Christian Identity

Note 1: An Ultimate Ideology. 8/16/99

Initially I wanted to resist the temptation to taint my own thinking and these pages with any reference to the lunatic fringe of radical right-wing Christian theology, not because it would be unfair to include it in an evaluation of Western religious ideology, since whatever surfaces there is fair game for a hunter like myself, but because any truly virulent racial hatred of the kind one encounters in the Christian Identity Movement, for instance, which is the branch I've been looking at in particular, really does have the capacity to infect anyone who is exposed to it with the same kinds of illogical and slipshod argument that characterizes most of its discourse. "You are what you read" would be one way of putting it. What has pushed me out on this ground, of course, is the recent emergence of individuals bent on pursuing the ideology of racial hatred in the real world of flesh and blood. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, Benjamin "August" Smith, and most recently, Buford O. Furrow, Jr., are the names of the people I mean to indite for their crimes against people of color, even if some of them (Harris and Klebold) may not have targeted such people specifically as objects of their murderous rage. The ideology underlying that rage and its manifested social action is not consistently self-identical with a single, universal, and monolithic belief system either but does seem to have several unifying themes that spring from the familiar ground of the Myth of Eden, as we shall see.

Entering this field of ideology carries with it other kinds of risk that must be addressed from the beginning, openly and honestly, if there is to be any hope of coming to a reasonable evaluation of the ground that needs to be covered. Putting racially motivated hate-speech into its proper context is a difficult task because one always runs the risk of seeming to blame innocent people for the crimes of unreasonable passion that are committed by marginal members of a group to which the innocent claim allegiance. Arguing that Buford Furrow acted as a typical member of the Christian community when he attempted to murder Jewish children in a day-care center would be an act of "racial" prejudice as egregious as the one he committed when he pulled the trigger of his assault rifle. An equally unacceptable course to follow, however, and one which seems an automatic reflexive response for most Christians when confronted by the murderous rage of someone who claims to be one of them, would be to pretend that the murderer is an anomaly, or worse, a heretic, who does not share any ground whatsoever with the more reasonable members of the community who have so far managed to resist the impulse to the darker aspects of the belief system they share with the criminal in their midst. As unfortunate, and as unfair, as it may seem to you to be, Buford Furrow really is what he claims to be--a Christian.

Buford Furrow is not an anomaly; he is a realization of the doctrine Christianity embraces and spreads throughout the world. He is not a heretic; he is as orthodox in his belief as any Christian can be. The only difference between him and any other Christian in America is that he was unable to restrain his impulse to genocide and acted out everything he had learned in the course of his life from the community that gave him birth. Let me take this opportunity to define a term I have been prone to use in this discourse: when I say that someone is a "good Christian and true," a term which I hope has offended you, I was always already referring to Buford Furrow and everyone else in his group of radical Christian ideologues who murder in the name of Sacred Love everyone they have been inspired by God to hate. If you do not fall into this group, then I am not talking about you when I refer to "good Christians and true"; but, make no mistake, I am talking about Christian ideology when I do it. Put differently, if you do not murder the other out of religious zealotry, you are not a Christian.

Christianity teaches, on the strength of the absolute truth of the divinely revealed Word of God, that the unbeliever has been, and always will be, condemned to eternal death by Jesus Christ at the Second Coming. This is a foundational belief of Christian ideology. It is expressed again and again in the Bible. It is Biblical Truth. It is expressed again and again in the writings of the early church Fathers. It is an article of Faith in the Middle Ages. It is true in the Renaissance, in the Reformation, in the Enlightenment. It is true today. When one of your own takes it upon him/herself to enact the teachings of the Gospels, as Buford Furrow did when he snapped the trigger on his assault rifle, the one that "good Christians and true" everywhere insist he has a God-given right to possess, you recoil with outrage and horror that he has done what his Gospel teaches him to do. As I write this sentence, I already hear the rationalizations, the ones that native Americans have been listening to for five hundred years: but he is insane and he is not one of us. Of course he is insane and of course he is one of you.

Put in different terms: anyone who believes that a non-existent Savior of humanity is going to murder, and condemn to eternal oblivion, everyone who does not believe in His Godhood at the Second Coming cannot be characterized as anything but insane. Millennial passions and hopes notwithstanding, nothing like a Second Coming is ever going to happen on this earth unless "good Christians and true" can find a way to bring it home to all of us who do not share their belief in a murderous rage against the other that they attribute to God and not, as it should be, to themselves.

Cynthia Tucker, a columnist I always find reason to respect, in a recent column (Times-Picayune, Sunday, August 15, 1999), entitled "Christian right must speak out on hate," has urged Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell to speak out against "the fringe haters whose distortions of Christianity seek to defend racist murders." She goes on to lament the fact that not nearly enough "good" Christians seem to be offended by the ideology of hate that is being spread by groups like Christian Identity: "Furrow may be nuts," she says, "but his race-baiting, Christianity- perverting ideology is increasingly finding adherents who are not nearly as crazy. You'd think more good Christians would be offended." I have no quarrel with Tucker's sentiments but her naive perception of Christian ideology seems a case of the shoe not knowing the foot that wears it. While the easiest thing in the world to do is characterize Buford Furrow as "crazy," and be done with him and the ideology he promotes with his actions, the much more difficult path to follow is to trace out the lines of reasoning he, and his kind, use in the constitution of their ideological universe. Tucker's column is one reason I have decided to pursue this line of inquiry here, even against my will, as it were, and certainly in violation of my better judgment, because repeating even a particle of Robertsonian and Falwellian ideology cannot help but promote it in the minds of those who have studied their Gospels well and thoroughly with the intent of finding justification for their hatred of the other.

A second, and preeminently connected, goad to my decision to take up this issue is the recent determination by the State Board of Education in Kansas to discontinue the requirement that students there be exposed to the Theory of Evolution in favor of the Christian Right's insistence that "creationism" is a better, more truth- preserving ideology than a scientific point of view can ever hope to be. As I have made abundantly clear in this document, "creationism" lies, and lies, at the very ground of the ideology that creates the potential for racial hatred, for race-baiting, and for genocide in the first place because it always already justifies the emergence of hierarchical structures in society which place the "good" (white) in positions of dominion over the "evil" (colored) races.

This ideology is the ground of Christian Identity, as we shall see, and anyone who believes its adherents came upon the notion out of the blue has not taken the trouble to learn the first lessons of what it means to be a "good Christian and true." The irony of the fact that Kansas has taken this step back toward the codification of Christian ignorance cannot be lost on any person of color, since it was The State Board of Education of Kansas V. Brown that finally ended the racism of segregation in this country in the first place. That Kansas can now claim to be a place that has righted the wrong committed in that Supreme Court decision by reverting to "creationism" is neither an accident nor a coincidence. My only question is one of whether the people of Kansas were duped, or whether they knew exactly what their State Board of Education was doing when it reinscribed the ground of racial prejudice and made it the law of the land they originally stole from native Americans. Teaching children the lessons of hierarchical structure, and especially teaching them that God will condemn you to eternal death if you do not practice it, only insures that Buford Furrow will walk among us with his assault rifle again and again.

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