Anders Breivik. Murderer. Terrorist. Brother in Christ.
There’s a certain conversation that repeats itself when the subject of my past in Ireland comes up in conversation. What happened in Omagh when I was ten isn’t the sort of thing that comes up casually, but neither is it something I keep hidden under the bed. The abridged conversation goes something like this.
Me: My home was rocked by attacks and violence by Christian terrorists for years, including one that I was present at as a boy.
Christian: There’s no such thing as Christian terrorists.
Me: Actually, there are, the ones in Ireland were both Catholic and Protestant.
Christian: They were not true Christians. True Christians do not murder other people.
Me: But they went to church, confessed Christ, referred to themselves as Christians-
Christian: They were not TRUE Christians! Don’t confuse people who call themselves Christians with those who actually are!
This is one of the most common exchanges I have encountered, and it is also one of the most obnoxious. In fact, the only conversation I find more annoying usually begins with ‘Oh, you’re from Ireland? I’m Irish too!’ But we’ll save that for a later post, probably around St. Patrick’s Day.
On some level, this is perfectly understandable. For many Christians, their religious identity is more than just a trait. It’s more than being blue-eyed, a cheese connoisseur, or a member of the Springfield Ladies’ Auxiliary. It’s often more than being black, Asian, American, Kiwi, or any other philosophical, racial, or national identity. Most Christians will list their religion as the number one defining feature of their own identity, the thing that gives them purpose, brings meaning, defines them as who they are. The sacred nature of Christianity, like any religion, adds additional fervor to their defense of the elite club of the elect to which they belong. Therefore, any member of the Christian club who is a potential embarrassment to the whole is immediately discarded, disowned, disavowed from club based on an arbitrary standard of what an individual considers to be a ‘true Christian.’
Talking about how Christianity is a religion of peace-lovers and bringers? Don’t mention Anders Breivik, the monster who massacred more than seventy young people a couple years ago. Despite the fact that he referenced his Christian faith hundreds of times in his 1,500 word manifesto and called himself ‘100%’ Christian,’ he wasn’t a true Christian.
Having a conversation about how the gay agenda in America is persecuting Christians? Don’t talk about how Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, the men who murdered Mathew Shepard in Laramie, were both active members of their congregations. And don’t mention Stephen Ray Carr, the Christian who murdered lesbian Rebecca Wight. They weren’t true Christians.
Is a Christian talking about how Islamist terrorists are waging war against Christians and the West? Don’t mention the National Liberation Front of Tripura, the IRA and the UVF of Ireland, the Ku Klux Klan, the Iron Guard of Romania, the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda, Timothy McVeigh or the Army of God in America. All of them with Christian creeds, all of them confessing Christ, all of them using similar tactics to the Islamist terrorists half a world away, and yet none of them true Christians.
See the problem yet?
It’s a little something called the ‘No True Scotsman’ fallacy. As those who are educated in debate know, the No True Scotsman fallacy makes a universal claim about a general group of people, usually something in the positive. When presented with a counter-claim that refutes the original, the fallacy rejects the counter-claim based on an unsubstantiated or subjective standard so that the original statement can still stand, rather than conceding to the evidence presented and modifying or rejecting the universal claim. The example used to illustrate is generally thus:
Person 1: No true Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge.
Person 2: I am a Scotsman and I put sugar on my porridge.
Person 1: Then you are no TRUE Scotsman!
This is of course a ridiculous claim, that a person who was born in Scotland cannot claim his national identity because of his dietary preferences. But how more ridiculous is it when the same standard is applied to religion, specifically Christianity?
Christian: No true Christian murders other people.
Me: The Christians in my home murdered thousands of my people.
Christian: Then they are not TRUE Christians!
By rejecting every single instance where a Christian does something embarrassing, horrific, or monstrous, the Christian country club can maintain that they hold a moral superiority over the rest of us. By labeling murderers, terrorists, rapists, and racists among the ‘unbelievers,’ they are casting the very worst of their own community as part of the group they philosophically and religiously oppose. In this way, the devout can keep the virtue of their claim that Christianity is the highest moral code in the land and that all evil in the world comes from a rejection of Christian principles, even as every single scrap of evidence screams the truth that much of the world’s evil comes from embracing the values laid down in the Bible, not rejecting them.
The Westboro Baptist Church standing on the curbside, screaming that fags will burn in hell? They’re simply citing 1 Corinthians 6: 9 -10, which affirms their claims one hundred percent. The Christian militias in Africa who massacre Muslims? They’re following Deuteronomy 17: 2 -5, which demands the execution of the worshippers of false idols. The man who uses his own underage daughter as a sex slave? Exodus 21: 7 – 11 is God’s specific affirmation of his right to do so. Who are you to say that he’s not a true Christian for following instructions that God himself gave?
The strange thing about all of this is that when the situation is reversed, when you turn to a Christian and cite their own wrongdoings and evil deeds back at them, you will never, not once find a Christian who is willing to admit that they might not be a true Christian. It is one of the areas where Christian hypocrisy is displayed in all of its stagnant glory, where its stench reeks to high heaven (no humour intended). You see, the very principle of the Gospel in Christianity is that all men and women are sinners. All are wretchedly evil. That there is not one righteous man in the eyes of God, not one. And that’s why Jesus came down to die on the cross, so that Christians would be absolved of their sins and not have to worry about the evil they commit against themselves, their families, and the rest of us.
Here is the curious thing about it. You’ll find an invisible line, a sort of glass ceiling, between what is forgiven sin and what disqualifies someone from being a true Christian. This woman cheated on her taxes! Well, that’s why Christ died on the cross, to forgive her of her sins. That man is fighting a drug addiction! With the strength of his Savior, he will overcome his sins. That husband beats his wife in anger! He has a lot to repent for and some serious sins he’s struggling with, but Jesus died for even the worst of sinners, people who would repulse the rest of us.
Those Christians are lynching black men and Jews, or blowing up car bombs, or gunning down children in the name of their god! They’re not true Christians! They’re not true Christians! You will know them by their fruits!
Tell me, someone. Preferably a Christian. If all sin is worthy of eternal damnation, why are there some deeds that preclude you from the salvation that your church is offering? If the only precursor to being a Christian is believing in your heart and confessing with your mouth that Jesus is Lord (Romans 10:9), why then are you throwing the people who need the salvation you preach the most under the bus? What makes their sin any worse than yours? Why is it that if you Google “Gays can’t be Christians,” you’ll get millions of hits of clergymen claiming that an entire subgroup of people are disqualified from your Gospel? And why, why, why do you think that the rest of us take you seriously when your moral superiority depends on arbitrary standards that change with every single one of the 40,000 different denominations and synods that exist in your church?
If there is one defining feature I use to identify myself, it’s that I’m an Irishman. And as such, I face the same dilemma that Christians do concerning certain members of my identity group. The men who killed thousands of us? Christians, yes but they were also Irish. The men who let Savita Halappanavar die on the operating table? Irish. The rabble who start riots in Belfast every year or so? Irish. They are a part of me, my people, my very identity. And as such, it is a call to arms, to fight against those who mark what it means to be Irish with their evil and cruelty. It’s an incentive for me to speak out, to act, to make sure what has been done by my countrymen does not happen again. It is not helpful or truthful to say ‘No true Irishman is a terrorist, or let’s miscarrying immigrants die, or vandalises property.’ Because not only is it not true, it destroys any credibility I have and any chance I have of making a difference.
It’s time to face the truth. It’s not that people doing horrific things are not true Christians. It’s that you wish they weren’t. Because it’s easier to label them as us, the non-believers, than it is to clean up the rot inside the heart of your religion.