Teaching Christian Moderation

A retired Navy guy decided to treat Spencer’s reporting on the dangerously bad training the FBI is giving its agents by offering a justification for that training with his own theological argument for why Muslims are dangerous.

For my own part, I would like to draw a necessarily blurry line between what Mr. Ackerman and the FBI call “main stream” American Muslims and the “pious and devout.” Because the possibility never occurs to the former at least that to be a pious and devout Muslim necessarily means super-ordinating the will of God, as expressed to his Prophet 14 centuries ago in an inalterable text, and that this potentially places the believer in conflict with the values of modern Western Civilization. Most will find a way to live with that conflict. A notable few, weak-minded or otherwise deficient, have spectacularly failed to do so.

Mr. Ackerman clearly sees this as a civil rights issue rather than one of understanding the threat to the Republic – and you’d have to be willfully blind to think there is no threat, regardless of how dangerously you choose to characterize it. He sees the affirmative and bountiful evidence of Muslims in America who are good citizens and looks no further. Steeped in the culture of Western liberalism, he declines to even recognize this possibility: To the degree you are a good Muslim, as defined by rigorously following and promoting the entirety of the Koran (with Islam lacking as it does any centralized institution to contextualize those 7th Century scriptures in a 21st Century world, what other definition could there be?) it becomes increasingly difficult to be a good citizen.


The prophet Mohammed is to his faithful the perfect man and final prophet. He took earlier Abrahimic traditions and crafted out of them the perfect book, with his own life as a perfect example.

There are secular Jews, who identify with the morality of their ethnicity more than its scriptural beliefs. There are so-called “salad bar” Catholics, who pretend devotion in every other way but for whom a woman’s right to choose is inviolable – Teddy Kennedy routinely got their votes. But none among their respective faiths could call them truly pious and devoted. There are Muslims who are good citizens who point out to us the more radically dangerous among them, and those of Islamic (as opposed to Islamist) traditions who eschew the active “lesser” Jihad to await God’s inevitable ordering of the world under Sharia. But to be a truly pious and devout Muslim – of the Wahabist and Salafist sects in particular – requires the follower to accept as unquestioned the guidance and example of Mohammed, and act on them, straight down the line. It is useful to remember that “Islam” means submission to God’s will, and God wills the believer to act.

Now, you can object to his understanding of theology (and I do). But for the moment, pretend everything he says is true.

He’s still ignoring one of the reasons the FBI training makes our country less safe. (When I pointed it out to him, he ultimately dismissed me because I pointed out that according to the FBI, we can’t trust those who endorse torture, and therefore we shouldn’t trust the US Government).

In addition to training FBI counter-terrorism agents that pious Muslims are–must be–prone to violence, the FBI is also training counter-terrorism agents that pious Christians (and Jews) are moderates not prone to violence. Pious Muslims are radical and pious Christians are, by definition, moderate. In these training slides, there are some (non-pious) Muslims who are lumped in the “moderate” category, but no Christians put in the “radical” category.

This, of course, also trains FBI counter-terrorism agents not to be all that worried about Christians who appear to be pious. They won’t be radical and therefore won’t be terrorists. It trains FBI counter-terrorism agents not to look for terrorists among the fundamentalist Christian (or Catholic or any other Christian) community. It makes it far more likely that FBI counter-terrorism agents will miss the Hutarees and Scott Roeders of the world.

In response, he said that we don’t have to worry because these Christian terrorists weren’t good Christians.

They may claim to be “pious” but claiming does not make it so. “Thou shalt not kill” + “Turn the other cheek” = Piety.

Now, aside from the fact that Neptunus Lex is taking it upon himself to dictate what counts as pious or not, rather than the thousands of Christian preachers who might not see it Lex’s way (mind you, I prefer his vision of Christianity, it’s just that I’ve run into a lot of preachers who preach something other than “turn the other cheek”), his distinction between what Christian terrorists like Roeder “claim” and what they “are” is meaningless from an investigative perspective–and therefore is meaningless to the safety of our country. I mean, is Lex asking FBI counter-terrorism agents who have been trained to assume pious Christians are by definition moderates to make the effort to conduct a theological exam on Christians to determine whether they simply “claim” to be pious or are actually pious, according to Lex’s understanding of theology? And how are the faith communities that espouse or condone violence–whether it be the death penalty, America’s wars, or killing abortion doctors–going to feel when they learn that some guy named Neptunus Lex had deemed them not to be pious? I’m pretty sure this is why we’ve got a First Amendment in this country, but it appears to increasingly not apply to Muslims.

