Fact, fear, history, hysteria

Listening to the flippant and often incorrect banter about world religions being tossed around these days, one is left relating rather easily with the despondence of Job in last Sunday’s first reading. Why is something meant to encourage harmony and even hope cause for so much anger and accusation? And why are some means of communication, that should encourage a spirit of goodwill instead propagating the opposite? Isn’t there a better way?

A series of articles in the diocesan newspaper had been gnawing at me for a while, seeming to warrant some kind of comment since, I presume, some of you read this publication. The articles in question had been brought to my attention by another priest and a few lay people, all rightfully appalled by the articles’ claims.

The first piece asked the question “Is Islam by its very nature a religion of violence?” The author, whose credentials were never offered, answered that complicated and rather incendiary question with, essentially, Yes. A full-page follow-up essay published a few weeks later was a response to a letter challenging the originally contention but which was curiously available to readers only on-line. In affirming the original column’s judgment, this article had the headline: “The violent mandate of Islam exposed.”

While I had mentally filed away these disparaging diatribes, recent responses to comments made by President Obama drew me to review them again. In many ways what critics maintain in attacking the President’s comments at a White House prayer breakfast are similar in tone and accuracy to those articles in the diocesen newspaper. Harsh, extremist, lacking in accuracy or at least perspective, and not really very helpful.

Let’s be clear, as President Obama stipulated in his remarks, the atrocities being committed in the Middle East, Africa, Paris and other regions of the world are horrific, unconscionable, repugnant – words fail to grasp the outrage that all should feel toward these attacks. And for perpetrators to suggest that their blood-thirsty terror is somehow prompted by religious tenant is distressingly outrageous. There is seemingly no end to the Islamic scholars, leaders and run-of-the-mill believers who reject what some Islamic fundamentalists claim to be doing in the name of their faith.

What the President also wanted to put before his audience of thoughtful, educated, faithful believers was the perspective that violence in the name of religion has not been confined over the centuries to one faith tradition. He referred to the shocking violence inflicted by Christians in the Crusades and Inquisition and Christian acquiescence to slavery, not to suggest in any way that history somehow condones today’s violence, but rather to demonstrate the painful reality of what can come from extreme and skewed understandings, or misguided claims, of what we profess to believe.

A level-headed exchange about faith and how it can be manipulated and distorted, instead became the usual lobbing of harsh, politically driven volleys that are of benefit to no cause, no political party or figure, and certainly not the truth. Just as it seems the diocesan newspaper is not the place to look for a sane, reasonable and responsible analysis of religion-prompted violence, nor are cable news channels or incendiary web sites very helpful either.

We gain nothing as Catholic Christians to denigrate another faith. Indeed we jeopardize our integrity by casting aspersions rooted more in fear than in fact, more in hysteria than history. If anything what’s happening in the misappropriated name of Islam should prompt our assurances of solidarity with those who adhere to the teachings of a faith other than our own but with which we share a common pursuit of peace.

As Pope Francis has stated clearly on more than one occasion, we cannot react to terrorism by being “enraged” against Islam. “You just can’t say that, just as you can’t say that all Christians are fundamentalists. We have our share of them (fundamental-ists). All religions have these little groups,” he said. “They (Muslims) say: ‘No, we are not this, the Koran is a book of peace, it is a prophetic book of peace’.”

Francis knows that. We know that. The President knows that. Be suspicious of those who don’t seem to have gotten the message. TL



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