06/12/2013 02:58 pm ET Updated Aug 12, 2013

God's Purveyors of Hate Revisited

In my previous post, "God's Purveyor's of Hate," I noted how some Christians, in their responses to the tornado in Oklahoma, spewed hatred in the name of God. The Christians ranged from the despicable -- the Westboro Baptist cult -- to the respectable -- Calvinist John Piper. In each case, we were told (or might infer) that the tornado was God's judgment on homosexuality. I wondered why, since Jesus never mentions homosexuality, the purveyors of hate could be so sure it was God's judgment on homosexuality and not God's judgment on our lack of concern for the poor or the oppressed. Or why it wasn't God's judgment on the U.S. for the killing of innocents in Iraq or the terrifying of children in Pakistan by the continual buzz of drones, which might drop their deadly cargo at any moment?

It seems curiously unchristian, then, to believe that God allowed (or caused) 9/11, Hurricane Sandy and the Oklahoma tornado because he was especially worked up about homosexuality.

Jesus himself, I noted, refused to consider why those killed by the collapse of the tower of Siloam were thusly afflicted. "Why," he was asked, "did God make the tower fall on them? Were they, of all the residents of Siloam, particularly evil? If so, what was their sin?" Jesus confounds the desire to pry into the heart of others (and, then, to feel good about our own righteousness -- no towers having collapsed on us, after all) and teaches that the collapse of the tower should remind us of our own mortality and, hence, of our own need to get right with God. It should not occasion our typically prideful reflections on the sins of the suffering.

Where Jesus used a disaster to focus on one's self, purveyors of hate use it to focus on the sins of others (and, as a consequence, to feel morally and spiritually superior).

My blog elicited a lot of comments, but not nearly as many as "10 Tips for the Perfect Barbecue," "Save Olympic Wrestling" or "A F*cking Short History of the F-Word."

One of my good and thoughtful friends wrote and chastised me for picking low-hanging fruit. Relying on tweets of a representative of Westboro Baptist, he said, is a straw person argument -- a flimsy version of a position that is easy to knock down (I'm a philosopher so accusing me of a fallacy hurts). After hurting my feelings, he speculated wildly: "Bottom line, Mr. Phelps [Fred Phelps, pastor of Westboro Baptist] is the greatest gift ever to the gay rights movement, and my guess is that history will show that Freddy -- wittingly or unwittingly -- was financed by them all along, but don't quote me on that. I'm just sayin' that if he wasn't real, they'd invent him."

One commentator suggested I was painting all Christians with the Westboro Baptist brush:

As a Christian, I find your painting of us all with the same broad brush to be as narrow-minded as the gentlemen who you criticize. There are some very nasty people who spew things in the name of Jesus and it bothers me, as well. They don't speak for me or Jesus, whether they claim to or not. Liberals claim this wonderful tolerance and say that radical fundamentalist Muslims don't represent Islam, but you don't seem to cut Christians the same break.

Let me be clear: I did not attribute the Westboro Baptist views to all Christians. I attributed them to precisely three people. Moreover, I argued that their claims were not Christian, at all. They were the opinions of a few people who claimed some special understanding of God, which opinions violate the teachings of Jesus.

So why write about them? Just to publicly shame the Westboro Baptist Church? To hope against hope that they, avid readers of the Huff Post as I suspect they are, might stumble on my column and see the error of their ways?

I picked Westboro Baptist because I want the rest of the world to know that they don't speak for all Christians and that their declarations and actions are sometimes deeply unchristian.

The worst representatives of Christianity should not be taken as representative of Christianity. It's just plain not fair. And people should understand Jesus and his teachings, not some extreme and self-righteous caricature of Christianity.

Here's the flip-side. In the West, we have taken the opinions of a minority of extremist Muslims as representative of Islam. And that's just plain not fair. And we are likely to have misunderstood Muhammad and his teachings because of some extremist, selective caricatures of Islam. And that ain't right.

None of us wants to believe that our religion is a religion of hate. But we have haters among us (Muslim and Christian alike). But they don't represent their religion; they may not even be faithful to their religions. We, Muslim and Christian alike, should not judge either religion by the worst of their lot.

Just as it's obvious that Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church does not speak for Christianity, so, too, it should be obvious that a handful of radical Muslims do not speak for Islam.