05/31/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Hutaree Militia: The Passion Of The Christians


Like many of us, I was horrified but not shocked by news of the heretofore obscure Hutaree militia and their plans to foment an uprising in Michigan. Instead of waiting for the "end-times," these rapture-ready militias seem bent on making them come early.

The most chilling excerpts from their manifesto invoke the perpetual emphasis on violence as a vehicle to "defend" Jesus. They seem to believe with complete sincerity that if Christ were here today, he'd be carrying an Uzi and be ready to lead a bloody overthrow of the government. I truly wonder if these fanatics have stopped reading the Gospels every night and just watch an endless loop of The Passion of the Christ.

It would be nice if the militias were an isolated example of periodic Christian fanaticism, but this kind of extremist religiosity has been wreaking havoc on the world for centuries. A short list would include the Inquisition, slavery, the genocide of native populations in the Americas, and the legacy of African colonialism. It's enough to make one wonder if far from being distortions of the Christian message, these horrors represent the inevitable consequence of a religion whose central symbol -- the cross -- represents one of the most unpleasant and cruel tortures that can be inflicted.

I used to think, like Oscar Wilde, that the idea of a man dying to take on the sins of the world was the ultimate work of art. Now it seems rather grandiose, a delusion that would land someone in the psych ward. There is nothing inherently redemptive about a violent end to a sacred life. What Christians have done to try to make the suffering of Jesus meaningful is to glorify it. This, unfortunately, bleeds into a fetishization of violence itself. In some quarters, the ostensible Christian message of love and tolerance has become interchangeable with the language of righteousness and force.

Not that these militias needed to go far. American gun culture is the most fertile of breeding grounds for the psychology of Armageddon. This perfect storm has yielded warriors for Christ, paranoid and riven with a thousand forms of fear by an America that looks less and less like they do, and helmed by -- horrors! -- a smart President. They are indeed strangers in a strange land.

There is nothing to glorify in the ugly death of Jesus. Suffering is not inherently ennobling, even if, as in childbirth, it's necessary and even tolerable given the result. Redemption does not come in the afterlife; it comes right here on earth, in the practice of a millions forms of kindness. It certainly does not come at the end of a gun barrel.