Wednesday, October 15, 2008

"Christian Domestic Terrorism"?

Dr. Dan W. Clanton
(Image from Denver University)

Dan Clanton, biblical studies scholar, has written an article, "Biblical Interpretation and Christian Domestic Terrorism: The Exegeses of Rev. Michael Bray and Rev. Paul Hill" (SBL Forum, n.p. [cited Aug 2008]), that analyzes Christian 'terrorism' against abortionists and suggests ways of countering such violence, and since Islamist terrorism is one of the topics that I often post on, I thought that I should at least take a look at Dr. Clanton's article.

Despite the title's reference to "Christian Domestic Terrorism," the term "terrorism" does not elsewhere appear in the article -- nor does "terrorist" or even "terror." Consequently, no definition of "terrorism" is provided by Dr. Clanton that would clarify why he applies this term to the violence advocated by Michael Bray and used by Paul Hill. Presumably, "the bombing of abortion clinics and the planned murder of abortion providers" is so obviously "terrorism" that the issue need not even be broached, but I'd like to have seen some treatment of this point.

What Dr. Clanton does talk about is violence used in religion:
Most scholars who examine the relationship between religion and violence agree that one of the most important factors in using sacred texts to justify violence against another person, community, or institution is the process of making them an "Other."[1] Religiously speaking, these others serve as the discordant example of belief and behavior over and against which the people of God are to be constructed, and thus it is easy to see why violence is often employed to remove, punish, or defend innocents from these others.[2] The emphasis on defending innocents from the "Other" is central to the most common form of scripturally justified violence in America: violence in the radical anti-abortion movement(s).


[1] See, e.g., Regina Schwartz, The Curse of Cain: The Violent Legacy of Monotheism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997), 4-5 and passim. See also the comments of Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer, Is Religion Killing Us? Violence in the Bible and the Quran (Harrisburg, Penn.: Trinity Press International, 2003), 112-13.

[2] See John J. Collins, "The Zeal of Phineas: The Bible and the Legitimation of Violence," JBL 122 (2003): 11: "Identity is defined negatively by a sharp differentiation of Israel from the other peoples of the land, and positively by the prescriptions of a covenant with a jealous sovereign god." See now Collins, Does the Bible Justify Violence? (Facets Series; Minneapolis: Fortress, 2005), 15. See also "The Zeal of Phineas," 18; Does the Bible Justify Violence? 27: Collins sees this construction of the "Other" and the divinely guaranteed absoluteness of that category as "the root of religious violence in the Jewish and Christian traditions."
This is a commonly noted point about violence directed toward an "enemy" and has been discussed at length, as Dr. Clanton notes, but he has more specific things to say about the use of the Bible by Bray and Hill:
It should be clear that both Bray and Hill view the Bible in a specific way. For them, the text serves as what Bruce Lincoln calls a transcendent discourse upon which they base their practices, that is, "embodied material action [that] render religious discourse operational."[21] These practices affect both the way(s) in which believers encounter the world and the way(s) in which they shape their own identity. That is, given the assumptions that believers like Hill and Bray hold about the Bible, it is not surprising that they would seek answers to perceived problems in its pages, but what is not so obvious is that "prior familiarity with the text -- and the sedimented familiarity of others, which he experiences as an interpretive tradition -- provides the lens through which he [i.e., a believer such as Hill or Bray] understands and responds to the problem."[22] Lincoln calls this situation one of "mutual mediation," that is, one's devotion to a specific religious discourse and/or sacred text both colors and in turn reinforces the way in which one views the world in general, and specific issues in particular. With Hill and Bray, it is obvious that they both hold the view that the Bible is a repository of wisdom, a handbook for living due to their understanding of their particular brand of evangelical Christianity. This view allows them the exegetical freedom to turn to their sacred text with real-life issues and situations, such as the plight of the "pre-born," and find viable instructions and paradigms for action, where others may find only thematic or tangential parallels. Similarly, their investment in the Bible also allows them to view their present situation through an interpretive grid developed through years of study and an imbededness in a particular interpretive tradition. Thus, the Bible serves as the font of action, belief, and identity for them, as well as providing the matrix through they perceive their own political, social, and ideological location in the world.


[21] Bruce Lincoln, Holy Terrors: Thinking about Religion after September 11 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003), 6.

[22] Ibid., 35; ee also 47.
I'm not sure how much this explains. Many evangelicals -- and perhaps other Christians as well -- consider the Bible "a transcendent discourse upon which they base their practices" and hold "the view that the Bible is a repository of wisdom, a handbook for living," yet they don't turn to violence against abortionists. The number of Christian 'terrorists' must be very tiny, though I don't know the statistics. Since the numbers are so small, we should perhaps look at the idiosyncratic motivations to explain particular Christian 'terrorists' rather than generalizations that fail to distinguish them from a larger body of Christians who share similar views of the transcendent status of the Bible but who do not commit religiously inspired 'terrorism'.

