Tag Archives: Christianity

She Must Be Stopped

Who's the greater threat to America, Muslims or religious bigotry like this?

“In the Muslim world, extreme is mainstream… there is a cancer infecting the world. The cancer is called Islamofacism. This ideology is coming out of one source: The Koran.” With these words, Brigitte Gabriel (also known as Nour Saman) opens her book “Because They Hate: A Survivor of Islamic Terror Warns America.”

If these few sentences weren’t enough to alarm you, consider me alarmed!

Brigitte Gabriel (a pseudonym she uses, as she claims to have received death threats) is a conservative author and activist who’s made repeated appearances at conservative events across the country, including a Tea Party convention last fall. Gabriel is originally from Lebanon, and frequently recounts stories of the horrors of growing up in war-torn Lebanon in the 70s. But rather than give a fair account of what happened during that time, Gabriel portrays the conflict as one of righteous, completely nonviolent Christians being massacred by warmongering Muslims. While it’s true that Christians were the group that suffered the greatest losses during this time, the Christians in fact formed their own militia and struck back against Muslim groups, which could hardly be called turning the other cheek.

This victimized mindset shows through very clearly in her talks and thoughts, in which she portrays all Muslims as extremist terrorists bent on the destruction of America and Christianity. Gabriel sees Islam as a religion bent on total world domination and subjugation, which is an idea as surprising to most Muslims as it is to her listeners and readers. She has a particularly strong following among evangelical and fundamentalist Christians and factions of the Republican party, especially those on the far right side.

To get the rest of the story, you should really read this New York Times article, which does a much better job than me of describing her antics.

Okay, welcome back! I hope you enjoyed and were as stressed out by it as I was. The most offensive part of Gabriel’s aggressively anti-Islam stance is how hypocritical it is for a fundamentalist Christian to be saying such things. When Gabriel makes the claim that Islam seeks to control the whole world, she obviously isn’t looking very closely at her own religion, one which is notorious for its colonizing influence and insistence on total religious conformity. Christianity, especially that of the evangelical sort, is a religion focused on conversion and, ideally, the entire world would be converted to this religion eventually. At least, I’m guessing that’s what Brigitte Gabriel would say.

So it seems to me that saying Islam is particularly “conquest-happy” is a horrible misrepresentation of this unique religion, and I’m sure most Muslims would agree. Radicals exist in all religions, not just Islam, and Gabriel’s singling-out of Muslims as particularly “anti-American” or as universally extreme is infuriating. There’s already enough anti-Muslim sentiment in the Christian community, and the last thing the world needs is more tension between these two major religions.

And it doesn’t end there. Brigitte Gabriel isn’t just offensive with this kind of rhetoric, she’s dangerous. Besides inciting dangerous hatred toward Muslims, which is of course bad enough in its own right, Gabriel is likely to stir up exactly the kind of extremism that she’s warning against. While the vast majority of Muslims are the polar opposites of terrorists, there are violent cells within the religion, and this kind of hateful, aggressive speech will only stir up more hatred and aggression in turn.

So I would say that it’s time for Americans to start standing up for religious freedom for all, and a freedom from discrimination is a large part of that. Just as most would consider it wrong to assume that someone is guilty of a crime based solely on their race, it is wrong to assume that a person is harboring terroristic motives and intentions based solely on their religion. What Brigitte Gabriel and others who would stereotype and demonize Muslims must realize is that this country’s laws were not made to protect their religious freedom, but the religious freedom of all people.

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The Unparalleled Power of Patriotism (Part 2)

Perhaps this is truer than people are willing to recognize?

This post is a continuation of an earlier one, “The Unparalleled Power of Patriotism (Part 1).” Read it first!

Looking at patriotism in this way, it’s easy to see how things can get carried away. The sense that the loss of an American life is more devastating than the loss of an Iraqi’s or any other person’s life instills Americans with a dangerous sense of superiority, of an almost racist nature.

Not only can this give Americans too much of a “proud to be an American” sense, it inherently devalues any who aren’t American!

