Will we ever stop using religion like a club?

Since I manage to cause irritation among some with my political views, let’s see how much more I can stir up by bringing up the other topic

Tom West, West Words

taboo in polite society: religion.

My parents were infrequent church-goers, although my father perversely loved to debate theology with the local Congregational minister. My mother, however, made sure all of her children went to church.

I was not baptized until the same day as my confirmation as a Methodist, when I was in fifth grade. A couple of years after that, the congregation got into a bitter argument about constructing a new church building. The old church had a leaky roof that repeated attempts failed to fix.

So one segment went ahead and purchased a lot on a hill overlooking a lake, and built a new church. Another bloc, however, refused to relent and broke off, setting up its own congregation. The latter group met in people’s homes until its congregation grew too large. Ironically, they then built a church of their own.

I went to the church by the lake, but as a teenager began questioning my own beliefs. By then, my parents had become best friends with the Congregational minister and his wife, so, even though my parents didn’t often attend, I switched to their friends’ church.

A couple of years later, the minister and his wife left town, essentially forced out by a wealthy contributor to the church. Those were the 1960s, and the next minister led peace vigils during the Vietnam War, which the wealthy benefactor didn’t much like either.

A few years after I got out of the Navy, that minister was also  forced out. The wealthy contributor then brought in a minister that he liked. The Congregationalists kind of do auditions, since the congregation votes on accepting the applicant. In his audition, the new minister mostly read excerpts from the Reader’s Digest.

Afterward, a church meeting was held and again, and I watched as the congregation split in two. The Reader’s Digest minister was approved. Those who were opposed, left the Congregational Church and went to the Methodist Church on the lake.

My own faith journey and career took me to other churches and communities, but given that background, it probably isn’t surprising that I don’t have a lot of time for people who use religion like a club, beating others into submission with their own holier-than-thou attitude.

Eventually, I decided that I would read the Bible for myself. Over a couple of years, I tried. I made it all the way through the New Testament. But I kept bogging down in the Old Testament. When I reached Kings I and II and Numbers, too much of it was about listings of generations of leaders. Then I got to Samuel, and read how David mutilated the bodies of those whom he vanquished. (Neither the Methodists nor the Congregationalists ever use those verses for the Scripture of the Day.) I’m still no religious scholar, even of Christianity, but I think I have a decent understanding of what the New Testament says, and a more selective knowledge of the Old Testament.

Now, it seems, we are in a slow-motion religious war, although it is fair to say that the pace has been picking up in recent years. At 5 a.m., Saturday, Aug. 5, a bomb exploded at the Dar Al Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington. No one was injured, but it was, as Gov. Mark Dayton termed it, an “act of terrorism.”

Investigators don’t yet know who did it or why, but I’m guessing that the perpetrator was not a faithful Christian. By my understanding of the New Testament, faithful Christians, even if upset by attacks on civilian populations by Islamic extremists, wouldn’t seek revenge on all Muslims. Instead, they would be trying, through kind words and good deeds, to persuade all non-believers in Christianity that theirs is the better religion.

You don’t persuade people by stabbing them with a knife in the mall nor by bombing their current house of worship. You do it first by respecting them as individuals, by understanding the personal challenges they face and by trying to help them through those challenges.

Unquestionably, some Muslims would like to establish a global Islamic caliphate under Sharia law. It’s a given that some Muslims are continuing efforts to radicalize others to become soldiers in that effort. We saw with the convictions of 10 Somali men in the Twin Cities last summer for attempting to join ISIS that those efforts are taking place right here in Minnesota.

But that in no way justifies bombing a mosque, endangering the lives of people no more guilty of anything than most other Americans. In a way, this is a guerrilla war. Such wars are not won by brute force; victory comes by winning over the hearts and minds of the citizenry.

As I said a few weeks ago, all lives matter, and it takes more than a little prejudice to say only some lives deserve special treatment. We categorize each other by race or religion at the peril of everyone. We need to keep a watchful eye out for extremism in all its forms – and this week especially it’s for people who want to use religion like a club.

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  • newpolitiq7

    I admit that I didn’t really follow the logical progression of this piece’s message from beginning to end. It didn’t seem like a discussion of religion at all, but rather a resume of an individual’s church affiliations, followed by some reflections on a couple of acts of terror (hoping to connect both with religion, rather than extreme politics), and ending with another invocation of the nebulous “all lives matter”. Since I didn’t really understand the overall piece, will just add a reflection on why the glib recitation of “all lives matter” is so inadequate and insulting to some people (especially after the alt-right domestic terror attack in Charlottesville): “The Real Reason White People Say ‘All Lives Matter'” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-halstead/dear-fellow-white-people-_b_11109842.html

    This piece is also relevant, discussing the causes of terrorism: “It’s Not the Religion That Creates Terrorists It’s the Politics”
    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/belief/2015/jun/27/its-not-the-religion-that-creates-terrorists-its-the-politics