Christian Wars
Lorie Johnson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Wed Mar 29, 2006 at 02:20:25 PM EST
Everywhere you turn, certain Christians are claiming that there is a war being fought against them. Are Christians really that embattled? Who or what are they at war against? Why does this war-mindedness persist in spite of plentiful evidence to the contrary?
The dual gatherings of "BattleCry" in San Francisco and the recent "War on Christians" conference in Washington DC seem to suggest that there is some kind of 'war against Christians' or Christianity itself at play in the US.

War imagery in Christianity isn't new- in fact, it is as old as the faith itself. When Christians were being persecuted in ancient Rome, The Book of Revelation was written as a means to bring encouragement to the embattled believers huddled in the catacombs of Rome. The apocalyptic imagery, the floods of blood and fire were written to contrast the horrors inflicted upon them. Revelation was the ultimate spiritual 'revenge script'.

When Christians came into power in Europe, the paradigm flipped, and their leaders used the same kind of horrific imagery to rally people to go to the Crusades, and later, to persecute the Jews and non-believers.

When the pendulum swung back to the spiritual realm,  war imagery was often used to keep the believer safe from demonic influence, and scripture outfitting the believer with the tools needed to overcome temptation or possession was often cited in many sermons that had the devil on the run. This kind of 'spiritual warfare' is part and parcel of many Christian sects, and rarely goes beyond them.

But things have changed again- for the worse. The war imagery pendulum is swinging back from the spiritual realm to the real world, a place that should be of concern to moderate Christians and non-religious people alike. Instead of the Christian version of 'jihad' or 'struggle' against the internal adversaries of spiritual practice, the struggle has been moved to the outside world and its perceived adversaries- all nonbelievers- including fellow Christians. The constant and urgent message is this:   Christians are being attacked. There is a war against Christianity. Christians must go on the offensive and fight back." This message is constant and unrelenting. In spite the fact that they are currently in power, there is still a war against them going on, and battles to be fought against a nebulous and often changing enemy. That enemy is now 'the flesh, Satan, and the world'.

Think about that: The world.

Joan Bokaer's recent post about the teen evangelical event in San Francisco called "BattleCry" talked about the war imagery used in this rally. The language and imagery was the typical 'Let's scare people into belief' tactic that is common in such rallies:

First you need an Enemy. In the case of BattleCry, it's 'giant corporations, media conglomerates, and purveyors of popular culture'. Sex and tolerance are also considered enemies- especially if the two are combined. Independent women with self-determination are enemies. The secular media and popular culture are often painted as the ultimate enemies of the True Believer. The bottom line is secularity. If it's secular, it is evil, and must be fought against.

Next you need lots of people screaming together. This is particularly effective with young people, who enjoy the excitement of a huge crowd with loud music, freebies and lots of other youth. The irony here is that the people who put on these events use the same tactics that their perceived enemies of the corporate media use to get a wave of excitement going: Music, crowds, and freebies.

The "Vision America"- sponsored "War On Christians"  conference was more grown up, but still used a lot of the same tactics: Cram like-minded people together, whip them into a frenzy, and declare war against a long list of perceived enemies. A little paranoia, in the form of a false fire alarm in the middle of a particularly interesting speech, is helpful, too.  For these people, the Enemies List consists of anyone who dares to stand up to the often overbearing pressure of the Religious Right to conform with their often restrictive sets of 'values'. These people are portrayed as 'persecutors' of believers, and include so-called 'activist judges'.

It is interesting to note that Judge John Jones III, who wrote the verdict on the Dover Intelligent Design case, recently said on "Radio Times" (March 22) that his definition of an 'activist judge' was 'anyone whose verdict [the religious right] doesn't agree with'. He's probably an 'enemy' now, too, if the number of threats against him is any indicator. He spoke of that in the interview, too.  

What is going on? What is with all this war imagery, hyped up enemies, and battle cries? It's all about  fear-mongering. Here's a prime example from the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights:

"For the past week, reports have surfaced that the RNC has been behind a mass mailing warning the residents of Arkansas and West Virginia that if the `liberals' win the election, they will ban the Bible.  Now the RNC has admitted that it did so; this was its way of appealing to religious voters.  But what it did is exploitative.  Not only are the Republicans indulging in fear-mongering, they are also playing to the stereotype of Christians from rural communities.

 In keeping the congregations of believers riled up, the fear-mongers keep the level of outrage high, the introspective thinking low, and most important, the money flowing into the coffers. The emphasis on fear,  the creation of enemies and false crises, and the resulting anger and discord are the tools of the fear-mongers, and are used to often devastating effect in mainline churches being overrun by hardliners.

The important thing to note here is that it never stops. The foes are never vanquished, the mission is never accomplished, there is no acknowledgement of victory or success, however minor. The war and fear-mongers keep hitting their congregations with crisis after crisis, keeping them in a constant state of arousal and imbalance. It is the tactic used by the shock troops of the Religious Right, and one we need to thoroughly understand in order to reduce its efficiency.

Fear makes people irrational. It erodes health, well being, and wealth, too. In the US, the most common way to abate fear is to spend money. So, the fear-afflicted congregations are throwing money at their leaders, giving them the means to continue the fight until the next pledge drive. It is a never ending circle.

To break this cycle, and end this artificial war, we must find a way to quell the fear. We need to find the means to calm and awaken the fear-addled and constantly embattled congregations and believers to this misuse of faith.  We need to show them that they are being constantly enraged by create false crises, and ghost enemies, which are used to ultimately deprive them of their money- and their spiritual well being.