Nationalism can take many forms, but I would say that any amount of patriotic zealotry is too much. I recently saw some of this on a blog I had the misfortune of coming across, called “Patriotic Mom.” The mom, whose name is Pamela Reece, gushes in a post about her patriotism, and how central it is to “being American.” One of the comments on the post, by one Josh Ondich, reads as follows: “Patriotism can be used as good like the National Anthem or the pledge, but has been used by dictators like Adolf Hitler and Joesph Stalin to invade countries and impose mass genocide against millions of people. using patriotism for war is using it for terror. -Peace”

Now, I thought this was a perfectly valid and fairly unbiased point. The guy was simply pointing out an observation he had made. This was Pamela’s response:

Josh,
Using patriotism for war? Perhaps you have forgotten about 9/11!! Remember? When war was declared on the U.S.? We are defending America and fighting the global war on terror. Patriotism is standing by America…recite the words of the National Anthem and remember 9/11. Do this and you will understand.

United we stand!

Now, maybe I’m just blind or stupid, but it seems like this response is exactly what Josh Ondich is warning of. Besides that, Pamela Reece’s “comeback” argument illustrates perfectly the kind of fanatical, almost mindless patriotism that many Americans use to justify all kinds of evil. The line, “Patriotism is standing by America… recite the words of the National Anthem and remember 9/11. Do this and you will understand,” is particularly appalling. To me, the advice to recite our National Anthem and remember 9/11 is reminiscent of Soviet-style nationalism or the advice some Christians give: “Just pray to Jesus and you’ll understand the truth!” It shows a terrifying immaturity of thought and a dangerous unwillingness to listen to any kind of disagreement, insisting that a “good American” doesn’t ask questions and doesn’t need answers.

Perhaps more infuriating though, is a “tribute” on the left side of the page, a slideshow with images of 9/11 and the bombing of the USS Cole, which then transitions to the words “Never Forget Who Did It,” which is followed by pictures of Middle Eastern men. This victim mentality was used by George Bush to embroil the US in two devastating wars, and is still the opinion of many conservatives (particularly evangelical Christians) in the United States.

As Gandhi said, “An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.” I can think of few things that are more blinding than such an insistence on national superiority. Patriotism is good when it’s used to express valid pride in country and culture. But it, perhaps more than any other sentiment, can become poisonous extremely quickly. As soon as patriotism is turned into a justification or reasoning for war, torture, or other such crimes against humanity, it can become nationalist, McCarthyistic fervor, which is no better than the religious fanaticism American patriotism is so often turned against.

 

 

 

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Seeking the Spiritual: The Intimate Bond of Culture and Religion

Grow up in a different culture, and chances are you'll follow a different faith.

One of the very important things that I’ve been realizing about the world and the people in it over the last few months is the level to which religion is a cultural tradition and inheritance. This may seem like an extremely obvious conclusion for anyone to come to, but for me, this has been a difficult thing. As I’ve mentioned in a number of previous posts, I was brought up in a strongly Christian environment. For most of my life, when I was an adherent of evangelical Christianity, I rarely, if ever, questioned why I believed what I did. If I were to seriously ask myself this question a few years ago, my answer would’ve been, “Because you know that it’s true!”

But recently, I’ve allowed my old conceptions of religion and people be challenged and remodeled. This has been partially due to my travels over the last summer to France, Holland, Greece, and most importantly, Turkey. I’ve had the privilege of seeing how other people live their faith, particularly in the case of Islam, as I experienced life in a country where the (very) dominant religion is one very different from what I had experienced for the greater part of my life. I also have a great many friends from China (due to the large international student program at my school), and getting to know them and their fascinating culture has helped my understanding of Eastern thought to broaden.

Here’s where I’m going with this. Over recent months, I’ve discovered more and more that the reason I believed what I did for most of my life has been because I grew up with it, in a mini-culture that told me that the right thing to believe was Christianity. And more importantly, I’ve realized that others (again, this sounds like an obvious point), particularly those in vastly different parts of the world like Turkey, have grown up being taught that the right thing to believe was Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, or even atheism. I can see now that so much of what I “believed” was simply what had been passed down to.

Now, this is only natural. Parents teach their children what they think is right, and in fact many holy books instruct parents to do this (Proverbs 22:6 of the Bible, for example). But when someone becomes a brash conversionist (I know, I made it up) with their religion, they seem to leave sanity behind in their mad rush to change others to their way of thinking. What I mean by “leaving their sanity behind,” is that these religious practitioners have so thoroughly convinced themselves of their own rightness and the wrongness of others, that they forget that they probably only believe what they do because they were raised that way!

More frightening than that though, they forget that the beliefs that others hold dear are ones that they were always raised on as well. The reason for their belief in whatever religion it may be is their upbringing, not some deep-seated and witless desire to be a heretic. So when you get down to the heart of the issue, an evangelical Christian (this is only an example) and the young Indian Hindu he is trying to convert both believe in their respective religions for the same reason: They were always taught to.

