The Difference between Radical Christianity & Islamic Terrorism?

Via Benjamin Riggs
on Jul 30, 2011
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A Facebook Debate.

Recently, there has been much debate about the similarities between radical Christian groups and Islamic terrorism. The right seems hell-bent on defending the Christian community against such accusations, while the left seems determined to prove that right-wing fringe groups are every bit as dangerous as the Jihadist movement. If you are not familiar with this story, click here to get caught up to speed.

The following comments were taken from a discussion I had with a friend on Facebook. I am suggesting that there are differences between the two, but that these differences are socio-political differences and not religious ones. My friend is saying that there is a huge gulf between the two, and that reconciliation is dependent upon recognizing this gulf.

Please read the following comments and join in the discussion below.

Benjamin Riggs:

How is it that extreme Jihadist differ from some radical fringe groups in Christianity… Are you suggesting that those who participate in the fringe of Christianity are insane because they cannot find biblical justification, but Jihadist are not only supported by the Qu’ran, their violent actions are inspired by it? Therefore they are not crazy but mislead?
What are we to make of the crusaders? An abortion clinic bomber, who is totally inspired by his belief system? Westboro Baptist Church? Is there neurosis involved? Hell yeah! In all cases: some loon protesting a military funeral, bombing an abortion clinic, or flying a plane into a building—you literally have to be crazy to do any one of these things.

I do believe that when talking about scriptural violence there is a difference between the New Testament and the Qu’ran; I think Mohammed consciously created the distinction, and I am not sure that he wasn’t right. Turning the other cheek isn’t always the wise decision. And in relationship to Islam, the West’s actions are more in line with the Qu’ran than the New Testament… We do not turn anything but our sights and open fire!

Sometimes, as the Qu’ran teaches, we have to stand against oppression. However, to suggest that the Qu’ran teaches its readers to just kill innocent civilians to send a message is misleading propaganda:

“Fight in the cause of God those who fight you, but do not transgress limits; for God loves not transgressors. And slay them wherever you catch them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out; for tumult and oppression are worse than slaughter… But if they cease, God is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful… If they cease, let there be no hostility except to those who practice oppression” ~ Holy Qur’an 2:190-193.

As far as later commentary taking precedent over the original text is concerned, this takes place in every religion. Where the hell did the rapturist come from? Why were there tons of people standing around on May 21st, 2011 waiting to harvested? I believe that much of Protestantism owes its existence to this occurrence. Now, it maybe that Islam is very susceptible to this and that many of the effects are disastrous, but I believe that the rampant presence of extremist groups within Islam is primarily (but not exclusively) a result of the political regimes that support, manipulate, and exploit these fundamentalist interpretations to accomplish their agenda.

The fact is that Islam has produced some remarkable mystics. Hell, Rumi is a household name. Sufism is Islam too. Why don’t we talk about them? Why doesn’t our media shed more light on these movements within Islam? Not news worthy enough… Why doesn’t Bill O’Reilly interview Llewellyn Vaughan; rather than some quack who doesn’t know his butt from a hole in the ground?

I do however agree with this:

“We will not reconcile with Islam until such time as we can discuss the actual problems within the faith and encourage Muslims to reform the faith and bring it into the 21st Century. That will take putting a spotlight on the violent Imams and the texts that motivate them.” ~friend of mine on FaceBook

This what Christianity had to do. I disagree with the idea that Islam is intrinsically violent. Where was Christianity when it was 1,100 years old? I believe the Pope was selling hall passes to heaven, they were burning heretics at the stake (or worse), and preparing themselves to sponsor the extinction of indigenous peoples all around the world in the name of divine conquest. Why should we treat Islam any different than Christianity? Or are we, much like Anders Breivik, too scarred that Islam will succeed politically and culturally, much like Christianity did on the American and African continents? It seems that we do not think that we have the time for Islam to mature at its own pace… What is our urgency about?

