John on May 28, 2010 at 8:32 am
Am I surprised that someone on PBS believes this? No. Am I surprised that they would say it? Yeah, a bit.
Here’s the transcript:
Ayann Hirsi-Ali: Somehow this guy got in his mind that killing other people would be a great thing to do and he would be rewarded for it in the hereafter…
Smiley: But Christians do that every single day, in this country.
Ali: Do they blow people up…
Smiley: Yes, Christians, every day…people walk into post offices…people walk into post offices, they walk into schools, that’s what Columbine was. I mean, I could do this all day long. There are so many more examples of Christians — and I happen to be a Christian, that’s back to this notion of your idealizing Christianity in my mind, to my read — there are so many more examples, Ayaan, of Christians who do that than you could ever give me examples of Muslims who have done that inside this country in which you live and work.
Ayaan Hirsi-Ali’s stunned reaction says it all, but let’s tease this out a bit.
First, you’ll notice that despite assuring us he could “do this all day long” he offers but one concrete example of Christians killing in the name of religion. And that example is Columbine.
I’m not at all sure where Tavis got this idea, but I can assure him that, while there was a specific religious belief that appears to have motivated Eric Harris, that belief was not Christianity. On the contrary, it was a type of atheism that explicitly despised Christianity.
Smiley offers two other vague examples. Walking into a post office and walking into a school (and presumably shooting people). On the first, Wikipedia offers a list of notable post office shootings going back to 1986. All of them seem to involve mentally unbalanced individuals who are angry about workplace issues. I’m not aware of any religious motivation in any of these incidents. It’s not even clear that any of these individuals were explicitly Christians.
As for school shootings besides Columbine, I’ve kept up on most of the other incidents that have made the news both here and abroad. The shooters, who often idolize Harris and Klebold, are disproportionately atheists. I’m not aware of any who were Christian with the possible exception of the New Life shooter, Matt Murray, who rejected his faith and seems to have seen his rampage as an act of revenge. That was 2007.
So on the one hand we have Nidal Hasan and the Christmas Day bomber and the Times Square bomber (the latter failures, thank God) all in the last few months. Where are the comparable acts of violence by Christians in this same time period? If Smiley is right, it should be easy to point them out. I would just note that Joe Stack, erroneously labeled the Tea Party terrorist, was anti-religion.
Now I’ll grant that there is an amazing amount of violence talking place in our society every day. There’s no doubt that some of the people involved are Christians, though as I’ve noted here much of the violence has nothing to do with faith. But even if a church-goer gets angry and shoots his landlord today, that’s not at all what Hirsi-Ali was talking about. She’s talking about religiously motivated violence. And when you get to this category, you can bring up the murder of Dr. Tiller, Dr. Slepian and Dr. Britton. Those murders are arguably religiously motivated. But that’s three incidents in 12 years, four if you include Eric Rudolph. And as already noted, that’s compared to three incidents of attempted mass murder (successful in once case) by jihadist in just the last six months.
Tavis Smiley needs to do some more research.
Update: I’d forgotten this initially, but it’s worth noting that even Sam Harris considers this type of equivalency between Islam and Christianity to be offensive “bulls*#t.” Speaking of bulls*#t, I think Penn Jillette might agree with Sam.
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