This harrowing article from London’s Evening Standard suggests that hundreds of young African boys are being ritually sacrificed in bizarre religious rituals right in London. Having grown up in a small town where many conspiratorially-minded people were convinced Satanic cults were butchering cattle, etc., I remain somewhat skeptical of these sorts of lurid headlines. However, this Jack-Chick-fantasy actually has a Scotland Yard report to back it up. Now here comes the twist, told with a vile bit of media bias thrown in which I will explain in a moment:
Boys from Africa are being murdered as human sacrif ices in London churches.
They are brought into the capital to be offered up in rituals by fundamentalist Christian sects, according to a shocking report by Scotland Yard.
Followers believe that powerful spells require the deaths of “unblemished” male children.
Ah ha! I knew it! Ashcroft and Falwell and those gibbering “Christian fundamentalists” are sacrificing African children! Booga booga!
Let’s review what a Christian fundamentalist is. I learned this in a religious studies class at an Ivy League university, by the way, and it blew my mind: A fundamentalist Christian is someone who believes in the inerrancy, divinely-inspired character, and literal truth of the Bible and hold it as complete and solely authoritative to Christian faith.
Most Christian faiths place a great authority on the Bible, but not all are fundamentalists. Catholics, even very conservative Opus Dei Catholics, aren’t fundamentalists because they believe in an Apostolic Succession of authoritative clergy as well as a host of traditions, saints, etc. outside the Bible. If a church has “priests” who speak for God and can forgive sins, consecrate hosts, etc., instead of “preachers” or “pastors”, who are primarily teachers and interpreters of scripture, then that’s not a fundmentalist church. If a church doesn’t proclaim that the Bible is literally true, likewise, it’s not a fundamentalist church. (Hence most fundamentalists are Creationists.) I could go on, but I think you have an idea of the distinction. Bible=not just big deal, but pretty much the only deal. What the Constitution is to strict constructionists, the Bible is to fundamentalists.
Ever wonder what it would be like to live in a city controlled by a fundamentalist Christian? If you live in Los Angeles, look around. Your outgoing (Democratic) mayor, James Hahn, is a member of the Church of Christ (not the United Church of Christ, which is a very liberal church) a church so fundamentalist that it doesn’t even allow instrumental music to be played within its services since there is no mention of instrumental music being played within New Testament worship services in the Bible. And yet, LA is not Teheran. Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton both identified as Southern Baptists. So you see that being a fundamentalist does not necessarily equate to political conservatism, though more often than not it does correlate.
I will go on record as categorically denying the Evening Standard’s implication that Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and James Hahn engage in the ritual sacrifice of kidnapped African children. Being myself familiar with what goes on in fundamentalist Christian worship, I think I can say with some authority that that sort of thing doesn’t happen very often and when it does there’s usually a very good reason for it. I understand why these rumors get around, though, because media types and leftists generally tend to use “fundamentalist” when they really mean “person who probably listens to albums by rhinestone-wearing gospel quartets” or “politically conservative” or as a shorthand signal for “we think these guys are wackos”.
It is this third false meaning of fundamentalism on display in the Evening Standard’s story. It’s obviously wrong. In fact the casting of spells is explicitly condemned by the Bible–as is the sacrifice of children. That’s Moloch’s schtick, not Jehovah’s. The African “churches” they describe are closer in practice to Santeria or Voodoo than to any common understanding of Christian Fundamentalism–they blend together shamanic magic, animism, and Christian traditions into something pretty well unrecognizable as Christianity. And if you ever happen to read a terrifying book by Stephen Ellis called The Mask of Anarchy, you can see exactly how that faith plays out in Liberian politics. (I’m not kidding. It’s probably the most frightening book I’ve ever read.)
So it looks like Richard Edwards, the Evening Standard reporter really screwed the pooch here–either through ignorance of the true meaning of fundamentalist Christianity, or through a malicious indifference to the meaning of words. Which is ironic given that he quotes an expert dismissive of Scotland Yard’s reports as racist against Africans:
Dr William Les Henry, a lecturer in sociology at Goldsmiths College, said aspects of the reports were pigeonholing crimes together and were patronising and racist.
He said: “When we think about these cases we can see the same kind of patterns of behaviour in European cultures [SEE DUBYA: WTF? Ritual sacrifice in Belgium?] but they are interpreted in completely different ways.
“This is one of the crises with social sciences anyway, when they are supposedly interpreting the folk ways or cultural habits of alien cultures.” He said that the models such reports are based on are that “Africans are less civilised, less rational”.
Substitute “fundamentalist Christian” for “african ” in Dr. Henry’s statement and you have a fair critique of what’s wrong with this Evening Standard report–and with much of the media.