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Jack Ryan

When Is A Religion ‘Extremist’?

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Governments who support “religious freedom” over the equal human rights and dignity of others condone, and even endorse discrimination.

Screen Shot 2017-05-08 at 3.01.16 PM.png

Tim Rymel, M.Ed., Contributor Author | Educator | Dad

In April, Russia’s Supreme Court labeled Jehovah’s Witnesses an extremist religious group. “It effectively means that holding their beliefs and manifesting them is tantamount to a criminal act in Russia. They risk new levels of persecution by the Russian authorities,” said international legal counsel, Lorcan Price.

In America, most of us think of Jehovah’s Witnesses as that occasional Saturday nuisance. They interrupt our morning breakfast or afternoon chores to tell us their version of the Christian faith. They cheerfully drag their families along for quiet strolls through the neighborhoods, and pass out Watchtower Magazines for us to throw away later.

Annoying? Yes. Disruptive? Usually. But extremist? That depends.

Growing up in the Pentecostal faith, I was taught that Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, and Catholics were not Christians. Anyone who converted to those, or other non-mainstream Christian sects, was deceived by the devil. Though we didn’t use the word “extremist” to define those religions, we certainly saw them as a threat to the true people of God who were susceptible to “false teachings.”

Religion, to paraphrase Merriam-Webster, is generally a belief in the supernatural with a commitment to keep up the attitudes and practices surrounding that belief. In other words, religion is more than just a belief it is an action. For some, that means attending church on Sundays. For others, it means killing people for believing the wrong things, or believing in the wrong way.

The BBC noted that Al Qaeda’s purpose is to avenge “wrongs committed by Christians against Muslims.” The organization wants to implement a “single Islamic political leadership,” and drive away non-Muslims from areas it deems belong to the nation of Islam.

ISIS, on the other hand, is a group of Scriptural fundamentalists who believe all other Muslims are apostates. William McCants, director of the Project on US Relations With the Islamic World at the Brookings Institution, says that ISIS wants “to restore the early Islamic empire called the caliphate and eventually take over the whole world.”

Most of us can agree that Al Qaeda and ISIS are extremist groups. After all, they plan and implement terrorist attacks. They kill people, sometimes brutally. But is violence the only indicator of religious extremism?

It could certainly be argued that when a religion becomes violent it becomes extremist. But even Christianity, in it’s many definitions, has a sorted history, which is seldom talked about and often dismissed. From the Spanish inquisition to the convert-or-die tactics used on Native American Indians, Christianity has been used to commit horrific acts of violence throughout the centuries. Judaism, from which Christianity arose, recorded shocking details in the Torah of the slaughter of entire populations, including women, children, and animals.

Any religion, which purports to, alone, have all truth, and to, alone, have a direct line of communication to God, has a propensity toward extremist ideology. As University of Notre Dame Professor, Gary Gutting, points out:

Quote

The potential for intolerance lies in the logic of religions like Christianity and Islam that say their teaching derive from a divine revelation. For them, the truth that God has revealed is the most important truth there is; therefore, denying or doubting this truth is extremely dangerous, both for nonbelievers, who lack this essential truth, and for believers, who may well be misled by the denials and doubts of nonbelievers.

Any religion that denies the value and humanity of others is an extremist religion. Whether those actions lead to direct harm, or simply reduce protections through legislation, extremist ideology seeks to create one class that is believed to be more valued than another.

The grandstanding that fundamentalist Christians have done since marriage equality passed in 2015 has created a growing, and disturbing trend toward extremist Christianity.

The Oath Keepers, a vigilante Christian group, vowed to protect Kentucky County Clerk, Kim Davis, when she refused issuing a marriage license to a gay couple. They stated the judge in Davis’ case “needs to be put on notice that his behavior is not going to be accepted and we’ll be there to stop it and intercede ourselves if we have to.” And then, in an ironic twist to the story, the infamous Westboro Baptist Church, of “God hates fags” fame, picketed Kim Davis because of her multiple divorces and remarriages.

Since then, dozens of “religious freedom” bills have been introduced across the country with the sole purpose of reducing or eliminating protections for the LGBT community in housing, employment, benefits, and even where they can go to the bathroom.

The problem, of course, is that “religious freedom” is based on nothing more than a belief. Governments who support “religious freedom” over the equal human rights and dignity of others condone, and even endorse discrimination. In any such environment religious extremism is the outcome, threatening the very existence of democracy.

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"In America, most of us think of Jehovah’s Witnesses as that occasional Saturday nuisance" quoted by @JayWitness. (Interesting discussion by the way).

