Having discussed in a previous post what it means to be America, let us turn our attention to one of the most divisive global issues of the present day: that of religious affiliation.
For all of the technological sophistication we have attained, for all of the nuances of civil discourse we have evolved, in matters of religion we are but a hair’s breadth separated from our tribal ancestors. The mere mention of religion can scrape away the thin veneer of cultural pluralism to which we pretend, leading to attitudes descending rapidly into a my-God’s-better-than-your-God schoolyard-style scrap.
If we accept the validity of all religions and keep our minds open to all of their teachings, we can quickly understand that we are blessed with a plethora of deities, spirits and otherworldly presences, each with wisdom to share if we but listen.
Regrettably, there are many among us whose minds are firmly closed to any truth not conforming to their preconceived mindset and dogma. This fundamentalist attitude is a disease of the small-minded, a disease responsible for unconscionable destruction of human lives and livelihoods. And the disease has proven to be not only resilient but surprisingly virulent in the current political climate.
There is a perception in America today that Islam is fundamentally evil, a perception born of ignorance and intolerance in both directions. The actions of a tiny minority of extremists have drastically colored the views of the American public, and a half billion decent, law-abiding Muslims have been tarred with the same brush. A recent story carried by the American news media showed that some American voters, even registered Democrats, are unwilling to vote for Barack Obama because he is a Muslim. Leaving aside the erroneousness of the statement, it highlights the view that all Muslims are to be considered untrustworthy.
Likewise, there is a view among many Muslims that America has essentially declared a jihad against their faith, that all Americans are intolerant of their beliefs and hell-bent on their eradication. This too is based very much on the actions of certain far-right extremists in the American political arena.
Similar conflicts beset Israel and its neighbors, as well as tribal groups worldwide. The sad fact is that a vast majority of the world’s people genuinely yearn for peace, even those who believe that peace can only come as a result of violence. There are even those who believe that the price of peace is the wholesale vernichtung of one side or the other.
The truth is that most wars, most conflicts, most misunderstandings can be avoided before they begin, simply through the effort to listen to another’s position with an open mind and the willingness to find a mutually acceptable compromise.
I would recommend that every Christian take the time to read al-Qu’ran and that every Muslim take the time to read the Bible. Each making even this much effort to understand the other could lend itself to a massive change.
Muslims are enjoined to greet one another by saying ‘Assalam-o-Alaikum’ that is, peace be upon you. According to a saying of the Prophet, the best Islam is to greet everyone you come across, regardless of whether or not you are acquainted with the person.
Likewise, peace is inherent in Christianity. Jesus said it bluntly: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:9). The Gospels also provide this gem from Luke 1:78-79: “By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
Let us not forget Judaism in all of this, a religion often disparaged by Christians and Muslims alike. In the Jerusalem Talmud, Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel said: “By three things is the world preserved: judgment, truth and peace. And all three are in effect one.”
Many of the Eastern traditions stress that peace within oneself and peace within the world go hand in hand, and that neither can be achieved fully without the other. A wide variety of Native American traditions stress similar points.
So is our history truly nothing more than a series of wars over which of these peace-loving religions is supreme?
It would certainly be more constructive to draw a line under the long history of wars and instead allow history yet in the making to be a series of lessons on how best to understand each other.
The word ‘religion’ comes from roots meaning “to re-tie” – that is, to re-establish the bond between oneself and the Divine. Perhaps this bond would be better served if our particular Divine were more than something to take out of our back pockets and wave threateningly at people we don’t know or understand.
Read Full Post »