Skip to main content

Atheist Writer Says Christian Conservatives Are a Bigger Threat Than ISIS

If you can't tell the difference between nutty Christian conservatives and radical Islamists, then you're part of the problem.

Addendum added below

In case you haven’t heard, Christian conservatives pose a greater threat to the United States than Islamic radicals such as members of the Islamic State. That’s the conclusion of C.J. Werleman, who previously argued that ISIS isn't motivated by Islam -- at least not as much as everyone thinks. In true multiculturalist fashion, his latest piece downplays the rampant and truly life-destroying extremism of radical Islam, while assuring us that religious nutters like Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann are a much more serious problem:

Writing in AlterNet, Werleman denounces this past weekend's Values Voters Summit, which to be sure is one of the nation's foremost annual gatherings of pasty-white self-righteous moralizers who, truth be told, actually have terrible values. These include homophobia, sexism, general intolerance, and a suspicion of science that would make Galileo's inquisitors proud. But whereas some atheist writers are content to play it safe by keeping their criticisms of religion confined to Christianity while pulling punches when it comes to other faiths, Werleman goes the extra mile:

"While ISIS is a rag-tag bunch of tens of thousands of Sunni extremists, who get around the Arabian Desert on the back of Toyota pick-ups, the Values Voter Summit is an audition for those who wish to represent hundreds of millions of Americans, as they get around the continental U.S. in the back of Air Force One."

Werleman speaks of ISIS like it's a group of buddies on a weekend hunting retreat driving around in Tundras, and in a way it is, except they're hunting people, cutting their heads off, and hoisting them up as trophies. Taking his cues from Chris Hedges, author of American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America, Werleman paints a hypothetical scenario in which religious conservatives take over the country and remove undesirables from society. He quotes Hedges:

“This ideology.... calls for the eradication of social 'deviants,' beginning with gay men and lesbians, whose sexual orientation, those in the movement say, is a curse and an illness, contaminating the American family and the country. Once these 'deviants' are removed, other 'deviants,' including Muslims, liberals, feminists, intellectuals, left-wing activists, undocumented workers, poor African Americans and those dismissed as 'nominal Christians'—meaning Christians who do not embrace this peculiar interpretation of the Bible—will also be ruthlessly repressed.”

Would a Christian conservative takeover of government lead to this nightmare? Possibly. Possibly not. The thing about this scenario is that it's speculative. That doesn't mean it's wrong, but it's hardly a foregone conclusion.

Meanwhile, a very real nightmare scenario is already playing out in Iraq and Syria, and it has meant misery and death for thousands of people who have fallen victim to the Salafist vision ISIS has planned for the region. ISIS also wants to carry out terrorist attacks against the U.S. This includes a desire to strike New York City, which, as Islamists have already shown, they are capable of doing in spectacular fashion.

No doubt the Santorum and Bachmann faction of the Republican party holds some regressive views and that a government run by it would be extremely unpleasant and anathema to reason. But to understate the actions and intentions of ISIS, while saying of Christian conservatives, "The barbarians are already here," as Werleman does, shows that he doesn't know a barbarian when he sees one.


Several commenters on this article and on the accompanying Facebook post have conceded that while there is a stark difference between the (current) actions of ISIS and the American Christian Right, the issue of which is a greater threat to the U.S. is separate, and that Christian conservatives are in a far better position to harm the U.S. However, Werleman is speaking of the prospect of a Christian theocracy in America -- a very remote possibility for four reasons: 1) the minority status of  Christian conservatives as a group; 2) the separation of powers into three different branches of government; 3) the checks and balances each branch exercises on the others; 4) the fact that American society is becoming increasingly secular.

The kind of power Werleman speaks of the Christian Right potentially wielding is too remote to take very seriously. As scary as it is to imagine a post-Weimar-style fascist ascent in the U.S., it's simply not on the horizon. On the other hand, a devastating one-off terrorist attack by ISIS or a similar jihadist group is completely within the realm of possibility, as we have already seen.