When is a religion extremist?

In April, Russia’s Supreme Court labeled Jehovah’s Witnesses an extremist religious group.

“It effectively means that holding their beliefs and manifesting them is tantamount to a criminal act in Russia. They risk new levels of persecution by the Russian authorities,” said international legal counsel, Lorcan Price.

In America, most of us think of Jehovah’s Witnesses as that occasional Saturday nuisance.

They interrupt our morning breakfast or afternoon chores to tell us their version of the Christian faith.

They cheerfully drag their families along for quiet strolls through the neighborhoods, and pass out Watchtower Magazines for us to throw away later.

Annoying? Yes. Disruptive? Usually. But extremist? That depends.

Growing up in the Pentecostal faith, I was taught that Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, and Catholics were not Christians.

Anyone who converted to those, or other non-mainstream Christian sects, was deceived by the devil.

Though we didn’t use the word “extremist” to define those religions, we certainly saw them as a threat to the true people of God who were susceptible to “false teachings.”

Some religious go to church others kill

Religion, to paraphrase Merriam-Webster, is generally a belief in the supernatural with a commitment to keep up the attitudes and practices surrounding that belief. In other words, religion is more than just a belief it is an action.

For some, that means attending church on Sundays.

For others, it means killing people for believing the wrong things, or believing in the wrong way.

The BBC noted that Al Qaeda’s purpose is to avenge “wrongs committed by Christians against Muslims.”

The organization wants to implement a “single Islamic political leadership,” and drive away non-Muslims from areas it deems belong to the nation of Islam.

ISIS, on the other hand, is a group of Scriptural fundamentalists who believe all other Muslims are apostates.

William McCants, director of the Project on US Relations With the Islamic World at the Brookings Institution, says that ISIS wants “to restore the early Islamic empire called the caliphate and eventually take over the whole world.”

Most of us can agree that Al Qaeda and ISIS are extremist groups. After all, they plan and implement terrorist attacks.

They kill people, sometimes brutally.

But is violence the only indicator of religious extremism?

It could certainly be argued that when a religion becomes violent it becomes extremist. But even Christianity, in it’s many definitions, has a sordid history, which is seldom talked about and often dismissed. Continue reading

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