I suppose that I ought to say more on this issue, particularly on Dr. Clanton's views on preventing this sort of violence, but my day's duty calls me to my own nonreligiously inspired actions that will terrify my students.

I'm giving a test.

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At 9:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There are a lot of strange notions among some so-called "Bible believing Christians."
The New Testament teaches us to live a quiet and peacable life, obey the laws of the land, pay our debts, honor those in authority over us, be kind to one another, etc.
One person I knew and worked with at a church in Kansas City, KS, became involved with someone who taught him it was a sin to pay income taxes to a wicked nation. As a result, he was arrested, served some prison time, and his family disintegrated while in prison.
The bombing of abortion clinics is an extreme instance of justifying your actions by claiming to have God's authority to do so.
These cases are not the norm for what I consider to be true Bible believing Christianity.

At 10:52 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Uncle Cran, I agree with you. These notions are nowhere near the norm for evangelicals, nor can these notions be easily derived from the biblical text.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 12:06 PM, Blogger Rev. Donald Spitz said...

You seem to imply there is something wrong if a babykilling abortion mill is burned or bomb. Which do you prefer, a pile of bricks or a pile of dead babies? Innocent unborn babies deserve to be protected just as born children deserve to be protected. You would have no problem protecting born children if they were about to be murdered.
SAY THIS PRAYER: Dear Jesus, I am a sinner and am headed to eternal hell because of my sins. I believe you died on the cross to take away my sins and to take me to heaven. Jesus, I ask you now to come into my heart and take away my sins and give me eternal life.

At 12:21 PM, Blogger Malcolm Pollack said...

And there you have it! That was easy. Hard to imagine what all the fuss is about.

At 12:26 PM, Blogger John B said...

Assuming the above comment isn't parody (which I'm pretty sure it is), what's distressing about the issue is that while few evangelicals will commit such acts, many more give tacit support and adopt a confrontational rhetoric that borders on approval for such acts.

But then again, I might be reading too much into rhetorical device. It may be no different from the anti-consumerism terrorism in novels by Chuck Palahniuk and Dom Delilo -- just a metaphor.

At 12:31 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Reverend Spitz, do you support the killing of abortionists?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 12:32 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Right, Malcolm, it was almost too easy.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 12:36 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

John B, I believe that Reverend Spitz is in earnest.

Perhaps Uncle Cran can reason with him since my simple, even innocuous blog entry has seemingly put me beyond the pale.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 12:46 PM, Blogger Malcolm Pollack said...

I'm sorry to have been so flippant; it really serves no purpose. It's just that one feels the need to respond, but one also realizes that actual discourse is foreclosed.

The question of abortion is perhaps the most morally and philosophically complex topic that there is. It brings into play - and into direct conflict -fundamental issues of identity, rights, the metaphysics of potential, the role of government, individual freedom, consciousness, and, yes, religious opinions also.

When encountering a mind that sees none of this difficulty whatsoever - yet is still, apparently, in some vestigial sense a functioning adult human mind - one hardly knows what to do; there are simply no productive alternatives. One is inclined just to splutter, a temptation to which I yielded.

At 12:55 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Malcolm, I have no objection to your curt retort. It was fully appropriate.

My initial thought was that Reverend Spitz was spamming -- searching the net for blog entries like the one that I've written and posting preformulated 'responses'.

I suppressed that thought, however, and posed a question to him . . . just in case he were the sort to reply.

Since posting, I've Googled his name and discovered that my first thought was correct. He spams his preformulated 'responses' onto blogs as if they were comments.

I just wish drawing a blog comment from Bin Laden were as easy -- especially if were to show himself holding up a large sign.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 12:57 PM, Blogger Malcolm Pollack said...

Ah. Well, then perhaps I was too kind in my subsequent remarks.

At 1:00 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Too kind? Probably, but I'm happy to avoid flame wars here, so I appreciate your restraint.

I hope that Reverend Spitz does not return, but if he posts more 'spam', I'll delete the stuff. He's already used up his one violation.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Paul Hill argument, as Rev. Spitz indicated, is that the same force justified in protecting a born child is justified in protecting an unborn child. Our task, if we dissent from Hill, is to show he is mistaken. We have to refute the argument. Neither the original article nor any of our posts has actually done so. It seems to me that it does us little good to talk about how difficult the issue is. That doesn't really get us very far.

In my course on Christianity and Politics, I use precisely these persons and this argument in order to get my students thinking about how one ought to respond to abortion beyond simply saying "I am against it."

