Beware the contagiousness of the U.S. Christian right

  • April 29, 2010
For most Canadians, I suspect, the alleged activities of the Michigan-based Hutaree militia amount to little more than fresh evidence of the occasional craziness we’ve come to expect from Canada’s neighbour to the south.

Canadians should not be so smug.

As you may recall, the Hutaree — it’s apparently a made-up word — is a band of self-styled “Christian warriors” whose enemies include just about everyone outside their fanatical right-wing circle: the police, the American government, NATO, the United Nations and everyone complicit in any way with what they call the “New World Order.” They believe themselves to be an armed vanguard of Christian resistance, preparing for a showdown with Anti-Christ.

It’s probable that nobody would have ever heard of the Hutaree had they confined themselves to posting rambling, fire-breathing manifestos on their web site and traipsing through the woods, playing war games. But they didn’t. According to the FBI, they had been plotting, at the time of their recent arrest, to murder a police officer, then attack the law-enforcement officials gathered for the funeral with improvised explosive devices. The end to be accomplished by this cowardly deed would be a general armed insurrection against the American government and the New World Order.

Of course, we could simply dismiss the Hutaree as a few lunatics, thank God they were caught before they did any real damage, and leave the matter there. But that response would be too glib. Hutaree extremism, after all, is only a virulent, vivid symptom of a much broader spiritual malaise that afflicts millions of people throughout Western societies and beyond.

This international sickness feeds on the anti-immigrant, nationalistic ranting of demagogues, talk-show hosts, bloggers and columnists. It sucks its strength from rankling resentment against government, the modern welfare state and the recipients of its largesse, the failure of capitalism to create consistent employment and prosperity and the apparent decline of Christianity in public life. You could sense its fever in the verbal assaults by right-to-life groups on U.S. President Barack Obama’s health-care reforms and on the American Catholic theologians and clergy who made much of the funeral of the late Senator Ted Kennedy.

You can feel the delusional power of this disorder each time some evangelical clergyman invokes the blessings of God on some bit of opportunistic, right-wing political propaganda coming from the Republican Party. A “Christian militia” such as the Hutaree is not a violent deviation from this general trending toward the right. It is rather an expression of it.

But unlike the Hutaree, whose screeds bristle with biblical quotations ripped out of context, the less exotic, more numerous members of the Christian Right in the United States don’t much bother to cite Holy Scripture any more. They are more likely to mouth the standard right-wing ideological jargon of “free enterprise,” “small government,” “fiscal responsibility” and other code-words for unbridled self-interest, greed and the abandonment of the poor and weak. If they did bother to take the Bible seriously, they would run smack into the many passages that thunder against injustice and proclaim God’s solidarity with the powerless and oppressed. If they  read the Gospels fairly, they would quickly find that the Kingdom Jesus announced is always coming toward us in the faces of the outcasts, the exiles among us, the dispossessed, the homeless and naked and hungry.

As far as I can tell, Canadian Christian culture is fairly free of the taint of Christian rightism, and certainly free of such violent manifestations as the Hutaree. Canadians seem to stumble along in our generally well-meaning way, paying for our modern welfare state without too many complaints, avoiding racial strife and resentment — though perhaps more out of habit and custom than from any genuine Christian concern for strangers.

But we should not become any more complacent than we are. American ideas and fashions and sentiments are constantly bombarding us via the mass media, the Internet, magazines and other sources. They are contagious. If Catholics are not to become infected by Christian rightism, we must be vigilant and continually attentive to the call of the Kingdom of God.

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