Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Some Strongly Worded Thoughts on the Sinfulness of Religious Violence

Overnight in the States, a terrorist attack struck in the heart of Paris, as hooded gunmen wielding Kalishnikov submachine guns entered the offices of the Charlie Hebdo satire magazine and proceeded to open fire, killing four cartoonists and eight staffers.  Part of the reason this is such horrifying news is that while mass shootings are now sadly a fact of life here in the US, they are not so in Europe.  And for this, my heart goes out to France.  Because I, and just about every other American, have been there.

But another part of the reason this story so horrifying is that the gunmen were also filmed shouting the words, "God is great," and "We have avenged the Prophet."

Both of these phrases are references to Islam.  "God is great," translated into Arabic, is "Allahu ackbar," and it is known as the Takbir.  The "Prophet" is a reference to the last prophet in Islamic tradition, and the founder of Islam itself, Muhammad.  The Charlie Hebdo cartoonists had a history of both satirizing religion (including both Christianity and Islam) and of depicting Muhammad in image form, something that is prohibited in Islam.

The shooting was an act of religious violence.

And yet, here is where religion is supposed to step in--to prevent us from acting on our basest desires for violence and revenge when we feel wronged.  It isn't supposed to give us a pretext for doing so.

"Turn the other cheek?"  That's not just a saying in Christian tradition--because Jesus is also considered a prophet in Islamic tradition, it is a teaching that is a part of their history as well as ours.

Somebody offends you?  You turn the other cheek.  You take the insult with grace and you respond with words, not weapons.  You respond constructively, not destructively.

Personally, as a devoutly religious person, I still find some religious satire useful because it forces me to examine myself.  For all the valid critiques of a show like, say, South Park, over its tastelessness and gratuitous offensiveness, I maintain this: every time it has stepped forward to skewer religion, it has hit the nail right on the head, whether it has been about contemporary Christian music, Mormonism, or Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, and so on.

Now, that doesn't mean I necessarily agree with what Charlie Hebdo has said about religion, but that shouldn't matter.  As the patron saint of religious criticism Voltaire famously said, "I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."  (Voltaire actually was also virulently Islamophobic, making his comments about tolerance of religion and expression particularly ironic, but the sentiment of respecting freedom of expression has rightfully endured.)

The Charlie Hebdo journalists had a right to publish their expressions, no matter how tasteless I or anyone else might find them.  It has to be that way for freedom to work--not just freedom of the press, but also, it must be noted, freedom of religion.

The only way I know that I can teach whatever I feel led to teach is if the other pastor, or the other church, or the other religious community down the road from me can teach whatever they are teaching.

And what other Muslims are having to express and teach yet again today is that they strongly condemn such religious violence.  That millions upon millions of people-loving, peace-loving Muslims feel the acute necessity to condemn every act of religious violence made by the fundamentalists of their religious tradition is, to me, a horrific testament to the world we live in.

Because that is not a burden they should have to bear.  It is unfair that they must, that the world expects them to condemn every such act of terrorism and barbarism.  Or, at the very least, it is not a burden that they should have to bear alone, because I am a religious person too, and I read about Christian fundamentalists who foment violence constantly and claim to do so in the name of the God I worship and follow and devote myself to.

Well, screw them.

I am so sick of the violent fringe of religion driving the conversation about faith today.

I am so sick of seeing their bloodshed take the lives of other people.

I am so sick of seeing their poison turn other people off from a life of faith.

I am so sick of having to wrestle with how religion might, maybe, possibly, one day be a force of net good rather than net ill in the world, because on days like this, it sure feels like the opposite.

And that was never what faith was meant to be about.  It was never meant about inflicting further sinfulness upon the world, it was about doing something about that sinfulness.

But violent fundamentalists, I have come to realize, don't really care about that.

So screw them.

Screw the fundamentalists who believe the only recourse to having their feelings hurt is with blood.

Screw this worldview that gives birth to bombers and assassins all in the name of a God who demands peace.

May the violent fundamentalist die forsaken, unredeemed and unforgiven.

May he go to hell.  May he experience what total separation from God looks and feels like.

And until he repents, may the dead Charlie Hebdo cartoonists be closer to God than he.

Vive la France,

(image courtesy of Neelabh Banerjee)

No comments:

Post a Comment