As you might imagine, I get answers from across the spectrum -- from Paul Hill is too moderate to outright defense of abortion.

At 10:01 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Michael, you are right, of course, but my initial point was to ask about Dan Clanton's use of the term "terrorism," not to raise the issue of abortion.

That question about 'terrorism', and its answer, would remain the same regardless of what one thinks about abortion. I thought -- and still think -- that Clanton needed to define terrorism in his article.

As for Spitz, I will say this for him: the images of aborted babies that he shows are very disturbing.

I was, however, already aware of these, and I have been for several years.

I don't support abortion, but I also don't support assassinations or bombings. What Spitz is calling for, perhaps inadvertently, is a conflict in which the cold culture war breaks out into a hot culture war, i.e., a civil war.

I wonder which side would win that war?

I'd prefer to approach this issue through law and through changing people's attitudes. Spitz is willing to frighten and intimidate people into cowering, but that's not the same as convincing them.

The Taliban tried this method, as do Islamists generally, but it doesn't bring about the city of God.

What do you think?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:22 PM, Blogger Hathor said...

Images of aborted fetus any different than in utero or from miscarriage? Are these pictures of dismembered ones? I say this because some people have the impression that a month old fetus looks just like a newborn baby.

What I don't get is why people aren't more upset by a photo like this. I know this is an age old liberal argument, but I believe that this child does have more cognitive perception than a zygote. (I believe in a women's right to choose, I also believe there can be restrictions as they stand now and with the mother making the choice in her life or death decision. I also support more initiatives in prevention of pregnancy, more information, birth control, more research on safer and male birth control.)

I also wonder if those who believe bombing abortion clinics is OK would be repulsed by pictures of dismembered victims of those bombings.

This comment may be totally off topic, just sparked by Jeffery's last comment.

At 5:18 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Hathor, thanks for the comments.

The photos are of dismembered fetuses -- they look like babies torn apart.

Your question about whether "those who believe bombing abortion clinics is OK would be repulsed by pictures of dismembered victims of those bombings" is a good one, and I don't know the answer, but even if they were repulsed, they would perhaps argue that these people were not innocent. They might even be happy. I think of 9/11 and Bin Laden's happiness at the destruction of the WTC even though he must have seen images of the jumpers.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 6:49 AM, Blogger Malcolm Pollack said...

Hi Mr. Bauman,

I do realize that it doesn't get us very far to point out how difficult the subject of abortion is. My point, however, was that for someone like Mr. Spitz the matter isn't "difficult" at all: in his view, the unborn are full-fledged humans from the moment of conception, with all the claim on our moral obligation that newborns and adults have.

Were Mr Spitz asked to explain why this should be so, I have no doubt whatsoever that we would be given in reponse an "argument" grounded in religious claims about ensoulment, the will of God, the literal truth of the Bible, and so forth. Since Mr. Spitz, if I know anything about religious zealots, will not consider these premises to be "in play" for skeptical examination, I don't suppose any argument whatsoever could possibly have the effect, in his own view, of refuting his position.

At 7:50 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Malcolm, one possible response to Reverend Spitz would be to note that the shock effect of the images that he posts showing the ripped bodies of aborted fetuses depend upon the fact that they look like babies.

Images of a fertilized egg cell 'aborted' by a morning after pill wouldn't have the same effect, regardless of what Reverend Spitz thinks about ensoulment.

In principle, however, there should be no difference for Reverend Spitz in the value of that fertilized egg cell, so I am guessing that he would be for the killing of abortionists and the bombing of abortion clinics even if abortion were limited to a period before human characteristics are observable.

But I bet that Reverend Spitz would get a less support since he wouldn't have any shocking images to show.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Malcolm, and others:

Many thanks for your careful and reasoned responses to my point, which I certainly appreciate.

Though I myself am an evangelical protestant, I do not invoke the Bible for arguments regarding the humanity of the unborn, largely because many folks do not accept the Bible as an authoritative resource on the issue, even though I do.

So, I try to invoke something they say they endorse, namely science. I consider the unborn human because they are genetically human, genetically complete, and genetically unique. That is, they are clearly of the same species as the mother. If she is genetically human -- and no one seriously doubts it -- so are they, and by the same genetic measure. If you think the unborn are not genetically human, one might ask into what species you relegate them? Canine? Bovine? Equine? Feline? And if they are not human, do they genetically change species during gestation?

The unborn are genetically complete. That is, while they might not be mature, they are complete, unlike, say, a fingernail, which, while a human fingernail, is not able to grow naturally into a mature human being. Unlike the unborn child, the human fingernail lacks the necessary genetic completeness.