I strongly believe that if more people, from all places, traditions, and religions could accept this, there would be far fewer people condemning each other for what seem to me to be obviously cultural influences. No person can decide the circumstances of their birth, and it’s a terrible thing that religious people of all kinds issue bold proclamations that anyone who doesn’t accept their truth, including young children who have heard nothing about it, is doomed. Truth be told, this is a pretty typical trait of the evangelical Christian in particular. I was talking with an evangelical acquaintance of mine about this very issue, not too long ago. I asked her, “What about an orphaned child in India? Chances are they’re going to grow up learning Hinduism as their religion. What happens if that child dies, and they’ve never heard anything about the Christian god?” She answered (paraphrase), “God’s justice is different from our justice. It’s sad that it has to happen, but the Bible says that anyone who doesn’t accept Jesus Christ is going to hell, no matter what. And that’s just the way it is!”

There is something desperately wrong with that picture.

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Seeking the Spiritual: What did Jesus Really Say?

What did he really preach?

It’s more or less unarguable that the figure of Jesus Christ has had an enormous impact on the world, especially the Western one. Whether or not he really existed, or performed any of the miracles he claimed to, or died on the cross and rose again on the third day, Jesus has influenced Western thought and religion for 2,000 years.

I was raised in a strongly evangelical Christian setting. I went to church every Sunday, attended Sunday school, and I’ve been educated at private Christian schools from when I was four years old to the day I’m writing this post. I’ve been inundated in Christian teaching nearly every day of my life.

To be fair to my parents, I want to interject that I hold nothing against them for this, and they have always been extremely supportive of whatever view I choose to have. They just raised me in the way that they thought was best, and I really appreciate their love and commitment.

But has what I’ve always been taught about Jesus and my faith been the right view? I would never have challenged this two years ago, or even a year ago, but now I find myself asking really tough new questions. I owe this, at least in part, to a book I’m reading with members of the church I’m currently going to, called “Writing in the Sand.” The author, Thomas Moore, proposes some fascinating and difficult questions, and has given me an entirely new idea of who Jesus might be.

But first, I want to say that I don’t think that Jesus’ historicity is at all important in the debate over who he was. From the conservative Christian standpoint, Jesus’ factual existence is crucial, but I would challenge this view. Is it really important, for anyone, that Jesus did everything the Bible records? From the typical evangelical Christian perspective, the historicity of Scripture is paramount, but I would challenge this. So many problems arise for the Christian who tries to hang his faith on a literal interpretation of the Bible. And from a theological perspective, what’s more important? We could spend all the time in the world arguing about whether such-and-such event in the Bible really happened, and we would get nowhere, but if one focused on what the real message of Jesus was, all the rest is unimportant.

So what was the real message of Jesus? That’s a hotly contested issue, and one that I must admit I don’t have the most concrete answer for. But I have my ideas! Perhaps the real message of Jesus is far different than what we’ve come to expect and interpret. Maybe Jesus wasn’t trying to establish a new religion at all, but a new way of life. The very fact that there’s a Christian religion at all to me says that there’s been a deep misinterpretation of Jesus’ purpose. If one really reads the Gospels, the focus of Jesus’ life was caring for others, not making them believe or live morally pleasing lives. So much baggage has been added to who Jesus was and what he meant that his message has been twisted into a state that he would probably barely recognize.

The rebirth that Jesus meant when he said “you must be born again” was not a change of religion or belief, but a change of mindset. His message was not one that was meant only to apply to those who call themselves “Christian” or live a perfectly moral life. As Thomas Moore puts it, “Establishing the kingdom in the world doesn’t mean converting people to a belief system but creating the climate in which a spiritual vision combines with deep engagement with life.” Jesus wasn’t worried about the temporal religious designations we put on ourselves and others. He, like the Buddha, Saint Francis, Mohammed, Gandhi, Mother Theresa, Lao-Tzu, and many others, was concerned with waking us from our stupor, and making all people realize that there’s a much deeper reality to the world than most people are willing to accept.

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God & Government

Just as it should be.

“Separation of church and state.” It’s one of those phrases that gets thrown around the political arena endlessly, and permeates almost all talk involving the role of religion in government (and really, vice versa as well).

But what exactly does (and should) this mean? That’s where the conflict starts arising.

The phrase itself isn’t actually found in the Constitution, but instead in a letter that Thomas Jefferson wrote about said document, in which he praised the American people for building a “wall of separation” between the church and the state in the form of the First Amendment.

