The demonic in our time: The number of U.S. hate groups continues to rise

Are we at risk for another domestic terrorist attack, like the 1995 bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City?

Oklahoma City bombing, 1995

According to a new report by The Southern Poverty Law Center,  there are disturbing parallels today between furious rise of hate groups in the U.S. in the mid-1990’s and in 2013.

SPLC, a venerable civil rights organization “dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry,” monitors hate groups.  Their new report calls attention to how the 1994 ban on assault weapons helped stimulate a huge jump in hate groups.  This is mirrored today in a similar jump in hate groups due to the re-election of President Obama, combined with “an agenda of gun control and immigration reform.”

These events are likely, the SPLC cautions, to spur even further “rage on the right” and this is demonstrated by the dramatic increase in the number of domestic hate groups.

When we #OccupytheBible, we can see that intense rage, coupled with a militarized organization, should be considered a contemporary interpretation of the demonic.

One day, Jesus was confronted by a “wild man” possessed by a bunch of demons (Mark 5:9; Luke 8:30).  When Jesus speaks to the demons he asks, “What is your name?”  They said, “Legion” for as the text says, “we are many.”

“Legion” can certainly mean “a lot of demons.”  But it also was the name for the basic unit of Roman military organization.

The danger of wild or furious intensity combined with military type organization sheds an important light on the meaning of the demonic today.

The demons, or more likely the oppressive legions of both the Romans and their Jewish auxiliary, are “called out” by Jesus and they rush into a herd of swine and are drowned.  In ancient Israel, the eating of pork was forbidden, so being a swine was not a compliment.

We need to be aware that the gospels were composed under conditions of intense Roman militarized violence.

The raging of demonic intensity, combined with the allusion to Roman military organization, suggests a pragmatic interpretation of the demonic.  The demonic is the systemic organization of rage for a destructive purpose.

The rise of hate groups in the U. S. today is positively demonic, and it is darned dangerous.

About Susan Thistlethwaite

I am President Emerita and Professor Emerita of Chicago Theological Seminary; I write for the public here and in local papers. I am interested in what I call "public theology," or how deeper meaning is made and contested in the public square.
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