Confronting Extremism

January 8, 2018

A recent conversation with a fundamentalist Christian has left me  wondering why it seems we fail to recognize the dangers of extremism?  Americans expect Muslims to call out radical Islamic extremists, but we seem unable or unwilling to do the same in the case of Christian extremists.  Christians who deny the reality of climate change, who believe that humans have a God-given right to exploit the earth no matter the consequences pose a danger to society.  I think it’s time we talk about that.

Most reasonably intelligent people I encounter are comfortable talking about how human over-consumption is harming our planet and threatening our future.  But we are less comfortable talking about people whose extreme religious views (and the politicians they support) are undermining our country’s  response to climate change.  What do we say to Christians who mistakenly use the Bible to justify exploiting the Earth regardless of the damage?

Fundamentalist Christians believe God put humans in charge, and this means that we can exploit the earth and animals without restraint.   They do not believe God wants to preserve life on earth because Jesus is going to return on Judgement Day to destroy the earth and take true believers to Paradise.  Therefore, there is no reason to change our consumption or protect other life on the earth.  I think this is an extreme and dangerous view, and I do not believe Jesus ever taught his followers to think this way.

Many Christians, not only Catholic, were inspired by Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home.” summarizes his comments:

“The earth, which was created to support life and give praise to God, is crying out with pain because human activity is destroying it. All who believe in God and all people of good will have an obligation to take steps to mitigate climate change, clean the land and the seas, and start treating all of creation – including poor people – with respect and concern.  A lack of respect for creation is a lack of respect for God who created all that exists.  The pope decries centuries of exploiting the earth, exploiting other people and acting as if the point of human life is to buy and consume as much as possible.  While acknowledging science is not the Catholic Church’s area of expertise, Pope Francis says ‘a very solid scientific consensus’ points to global warming and indicates ‘human activity’ has seriously contributed to it, threatening the planet and all life on it.”

I don’t need to be Catholic or Christian to be inspired by Pope Francis.  We should not ignore the environmental damage humans are causing or be unwilling to change.  It would be one thing if only extremists were affected by climate change, but unfortunately when politicians with extreme religious views take over our government, we are all paying the price.

So why aren’t more Christians speaking out against Christian extremism?  Why does it not shock our sensibilities and motivate us to speak out when Christians extremist claim to follow the teachings of Jesus, yet support political candidates who profess hatred, racism, bigotry, and misogyny?  Why are good Christians unwilling to to criticize them?

I remember how difficult is was for me at the age of 20 to renounce the Lutheran church and declare to my family I was no longer Christian. It was difficult.  They took it very hard.  But at the time, I felt it important to take a stand against the belief that Christianity is the only true religion, the only path to God.  I no longer believed it to be true, and I couldn’t support it.  It wasn’t until I started reading Thomas Merton and Richard Rohr that I once again found common ground with deeper Christian truths.

Some people give up Christianity by simply not going to Church, preferring to live in the closet, so to speak. Some come out and declare they are agnostic or atheist.  Atheists do not believe in theism, but it does not mean they do not believe in morality.  Some people find ways of exploring spirituality that have nothing to do with formal religion, for example nature based spirituality.

In searching for my own spiritual path I studied many of the world’s religions.  I found at their core that the world’s major religions teach many of the same truths, but in different wording.  It’s true that spiritual experiences can lead to certainty, and we think “my path” must be right.  Our ego fixes onto ideas we think are true.  If others don’t agree they must be wrong.  But as Franciscan Friar Richard Rohr says, “we have to find our ego before we can give it up.” Letting go of ego and getting past narrow thinking is part of maturing into adulthood.

If you listen, you will hear many Christian extremists use a litmus test to determine which political candidate they will support.   Is the candidate against abortion?  Are they against homosexuality?  Do they side with authoritarian actions by government?  These positions are not those of the majority of Americans; they are the positions of parochial extremists.

When asked what he thought about homosexuals, Pope Francis replied “Who am I to judge?”  Indeed, who are we to judge?  Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.  Remove the log from your own eye before pointing at the splinter in another’s eye.  If one wants to follow the teachings of Christ, it requires tolerance and self-reflection as Jesus taught and practiced.

When our country is governed by religious extremists, it weakens separation between church and State.  An ultraconservative Republican controlled Congress and Administration that is allowed to select Supreme Court Justices who favor ultraconservative views places our freedoms in danger.  Our vote and our ability to choose the government we want is weakened when we lose economic power.  Republicans who cut taxes for the wealthy are putting more power in their hands.  Money in politics only benefits those with money.  When our country is governed by the wealth holders, they have little concern for those without it.  How can self-proclaimed Christians readily support enriching the wealthy while exploiting low and middle income people, which is directly contradictory to the most fundamental teachings of Jesus?

I don’t want to be governed by people who proudly display hatred, bigotry, racism, or misogyny.  I’m quite sure the Bill of Rights wasn’t meant to only favor white, wealthy, male Christians.  The framers of our Constitution separated church from state to protect our right to religious freedoms and to protect us from religious zealots.  I support every person’s right to worship as they chose.  I do not want extreme religious views controlling any part of our government.  Fundamentalist religious views should play no role in lawmaking or governance.  Government in a free society should be protecting and supporting the rights of everyone and to ensure that the perceived rights of one group do not harm another group.

In confronting Christian, Islamic, or any other type of extremism perhaps we need to think about religion as worship and reverence.  Religion is the path we choose to practice our reverence.  God, or whatever label we chose for that which is unfathomable, is the infinite mystery yet to be revealed.  That is why we search.  That is why we believe.  That is why we suffer when others suffer.  Reverence for life has no place in condemning, judging, or exterminating other’s who believe differently.

What has become clear to me watching politics this year is that far too many ultraconservative Republicans are determined to double down on fossil fuels, continue business as usual economic growth, ignore the warning signs of our changing climate, and to make war on any Americans who stand in their way.  Such actions pose a clear threat to our democracy, stability in the world, and all life on our planet.

It is time to recognize Christian extremism for what it is: the deplorable promotion of hatred, bigotry, racism, and misogyny in the name of Jesus.  It is time to remind politicians that the Constitution separates church and state.  It’s time to make our voices heard and our votes count.


Teaser photo credit: By Michael Tracey from Ashevillle, NC, USA – Street Preaching at Bele Chere 2007, CC BY 2.0,

Jody Tishmack

Jody has a Bachelors Degree in Geology, a Masters Degree in Soil Science and a Ph.D. in Civil Engineering. She developed a composting and soil manufacturing process at Purdue University in 1996, which has grown into a commercial business called Soilmaker; selling compost, organic soil, and composted mulch. Her family lives in an earth-sheltered home powered by solar PV energy, where she maintains many of the values and traditions she learned as a child. . She is a regular contributor to Anima/Soul.

Tags: American politics, building resilient societies, extremism, religion