Why Christians are Blamed for Islamic Terrorism

Syndicated columnist Derek Hunter made an observation in the aftermath of the Orlando shootings that parallels my own impression at the time:

If you only watch network news and read the New York Times you easily could come away with the impression that last Sunday morning a conservative Christian man, draped in crosses and screaming “Make America Great Again” walked into a gay bar and murdered 49 people on direct orders from the Republican National Committee headquarters located in the basement of the National Rifle Association’s headquarters, naturally in a space they rent from Fox News.

Reading this description of the anti-Christian Left’s demonology, it would seem that for the Left some enemies count more than others. Although its representatives rage against gun-owners and Fox News viewers, there is something they may hate even more. Those who “cling to their guns and religion,” as Barack Obama said mockingly while campaigning as a presidential candidate in my home state of Pennsylvania, tend to be professing Christians, an object of growing political vilification.

Attacks on religious believers in recent days from the leftwing press generated reactions from the GOP establishment commentariat about why our media and academic elites think and act as they do. While surfing townhall.com, for example, I learned that the media would like us to live in a “risk-free society” and have therefore decided to focus on the threat posed by extensive gun ownership. Our elites, we are told, are taking a “technical” approach to our safety as Americans, one that fits the mindset of a technologically developed modern society. These elites mistakenly think that they could make us more secure from violence by taking away our guns. One has to wonder why media commentators don’t bother to notice that it’s Muslim terrorists who are creating the “safety-risk.” And why are so many in the mainstream media focusing on so-called Christian bigotry when the violence comes from very different quarters? From news reporting on NBC, CBS and their local affiliates in Central PA where I live, it would seem that Christian “homophobia” led to mass shootings in Orlando last week. Although “terrorist” does get a mention in these reports, it is typically in the context of talking about “homegrown hate.”

A Most Plausible Explanation
The most plausible explanation for this news bias and for recent government policies to combat “prejudice” can be found in Mary Eberstadt’s recent publication, It’s Dangerous to Believe: Religious Freedom and Its Enemies. A work that is polemical in the best sense, Eberstadt’s book provides a compelling depiction of the contemporary Western (and not only the American) Left’s war against Christianity. It would not be boasting if I mentioned that Eberstadt’s arguments were previewed in my books on multiculturalism and the post-Marxist Left. Some of her generalizations were also stated succinctly in a recent news column by Dennis Prager on anti-Christian bias influencing the media accounts of the Orlando shootings. But Eberstadt targets the anti-Christian Left with a stunning wealth of confirming evidence.

And to her credit, she never raises certain hobbyhorses that show up on “cultural conservative” websites, for example, that the Left favors Muslims over Christians because it wishes to be “non-judgmental” or because the Left suffers from the disease of “value relativism.” Unless I’ve entirely mistaken, the Left is not suspending judgment but very much in the tank for anti-Western Muslims, anti-white blacks, gay activists, and anti-family feminists. As Eberstadt fully understands, the Left is trying to neutralize or destroy what it intends to replace.

Withdrawing from this battle would not help the side under attack, because there is no reason to believe that its adversaries would then leave it alone. Why should we assume that anti-Christians in government, education, and the media would become more tolerant if the other side ceased to resist? Hillary Clinton and those of her ilk make no secret of their intent to “reeducate” those who are not in step with their multicultural or PC program. A critical review of Eberstadt’s book in The American Conservative (July/August 2016) warns us against accepting “the Manichean struggle she depicts. More than attacks on unpopular ideas, they are disputes about the discharge of political office or participation in government programs.” The reviewer is upset with “the hapless Kim Davis who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in Rowan County, Ky.”

Kim had the chutzpa to imagine that “she could reject the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges while keeping her job.” This was supposedly “not the conventional understanding of conscientious objection.” That is of course true but the court’s decision was by no means a “conventional” judicial one. It aimed at radically reconstructing the understanding of marriage that has existed since time immemorial, as being between members of the opposite sex. It’s not only Christians and before them the Jews who arrived at this weird “Western” definition of marriage. It was the one that obtained everywhere up until very recently. And the presumptuousness of a majority of the justices claiming that their purely imaginary right is somehow inherent in the Constitution staggers the imagination. What would happen if next week the court decides that we have the inalienable right to marry our animal companions? Would the Kim Davises of this world have a political duty to start issuing marriage licenses for interspecies nuptials? Or are we supposed to imagine that if the court had decided differently about a national right to gay marriage the Left would have gone gently into the night? Already four years ago the Pennsylvania state attorney general (who is now being indicted for numerous financial scandals) announced that she would defy a state law limiting marriage to members of the opposite sex. No one removed Ms. Kane from office when she violated a properly enacted law. To the contrary! Our media and many of our state politicians applauded her civil disobedience.

Eberstadt’s Thesis Confirmed by New Atheists
What renders Eberstadt’s arguments all the more plausible for me was reading best-selling New Atheist authors, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins. For those who are slogging their way through these alleged non-believers, I would urge them to take the short-cut and listen to Bill Maher’s rants on cable-TV at 11:00 PM (EST). The qualitative difference between the classics and their comic-book version seems quite minimal. I say this without pleasure. Although I might have expected from Hitchens as little as he gave, I was upset by how far Dawkins, who is usually a serious thinker, could sink into utopian delusion. Despite my theistic views, I am certainly willing to listen to thoughtful intellectuals who hold the opposite position, for example, those who insist that they find no definitive evidence for the existence of a Supreme Being or divine intelligence. That, after all, is a reasonable position, as opposed to the gibberish served up by the New Atheists.

