Saturday, July 31, 2010

Forgive Them, For They Know Not What They Talk About

As if Tennessee couldn’t appear more bigoted or ignorant than with the issues with racist emails surrounding Obama and his wife, Ron Ramsey, candidate for governor (supported by the same friend who blogs for In Defense of the Constitution) has opened his mouth and pushed the state down the ladder even more. Both he and Lou Ann Zelenik, a candidate for Congress, insist that Islam is not a religion, but a political movement according to Zelenik, or in Ramsey’s words, a cult. Not to get into academic analysis of how problematic his claim is, I hardly see evidence of Islam as a whole being a cult in the sense of a counter cultural fringe movement, except in the context of America’s relationship with Islam’s Shia and Sunni sects. The evidence would be there, except the imams are not considered unquestionably true as opposed to Mohammed, who is technically not considered dead. Then again, there are aspects of a cult’s fixation upon a founder’s persistence and authority in either Shia or Sunni Islam (I forget which exactly) about the imminent return of the 12th imam, who is apparently in a well. But Islam in the form of Ahmadiyya (which boasts around ten million adherents) is not only moderate, but accessible to American minds in the sense of adherence to religious ethics without becoming resistant to change or dangerously authoritarian. The difficulty with understanding Islam is that the initial public exposure to any unfamiliar religions or philosophical idea is commonly regarded as more authoritative and credible than actual academic research from accredited individuals in those fields of study. Even well read political figures like Ramsey and Zelenik apparently don’t want to read further than how they feel their constituents would want them to about Islam. Since the vast majority of Republicans seem to be at least opposed to more Islamic presence in the West, particularly in the form of mosques or even cultural centers like the one in New York, Ramsey and Zelenik are just going along with the bandwagon and spouting the talking points. “Oh, we respect freedom of religion for Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and others, but Islam has to be a cult because authoritative conservative voices like Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin say it’s so, therefore it must be true,”

The double standard is pretty evident even to a pot smoking high school student: you don’t say you respect freedom of religious practice and worship and then say you don’t want to respect one religion because you have concluded it must be wrong because of the actions of even a large part of the group. Even if many Christians I speak to through forums or in real life occasionally are excessively devout and even insulting towards non Christians, that doesn’t mean I must conclude Christianity is a cult or shouldn’t be respected and tolerated, allowed to practice its faith in churches and witness to belief in the salvation through Jesus Christ through privately funded missions, etc. And neither should we inevitably conclude that every person raised in Islam in any form is automatically a fundamentalist that insists that Islam should dominate every society in the world under sharia law. With a mosque’s building being fought against in Murfreesboro, not unlike the even bigger situation in New York, this doesn’t make me proud or even want to say I’m a native born of Tennessee. With people like Ron Ramsey spouting out this borderline hate speech laced with magnanimous bigoted ideals like protecting the Christian values of America and protecting us from infiltrating terrorists (as if every person from the Middle East automatically hates the U.S.) this situation can best be solved by education and a spirit of receptiveness. No one’s asking Republicans to accept Islam or other religions as equally valid paths to salvation, but they should at least give the same respect that many American non Christians give them to worship and believe as they will without infringing on their rights to free practice; though this goes back to my thoughts on minority religions in America, which is a demographically Christian society, and the difficulties inherent in accepting your position as a minority but not letting the majority trample over you.

On a somewhat related note, a church in Florida (home state of my last roommate) has apparently planned a Quran burning on September 11th for protesting what they think is an innately oppressive and violent religion. I’m all for freedom of speech, even such things as flag burnings or Neo-Nazi and KKK rallies, but it seems counterproductive to try to protest something by going back to Middle Ages tactics. Burning or destroying something that represents what you disagree with isn’t the way to argue against it. Showing that you have the power to destroy something seems to reflect insecurity of the efficacy of the thing you hold sacred or valuable, such as the Bible for the Florida preacher and his flock. Showing you have the power to generate new borders and ideas seems to reflect a more Christian spirit, since Jesus crossed borders people weren’t willing to in his time, like associating with tax collectors, lepers and other people of ill repute. Even some of his parables and stories associated with his preaching note his acceptance of truth’s spirit being discovered through people that were regarded as blasphemous or heretical in those times, like the Samaritan and the Syro Phoenician woman respectively. In this way, it’s important to reflect that Islam doesn’t have any disrespect for Jesus, in fact regarding him as a near equal to Mohammed in terms of his value to presenting the message of Allah/God/YHWH. The fact that Muslims don’t believe Jesus is the “Son of God” only suggests they disagree theologically, it doesn’t mean they think Jesus is less important or not to be respected as a messenger of God/prophet (there is a distinction there by Islamic philosophy/theology, I believe).

All in all, these problems can be solved by a combination of things like my blogging, but more ideally, activism to try to bridge these barriers that have been generated by American conservatives to try to turn people against each other for personal belief and faith, when they share values in common that transcend their race or culture or faith. Why can’t American Christians and Muslims (for the topic at hand anyway) seek out common ground? They can accept that there are things they will disagree about, but more importantly can join to confront more pressing and universal problems, like abuse of military power, human rights abuses and poverty and famine that still exist in the 21st century? Whether one believes Jesus is God incarnate or a prophet of God in a line that has concluded with a guy flying up to heaven on a horse shouldn’t be the primary concern. That is, unless you are so focused on religious differences that you feel you have to reinforce the Christian demographic by saying Islam is a cult or an evil religion, as opposed to letting the Christian majority just exist as it does. Not to mention that the limited government these Republicans spout so much hot air about seem to care a bit too much about what God one believes in or whether one believes in God at all, as if that is a requirement to be American or even a human being. Why should the government care at all about how one worships or doesn’t worship any god or gods (like myself for example) except as it infringes on others’ rights to freely practice as well in the privacy of their places of worship? It seems like the Republican’s ideal government is only limited in regards to fiscal concerns. But religious belief or lack thereof is still somehow fair game for a society whose government is built on a document whose first amendment specifically says that there is a right both to religious freedom and to freedom from state alliances with religion. And this is one reason out of many that I choose to be anarchist as opposed to purely “Democrat” or “Republican”. Until next time, Namaste and Aloha.

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