If there are fallacy’s that need to be questioned then so be it… If there are obstacles to honest debate regarding those fallacy’s then the obstacles will, in time, work themselves out, as a life inspired by fallacy is unsustainable. And when the adherents of these unsustainable beliefs realize the unsustainable nature of their extreme agenda, reformation will take place. But reformation has to come from within. It cannot be imposed from the outside. Until that happens, we have to do our best to love these people, and, when it is necessary, we must practice what their scripture suggests: If we are oppressed or see others being oppressed by anyone—radical Muslims or Christians—we must be willing to stand up and defend freedom.

Facebook Friend:

Ben, I, too, know Sufis. They are the more mystical members of the faith. I have found them to be very god conscious and peaceful, and they are persecuted by the other sects.

As for moral equivalence between Christians and jihadists, the argument is weak, almost nutty. One could look at numbers and actions and see they are not equivalent.

While one has lone wolf Christians who take violent action this is very rare and not supported by any Christian sects.

On the other hand one has the murder of hundreds of thousands by Muslims extremists. This is not isolated. One finds it in Africa, in Southeast Asia, in terrorist attacks in the West.

One has only to look at Christians in Egypt, in Iraq, in Pakistan, in the Sudan, and see we are not talking about equivalency. And Christians are not attacking people over cartoons.

And one finds attacks instigated by and supported by Muslim clerics. The problem in many cases is a collapse between religion and politics, as Islam sees itself as both a ruling political philosophy and a faith.

One has a policy in many sects of Islam of punishing apostasy by death. One does not find this in other religions. If you choose to leave Christianity, you are not put to death.

This does not even begin to touch the calls for the death of infidels… and the beheading of the Jews ordered by Mohammed. The texts get pretty difficult in this regard.

As for later texts taking precedence over earlier texts, it is not accidental. It is a formal approach, and it has great significance.

As for the Crusades. That has always been a very weak argument, a misrepresentation of history. Were Muslims the original occupants of Jerusalem and the Holy Lands? How did Muslims end up in a position to be attacked in the Holy Lands? Were they simply vacationing? One has to think this through a bit closer.

This does not mean the problem cannot be addressed. It can. But it will take honesty and a candid discussion of these factors. The errors of political correctness and false equivalency have prevented the types of discussion that are needed to bring about change.

I advocate for a peaceful solution but that cannot come if we are ignoring or obscuring problems with politically correct equivalency.


So, what do you think?

Is it more or less moral to kill 86 people or 1,200? There is no doubt that Islamic terrorism is more organized, but is that a religious problem or a political problem spawned by the regimes that organize and fund these groups? Does Islam formally inspire and condone the actions of these extremist? What about fringe Christians? Are they inspired by their beliefs?

Let’s get a discussion going. Share your thoughts below.

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About Benjamin Riggs

Ben Riggs is the author of Finding God in the Body: A Spiritual Path for the Modern West. He is also the director of the Refuge Meditation Group in Shreveport, LA and a teacher at Explore Yoga. Ben writes extensively about Buddhist and Christian spirituality on Elephant Journal, and his blog. Click here to listen to the Finding God in the Body Podcast. To keep up with all of his work follow him on Facebook or Twitter.


14 Responses to “The Difference between Radical Christianity & Islamic Terrorism?”

  1. notinabox says:

    "While one has lone wolf Christians who take violent action this is very rare and not supported by any Christian sects."

    Really?? The molestation of children by Christian (Catholic) Priests was far from rare, and while maybe not technically supported, it certainly was covered up and then justified by the Church leaders.

  2. yogiclarebear says:

    Ben, while I understand your friend's points, I feel that his (her?) perspective is action and outward oriented, obsessed with us vs. them. "Look at the numbers. They have done more/worse." Etc. It is like popping zits on the surface of a religious face. Commenter notinabox above outlines the same…"see what YOU did!?" This is the mentality that keeps the acne raging!

    I think the SIMILARITIES between extreme Islam and Christianity reside, as I think you suggest, in the deeper seeds of thought and unconsciousness rather than always action and manifestation.

