I've been recouperating from a nasty cold (I'm still kinda sick) so you haven't seen many posts from me lately. I have come across a few things that are somehow tied together in my mind, and point to the ways in which religion can bring out the worst in us, even as all religious traditions seems to be about bringing out the best in us.
The first is from Tricycle Blog, which is the blog written by the editors of Tricycle magazine - a buddhist magazine that has great articles. This is a story that surprised me, but, apparently from the authors, it's not a surprising thing. In Thailand, a young man tried to destroy a statue of a Hindu god, and was killed by a mob. It's an article worth reading, especially if you have Buddhist leanings.
The second story I found in Radical Torah, which is a blog that, in their words, "features multiple takes on parshat hashavua (the weekly Torah portion), as well as commentaries on holidays, rituals and various concepts in Judaism, as seen through the lens of progressive religious and political viewpoints." It's a really cool blog, worth a read. Anyway, the story is about one of Israel's leading rabbis, who said:
You cannot mix pure with impure. Of course we have to keep apart from all the other nations. You must stand in the breach and prevent this. One cannot mix light with darkness. The people of Israel are pure. The Arabs are a nation of donkeys. They are an evil plague, an evil Satan, an evil pestilence.
There is more detail in the article, and it's definitely worth a read.
The next story is about the man in Afghanistan who was possibly going to be sentenced to death for apostacy. He converted to Christianity 16 years ago. It appears that they are going to manage to sidestep the whole issue (he has been considered unfit to stand trial, and taken to a hospital, which doesn't do him any good, but avoids an international incident.) One of the unfortunate side effects is that this makes Islam continue to appear extreme, when there are a diversity of voices in Islam about this. It's kinda like the Christian fundamentalists getting to speak for all Christians (gee, isn't that familiar?)
And finally the last story is about Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham, who has been making a name for himself calling Islam an evil religion, which continues to fan the flames of anti-islamic, and anti-arab sentiment in the US. (BTW, that link is to a mediamatters.org story that is pretty interesting in terms of media bias.)
There was a opinion piece in the LA Times, by the writer Nora Gallagher, who is a pretty well known writer. The piece, called "Cutting at Christianity" starts out with her bristling at things that really aren't a big deal (like a woman who complains about crucifixes in an episcopal school, or the cartoon that went around after the 2004 election, with the red states as "Jesusland".) She feels like it's politically correct now to criticize Christians. Yeah, sure, so what? She actually goes into depth in the second part of the piece about all of the reasons why people don't like Christians, and, in her words, "The connection between Christianity and political power is enough to make this believer hang her head." From my perspective, this country is so dominantly Christian in culture and belief, that we don't get to complain when people criticize us. Complaining is divisive, not helpful, and feeds into the persecution complex of fundamentalists. What we do get to do, and what we do need to do, is, as she also says in her piece, is practice "costly grace" instead of "cheap grace" - doing instead of saying. She did send a nice reply to my email to her about this op-ed, and I hope we can be engaged in dialogue about it at some point.
Why do these all connect for me? It seems that moments when people feel that their religious beliefs or practices, or the religion itself, is being attacked or threatened, or, really, is just better/more right than everyone elses, instead of a loving, inclusive approach, people reach for their weapons, whether it be actual weapons, or their words. It's no wonder that people who are secular look at religions and forget all of the positive stuff, and just shake their heads. And, ultimately, the bottom line is that none of this really is about religions themselves, or about God, after all, is it? It's about human beings, our attachments, and the ways that we react to things, even when all of our traditions tell us otherwise. I think if you want a really good example of sin, this is it. And, ultimately, this is the sin that threatens the life, safety and freedom of huge numbers of people in the world.