This false war isn't going to end overnight. The war and fear-mongers will make enemies of anyone who tries to stop them, enraging and exciting their flocks to even greater outrage.

Christ talked about false prophets and wolves who do these things. There is an enemy, but it isn't those who are outside the church. Instead, the enemy is within their own numbers, using their trust -and fear- to exploit them.  

There is no outside war on Christians in the US. There is no secular or liberal plot to destroy religion. In fact, it is clear that the secular culture has provided a rich medium of tolerance that has allowed the hate and fear of the hardliners to blossom into this false 'war'.

The people of "BattleCry" promise to return to SF next year to chart the progress of their new recruits. It will be interesting to see what happens when the fires of fear cool, and the tide of excitement recedes.

There are other people who also agree that there is no war against Christians:

It sounds more like an exaggerated scare tactic aimed at grabbing attention, rallying the troops and sowing deeper division between the opposing sides in the ongoing debate over the proper role of religion in the public square.

Worse, it trivializes the true persecution of Christians in the early history of the church and the real abuse unleashed on Christians today in some corners of the world.

Christians in America are hardly being thrown to the lions. In many ways, the political and social values of conservative Christians are carrying the day. We are in the second term of the most faith-friendly, explicitly Christian presidency in many a decade.

I found that on the "Vision America" site.

by Lorie Johnson on Wed Mar 29, 2006 at 02:35:58 PM EST

Lorie, nice post.

It's good to see that Vision America at least allows some criticism on their site.

by Carlos on Wed Mar 29, 2006 at 03:10:33 PM EST

I agree that it is important to find a way to quell the fear that the barrage of messages about the false "War on Christians" has created.  The problem is how to do it.

Unfortunately, I'm not much of a strategist myself.  However, I do have one idea that might be a step in the right direction, one that others with more expertise might expand upon and develop further:  Start working WITH conservative Christians on issues of mutual concern.  

For example, many Christians, including many conservative Christians, are very concerned about the persecution (often, and perhaps accurately, described as "genocide," but undoubtedly horrible persecution) of Christians in the Darfur region of Sudan.  I am cynical enough to wonder if there would be the same level of concern if the victims were Buddists or Hindus or atheists, but I am sure that at least some of the Christians who are concerned about the persecution now would also be concerned if the faith of the victims was different.

One of the few encouraging experiences I have had recently was attending a Save Darfur meeting in Silicon Valley.  The attendees were multi-racial, multi-aged (from teenagers to quite elderly people), and multi-religious.  The meeting was held in a Catholic church; the moderator was a Jewish rabbi; and members of my UU congregation and many other churchs were there.  This is obviously a campaign that has a strong faith-based component, though it is just as obvious that one does not need a faith-based reason to oppose the torture and murder of innocent civilians.

Many other issues may fall into the same category.  Pick your favorite cause.  For example, we have heard much about the work of religious groups in helping the Gulf Coast to rebuild after Hurricane Katrina.  Issues like these are worth working for in and of themselves.  My point is that if progressives do work for them -- while, and this is important, making it known that they ARE progressives -- perhaps at least some conservative Christians will come to see us as friends and allies rather than as "the enemy" who is waging war against them.

by Theovanna on Wed Mar 29, 2006 at 07:06:47 PM EST

..... excellent ideas Theovanna. We do indeed need more opportunities to come together and realize we may have more in common than we think.

by Carlos on Wed Mar 29, 2006 at 07:16:40 PM EST

Great post Lorie. I think there is a culture war, but it's not against Christians. It's against the people who believe in a pluralistic democracy. It's a war against that same secular society that has allowed religious liberty to flourish in this country.

by Joan Bokaer on Wed Mar 29, 2006 at 07:10:47 PM EST
I noted the fact that our open society provides fallow ground for destructive waves like this to flourish. It's like gardening- fertile soil permits both flowers and noxious plants to grow- and it is up to us to keep the negative and destructive elements from overgrowing the garden and destroying it.

Substitute 'country' for 'garden' and you have our difficulty in a nutshell.

Quelling the fear, talking to them like people instead of rabid fanatics, and finding common ground are good ways to halt the overgrowth of destructive religious zealotry. I call it 'keep your mint plant in a pot' method. The mint is happy, well, cared for, and healthy, but it won't overrun the garden.

by Lorie Johnson on Wed Mar 29, 2006 at 07:57:04 PM EST

The so-called war on Christians is just a fund raising technique by a bunch of demigods. The old ladies send their $$$ in and feel so good they are fighting the evil ACLU.
It is important to have a strong evil enemy. That way the fight is more important and the victory sweeter.  
Send money, send money, send money.

by PlacitasRoy on Wed Mar 29, 2006 at 09:03:57 PM EST
Now, if there was a way I could figure out how to divert that income stream to me, I'd do something constructive with it- like trying to figure out how to fix the global warming problem.

Or at least get my entire Amazon wish list...


by Lorie Johnson on Wed Mar 29, 2006 at 09:14:16 PM EST

In keeping the congregations of believers riled up, the fear-mongers keep the level of outrage high, the introspective thinking low, and most important, the money flowing into the coffers. The emphasis on fear,  the creation of enemies and false crises, and the resulting anger and discord are the tools of the fear-mongers, and are used to often devastating effect in mainline churches being overrun by hardliners.

In Orwell's book 1984 he said that the way to keep the people under control was to have an ongoing war where the enemy was never defeated.  How ironic that these highly "religious" leaders use the same scare tactics and manipulation as the fictional government of Oceana which was completely intolerant of religion.  

by Ross Raymond on Thu Mar 30, 2006 at 11:39:51 AM EST

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