Apparently if we could get rid of the “God delusion,” we’d be on our way to ushering in a world of universal peace. All strife is at bottom caused by the “God idea,” and if Christians didn’t exist or if they could be converted to benevolent atheism, then there would be no more persecution in erstwhile Christian societies of racial minorities, gays and other approved victims. Guilt by convoluted association abounds in these tirades. Since Muslim terrorists and theocracies now oppress people somewhere, the Little Sisters of the Poor and the Salvation Army must be condemned as religion-accessories. Because Hitler was baptized as a Catholic, the movement he spearheaded, and which caused untold suffering, was essentially Christian. Although Dawkins concedes that “Stalin was an atheist,” he tries to shift the blame away from his pet cult by assuring us that while “individual atheists do evil things they don’t do evil things in the name of atheism.” Stalin murdered millions of victims in the name of “dogmatic and doctrinaire Marxism,” which is somehow different from atheistic Marxist-Leninism. Although gays have been shoved into concentration camps or killed by Communist regimes, that trivial fact should not divert us from blaming God-centered religion exclusively for “homophobia.”

Reading Dawkins seemingly unending polemic against the “delusion,” I find myself stopping at every page to note his exaggerations or inventions. Although I can’t deal with all of them in this limited space, certain historical errors stand out. Calling the Founding Fathers “secularists,” who despised Christianity is, to put it mildly, an overreach. Most of these worthies were regular church-goers and mentioned Christian teachings favorably in their letters and speeches. One of the first acts of Congress after the constitutional republic was established was to appoint a chaplain to offer prayers when sessions convened. Jefferson may have been a very free-thinking Episcopalian but appealed to the moral example of Christ and insisted that compulsory chapel be established at the University of Virginia, an institution that he helped found. The Anglican or (by then) Episcopal Church was disestablished in Virginia with support from Jefferson and Madison, but not because either or both of them “despised” Christianity. The majority of the state’s residents were by then non-Anglican (largely Baptist), and it seemed unfair to make them pay for an establishment they didn’t belong to. Jefferson and Madison also made an argument for free religious conscience, but that position was different from the embattled atheism that Dawkins associates with the founding of the American republic.

Dawkins becomes even sloppier with the facts when he tells us that the Nazi regime succeeded because of “the support received from the Church.” This was allegedly seen in “Pius XII’s persistent refusal to take a stand against the Nazis.” These by now standard leftist charges are never substantiated in Dawkins’s book, perhaps because they are based on gross exaggeration. Although Pius conceivably could have done more to help Nazi victims, as Rabbi David Dalin shows in a heavily documented study, the late pope (as was generally assumed after the war) did save many Jewish lives from the Nazis and declaimed against Nazi extermination camps. Unfortunately his hands were tied by the fact that Nazi Germany occupied most of those parts of Europe with large Catholic populations and took reprisals (as it did in Holland) if the Vatican spoke out against Hitler’s persecution of any group. If Catholic “support” for the Nazi Party in Germany was any indication of how the Church “propped up” the regime, the evidence is not particularly useful for Dawkins’s purposes. Only about one-fifth of German Catholic voters abandoned the Catholic Center Party for Nazi candidates in elections held during the Weimar Republic. Although some Catholic prelates went along with the Nazi regime, others spoke out openly against Nazi policies and were punished. In any case I’m still looking for evidence that the Catholic Church was integral to the success of Hitler’s new order.

It is impossible to mistake these angry, mostly baseless accusations for the sober analysis of someone who questions all received doctrines equally. The New Atheists, like the American mainstream media and the anti-fascist, anti-racist Left in Western Europe and throughout the Anglosphere, are invested in an alternative religion that rivals what they emphatically reject and decry as evil. We are dealing here with a replacement religion for Christianity, and one which feeds off the traditional religion that it hopes to bury. In fact, the rise of this replacement religion could only have occurred in a decaying Christian culture. Misplaced anti-Western universalism and sympathy for the supposedly Suffering Just have a garbled but recognizable relation in this successor religion to certain teachings in the Hebrew Prophets and in the Gospels, and in St. Paul’s appeal to a new universal covenant. Only in a onetime Judeo-Christian world would the angry demands of the multicultural Left resonate among some so-called conservatives as well as on the conventional Left. But one cannot escape what Eberstadt describes as “the new intolerance,” by “being nice” to bullies or by dividing political goodies in a considerate way. The problem goes deeper, as the opposition grows weaker.

Paul E. Gottfried

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Paul E. Gottfried is the retired Horace Raffensperger Professor of Humanities at Elizabethtown College and a Guggenheim recipient. He is the author of numerous books, including The Search for Historical Meaning (2010) and Leo Strauss and the Conservative Movement in America (2011). His latest book is Fascism: The Career of a Concept (2015).

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