    Anyways, I'm just typing my thoughts and solving nothing…sigh. But gosh, if the extremists would all just read Elephant Spirituality…

  3. wbtphdjd says:

    As someone said long, long ago on an e-mail list far, far away, I do not trust any of the Abrahamic sects. He challenges the Crusades example on historical grounds, but glosses over the Inquisition (auto-da-fe, anyone?), the Counter-Reformation, the Wars of Religion (?), the persecution of the Huguenots, and the violent expansion of Christianity around the globe starting with Columbus and continuing to this day. In my opinion, radical Muslims would have to blow up a lot more buildings before they came anywhere near the total number of persons who have died as the result of official Christian doctrine in the past 1,000 years or so, including the Holocaust, which various Christian churches were at best ambivalent about, but in the end, it is undeniable that the reason why the Jews were such easy targets in 1930s Germany is that they had been the targets of Christians for hundreds of years before.

  4. lurkitty says:

    If you stick to the New Testament when looking at the motivations of Christians, you're not listening. Extremist Christians draw heavily from the excessively violent Old Testament, just as they selectively quote from it to justify other political positions. The message of peace and service that dominates the early books of the New Testament, as well as the teachings of Jesus himself, rarely appears in extremist Christian doctrine.

    Extremist Christian sects have featured sermons calling for the death of the President as well as publishing names and addresses of abortion providers in hit lists. Sorry to burst your bubbles here, but there are Christian sects that promote violence,

    Frankly, there has been more Christian extremist violence in the US than what can be attributed to Muslim extremism. This includes not only the high profile Oklahoma City bombing and violence against abortion clinics, but violence against Gays, Hispanics and Blacks. That violence is increasing at an alarming rate.

    Sadly extremist sects occur in every religion. So long as people believe that they know better or know more than their fellow man, someone will be tempted to violence, and they will selectively read scripture as justification.

  5. Ariyanama says:

    Thich Nhat Hanh Quotes 2
    Only Light
    By Thich Nhat Hanh
    The root of terrorism is misunderstanding, hatred and violence. This root cannot be located by the military. Bombs and missiles cannot reach it, let alone destroy it. Only with the practice of calming and looking deeply can our insight reveal and identify this root. Only with the practice of deep listening and compassion can it be transformed and removed. Darkness cannot be dissipated with more darkness. More darkness will only make darkness thicker. Only light can dissipate darkness…. Those of us who carry the light should show the light and share it so that the world will not sink into total darkness. Everyone has the seed of awakening and insight within his or her heart.

  6. I've just been slapped…..not too hard, but hard enough…. thank you! My face is still stinging slightly but at least I am awake now! 🙂

  7. rodger_nc says:

    All members of the far right no matter what their religious faiths (Jewish, Christian or Muslim) consider themselves as the only true source of their religion. They believe all others are wrong and can not be tolerated. Rather than converse on the issues they would "send you to God to let him explain it to you". No matter the religion, the far right ultra extreme is the same. Tolerance is the issue. For whatever reason be it fear, lack of self respect or low self esteem, you can not reason with these individuals. They can not modify their belief or their world comes crashing down. Although they take a hard line, they ground their religion which slows any change within the religion. Their side should be heard and considered, but they should NEVER be allowed to hold political positions because it is impossible for them to compromise. We see this now in United States politics.

  8. Jen says:

    Not just Catholic, also Anglican

  9. Jen says:

    Quite a generalization! I find many "old books" to be full of great wisdom…..Tao de Ching, Yoga Sutras, etc. Besides, it is incorrect to say that the books have not changed. All books, including the Bible, have been edited repeatedly to reflect the ideology of those in power throughout their history. Gospels have been removed from the Bible, for goodness sake!

  10. BenRiggs says:

    "If you tried to repair a vehicle today from a 40 year old text you'd be lost. " That is, unless the vehicle is a 40 year old vehicle, in which case you would do well to make use of the text. Humans are not new organisms….

    Would you throw away the Origin of the Species?

  11. Natasha says:

    Not much both make Christians & Muslims look grossly crazy horrible people. Yes it is all about political gain for both groups. A great Christian group & Islamic group don’t like fanatics & radicals! They love God & Allah in their good right way. No extremists on any sides!!!

  12. […] God advocating the Crusades or jihadist suicide bombings here? Of course not, and the deeper themes of the Gita are apparent to the keen […]

  13. […] me of the cartoons of that big important god that some Islamic people love so much that cartoons of him were pulled under death threats. Oh yeah, that’s […]

  14. kris says:

    there is no justification for either there only is the way