Wednesday, September 12, 2007

A Challenge From N. T. Wright, The Bishop of Durham

Fine Line Between Belief, Behavior

It would be nice to have a clear sound-bite for this one, but I'm afraid the question needs a bit of redefining.

The phrase 'religious extremists' has come to mean (a) Muslim terrorists and (b) (in some quarters at least) Christian fundamentalists. But of course many Christians (like myself) who aren't fundamentalists believe that fundamentalism is a bizarre, distorted form of Christianity and 'our' form is (at least) a more authentic one.

In other words, lots (most?) of us believe ourselves to be the 'right' type of Christian -- so perhaps, in that sense, we too are 'religious extremists', even if the 'extreme' to which we go is that of a more reasoned, thought-out, and (hopefully) biblically faithful and socially responsible kind of thing.

I suppose all this is saying that the phrase 'religious extremists' is a way of liberal society doing with people it disapproves of more or less the equivalent of what they are doing to us, that is, labeling us in such a way that will then justify writing us off, whether with rhetoric or with bombs.

Of course, this doesn't justify what they do; to understand the complexities of a question isn't the same as excusing dehumanizing behavior of whatever sort. It is a way of saying, what I wish we could say to terrorists and others: Look, we take our religion seriously too, and it leads us to different conclusions from you. We might be wrong; so might you; but in the name of whichever god you invoke, would it not be a better thing for us all to talk together about the issues at the heart of our respective faiths than to try to achieve dominance by violence?

Unfortunately, they could quite well come back at us and say, 'You mean, like you westerners have been doing in Iraq and Afghanistan for the last five years?'

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