Before I launch into my rant of the week, let me first say that I — as an atheist — have tremendous respect for the many Christians who are inspired by their faith to do good work in this world.
Many of the social agencies to which I contribute money were originally based or are still based in one or more Christian churches. Both the New Democratic Party (to which I belong) and its forerunner, the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, were first led by Christian ministers and their policies rooted in the Christian “social gospel.” Many of the activists fighting against apartheid, slavery and other forms of oppression have done so because they believe that Jesus Christ has called them to this struggle. And, musicians such as Bruce Cockburn draw on Christian values to inspire their most political work.
But, I’m having a hard time reconciling that respect with what I see as a hopeless double standard that lets Christians off the hook for actions that would see any other religion condemned far and wide. When anti-abortion crusader James Kopp shot one and quite likely more abortion doctors, for example, absolutely no one had the nerve to refer to him as what he was: “a Christian terrorist.” Similarly, when Eric Rudolph was convicted in a series of fatal bombings (including bombings at a gay night club, an abortion clinic and the Atlanta Olympics), he was called “an extremist” in media accounts of the crimes. Nowhere did I read a story that called him “a Christian extremist.”
There is no such difficulty when it comes to labelling the most reprehensible actions of adherents to other religions. We know that police believe that the Air India bombing was the work of “Sikh extremists,” even if they couldn’t manage to secure a conviction against any of them. The deadly attacks of September 11, 2001 and the more recent attacks on the London transit system were clearly the work of “Muslim extremists.”
In virtually all these cases, it is common to see the leaders of these religions called upon to denounce the actions in question. Often, they may even feel compelled to do so without being asked, as a sort of preemptive measure. I’m wondering why no one is calling upon Christian churches to condemn James Kopp, Eric Rudolph or even Timothy McVeigh (whose bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City was first erroneously blamed on “Muslim terrorists” but, after the truth became known, was never attributed to McVeigh’s adherence to the Christian faith).
Even when the action in question is perpetrated by actual agents of the church — as it was at Indian Residential Schools and church-run orphanages — the church itself seems to be able to avoid the widespread wrath of the public. No one is calling for Campaign Life to be banned, even after the shootings of abortion doctors and the bombing of the Morgentaler Clinic in Toronto, whereas many Tamil and Muslim charitable groups have either lost their right to operate in Canada or were forced to prove that they had no association with terrorism in order to maintain their status.
Recall that last year, Al Jazeera was given the right to broadcast in Canada only after having a series of conditions imposed on it — conditions that would make it difficult for any cable or satellite provider to carry the channel (unless they hired a full time censor). This was done because critics of Al Jazeera pointed to a number of circumstances in which hateful statements of defenses of terrorist acts were broadcast on the channel.
Which brings me to the question of religious broadcaster Pat Robertson. On the August 22 broadcast of The 700 Club, Robertson made the following remarks (I’m quoting them in their entirety because they lose something when edited):
There was a popular coup that overthrew him [Chavez]. And what did the United States State Department do about it? Virtually nothing. And as a result, within about 48 hours that coup was broken; Chavez was back in power, but we had a chance to move in. He has destroyed the Venezuelan economy, and he’s going to make that a launching pad for communist infiltration and Muslim extremism all over the continent.
You know, I don’t know about this doctrine of assassination, but if he thinks we’re trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it. It’s a whole lot cheaper than starting a war. And I don’t think any oil shipments will stop. But this man is a terrific danger and the United … This is in our sphere of influence, so we can’t let this happen. We have the Monroe Doctrine, we have other doctrines that we have announced. And without question, this is a dangerous enemy to our south, controlling a huge pool of oil, that could hurt us very badly. We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability. We don’t need another $200 billion war to get rid of one, you know, strong-arm dictator. It’s a whole lot easier to have some of the covert operatives do the job and then get it over with.
I challenge anyone to read those words as anything other than an incitement to murder. And, I ask you, if Robertson was an evangelist for any religion but Christianity, do you honestly think that he’d still be on the air?
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