The idea of screening refugees by religion and allowing only Christians into the US has been suggested by Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz and supported by others, based on the notion that these people would be unlikely to be terrorists. Cruz has been quite explicit on this topic, saying, “There is no meaningful risk of Christians committing acts of terror. If there were a group of radical Christians pledging to murder anyone who had a different religious view than they, we would have a different national security situation”.
Sam Harris endorses Cruz’s views on this, saying:
“Take the personalities of the people on the right out of the equation. Is it crazy to express, as Ted Cruz did, a preference for Christians over Muslims in this process?” Harris asked. “Of course not. What percentage of Christians will be jihadists or want to live under Sharia law? Zero. And this is a massive, in fact the only, concern when talking about security. We know that some percentage of Muslims will be jihadists inevitably… So it is not mere bigotry or mere xenophobia to express that preference. I hope you understand that I am expressing no sympathy at all with Ted Cruz’s politics or with Ted Cruz. But it is totally unhelpful to treat him — though he actually is a religious maniac — like a bigot on this point. This is a quite reasonable concern to voice.”
(It is truly curious how even though Harris describes Cruz as a “religious maniac” and Ben Carson as a “dangerously deluded religious imbecile”, labels that for most people would put them completely beyond the pale, for Harris that is not a problem as long as they take a sufficiently hard line against Muslims. He says that he would vote for Carson over Noam Chomsky every time and there is no reason to think that he does not view Cruz as favorably.)
The second part of the question Harris asks, “What percentage of Christians will be jihadists or want to live under Sharia law?” is of course a rhetorical one and the answer is likely zero since no religious person would want to be bound by the rules of another religion. But by slipping it in in conjunction with the first, he is employing a rhetorical sleight-of-hand by suggesting that it is also obvious that no Christians would want to impose their own theocracy on others. That is patently false.
The idea that there is something about Christianity that makes it impervious to triggering violent actions against others is, of course, nonsense as even a cursory look at history will show, and there have been many articles, such as this one by Stephen D. Foster, Jr. listing the many Christian individuals and groups that have terrorized people just in the US alone.
The Ku Klux Klan, for instance, terrorized the South after the Civil War. They targeted African-Americans, Jews, and Catholics all while professing a Christian ideology. They committed arson, lynchings, murder, rape, and burned crosses. They intimidated anyone who didn’t agree with their ideology and they struck fear in anyone who crossed their path. Their reign of terror continued throughout the 1960s and they are still an active hate group to this day.
Foster lists other cases but somehow these kinds of violent acts by home grown self-described Christians tend to be ascribed to motives other than religious fervor using the ‘No true Scotsman’ argument that people with a tribal mindset haul out to absolve their own group of the actions of one of the members of that group.
But Cruz also ignores one of the most violent groups currently in existence and that is the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda led by Joseph Kony, a group that wants to create a theocratic state based on the Ten Commandments, the same thing that some Christians in the US want since they believe those commandments are the basis for their morality and the reason they want to plaster it all over schools and courthouses and other public spaces. Ledio Cakaj writes about the methods of this group and they are truly brutal.
But if the Kony example is brought to the attention of people like Cruz, it will be asserted that Kony and his followers are not ‘true’ Christians, whatever they themselves might claim, because no true Christian would behave that way and that they are either deluded about what Christianity is or using Christianity as a cover to achieve non-Christian goals. This is of course the same reasoning used by many Muslims to distance themselves from the actions of groups like ISIS.
There are many mainstream politicians in the US right now who argue that the US is a Christian nation and should be run on biblical principles. The only things preventing them from achieving their goal are the secular traditions that have emerged since the Renaissance. I have no doubt that if they obtained sufficient power, they would try and impose their will on everyone by force, first by legislating a theocracy and then using state power to enforce it. The problem with Cruz and Harris is that of tribalism, in that they seem to feel comfortable living with the possibility of a Christian theocracy but not a Muslim one.
As Tabby Lavalamp said in a comment to an earlier post, “Harris would rather live in a Christian theocracy than a Muslim theocracy. As long as it’s the right people subjugating women and stoning gay men” because, as laurentweppe added, “Perhaps he believes that the uniformed bullies on a Christian theocracy’s payroll will remain properly deferential to rich white dudes like him instead of thinking “I want that Jew’s stuff/wife/daughters and I’m the guy with the guns and the government-issued badge, so I’ll take what I want“.