Well, here we have a paradox well known to philosphers. Can tolerance tolerate intolerance and survive? Or must the intolerant learn to tolerate the tolerant? An argument for unlimited or absolute tolerance makes no logical or Biblical sense to me. I mean, no-one should not have to tolerate tobacco smoke if they are a non-smoker.

Numbers 25:10-11 indicates a limit to tolerance from a Biblical perspective, modified later, for example, by statements such as that at Rom.12:17-19.

Christians are tolerant of the current state of affairs, as is Jehovah, but know that His tolerance has limits, and await His action as stated. Meanwhile, we are grateful where the attitude above prevails at present, but we will tolerate intolerance, opposition, and even injustice for as long as Jehovah does.

 

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12 hours ago, Eoin Joyce said:

"In America, most of us think of Jehovah’s Witnesses as that occasional Saturday nuisance" quoted by @JayWitness. (Interesting discussion by the way).

Well, here we have a paradox well known to philosphers. Can tolerance tolerate intolerance and survive? Or must the intolerant learn to tolerate the tolerant? An argument for unlimited or absolute tolerance makes no logical or Biblical sense to me. I mean, no-one should not have to tolerate tobacco smoke if they are a non-smoker.

Numbers 25:10-11 indicates a limit to tolerance from a Biblical perspective, modified later, for example, by statements such as that at Rom.12:17-19.

Christians are tolerant of the current state of affairs, as is Jehovah, but know that His tolerance has limits, and await His action as stated. Meanwhile, we are grateful where the attitude above prevails at present, but we will tolerate intolerance, opposition, and even injustice for as long as Jehovah does.

 

For me an interesting case in point is school or public prayer. Most, so-called, fundamental Christians believe it is their right to pray in public and for children to have organized prayers in schools. Upon occasion the discussion from the two groups, pro and con, can get quire heated. The pro group fails to see this as an endorsement issue and insist that their way is the only way. 

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Since I am retired and do nothing but write, I am putting together a short Ebook (which gets longer all the time) on the Russian ban, the letter-writing campaign, and things leading up to it. This one will be a freebee, unlike the others I have written that are on my profile banner – ‘free’ is more in keeping with the spirit of things. They should all be free, but unfortunately, writing is my sole gig. It’s either that or Mickey D. for me.


En route to gathering material, I came across a book entitled Dissent on the Margins, which is about the history of our people in Russia, published in 2014. The author, Emily Baran, is not a Witness, nor a cheerleader for us, but she gets it right with regard to her facts - she relates them accurately and impartially. She has been quoted on jw.org. Her book has given me much context, preventing what might be some clumsy missteps, and I recommend it. 


It’s pricey, but less so as an Ebook. And worth it, if you’re into history and non-biased commentary. Whereas my books are largely anecdotes and experiences, my ‘research’ mostly just nailing down the specifics of things or events I already know about or have recently come across online, she actually has done the academic kind. Her book is heavily footnoted with materials both from Witnesses here and in Russia, as well as government archives.
 

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On 5/8/2017 at 6:03 PM, Jay Witness said:

It could certainly be argued that when a religion becomes violent it becomes extremist. [says the Huffington Post]

Yes, perhaps you will not be pilloried if you make that point. Perhaps you can even be allowed to make the contrasting point that when a religion unfailingly avoids violence, it is not extremist.

From this week's Bible reading:

“this word came to Jeremiah from Jehovah, saying: “Take a scroll and write in it all the words that I have spoken to you … Perhaps when those of the house of Judah hear of all the calamity that I intend to bring on them, they may turn back from their evil ways, so that I may forgive their error and their sin.… Perhaps their request for favor will reach Jehovah, and they will turn back, each one from his evil ways, for great is the anger and the wrath that Jehovah has declared against this people… 


Baruch then read aloud from the scroll… in the hearing of all the people. 


… Then all the princes sent to…Baruch, saying: “Come and bring with you the scroll from which you read in the hearing of the people…Sit down, please, and read it aloud to us.” …Now as soon as they heard all the words, they looked at one another in dread, and they said to Baruch: “We must certainly tell the king all these words.”  
So the king sent … out to get the scroll, … Jehudi began to read it in the hearing of the king …  After Jehudi had read three or four columns, the king would cut off that portion with the secretary’s knife and pitch it into the fire that was burning in the brazier, until the entire scroll ended up in the fire that was in the brazier.  And they felt no dread; neither the king nor all his servants who heard all these words ripped their garments apart. Although [the princes]  pleaded with the king not to burn the scroll, he did not listen to them.”
….Jeremiah 36:1-25

Would the Huffington Post brand Baruch and Jeremiah extremists for rocking the boat? Or would they say the king was extremist?
 

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