The unborn are genetically unique -- that is, the genetic code is always different from the mother, which means it's not her body -- unless, of course, mommy now has four eyes, two hearts and possibly a penis. That is, the unborn child is not only human, but *a human*.

It seems to me, that the unborn are human, and that killing them is unjustified, given their humanity. Unjustified killing is, of course, murder.

Regardless of how one reaches the conclusion that the unborn are human, whether one does so by means of the Bible or by some other path, once the conclusion is reached that they are truly human, one must ask: "What shall we do to stop the deaths of 4000 humans per day, in America alone?"

In response to all that, Hill said that the same force justified in protecting the born is justified in protecting the unborn. Perhaps so; perhaps not.

I am asking, "Do we have a refutation, either of Hill's contention that they are human, or of his contention that they are worthy of the same protection as the born, whom we might protect by killing their attackers?"

I also think other questions need to be answered, especially questions regarding prudential issue, which is one place I think his view fails.

What's your view?

At 9:07 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Michael, part of what I was getting at was also the prudential issue.

What Reverend Spitz supports -- or so it seems -- is violent resistence to abortion, but since a huge proportion of the population currently supports a woman's right to choose to abort, then he's risking a conflict that would destroy public order and render any potential consensus against abortion impossible.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:11 PM, Blogger Malcolm Pollack said...


I quite agree that a just-ferilized zygote is genetically distinct from any cells of the mother's body, and that its genome is a human one, rather than feline, bovine, etc. It is a single cell, with 46 chromosomes containing unambiguously human DNA.

But according to Mr. Spitz et al., we are morally justified in placing upon the woman in whose body this single cell reposes a legal obligation to shelter it, nourish it, and suffer enormous burdens on its behalf. For the state to commandeer her body against her wishes in this way is no trivial imposition, and, in a supposedly free society, requires, I should think, a convincing and compelling justification.

The question then is: by what criteria are we justified in assigning "rights" to this cell that trump the woman's right to choose not to provide such lavish hospitality?

The zygote is a microscopic thing, a membrane enclosing a collection of DNA molecules. The arrangement of nucleotides in these molecules is such that they can, if the right conditions are provided (at great cost) by the mother, serve as a blueprint for building a new instance of the human species. But is this merely genetic criterion sufficient to confer upon this single cell all the rights that we credit to a fully developed person -- rights that supercede those of an adult woman? If so, why?

The zygote manifests none of the properties or characteristics that make adult humans moral -- and morally considerable -- entities. It has no brain; it cannot suffer. It has no mind, no will, no consciousness. In virtue of what, then, does it lay claim to an enforced usurpation of a woman's sovereignty over her own body? Why ought we to grant all of this -- depriving along the way an adult citizen of her freedom -- to a few strands of DNA in a mindless container?

At 8:00 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Malcolm, this is not a direct response to your provocative post, but, rather, a provocation of my own. Where would you draw the line, beyond which an abortion should ordinarily not be carried out?

I'm not actually just being provocative. This is a truly difficult, morally wrenching issue that I'm still trying to come to grips with.

Odd that it took Reverend Spitz to provoke me into directly addressing the issue.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 12:19 AM, Blogger Malcolm Pollack said...

Hi Jeffery,

Well, that's a fair question, and a hard one, as I am still grappling myself with what the right criteria ought to be.

I'm not trying to be provocative here so much as to draw out the difficulty of the subject. I don't have a satisfactory answer myself, and I think that those who do say they have a definite answer in hand have simply short-circuited the inquiry, as I have yet to see an answer that blocks all the exits.

But the law can't wait for philosophical inquiry to terminate (which may never happen); we must have some definite legal position, as a practical matter. Laws often have to draw boundaries on continua. So I'd say somehere early on, perhaps some developmental milestone in the construction of the brain.

At 5:41 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Malcolm, I was playing on the double meaning of provocative. Your comment was provocative in the good sense of provoking thought.

I recall that Bill Vallicella had an interesting post on "ensoulment" a couple of weeks ago, asking when it is supposed to occur and adding that if it occurs at conception, then how does one account for identical twins.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I must say that a lot of people professing to be Christians really (in my opinion) have NO idea who Jesus was or what his message was. I don't believe that Jesus would have wanted to see unborn children being aborted, but I also believe that he was the first "feminist" and the first religious leader to want women as a vital part of his "church" and its Hierarchy, and who wanted women to have a certain amount of control over their lives. Jesus wouldn't have condemned anyone for such things as their race, religion, economic status, or even their sexual orientation. He WOULD however condemn violence. I think as Jesus suggested "judge not lest ye be judged". We're not equipped, and should leave that to god.

At 12:24 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks for the comment.

Jeffery Hodges

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