Religion can bear witness to truth
2011 began with some bleak news for Muslim-Christian relations around the world.
Recent attacks against churches in Iraq, Nigeria and Egypt have killed dozens of Christian worshippers. Meanwhile, the Pakistani government is standing by the country's controversial blasphemy law which critics say threatens religious minorities.
How should political and religious leaders deal with these challenges to interfaith relations?
Indeed, the news of anti-Christian violence in several locations recently is bleak - as would be any news of violence towards others, religious or not. It's a shame that 2011 seems to have started out on the same foot as 2010's incidents of threatened Qur'an burnings, attacks on synagogues and temples, and harassment of religious minorities in many places.
Would that we had a few more people around like Joseph Sturge (1793-1859), a British Quaker and successful businessman who parlayed his hard-won public popularity into a force for tolerance in his day. Having gained the sympathy of the general populace through his tireless efforts against slavery, the depradations of England's "gin-sodden society," the crushing impact of England's "corn laws" (tariffs that kept the price of wheat and bread exorbitantly high), and the denial of the vote for non-property owners, Sturge risked it all to stop an anti-Catholic mob.
After news of the Pope's appointing several new bishops in Great Britain spread, thousands gathered in the streets of Sturge's hometown of Birmingham, intent on marching to the local Catholic church and burning it down. Sturge climbed onto the base of a statue and shouted above the madding crowd, urging them to stop - and they did!
There must be such people in societies around the globe - people with enormous social "capital" who could calm a mob. They can't wait for others to do the work. The times call for the Joseph Sturges of today to step up!
Nor should politicians keep quiet and protect their re-election chances by catering to the majority - if the majority is wrong! And it has to be more than just lip-service. I remember being impressed in 2004 at the height of the Second Palestinian Intifada when I heard Yasser Arafat give an impassioned speech on religious tolerance to the assembled heads of the Christian and Muslim communities in the West Bank. Although Christian and Muslim relations in the Palestinian Territories are historically good (Muslim and Christian scout troops march in each other's holiday parades, and violence towards each other is virtually unheard of), Arafat made a point of stressing the importance of mutual respect. And he matched his words with action. The little Quaker meetinghouse in Ramallah, built in 1910 and in such bad physical condition by the late 1980s that it was condemned and abandoned, was slated to be sold and demolished. It's location right in the middle of the bustling commercial district of the West Bank's most thriving city assured that the Quaker community could sell the property for an incredible amount of money - at a time when the economy was in shambles. But Arafat interceded, prohibited the destruction of such an icon (if Quakers are allowed to use such a term!) of the Christian community in Palestine, and now the meetinghouse is fully and beatifully refurbished. Quakers again worship there weekly, and it is the location of the Friends International Center in Ramallah, a vibrant voice for peace and mutual respect among Jews, Christians, and Muslims.
For their part, religious congregations and organizations can bear witness to truths that may help stem the tide of violence and intolerance. For one thing, stressing the universality of G-d's love and revelation - rather than restricting it to ones exclusive property - might signal an openness to others that could be reciprocal. Similarly, acting out of the set of beliefs of ones religion rather than merely giving lip-service to a set of creeds might lead to applicaton of the Golden Rule - an ethic common to all the world's wisdom tradtions: Don't do to others what you wouldn't want them doing to you!
It will take the concerted efforts of all concerned: common individuals, political powers, and religious organizations, if 2011 is to be a year different from other years marked by sectarian depredations. Most of us have already given up on that New Year's resolution to lose pounds or quit cigarettes; maybe religious respect and commitment to making religion a way of life rather than a set of statements would be easier! At least it would be a "weightier" matter - and could prevent the tragedy of smoking ruins of houses of worship.
Posted by: GoldenEagles | January 6, 2011 8:57 PM
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Posted by: clearthinking1 | January 6, 2011 11:59 AM
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Posted by: letitbe | January 4, 2011 11:27 AM
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