Extremism is at the heart of pretty much every distasteful and unpleasant thing that happens on this planet and every day we see glaring examples.
The fascinating thing is that those on the right think they’re always right, while those of the Left believe the right is always wrong! Author Jim Wallis, in his brilliant book God’s Politics, summed it up this way, “The right gets it wrong and the left doesn’t get it.” And those on the far-right are always criticising those on the extreme-left. They refer to them as the PC Brigade, trolls, morons and idiots; they talk about the “lamestream media” while those on the left are no better. They join in the unhelpful name calling with accusations of homophobia, Islamophobia (pretty well every kind of phobia you can imagine in order to shut down decent discussion). They talk about right-wing nutbags, loons, hacks and thugs.
Extremism at whatever end of the political, religious or ideological scale almost always leads to disaster, pain, hurt or death. Consider the recent Dallas sniper, Micah Johnson, who killed five police officers, as well as the one carried out last year by Dylann Roof on a black church in Charleston, South Carolina, that left nine people dead. Both of these acts of deadly terrorism were motivated by extreme left-wing ideology.
Those on the far-right are just as dangerous. Of course we’re constantly confronted with the atrocities of Islamic terrorist groups such as Daesh, al Qaeda, Boko Haram, the Taliban and numerous smaller groups. German police have recently carried out a series of raids, targeting people suspected of posting hate content on social media in order to tackle what police called “a substantial rise in verbal radicalism.” Typical crimes included “glorification of Nazism and xenophobic, anti-Semitic and other right-wing extremism.”
Politically motivated hate crimes on the internet have increased significantly in the wake of the European refugee crisis, as well as attacks on refugee shelters that are often the result of radicalisation which begins in social networks.
But the extremes of the left and the right are not confined to violence and verbal attacks. Consider Britain’s largest union, the extreme Leftwing Unite, that has adopted the policy of a universal basic income: a flat payment to all adults regardless of circumstances. It’s basically the right to be lazy.
While I was on holiday recently, one of the many books I read was One of Us by journalist Asne Seierstad in which she brilliantly presents the story of Anders Behring Breivik, the man who killed 77 people (and wounded many more) in the bomb attack and mass shooting in Norway on 22 July 2011. Breivik was a far-right “Christian” who committed these atrocities because he was concerned that Norway was losing its Christian values because of the policies of the left (more on this in next week’s blog).
I could go on but I’m sure you get the picture. Extremes are dangerous and the sad evidence is that those who hold to extremes will only be entrenched further in them when confronted by facts that contradict their beliefs (this is called cognitive dissonance).
I believe Jesus calls us to extremes but not the kind that bring hurt and destruction. Jesus calls us to extreme love, extreme forgiveness, extreme grace and extreme kindness. It saddens me when Christian people cling to ideologies of the far-right or extreme-left because when they do, they rarely reflect the nature of God. They cherry-pick from the Scriptures to back up their beliefs but their views are not endorsed by the main themes of the Bible (or the Qu’ran or any other Holy Book), which are summarised by the Golden Rule; the principle of treating others as one would wish to be treated oneself.
If you find yourself at one of the extremes – whether you’re a Christian, Muslim, a member of another faith or no faith at all – can I encourage you to meditate on the Golden Rule found in every major religion and human culture. Live your life treating others the way you’d like to be treated. It starts with you and me and the world will be a much better place as a result.