Tag Archives: tolerance

A Matter of Degree: The Taliban, Kansas, Jim Crow and Nuremberg

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“The segregation laws in your country and the anti-semitic laws in mine, are they not just a difference of degree? Herman Goering (Brian Cox) to Captain Gustav Gilbert (Matt Craven) in the film Nuremberg)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WjbsD-TYi3s

Over the weekend I posted a link to an article about the attempt by the Kansas State of Representatives to pass a law entitled the “Religious Liberties Protection Act.” The Bill, which seems innocuous was actually a law written to enshrine the discrimination against Gays in the public and private sectors by anyone claiming that serving them would infringe upon their “sincerely held religious beliefs.”

The law was held up in the State Senate, and today the Bill was shelved, but it’s author Representative Charles Macheers, insisted that in order to protect Christians and other religious people that anyone claiming that their religious beliefs were infringed upon should be legally able to discriminate against others.  Though specifically directed against Gays it would have set a terrible legal precedent.

I posted a link to an article about the Bill on my Facebook page. Most people, even many of my more conservative Evangelical Christian friends, who are not big fans of Gay rights or Marriage Equity, to their credit were appalled by the law and by the attitude of my former colleague.

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When someone asked me about it on my page, I made a comment that the law was a product of “the Kansas Taliban.” The comment was deliberately designed to be provocative. It was loaded and it did what I intended.

I honestly believe that there is little difference between the religious zealots of the Taliban and those that introduce such religiously based laws here. Such laws enshrine discrimination and differ from the Sharia of the Taliban only in a matter of degree. The attitude exhibited by such zealots, be they Christian, Moslem or any other religion is so strikingly similar it is frightening.

My comment elucidated a response from a man who I had worked with years ago at a Evangelical Christian television ministry. The head of that ministry has become one of the leading figures in the politically active Christian Right and is quite active politically, especially in Texas. The man who jumped in on my conversation has been working for that ministry for over 20 years.

His comments were so hateful, disrespectful and ignorant that my friends, who range from very conservative Evangelical and Fundamentalist Christians to devoted secularists, Gays and Lesbians and even an Atheist jumped in to defend me and what I said. The fact that my friends really know me and understand me, and even if they disagree with me they are willing to defend me. That is remarkable tribute to American values. It was a testament to the good nature of most Americans, as well as Brits who commented on the post. The fact is I would do the same for them.

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My comment about the “Kansas Taliban” was not about religious people who despite their strongly held beliefs are respectful of others and hold the rights of people who believe differently than them to matter. It was directed at those who use fear and hate to promote an agenda that vilifies and demonizes others based on their religious or ideological beliefs. The fact that the people promoting the Kansas law were conservative Christians is only important as it demonstrates that some Christians can be just as brutal and thoughtless as the Taliban.

That is a nuance that people driven totally by ideology miss. Some might think I am attacking Christians. That is not the case. The attack is on any group that would attempt to enforce their religious beliefs on others through the police power of the state.

The real fact of the matter is that the Mullahs of the Taliban have much in common with Christians and others who desire to impose their beliefs by the law of the state on those that do not agree with them, be it in religious beliefs, political ideology or racial, ethnic, cultural or linguistic differences.

My former colleague called me many things before he dropped me as a Facebook friend. He made himself look foolish. It was his loss. I would have been willing to listen, care for and respect his views had he not resorted to name calling and character assassination in his attempt to shame and silence me. Anyone who really knows me knows that for me life is more about caring for and having relationships with people, even if we differ in our beliefs than attempting to argue them into my position or abandon a relationship with them because they do not agree with me.

Sadly for him my former colleague did not understand that. It was a loss that he brought about, and in that sense it is his loss, because I actually do care for him and remember him fondly from when I knew him 20 years ago; but in the end of the day it is probably a loss for both of us.

Unfortunately that is the cost of those more committed to their ideology than they are to people. It matters not if they are Christians, Moslems, Jews, Hindus, secularists, or others that hold the purity of their political, social, ideological, racial or economic theories as more important than people.

My comment about the Kansas Taliban was fitting, and like Hermann Goering’s comments at Nuremberg to Gustav Gilbert the difference between the ideology and actions of the Taliban as opposed to militant Christians who attempt to use the power of the State to suppress, control and persecute those that they find offensive is only a matter of degree.

That may not seem important to some. But it is the difference between a divided society that can agree to disagree respecting the differences within it, and one for which factions attempt to use the police power of the State and the law of the land to persecute those that are different.

Goering in his critique of America in the 1930s and 1940s was correct; what we as a society enshrined in law and in our culture to discriminate against others differed little from what the Nazis did, only in the matter of degree.

It is something for us all to think about.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Darkness into Light: Turning Systematized Hatred in the Name of God into Reconciliation

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.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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