Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Islam, Violence, and The Log In Our Own Eye

One of the inevitable outcomes of the Marathon bombing has been another round of yarping from that portion of the American vox populi that is eager to lay the blame for the event on an entire world religion.

Islam, or so it is argued, is an inherently violent religion.  When the radicalized elder Tsarnaev brother became obsessed with jihad, they say, it was because this is the natural outcome of his being a Muslim.  In my twitter feed, which is intentionally and wildly diverse politically, those on the right fringe describe the brothers as "Chechen Muslims," as if they hadn't spent pretty much their entire lives in the United States.

In the ultraconservative pundit silo, much of this anti-Islam talk comes from souls who have made a career out of saying and doing things designed to polarize and give offense.  Ann Coulter, for instance, suggested that the widow of Tsarnaev should have been imprisoned for wearing a hijab.  We can throw her in prison with all the Amish women, I suppose.  But coming across as a neocon Disney villainess pays Coulter's mortgage, so that's not a surprise.   Others got into the act.  In his talk show, Bill Maher suggested that the issue was that Islam was not like other religions.

"There's only one faith that kills you or wants to kill you if you draw a cartoon of the prophet," said Maher.

The challenge for a culture that has considered itself primarily Christian, though, lies in Christianity's own frequently violent holy book, and our own unfortunately bloodstained history.

There's a whole bunch of smiting/slaying/butchery in the Bible.  Divine instruction that the Amalekites be killed down to their last chicken, and God getting cheesed off when they weren't.  Oceans folding in on armies.  Mass Firstbornicide.

That's hardly just the "mean ol' Testament God," either, thanks in large part to the Book of Revelation.  Lakes of fire, anyone?

Maher's statement is true now, sure.  But honey child, we've got history.  Taking our texts and our past into account, Christianity has a whole bunch of mess on our hands.  This is a hard thing to miss.

And many folks don't.  In fact, when they read through the Bible, they have the same reaction to it that I frequently had in my cover-to-cover reading of the Quran.   Being liberal, I feel that you have to actually and openly encounter something in order to make any kind of definitive statement about it, and the Quran...well...

It's a hard read.

But so is the Bible.

The issue, as I see it, is not faith itself, and it is certainly not any encounter with the Deep Real of our Creator.

It is the degree to which faith becomes corrupted by the human desire for power over others.   It is the degree to which we confuse God with the coercive power of the state.  Particularly our own state.  It is the degree to which we allow ancient biases and fears to govern our actions.  It is the degree to which we make a text our god.

Once we get that log out of our own eye, well, then maybe we can talk.