Religious hatred for political reasons is again on the rise and people are dying horribly as a result.
Although I am chagrined, embarrassed and tormented to be identified as a member, indeed a former leader, of a group engaged in proliferating religious-sounding, political-cultural hate, I realize we Christians are not alone in doing that. At the same time, I am a critic of Christian hate and an advocate of taking necessary steps to distance ourselves from cults and cliques that advocate hatred and violence in the name of Christ. I am also in several ways a potential target and victim as well as a part of humanity that is jeopardized and diminished by this hatred.
Let me be clear, if simplification can help. Let’s say that hate comes on two levels (although we know it comes in all grades of severity). The first level is “lethal” hate, and the other level we could call “pervasive” ... just for discussion’s sake.
Lethal hate has a lot in common with hysteria and it produces panic which is hysterical in reaction. This level of hate is ignited by fear of being overwhelmed. Here in Thailand I have been in touch with three religious systems, Christianity, Buddhism and Islam. Each of these has hate mongers in the news at present. Islam is plagued with militant terrorists called the “Islamic State”, an incarnation of Al Qaeda, the current form of Wahabism, launched by an itinerant preacher, Abd al-Wahab (1703-66). Buddhism is beset by an alliance of radical monks who have undertaken horrendous attacks on Rohingya Muslims in Burma and against Hindus and Christians in Sri Lanka (For a larger discussion of Buddhism and violence see the book BUDDHIST WARFARE). Christianity’s lethal hate-mongers have hijacked the missionary model to spread terror in the name of Christ. A recent report by the Human Rights Campain identifies a few names behind the movements around the world (especially in Africa and Central Asia) to suppress marriage equality and inflame loathing against gays and lesbians into violent attacks and repressive laws. See the report available online at THE EXPORT OF HATE. The fact is indisputable: certain Americans are fomenting dangerous hatred in the name of Jesus.
Of course, those proponents of lethal hate do not represent the huge majority of Buddhists, Muslims and Christians. ISIS beheaders do not fairly represent Islam in 2014 any more than a Ku Klux Klan lynch mob represented Christianity in 1930. But that brings us to “pervasive hate” which is far more prevalent.
There is a thin line separating those who have steadfast loyalty to a religious culture and those who deny the validity of other religious cultures. The issue is tolerance of diversity. When one says, “Outside the church there is no salvation,” or “When the rapture comes non-believers will be left behind,” one is teetering on the line. The thing is, the exclusivists do not feel hatred and would be annoyed to have their positions described as intolerant. They have hatred narrowed down to a feeling of angry loathing, which they do not think they have. They counter that they have “good friends who are ... (‘others’)”. But their system of thinking essentially denies the possibility that other faith systems potentially carry as much validity as their own. They harbor at least a secret anguish that others refuse to grasp the truth; or, more passively, the exclusivists may simply be loyal and dedicated to groups that would prefer for diversity to go away. Their guilt is collective, and so it is one step removed. The most progressive among these exclusivists confess, “I just don’t know” (how to evaluate the validity of other faith systems). Those who are conservators of “the one truth” are active
on Facebook posting daily news of how Islam is threatening Israel and trying to install Sharia law in Michigan.
Here we hit the wall. Insofar as cultures are divided between liberals and conservatives, the conservatives think the liberals are prone to accept guilt, real and imaginary, for all the evils in the universe. Liberals accuse conservatives of denying they can be a part of a culture that is at all flawed, and many other denials as well. It is hard to make common cause against lethal hatred and those who use it to incite violence and atrocities when each side thinks the other is a dangerous threat to culture.
To make an impact on this dangerous polarization, all I can think of is how to “act locally”. In October 2001, a month after 9/11, I organized a local response to the fact that a youth group from St. Louis had cancelled their trip to Thailand. It was clear in my mind that the United States was in great danger, but I thought the greater aspect of the danger was from feeling endangered and mistaking the cause. “This will traumatize America,” I feared. [In retrospect I think I was prophetic.] So I organized a project to send a trio of students to St. Louis in place of the young people who had cancelled. The trio included a Christian, a Buddhist and a Muslim. They represented an alternative vision, peace. The project was called “A Peace Mission”. A second mission group went 2 years later, but by that time the besieged mentality in America was too strong to continue the project.
Alas, our six girls did not stem the tide of religious fear.
Still, the only practical hope I know of is to act locally. A decade after the Peace Missions ended, a Buddhist abbot and I organized an inter-religious project here in the hills. [The picture accompanying this blog is from that project.] We used our influence and resources to encourage Christians and Buddhists to build a bridge in a village where walls could easily go up. Together we brought a Christian-Buddhist Christmas to that village that is remembered to this day. Both the half of the village that is Christian and the half that is Buddhist live in harmony. Their ground is impervious to seeds of lethal religious hate. The abbot and I do not take credit for it. Their harmony is of long standing, but we celebrated it and the kids in the village are now teenagers. They and their elders remember.
So, what shall we do next ... you where you are, and me here?
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.