Nascent Extremist?

There's so much talk about "home-grown terrorists" these days, with the paranoid chatter surrounding Barack Obama's relationship to Bill Ayers. The truth is, a lot of us harbor extremism in our hearts. I've declared several times, recently, that "the whole Christian Church just needs to die." I could go into details about why I said that and what I think that might involve, and why I think the Holy Spirit might be leading us in that direction, but not right now. I'll accept that soundbytes may take the notion out of context and label me an extremist. So it goes.

That said, a few months ago I had a conversation with an old friend I hadn't been in touch with. I blogged about it on another blog I don't really update anymore, so here's the gist: Carl and I got together to catch up one Saturday night. We went to McMennamin’s brewpub and sipped ruby ale. Carl had a sort of glow about him, and looked healthier (and happier) than I remembered.

“My life is so good right now,” he said. “I have everything I could ever want, I only work four to six hours a day, I don’t own a car or have any expenses. I’m free, and I'm blessed!”

I envied the satisfied simplicity he was describing.

He continued, “But I’m almost thirty, you know? And I’ve already lived a more blessed life than most of the people in this world. And I’ve been thinking a lot about God lately…” Carl had never been overtly religious “… and I realize I have to do something that matters with my life. I can’t just get old and fat, enjoying what I’ve been given…”

He then proceeded to lament the world’s evils – particularly “evil men,” and the violence they commit against women and children in the world. Sounded reasonable to me. Then he said he was going to do something about it. That he was ready to die if he had to, “to do something that matters.” He would personally give his life to “stop evil men.”

It occurred to me that he’d been hinting at something that had snuck up without my initial notice. I asked, “Bro, you’re not saying you’re willing to kill, are you?”

Without hesitating he smiled and nodded. Then, “Here’s my plan: in the next couple of years I’m going to save up enough money to go somewhere – like South America or Africa, Darfur, you know – and just look for people who need protection. Maybe I’ll go to a well and watch as women come for water. And if anyone messes with them or tries to hurt them, I’ll stop it. And people will see, and they’ll tell other people, and they’ll come after me…” it was like listening to a Hollywood movie synopsis. He wanted to be a vigilante. No – he kept talking about dying. Carl wanted to be a martyr.

“All right. I understand the desire to fight for good. But tell me, what makes your plans different from those of an Islamic Terrorist?” I asked.“They kill civilians. And they have an agenda. I just want to stop evil people, and hopefully protect good people.”

I pressed, “But how can you judge who is evil and who deserves to die?”

“Well,” he answered, “I’ll watch and wait till they attempt an evil act. Then I’ll stop them. And you know, if you’ve got God on your side, you’re going to be covered. Because God is good, and if you're doing good, you're with God. You know, righteousness.” Again, his newfound spirituality was surprising, and disconcerting in this context. We went back and forth: me pressing him for justification and context, Carl responding with talk of holiness, justice and clear-cut language about good and evil men.

I never overtly condemned his plans. There was no point. He would have turned off the dialogue. And I had not had enough contact with him in the last couple of years to feel justified in serious debate. I had no desire to wound him, and didn't want to end our friendship. I only hoped to dent his worldview and raise enough questions to erode some of his principle arguments.

Is this what a militant Christian zealot might look like here in suburban America? Can it come from such benign surroundings and sheltered living (I’ve known Carl since high school, both of us raised in middle-income suburbs)?

In The Lion’s Pride, Leonard Sweet writes:
“Men and women of faith have mindlessly bought into a system in which it is morally right to threaten to do something immoral.” (pg. 27)

17th Century Theologian Jeremy Taylor wrote:
“But when a man does evil that good may come of it, or good to an evil purpose, that man does like him that rolls himself in thorns that he may sleep easily; he roasts himself in the fire…”

I don’t know if Carl is really capable of doing the things he says. He’s always been a philosophical eccentric. I love him for it! But he’s serious enough to say these things seriously. We ended the evening with a hug. I told him, "I love you," and I meant it.

I haven't talked much with Carl since that night a few months ago. We both went to a friends wedding, and chatted a little. He sounded less militant, but I couldn't be sure.

I wonder how many of us are zealots, still in the closet. I always worry when violence seems the fruit of faith. I know a lot of angry Christians...

1 comment:

nate said...

mmmmm....ruby ale!

I think there is a place for zealotry just don't ask me where or what the guidelines are.

I've felt like your buddy; going on 30, not unhappy, awesome wife, great kids, piece of crap car...but also feeling like my life needs to be more impacting some how. I think going to another country with civil disobedience/vigilantianism on the mind isn't well thought out, BUT very well intentioned.

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