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Sunday, November 22, 2015

Timothy McVeigh was not a Christian Terrorist

In light of the terrorist attacks in Paris, many of the Republican Presidential candidates have openly opposed letting Syrian refugees into the United States (except those who are Christians). And Donald Trump has stated that he favors the surveillance of U.S. mosques, a database of Syrian refugees, and possibly the creation of a registry for all Muslims (sometimes it feels like we've returned to the McCarthy era or that we're about to -- and I wasn't even alive back then). Implicit in these policy positions is the assumption that Christians are less violent than Muslims.

As a response to all this, many people have been quick to point out that Christians have not always lived up to Jesus's understanding of God's Kingdom (which should not be confused with heaven). And a favorite poster boy, at least among secularists and theologically liberal Christians, is Timothy McVeigh. However, although McVeigh attended Roman Catholic mass regularly in his youth, he abandoned the church as an adult. At the time of the Oklahoma City bombing, he had not darkened the door of a church in years. In fact, in his biography he declared that science was his religion, that he did not believe in the afterlife, and certainly did not believe in hell. And on the day before his execution he declared that he was an agnostic. He was, in short, what researchers today refer to as a religious "none" ("God is Alive and Well in the U.S.")

Some point to the fact that he took Last Rites from a Roman Catholic priest just before his execution as evidence that he was a Christian, but given his previous statements, this seems more like a covering of one's bases than a profession of belief. In fact, when McVeigh was asked what he would do if it turned out he was wrong about the afterlife and hell, he remarked that he would “improvise, adapt, and overcome, just like they taught him in the Army.”

I find it curious, though, why some Christians are so eager to claim McVeigh as "one of their own." I certainly am not. I suspect that their motivation is more political than theological (never let facts get in way of a convenient ideology). However, as my previous post illustrates ("Refugees and Terrorism"), one doesn't need to invoke Timothy McVeigh to oppose the overblown rhetoric (and misguided policy positions) of Donald Trump and others.

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