Now, thankfully, in the case of the Hutaree and some of the White Supremacist/Sovereign terrorists who also happen to appear to be pious Christians, the FBI has still investigated, though not always. Thankfully, the FBI didn’t make the same mistakes they made with Roeder. But given that non-Muslim terrorists remain a real threat to this country, training FBI counter-terrorism agents that pious Christians are by definition moderate is just as counter-productive as pissing off (and discouraging the cooperation of) the entire Islamic faith community with a theological claim that Islam is a radical religion.

17 replies
  1. earlofhuntingdon says:

    If I recall correctly, the “author” of this FBI training had no religious training, only undergraduate training in “law enforcement” and MS-level training in “security” studies. How, pray tell, would that author have thoughts on Islam, comparative religion and cultural studies, politics and professional training so discerning, so perspicacious that they should become the catechism of our counter-terrorist police force(s)? Whatever his thoughts, they are not about religion. They do reinforce the US good, THEM bad duality, the simplistic Bushian black/white, evil/good mentality that does so little to protect us but does so much to make us paupers in subservience to the security state. It makes one wonder whether this “author” has had his source materials written for him.

  2. earlofhuntingdon says:

    A quick read of materials on the civil rights movement and its confrontation with the American South, especially during 1950-67, would suggest that goodwill, peace, brotherly love and turning the other cheek are all things that devout white Christians sometimes honor only in the breach. One would come to the same conclusion from a quick survey of the millennia of religious wars in Europe – among ostensible believers in the word and godliness of a peasant village Jew. A superficial reading of the history of colonialism or slavery would yield the same result.

    Ignorant, anachronistic, xenophobic, assessments of Islam or Christianity, lacking in self-awareness, are not likely to reduce world, national or local conflicts. They are more likely impel them to greater heights, as well as enrich a few political predators. There’s an analogy in assessing responses to sexual predation in the Catholic Church. The issues that most need addressing aren’t religion or sex so much as they are predation and sociopathy.

  3. emptywheel says:

    @earlofhuntingdon: Well, it’s fundamentally a logical error: if bad then not-Christian. And it ignores the actual teaching of faith as it currently exists in this country. But oh well–that’s why we’re not protected well against Christian terrorists in this country.

  4. justbetty says:

    Neptunus Lex says, “It is useful to remember that “Islam” means submission to God’s will, and God wills the believer to act.” I suppose the author is familiar with this phrase from the Our Father: “Thy will be done.” Doesn’t seem all that different now, does it?

  5. Duncan says:

    If you’re going to quote “Turn the other cheek” then you should also remember “There are those who become eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven,” “If your eye leads you to sin pluck it out,” “I come to bring not peace but a sword,” “Anyone who does not hate his mother and his father and his own life cannot be my disciple,” “Any man who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her,” and “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire.” To say nothing of “This generation shall not pass away until all these things be fulfilled.” Just sayin’.

  6. klynn says:

    Wow, as a holder of a degree in theology, there are so many problems in the quote above theologically, I do not know where to begin. Retired Navy guy needs to obtain from writing about theology.

    Additionally, I knew he was full of crap in his opening graph. I did not have to read further. He pulls a stunt in writing that shows his motives of words to come.

    Navy guy opens with:

    “Spencer Ackerman is a bright young man, and a relentlessly driven journalist of the new media. I don’t share much of his politics, but I do admire his tenacity and the usual quality of his work. I don’t know how many times he has comforted the afflicted, but he’s done a fair bit of afflicting the comfortable: On his home blog he notes that by age 22 he had helped to get Scooter Libby indicted, and got the State Department IG to resign in disgrace.

    and then writes about Spencer:

    …he breathlessly wrote that the FBI is teaching its agents…

    If he really admires Spencer’s tenacity and quality of his work then he should have written just that. He does not admire Spencer’s work at all. That is the point he is making in his opening. He is killing the messenger through discrediting him.

    So, a reader can determine Navy guy is a ___________ (fill in with some that starts with “a” and ends in “e”.)

    Why even take his “theology” seriously. His opening graph makes it clear he cannot even trust his own insights or viewpoints.

  7. Ron Brynaert says:

    “But for the moment, pretend everything he says is true.”

    Time out….were we first supposed to pretend that everything Spencer Ackerman reports is true?

    Because that would be too absurd an exercise for me to partake in.

  8. Peterr says:

    @klynn: And a non-Christian god at that.

    Hmmm . . . those ancient Romans were rather warlike and prone to violence, even in the world of entertainment.

