The life of evangelical churches and their spiritual leaders has been portrayed in some recent films and series. Can they help us start conversations?
The extreme political right has simply developed a compelling narrative that weaves a dystopian mythology around the themes of ethnic dilution, conspiracy, migration, religious terrorism, and resource scarcity.
2083: A European Declaration of Independence is not a widely read nor a well-known text. It was distributed electronically on the 22nd July 2011, the same day that a 36 year old Norwegian murdered 77 people, including 69 participants of a Workers Youth League Camp in Norway.
Its author, Anders Breivik, espoused a far-right, nationalist extremism that rejected multiculturalism, Muslims, ‘cultural Marxists’ and feminists. In it he declares himself ‘100 percent Christian’ though not ‘excessively religious’ and ‘not necessarily in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and God.’ He believed that only the ‘Christian cross’ would unite Europe in opposition to Islam.
Breivik’s views would be considered by most to be extreme and the manner in which he was prepared to take the lives of others to publicise his Declaration leaves one searching for words to express the enormity of his crimes.
FORMS OF EXTREMISM
Breivik’s was a peculiarly individual, narcissistic, form of nationalist extremism. More commonly, nationalist extremism tends to be collective, usually focussed around a particularly charismatic and persuasive leader. In order to try and understand extremism, it’s important to understand the forms it tends to take. It’s not uncommon to boil these down to a form of political extremism.
However, in most contemporary examples, national, ethnic, or religious extremists gain political influence or power and use this to target those of other religions, ethnicities, and/or nationalities. The extreme political right has simply developed a compelling narrative that weaves a dystopian mythology around the themes of ethnic dilution, conspiracy, migration, religious terrorism, and resource scarcity.
SIX CHARACTERISTICS OF EXTREMISM
Whilst contemporary forms of extremism are largely motivated by either ethnic or religious convictions, are there nevertheless things that can be said that are of a general nature about extremism? In general, extremist movements reflect most of the following characteristics:
A. Convictions and objectives that are claimed to be obvious to all, irrespective of one’s personal or subjective opinions. By definition these lie at, or beyond, the edges of what is usually considered to be politically or religiously acceptable by the majority.
B. A totalising view of the world in which notions of ‘purity’ and right conduct will guarantee a better way of life for all. This forms the basis of an ideological worldview that brooks no alternatives.
C. The perception that there is a dangerous and conspiratorial enemy with evil intent and a wide reach. One’s enemy has typically corrupted minority groups and these must be resisted and eradicated.
D. An unyielding refusal to compromise or modify their views or their judgement about their enemies. Extremists refuse to see any value in the opponent’s position and religious extremists certainly can’t because they’re driven by convictions concerning divine edict.
E. Goals sought must be achieved immediately and in full and, if necessary, this involves a willingness to use extreme measures (violence, protest, limiting the rights of opponents, etc.)
F. Organization into movements that will work towards the shared objectives. Such movements provide the necessary moral legitimation, especially of the violent means necessary to compel compliancy or punish divergence.
Charles Taylor (’Nationalism and Modernity’ in Robert McKim and Geoff McMahan, eds, The Morality of Nationalism, 1997, p51) concludes that nationalist extremists, above all else, issue a ‘call to difference in the face of homogenizing forces’ (Breiviks characterised this as ‘Eurabia’) that are global in nature and which assume that the nationstate is deeply implicated in various global conspiracies.
Gerard Delanty (Community, 2nd Ed., 2009, p151) adds that the success of nationalism lies in its capacity to imagine forms of community that nurture national belonging, commonality, independence and selfdetermination; those things that are perceived to have been destroyed by nationstates, undermined by political parties, and weakened, we might add, by Islamic migration.
Far-right nationalists resist Islamic presence in Europe because they imagine it as a globalising tendency that is rooted in forms of trans-sovereignty that undermine the nation-state. Similarly, nationalist Eurosceptics are frequently convinced that the European Union is wittingly or unwittingly facilitating its own undoing by failing to regulate the entry of Muslims.
To resist these globalising tendencies, most nationalisms use alternative narratives that are mythological. These can include ‘frontier’ myths (common, for example, in the USA); ‘sacred origin’ myths (such as the primordial Magyar myths of the far-right parties in Hungary); ‘heroic’ myths (such as the ANZAC mythology that is so important to contemporary Australian identity); ‘creation’ myths (common among the indigenous peoples of the world); and myths of ‘manifest destiny’ (again including, though not limited to, the USA).
Of course, I’m very aware that writing in this way will offend some of my friends in countries where these myths are credited with greater historical veracity than I may appear to concede. This fact alone illustrates the power of myths; their capacity for mobilising public opinion, galvanising action, and ultimately motivating nations to terrible deeds.
Evangelicals may choose on occasion to express solidarity with their country or their Government and it is not always wrong to do so. However, they are well advised to keep in mind the counsel of British theologian, Esther Reed,
“It is not possible to work with an account of […] nation and nationhood […] if this means a moral partiality or politics of superiority that would deny to others the same human rights as those of its members, is marked by hostility towards and suspicion of other nations, and condones the violence and destruction that results from these attitudes.”
This perspective reflects a biblical theology of the nations that portrays them as the pinnacle of God’s creative acts (Gen 10:32), laments their incredible hubris (Gen 11:4), declares them to be at the centre of God’s missionary purposes (Gen 12:2-3), that excludes not a single nation from the body of Christ (Rev 6:9), and which concludes with an eschatological picture of the nations in submission and under judgement (Rev 19:15).
Christian allegiance can only ever ultimately be to Christ. All other forms of loyalty are temporal and will pass away, finally exposed as pale reflections of the real thing by the Judge of every tribe and every nation.
Darrell Jackson is Senior Lecturer in Missiology at Morling College in New South Wales, Australia.
This article originally appeared in the October 2015 edition of Vista magazine.