Let’s face it, extremists make good news copy. There’s no glamour to be had writing about all the wonderful stuff that Anywheresville Baptist Church do for the lonely senior citizens in their community, when you can write about other Baptist nut-jobs, picketing a funeral with posters that say ‘God hates fags.’ Yes, God possibly does have a poor opinion of smoking, but really, there’s a time and a place to be making your point about that. What? you mean fags as in an ancient slang term to refer to gay people, because some bits of the the Bible talk about homosexuality as a bad thing? Let’s consult the one charged with coming to earth, dealing with our sins and showing us how to live out that life in practice. Jesus. What does Jesus have to say about gay people? Oh dear, nothing at all. But he does have this handy, one-size-fits-all bit of advice for any budding placard-wavers out there: “Do not judge or you too will be judged. For in the same way as you judge others, you will be judged…” Matthew 7: 2. I am, of course, looking forward to the time when placard wavers will be smacked over the head repeatedly; knowing full well that my own fate will be to suffer sarcasm for all eternity.
Extremism in whatever faith, undermines the vast majority of believers who inhabit the middle ground. They want nothing more than to make life better for those around them and live in line with their beliefs. But the only press their faith gets focuses on those who have messed up, or whose interpretation of certain passages makes them objects of ridicule, or worse, people to be feared.
This week, I’ve been reading two things about extremism in faith. Firstly, the case of Sara Ege, a British Muslim who was found guilty of killing her seven year old son Yaseen, because he failed to learn his Koran by heart. I cannot make sense of why she did that. However, Matthew Syed, writing in The Times on Saturday 12th January, commented that he thought she was acting out of love, “albeit a twisted kind of love.” She wanted the best for her son; but when he failed to meet her standards she lashed out in the most hideous way. I struggle to call that ‘love,’ but I do understand wanting the best for your child, it’s a natural parental urge. However, some of us need to stop pushing and be aware of the damage we’re causing for the future. You can’t repeatedly give a child the ‘I will only love you if you succeed,’ message and then expect them to develop into a fully-functional adult. God’s known that for thousands of years. Take a leaf out of God’s Big Book of Treating People Well (not literally), and love all of them, all the time. Even when they mess up.
The other thing I’ve been reading this week is Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. I’ve read it before and been absolutely stunned by some of the things in it. The typos are one, the hilarious gaffes are another; but it’s the description of physical punishments ascribed to the members of Opus Dei that have appalled me. I appreciate it’s just a story, but extreme asceticism is not unheard of in some Christian circles. I know Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:27 says ‘I beat my body and make it my slave,’ but I don’t think he was advocating flogging yourself with a piece of knotted rope until you bleed. I was under the impression that he was calling for us not to give into the temptations of food, drink and back-to-back episodes of Big Bang Theory, instead of getting out for a bit of exercise. I’ve never read that passage in Corinthians and said ‘oh yes, I really MUST devise an utterly horrible way of torturing myself for my sins’. Far be it from me to be pointing out the glaringly obvious, but didn’t Jesus already do that? Have a read of John 19-21 and tell me what you think.
But is nice, middle-of-the-road Christianity in danger of being the lukewarm lot that Jesus spits out of his mouth in Revelation 3: 14-16? How do we strive to be on fire for God without turning into placard-toting extremists or ascetic exiles? I wholeheartedly believe that if we do less of the judging and finger-pointing and more of the loving and caring for people, that we’ll find that we’re naturally on fire for God and every person on the planet is very great danger of being loved to death.