When Religion Gets Dangerous

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Again something in the news disturbs me, and I am sure I am not alone in this.

Briefly, for the first time in many years under the direction of the Taliban, a public execution by stoning took place in a village in Afghanistan. (To read the article go to: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/17/world/asia/17stoning.html?_r=1&th&emc=th) The act was celebrated by those who want to embrace Shariah law. Appropriately it has been condemned and denounced around the world. Clearly I count myself among those who would call this nothing less than the evil that it is.

As a religious leader, what concerns me is how we respond to these kinds of reports.

There is a push to identify all of Islam with this violent fundamentalist culture. That is simply not true. Islam is as multifaceted as is Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism etc. I am sure many in the Islamic world are also appalled by the repressive violence of such acts.

There are some who would use this incident to validate their assertion that the Koran is an inherently violent text that inevitably leads to this kind of ideology and culture. That is also simply not true. I have not read the Koran in many years, so I cannot speak to its texts. But I do know that the Bible is also filled with texts that can and have at times been used to justify the same kind of intolerance and violence. The Bible has been (miss)used to justify colonial expansion, genocide, slavery, repression of women, antisemitism, etc.

Read again Joshua and Judges. Read the texts in which people of faith are called to slaughter their enemies and destroy their cities in the name of God.  Read how those who refuse to do so are condemned and even put to death. Read through Numbers, Leviticus, Deuteronomy and take note of the number and types of behavior that are subject to death by stoning. Read the Gospel of John and note how it can and has been used to justify antisemitism, and the worst kind of violence against Jews.

If we assert that the Koran is an inherently violent and repressive text, we would have to say the same thing about the Bible. That is what some are saying who claim that all religion is a dangerous thing.

We need to remember that the scriptural texts come to us from ancient, tribal, and often quite violent cultures. We do not need to embrace those cultures in order to embrace God who is revealed in and through these texts. The hard work is to become good readers of scripture. That is a life time project.

The Koran and the Bible are also filled with texts that call for peace, compassion, tolerance, justice, care for the poor and the marginalized, and recognize the greatness of God who is rich in mercy. I believe the nature and will of God is revealed in those texts that stand over and against the self-justifying intolerance and violence of the surrounding cultures.

The reasons for the different ways in which the scriptures are used or abused, be it the Bible, the Koran, the Upanishads or other texts,  are found in the readers, not in the texts themselves.

In this latest news report I find a call to stand  against, not Islam or the Koran, but all forms of rigid, repressive, intolerant fundamentalism, in whatever religious system it appears. That stance inevitably leads to self-justifying violence. In this age in which we see so clearly the destructive nature of religiously motivated intolerance and hate, we cannot let it get a toe hold in us.

I am a Christian. I follow Jesus Christ, who when a group of men cornered a woman caught in adultery and handed him a stone, asking if they should stone her to death as the Bible commanded them to do, he replied: “Let the one amongst you who has not sinned cast the first stone.” They all walked away. (John 8:1-11) He taught that we are to love our enemies, not slaughter them.

Paul writes in Ephesians 2 that he came preaching peace, breaking down the dividing wall between peoples. His way is the way of peace. His commandment is to love, radically, compassionately. That, my friends, is the path that pleases God.

4 thoughts on “When Religion Gets Dangerous

  1. It is sad to see the abuse of religion. St. Augustin says something to the effect that if the bible appears to advocate for violence, we need to rethink.

    This is a fine post, Bill. You’re saying things that need to be said.

    I wonder if you are familiar with the work that Judea Pearl (Jewish, Daniel Pearl’s father) and Ahmend Akbar (Islamic) are doing together. There is also a young American born, Imam Hamza Yosef, who is quite influential here in the States. One of the things he has said about some of these appalling incidents in rural areas is that the imam’s are not well educated – in fact quite ignorant – and don’t really know how to interpret Koran. Something on all of three here by way of intro:

    Recently, in the midst of all the bruha over the proposed Islamic Center near the site of 9/11, Freed Zakaria (Islamic) encouraged its building saying that if there is going to be a modification of the fundamentalist approach, it would be from such centers in the West.

    Well, let us choose peace and compassion. It has to begin with each of us, one by one.

    Good work here, Bill. Like!

  2. Thank you, sincerely for your thoughts and the link. I was going to ask for a link to your Radical Sanity series, and here is one. Could you send me the link to the beginning of the series? I’d love to read and listen through it.

    I know very little about Islam. I do need to do some reading so that I can address these issues more clearly.

    I do look forward to more dialogue with you on these issues as well as on poetry.

  3. Thank you for asking, Bill, and for your interest. I enjoy our dialogue and look forward to your posts and poems … Here is the link for the first of five.

    I have been thinking of reposting since I had virtually no readers at that time. Something interesting did happen though. I found that I had a lot of hits coming in from a mosque in Saudi. I was surprised and researched it. I found they had posted on the American imam in California. Basically, they were saying that their own had turned on them. Too sad. That is not at all his intention. His intention is peace. You will find many of his presentations on YouTube, if you are interested.

    Thanks for everything, Bill. Have a great day.

    • I appreciate the leads. I was back at B & N earlier today and started skimming through two books on Islam & Islam in America. I forget the titles at the moment. But one author is Ahmend Akbar. I will go back to them on my next trip. One of the difficulties is knowing what is good to read and what isn’t, and then actually having the time to read all the things I would like to.

      I am going to link to your early posts. Very interesting. Sadly I find that sentimental stuff often gets the most read and the stuff worth reading gets left behind. Maybe that is one of the symptoms pointing to what makes us so prone to anger and distortion around others rather than acceptance and understanding. And sentimental religion is seldom transforming. Quite the opposite. – Bill

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