I was reading news and saw yet another incident of religious hatred and violence this morning. This time it was a Hasidic Jew in Brooklyn who decided to pour beer on the head of a recently married neighbor calling her an “Arab terrorist” and beating her husband. The couple was relatively new immigrants from Turkey that had recently moved into the heavily Jewish neighborhood. To quote a police spokesman the man identified as Simchon Schwartz attacked the woman screaming “F—ing Arabs! F—ing terrorists!” as he grabbed his neighbor, 27 year old Selda Turan. He shoved her against her car and poured beer on her head. After the attack Schwartz “keyed” the Turan’s car before fleeing to a nearby synagogue. When apprehended he fought the police and kicked out a window in a police cruiser. As he was doing this his wife told the Turans that “This is a majority Jewish neighborhood. We’re going to get you back.”
Now this is just the latest. We can list similar crimes committed by people of many religions against others who they view as enemies of God and true believers those of different religions, competing sects of their own religion different sects of their religion or those fallen away from the faith. Of course I am leaving out those crimes committed that are more influenced by race than religion or those perpetrated against women or other minorities.
There are radical Moslems who persecute and kill Christians, Jews, Hindus and Moslems of different sects. These tend to get the bulk of the media attention in the West because of the 9-11 attacks even though they are committed by a minority of radicals. Of course there are Islamic countries where much of the population is becoming radicalized so this could grow. In the United States we have seen a number of Moslems recently arrested for plotting attacks on U.S. Military installations in the United States, and times where Moslem men have committed “honor killings.” Across the globe there are many Moslem nations who either official sanction or tolerate the persecution and killing people of different beliefs sometimes in pretty gruesome ways, and forget freedom of religion, choice conscience or even basic human rights guaranteed by the United Nations Charter. Just this week the Taliban gave an unwitting 8 year old girl a sack with a bomb in it which they detonated killing her and those in the target zone.
Of course there are some Jews, admittedly the more hyper-orthodox types who believe that non-Jews, secularized Jews and women are somewhat less than human. Of course this is interesting in light of the Holocaust when the Nazis deemed Jews as sub-human. There are places in Israel where these hyper-Orthodox faithful even attack and stone other less observant Jews, not to mention wayward Arab Christians or Moslems that are Israeli citizens.
There are fundamentalist Hindus in India who burn down Christian villages and persecute Moslems, Moslems, Christians and Animists in Africa who depending on what trine they are from use their religion to persecute neighbors from different tries and religions. This happens all the time in Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya and the Congo but probably the worst of this type of violence was performed by Hutu and Tutsi Christians in Rwanda and Burundi who killed upwards of a million people back in 1994.
Then there are Christians, or those that claim to be of various varieties that see their specific sect as the elect and all others as bound for the Lake of Fire and fully worthy of God’s judgment in this life and the next. One immediately thinks of the Westboro Baptist Church” and the Fred Phelps clan but there are others even those that have twisted the Christian faith into model of racial purity in particular various White Supremacist groups. The Westboro bunch does not commit acts of violence but they do attempt to use legal means, the courts and the media to ensure that their message of hate is carried far and wide, using the right of religious expression to impinge on the rights and dignity of others. Now these groups all don’t amount to a hill of beans but they tend to become the poster children for this type of crime.
However the more subtle and socially acceptable people of this variety are those that use the imagery of war against God’s enemies to promote hate and forge political power. They are those that preach and promote theocracy where their particular understanding of religion will dominate politics and where their religion becomes the law of the land. Somehow people like David Barton, Bryan Fischer, Joseph Farah and a host of others manage to find in the Scriptures and the Constitution new and interesting ways to demonstrate that a Fundamentalist Protestant theocracy is what the founders of the nation intended to establish. They won’t say it this way; they will say that we were founded as a “Christian” nation. However most of the prominent leaders of the revolution and writers of the Constitution were Deists, Masons and even some non-believers. Jefferson, Madison, Adams and Franklin all held a cautious view of religion and saw from Europe’s history that the state endorsement of any religion as the law of the land was fraught with danger. Madison said it so well: “The purpose of separation of church and state is to keep forever from these shores the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe with blood for centuries.”
I don’t even want to go into Europe’s religious wars, pogroms and crusades.
So while what happened in New York was an isolated incident it is also indicative of a bigger problem facing the country as an already divided and bitter population starts to use religion as a weapon in their political and moral crusades. Now some of this is “payback” for real or perceived encroachments on religious freedom by some secularists, but I don’t remember Jesus telling us to pay anyone back in kind when they persecute us. In fact didn’t Jesus tell us to “forgive those that sin against us” and on the cross offer forgiveness to those that crucified him? Maybe this is not a part of some religions but it is a central part of the practice of authentic Christian faith.
As a Christian I can see faults in other religions but I am most keenly aware of when I see people that call themselves Christians arming themselves for war, sometimes literally against those that they believe are God’s enemies. Madison alluded to this when he said “It was the belief of all sects at one time that the establishment of Religion by law was right and necessary; that the true religion ought to be established in exclusion of every other; and that the only question to be decided was, which was the true religion.”
Congressman Todd Akin went so far in his comments to say that “the heart of liberalism really is a hatred for God.” Now when anyone says such things it should send up an alarm for Christians because it is the antithesis of the message of reconciliation that “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation.” (2 Cor 5:19 NLT)
Andrew Greeley made a comment about Christians and the Catholic Church before Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire which bears repeating. “People came into the Church in the Roman Empire because the Church was so good. Catholics were so good to one another and they were so good to pagans too.”
While my understanding is a Christian one which recognizes that like the early church we live in world that turning non-Christians into our enemies and thereby God’s enemies that we take a look at how the poor and persecuted church of the first three centuries of the Common Era responded to those that oppressed them or those that they disagreed. I wonder if Christians decided to approach others in this manner rather than attempting to institute a theocracy in name or practice if maybe the tenor of our national discourse would change. I also know that there are traditions of tolerance and mercy in every religion, unfortunately they often are persecuted minorities in their own religions.
As for others maybe they like the people in the Roman Empire of other religions would recognize something different, something amazing, refreshing and redeeming in us. However as it stands today I simply expect people of all religions to continue the bloodshed.