No one is going to deny that a lot of fundamentalists* and evangelicals love what I call “crisis kitsch.” Think Y2K. And, of course, the perennial bestseller: the Rapture. My goodness, Hal Lindsey, author of the calamitously wrong Late Great Planet Earth, has made himself a wealthy man by pumping out hogwash about the ever-changing players on the Armageddon chess board. And John Hagee is certainly raking it in apace, growing his ministry. Want to sell some books? Want God to bless your finances? Predict the end of the current dispensation and use today’s headlines to do it.
And so it should come as no great surprise that the very real violence and threat of violence perpetrated against anyone who dares to razz Islam or its prophet (think The Satanic Verses, the Danish cartoons, the murder of Theo Van Gogh, etc.), not to mention the debates about what constitutes the role of Shariah law in the West, have also created a market for books and videos about the impending Islamicization of [fill in the blank].
Where should the line be drawn between genuine concern about infringements on free speech enjoyed by all Americans, including those who mock and would marginalize Christianity, and yet another product in the ever-growing phobia industry—Islamophobia? Depends on what your agenda is.
Brian McLaren, a leader in the emerging church movement, graces the pages of CNN Belief with this:
At a time when U.S. embassies are being attacked and when people are getting killed over an offensive, adolescent and puerile film targeting Islam — beyond pathetic in its tawdriness — we must begin to own up to the reality of evangelical Islamaphobia [sic].
Really? I would think this is the time to address the false hope of the Arab spring and the Muslim extremists who used a video no one had ever heard of as an excuse to kill people and burn stuff.
But that’s just me.
Evidence is accumulating that Innocence of Muslims was and remains a pretext for the violence in the Middle East, which almost certainly was premeditated and coordinated to coincide with the eleventh anniversary of 9/11. (Yes, we are talking about a video on YouTube here, not the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria.)
But McLaren has something else on his heart:
Many sincere and good-hearted evangelicals have never yet had a real Muslim friend, and now they probably never will because their minds have been so prejudiced by Islamophobic broadcasts on so-called Christian television and radio.
“And now they probably never will…” How sad. For McLaren. That he seems to be familiar with so many good-hearted Christians who are also such obdurate haters.
In recent days, we’ve seen how irresponsible Muslim media outlets used the tawdry 13-minute video created by a tiny handful of fringe Christian extremists to create a disgusting caricature of all Christians — and all Americans — in Muslim minds. But too few Americans realize how frequently American Christian media personalities in the U.S. similarly prejudice their hearers’ minds with mirror-image stereotypes of Muslims.
What a shame that many sincere and good-hearted Muslims have never yet had a real American friend, and now they probably never will…
But you get the point.
So who comprises this “tiny handful of fringe Christian extremists”? (Please note that the rioters who killed the ambassador to Libya were also deemed “extremists,” so there’s an equivalence being promoted here between those who make dopey films deriding Muhammad and murderers.)
There’s the ostensible mastermind of this year’s answer to Ishtar, Nakoula Nakoula, who is not an evangelical, but an Egyptian-born self-described Christian Copt. (And the Copts no doubt have genuine grievances of their own when it comes to Islam, something McLaren never so much as hints at. Nevertheless, the Holy Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Church has issued an official condemnation of this film.)
There’s the guy running interference for the film, Steven Klein, who apparently has close ties to the “Christian Right” in California and who now says he’s receiving death threats, which I doubt are coming from “fringe” Christians.
McLaren mentions neither of these guys in his piece.
And now there’s some outfit in California called Media for Christ, in whose offices the Middle East epic seems to have been shot.
This has to be what he’s talking about, no? Who knows? He never mentions it either. So who the hell is McLaren talking about? Terry Jones? His name never appears in the column. And even if that’s one of the characters McLaren has in the back of his mind, the World Evangelical Alliance has condemned Jones, whose pastorate consists of instructing 25 people in Florida that paper burns at a temperature of Fahrenheit 451. (And again, no one would know who even he was if the media didn’t love giving a platform to such jackanapes.)
Look, I have no doubt McLaren is telling the truth about the inflammatory e-mails and newsletters he receives. And I promise to stop sending them. (THAT WAS A JOKE. DON’T SEND ME INFLAMMATORY E-MAILS OR NEWSLETTERS.) Too many fundamentalists and evangelicals are uncritical and overly credulous when it comes to the most hysterical news. It’s almost as if they need an ever-present enemy to keep them properly motivated in their own faith. I get that.
What I don’t get is, even if a handful of knot-headed fundies did finance the film or provide the hardware, how is the violence in the Middle East their fault, which is the implication here, no? So they think the very worst about Muhammad and the origins of Islam. My goodness—there’s a film out there featuring the usual suspects arguing that Jesus never existed and that 2,000 years of Western history is predicated on a lie promulgated by the superstitious and their manipulators. Where’s the outrage?
Which is to say, I don’t think McLaren understands what it is he’s implying. Namely, that we tolerate the anti-Christian stuff because we’re better than the Muslims who are so easily excited to violence. But isn’t that what his emergent career has really been arguing against? That, no, we’re not? Cognitive dissonance alert.
If a Muslim in America or overseas had stumbled upon the Innocence of Muslims video and decided that turnabout was fair play and produced a film that mocked the Crucifixion, how many columns in outlets like CNN would we have seen about “fringe Muslim extremists” from McLaren (or his Muslim equivalent, if such exists) bemoaning how such propaganda makes it harder for evangelicals to like them?
But I guess that’s what makes Christians, or just some Christians, more enlightened than … who?
Yes, “they” — the tiny minority of Muslims who turn piety into violence — have big problems of their own. But the way of Christ requires all who claim to be Christians to examine our own eyes for planks before trying to perform first aid on the eyes of others. We must admit that we have our own tiny minority whose message and methods we have not firmly, unitedly and publicly repudiated and rejected. (emphasis mine)
Who is the “We”? Who does McLaren think he’s speaking for? Who are the leaders who should be coming forward and saying—what? Muslims have the right to practice their religion in the U.S. unmolested? Who’s saying otherwise? Is there a head fundamentalist hysteric who should be rallying all the other hysterics? Is that what Pat Robertson’s role has devolved to?
Should evangelicals be listening to the pope, at least when he’s not also inflaming Muslim sensibilities?
McLaren sums up:
To choose the way of Christ is not appeasement. It is not being a “sympathizer.”
The way of Christ is a gentle strength that transcends the vicious cycles of offense-outrage-revenge.
Had McLaren made this the real focus of his editorial — that Christians have unique resources for responding to bigotry and violence — and that the way of the Cross is not the way of “tawdry” films produced by felons and con artists, I’d have no quarrel with him. But let’s be honest: Few people read to the end of these editorials. They get the gist from the first few grafs and walk away either satisfied or annoyed. McLaren is no fool. This column was crafted to get just the right response from his real CNN.com “Faith” audience. Which I doubt is comprised of the people he’s taking to the woodshed.
Again, I am not denying that there’s a lot of crap produced by Fundamentalist/Evangelical Inc. Here’s how I fight it. I don’t buy it. I don’t support it with donations. I don’t attend churches where it’s hawked. But I also don’t see the value of painting a new bulls-eye on the hides of these generic “evangelicals,” and of using today’s headlines to do it.
But it seems to me that this video has become the pretext for another agenda. Which is to say, we all have books to sell and ministries to grow.
*What I mean by “fundamentalist” is something very specific, namely, anyone whose theology remains rooted in The Fundamentals: A Testimony to Truth.