  9. earlofhuntingdon says:

    @klynn: Agreed. He was inelegantly using the rhetorical device Shakespeare gave Marc Antony in Julius Caesar, “I come to bury” and all that, a speech that turned a denial that Antony was praising Caesar into calls for the heads of his murderers. His implicit disdain for Spencer’s achievements, for his criticisms of authority, drips off the stiletto of his praise.

  10. earlofhuntingdon says:

    @emptywheel: I agree it is a mistake in logic, but not an inadvertent one. It is straightforward propaganda, an easily remembered, black and white catechism for our security forces. We, of course, are always the guys in the white hats. It would be cheaper and more fun if they made those guys and gals sit through John Wayne’s first thirty films. Except that the bad guys there were mostly white rich guys trying to get richer through stealin’, rustlin’ and land grabbin’. Now, it’s important that brown pagans be the bad guys, because we can find them “over there” as well as in Hamtramck, the Bronx and East LA.

  11. William Ockham says:

    I have a whole lot to say about this subject, but no time to say it. I would like to point out a couple of things about the “militancy considerations” graph (the second one above, with the timeline).

    The amount of deceit and distortion on that graph is just stunning. Start with the horizontal axis. Look at the distance between 1400BCE* and 3BCE (roughly 1400 years). Compare that to the distance between 610CE and 2010CE (also about 1400 years). If nothing else, that should be a clue as to the falsity of this thing.

    More importantly, the nice slope of the Jewish and Christian lines in totally false and that should be obvious to anyone with a passing acquaintance with history. There were essentially no recorded acts of specifically Christian violence before the conversion of Constantine in 312CE. After that, the amount of violence in the name of Christian piety waxed and waned. There was a substantial rise with the Reconquista in Spain leading into the 300 hundred years of crusades (roughly the 11th to 13th centuries CE). The Reformation/Counter-Reformation was the next big leap in Christian “pious” violence, although there was plenty of it in between.

    The Jewish story of religiously motivated violence is more complex, but similarly variable.

    Needless to say, the Islamic story is also more varied than the graph suggests (understatement obviously intended)…

    There is one overarching feature of all three religions’ dalliances with pious violence that is immediately clear when you spend any amount of time looking into the issue. That is, all three religions are much, much more prone to pious violence when religious fervor is deployed on behalf of a state, state-like entity, or organization with aspirations to statehood. Clearly, not all religiously-based states are excessively violent, but the very nature of states is that they lay claim to the legitimate use of force. Marry that to the certainty of the fervently religious and you have an explosive combination.

  12. earlofhuntingdon says:

    @William Ockham: Excellent. Thank you. In the marriage of the declining Roman state and the Catholic Church, for example, Rome became the church and the church became Rome. It enabled the church to make it state policy to erase from their world any other religion, especially the one they sprang from.

    The destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE was a routine function of colonial administration for Rome; it was the capital and religious home to a recalcitrant colony that dared resist the might of Rome’s legions. The destruction of heretics and Jews, however, became an obsession for post-Constantine Rome for those who imagined that the Second Coming could only occur when all living people were members of the church.

    A key point in the rise of violence is the marriage of religion and the state, the two principal systems of social organization and control. It magnifies the sanction, literally, the sanctifying, of what government to protect itself, as it magnifies the distance between that government and the people. The ability to suppress and repress them is the logical consequence.

    The Founding Fathers understood the capacity for religious fervor and exceptionalism to lead to bloodshed. They knew their history, the multiple, decades or centuries long religious wars Europe endured. Hence, their novel separation of church and state, which Republicans, at least, would dearly love to dismantle. They have, however, an alternative means of control that contemplates a lack of faith shared by many: the security state.

    • bmaz says:

      Earl, meant to add some stuff into that comment and got waylayed by some cops I needed to chat with on the phone. Here is the entry into the sweepstakes by Jack Goldsmith, and my guess is that it is pretty indicative of that vein of opinion, including that of the Yoo Tumor when he raises his ugly head. I think it fails miserably in a great many of the assumptions Goldsmith has to make to blithely frame and discuss as he has.

      Goldsmith, of course doesn’t show his work on several wild leaps he makes to frame the issue how he needs to to make his argument. Like there is any valid and independent finding that the “host countries” do not have a capable system; apparently we just get to unilaterally and subjectively declare that anywhere in the world. Apparently assumes that anybody we target is a legitimate AQAP. Apparently assumes that even groups like al-Shabaab have enough nexus to….something….to be targeted. All fantastical; but, there you have it.

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