Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

Mark Juergensmeyer is a distinguished sociologist of religion, but if this piece is an example of his reasoning, I don’t for the life of me know why. Here’s the core of the argument:

It is fair to call [Wisconsin mass murderer Wade Michael] Page a Christian terrorist since the evidence indicates that he thought he was defending the purity of white Christian society against the evils of multiculturalism that allow non-white non-Christians an equal role in America society. Like the Oklahoma City bomber, Timothy McVeigh, and the Norwegian militant, Anders Breivik, Page thought he was killing to save white Christian society.

Though there is no evidence that Page was a pious Christian, that is true of many religious terrorists. If the hard-talking, swaggering al Qaeda militants can be called Muslim terrorists, certainly Page can be called a Christian terrorist.


There’s plenty of evidence linking Page to white supremacism , but, as Juergensmeyer concedes, none pointing to his Christian piety.

Every orthodox Christian teaching with which I’m familiar condemns racism and white supremacism.  Consider, for example, this , from St. Augustine:

This heavenly city, then, while it sojourns on earth, calls citizens out of all nations, and gathers together a society of pilgrims of all languages, not scrupling about diversities in the manners, laws, and institutions whereby earthly peace is secured and maintained, but recognizing that, however various these are, they all tend to one and the same end of earthly peace. It therefore is so far from rescinding and abolishing these diversities, that it even preserves and adopts them, so long only as no hindrance to the worship of the one supreme and true God is thus introduced.

So Juergensmeyer’s argument boils down to this: if we can apply the world ‘Muslim’ to terrorists who come from countries that are predominantly Muslim, we can call white supremacists Christian. We don’t have to look too closely at the teachings of the denomination or of any religious leaders with whom the terrorists happen to be affiliated (or not), to say nothing of the individuals’ actual beliefs or practices (or complete absence thereof).

This is an incredibly sloppy argument, and its effect is pernicious.

Dear Reader,

Your charitable support for First Things is urgently needed before July 1.

First Things is a proudly reader-supported enterprise. The gifts of readers like you— often of $50, $100, or $250—make articles like the one you just read possible.

This Spring Campaign—one of our two annual reader giving drives—comes at a pivotal season for America and the church. With your support, many more people will turn to First Things for thoughtful religious perspectives on pressing issues of politics, culture, and public life.

All thanks to you. Will you answer the call?

Make My Gift

Comments are visible to subscribers only. Log in or subscribe to join the conversation.

Tags

Loading...

Filter First Thoughts Posts

Related Articles