric mob of murderers and torturers, visiting their god’s wrath on the heathen multitudes.  As an atheist in a predominantly christian nation, I find that rather worrisome.  We have yet to have our “kristallnacht” here in the USA but I don’t know for sure how much it might take for such a thing to happen. 

I simply don’t believe those who say, “It could never happen here in the USA!”  Germany was arguably the most civilized of nations before they went down the Nazi path.  They were swayed by the seductive arguments of a demagogue who tapped into their tribalism and used the difficult economic circumstances of financial collapse to cause many of their people to unite behind a christian nationalist vision of their ultimate superiority, giving them the right to rule the world.  Does this sound familiar to us here in the USA?  It should!