My White Tribe

In 2017, White nationalism has roared into the public square, commandeering the American flag to fly alongside the Confederate flag as symbols of the real—white—America. The concerted efforts at black voter suppression continue, now at the national level led by the President’s own executive action. The Attorney General is dismantling the checks on abuses in the criminal justice system and rescinding the previous administration’s directive that the Justice Department begin to disengage from the for-profit prison industrial complex. He is ramping up the war on drugs with its racially discriminatory laws. His Justice Department will begin suing colleges and universities, on behalf of white (and Asian) people, over affirmative-action admissions policies. This is what making America great again looks like to my tribe.

Yesterday, up the road from my hometown, in Charlottesville, VA, Richard Spencer led a crowd of white nationalists who carried torches and chanted Nazi slogans. They were protesting the slated removal of a Confederate statue—or maybe it was the Festival of Cultures happening in the same park, which celebrates the rich cultural diversity of the city. It looked for all the world as if they were trying to take the United States back to the time when Richard Wright wrote of not being able to walk in a white neighborhood without fear. Then again, maybe less has changed than I want to believe. Read “My White Tribe”




White Tribalism Goes Mainstream

The new neighbor from across the street–the one with the Trump sign in his yard, rebel flag across his garage windows, and Nazi flag on his son’s basketball backboard–walked into the party wearing a shirt that said on the back, “Better a wolf of Odin than a Lamb of God.”

The Will to Devolution, up now at Eclectica.



In Mammon We Trust

“Here is the irony: in allying themselves with big business, the Christian Libertarian preachers, James W. Fifield and his ilk, helped erect a Maginot Line against what they saw as Godless socialism, which would lead to Godless communism; at the same time, they cheered and waved flags as the blitzkrieg of Godless capitalism swept around their defenses.”

This essay is part of a collection I am working on about struggling free of the cult once called Fundamentalism, now commonly known as Conservative Evangelical Christianity. If you have a few minutes, read my essay In Mammon We Trust, out now in Eclectica.


Are Muslims and Christians Killing Each Other for the Same God?

Two Faiths, One God?


From the “Good Letters” archive, Friday March 9, 2012


By Vic Sizemore

In 1990 and 1991 I was a combat engineer with the 5th Marines, and we were part of the invasion of Iraq during Desert Storm. I saw the nifty new technology, the almost playful ways we had devised to murder one another, and a deep sadness sank into my heart. It felt a lot like guilt; I didn’t kill anyone myself, but I sure was there. Maybe there’s something of survivor’s guilt mixed in, I don’t know.

That was over twenty years ago now. It’s difficult to explain; the experience didn’t ruin my life, and I didn’t suffer from PTSD, but that dull sadness has hung around, turned to a kind of weariness—but not one devoid of all hope. When I saw that we were leaving Iraq several months ago my spirit lifted a little.

Naturally I first thought of those boys and girls who would get to leave harm’s way, come home. Live a life.

Now religious leaders and aspiring politicians are calling for good Christian Americans to “end” Muslims, or at least ban them from entering the country. While there is a Gordian knot of issues, I keep coming back to what appears to be the one big problem: our cultures simply have different value systems—religious values—and never the twain shall meet, as it has been and ever will be.

Are Christians and Muslims destined to be eternally at one another’s throats? Is there any way for these competing worldviews to live together in peace and justice, or must one ultimately prevail through force before some kind of uneasy peace can be reached? You might call me cynical if I told you what I really think about it.

Then I pick up a book from the new titles rack at my local library the other day. It was published last February but has just now made it to my small town. It is called Allah: A Christian Response, by Yale Divinity School professor Miroslav Volf. In the introduction he writes, “A clash of gods is a clash of values. That’s why whether or not a given community worships the same god as does another community has always been a crucial cultural and political question and not just a theological one.”

The question is not simply academic for Volf. Born in what was then Yugoslavia, and raised in the war-torn country, he is keenly aware of how religious misunderstanding and hatred destroy lives. “The stakes are high,” says Volf, because, “Muslims and Christians together comprise more than half of humanity.” There is a longing in Volf’s tone, a sadness I recognize.

His answer to the question of whether or not Christians and Muslims can live together is yes, a hope that rests on the claim that when Muslims pray to Allah and Christians pray to God (he notes that Coptic Christians in Egypt use the Arabic term Allah when praying) they are praying to the same God. The two faiths have both “inherited the one true God of Israel.”

Among the grounds he lays for this claim are three foundational beliefs which are central to both Islam and Christianity:

1. There is only one God, the one and only divine being (Mark 12:29; Muhammad 47:19).
2. God created everything that is not God (Genesis 1:1; Al Shura 42:11).
3. God is different from everything that is not God (I Timothy 6:16; Al An’am 6:103).

If indeed these three beliefs are held by both, then God and Allah have to be one and the same.

Volf is not trying to argue that a common God makes a common faith. He deals with the very real and difficult differences between the two religions—for example, he argues that what the Qur’an denies about the trinity should, properly understood, be denied by Christians also.

He also makes clear which Muslims and Christians he is talking about when he claims they worship the same God: those who believe “normative versions of their religions” and who also have “some appreciation for the tradition of interpretation and debate”—in other words, not fundamentalists.

He even maintains that if certain conditions are met, it is entirely possible to be one hundred percent Muslim while at the same time being one hundred percent Christian, because someone’s faith is a matter of her relation to God, and not her identification with a religion. Indeed, Volf comments, “Religious labels are useful because they help avoid confusion, but in a deep sense they don’t matter.”

It only does harm to set Muslims apart as worshippers of a false god. The problem with using God as a way to differentiate us from them is that in doing so “you turn God into a marker of identity…replace the one God…with the many gods of diverse nations.”

Volf sets aside the question of eternal salvation. “My concern here is more mundane,” he writes, “the earthly coexistence of Christians and Muslims.” In arguing that the two faiths share a God, Volf is attempting to find a place of commonality, a starting point for dialogue.

Is it possible to put away ancient hatred in the name of a shared god? Anything is worth a try. As Volf writes, “In God’s name, let’s stop killing each other.”