A number of conservative Christians claim that “separation of church and state” is found nowhere in the Constitution, but it seems crystal clear that the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment doesn’t want the state to influence the church, and especially doesn’t want the church to influence the state, at least outside of the normal voting rights of members of the church. “No law respecting an establishment of religion” seems pretty black and white to me.

And yet, as usual, there’s conflict. The issue from the typical Christian’s viewpoint though, is that God unilaterally supersedes government, no matter what. I hope it’s as obvious to my readers as it is to me that this is an incredibly dangerous way of thinking, at least from the perspective of the general public. The religious right is already adept at insisting that all members of American society should adhere to their definition of what is right. In doing this, they are both invoking and revoking the First Amendment simultaneously.

Let me explain what I mean by this. The religious right (and, to a lesser extent, the majority of the evangelical Christian movement) is invoking their First Amendment right to freedom of religion, refusing to let the government repress their religious expression, which is a good thing. But at the same time, they’re essentially saying that all citizens of the US must respect their establishment of religion. Laws that are brought into being out of religious conviction are inherently un-Constitutional, as they turn the state into a vehicle of whichever religion those convictions sprang from (mostly Christianity).

So many evangelical Christians (I’m sort of zeroing in on this one religious group, I know. I give no excuse for this, having been one in past) have such a strong “God over government” mentality that they don’t hesitate at all in their willingness to trample the rights (and sometimes humanity) of others to do the “godly” thing. In a democracy, disdain for the authority of government in some ways shows a disdain for the rights and authority of the governed, because the authority of said government is derived from the consent of the governed. The laws and protections afforded by the government don’t just reflect the desires of the president or Congress, they reflect the desires and needs of the people under said government. And if the religious right thinks that that government, the one whose job it is to protect religious and ideological minorities (no matter how much disagreement the evangelical Christian community raises), is still beholden to a homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic God (just to give a few religious right examples), then they will stop at nothing to mow down the institutions of that government that they don’t think their God would agree with.

 

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And You Thought America was Uptight!

Before I get started discussing this, I’d like to say that I know this is old news, so please refrain from telling me to pick up the paper. That said, this news is still sadly relevant! In fact, it’s come to the forefront again very recently. So hear me out.

Homosexuality and homosexual practice has always been a point of contention in Africa, especially in recent years. The general sentiment in many African countries (most notably Uganda) is that homosexuality is not just wrong, as many Americans feel, but an outright abomination and crime. In October 2010, the magazine pictured here (not the Rolling Stone you’re thinking of) released the names and addresses of 100 “Top Homos” in Uganda under an injunction to “Hang Them.” One of the people named in the article (and pictured on the cover) was David Kato, a gay rights activist in Uganda who was beaten to death with a hammer just 3 days ago in his home.

It’s been proposed (and perhaps not wrongly so) that the flames of anti-gay sentiment in Uganda were stoked in large part by a number of evangelical Christians that have helped “encourage” the evangelical Christian community in Uganda to view homosexuality as an aberration, an unnatural way of life, and of course, a sin. In the thinking of such blameless souls as Rick Warren, homosexuality is against the grain of normality, and is thus not something that need be considered a human right. To slather icing on the cake, a number of American evangelical leaders have popularized the idea that homosexuality is the immediate precursor to the dissolution of the African family. In the words of the minister of ethics and integrity, James Nsaba Buturo, “Homosexuals can forget about human rights.” Classy guy, eh?

Ya know, this sounds pretty similar to what the Evangelical movement is seeking to achieve on American soil. Fundamentalist Christians have for years been striving to exorcise homosexuality from the US, but this isn’t a fight reserved just for America. No no, the “gay agenda” must be rooted out across the globe, according to folks like Scott Lively.

And Uganda seems to take this as a sacred and blood-soaked duty. The president of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, drafted a bill that threatens to drastically expand the penalties that can be imposed on gays in Uganda, up to and including capital punishment. Besides that, the bill, if passed, would call for homosexual Ugandans who have fled the country to be deported for punishment. But wait, it gets better! Museveni made the decision to bring this bill about after being converted to Christianity by American evangelicals. Regardless of who actually drafted the bill, none of these “good Christians” have voiced strong opposition to the bill, at most discouraging Parliament from such drastic measures. Similarly, none will say that Museveni’s insanity toward gays was at all inspired by them.

Yet more proof of the destructive capabilities mustered by members of the American evangelical movement. All we can do now is hope and pray that this bill never passes.

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