Religion Roundup: Obama, Hate Crimes, Uganda, More

December 11, 2009

"Islam is of the Devil"

Beginning this week, I will try to offer a weekly roundup of what is going on in the world of religion, from a (fairly) respectful secular perspective.

Conservative and Caring: The common perception among us secularists is that conservative religious folks are either unengaged or dangerously opposed to progress, but as this recent New York Times piece shows, Evangelical Christians are moving more and more toward issues of social reform and justice. Hallelujah!

Mix and Match: The Pew Forum has a new report out this week that reveals an increased number Americans who “hyphenate” their religious identity, pulling from more than one tradition. Religion is changing, folks.

Turn the Other Cheek?: NPR notes that a new FBI report shows that the greatest rise in hate crimes has been ones committed against people because of their religious identity. This may come as a surprise to those who view all religion as oppressive but, as it turns out, religious people get hated on for who they are, too.

Sacred Symbols: Worth checking out is an interesting piece by Hussein Rashid that compares the banning of t-shirts at a high school in Florida that say “Islam is of the Devil” and the inexplicable banning of Minarets in Switzerland.

Preventing a Gay Genocide: A potential (horrifying) new measure in Uganda that would condemn those “suspected of homosexual activity” to imprisonment and, in some cases, even death, has raised controversy around the world. The issue has significant implications in the field of religion, particularly because of the connections of many of the act’s Ugandan supporters to the American evangelical community. For those out of the loop, Time does a good job providing some background. More recently, Faith in Public Life published a joint letter from conservative and liberal Christians condemning the law; this is especially interesting because it is signed by those from across the Christian perspective, with widely varied views on issues of gay marriage and civil unions. Additionally, after initially refusing to take a stance Rick Warren, the world’s most influential minister, finally came out against the measure this week. I can’t understate how important it is that we keep talking about this measure.

Barack Obama, Theologian: This article highlights Obama’s growing discourse on religion as evidenced in his Nobel Prize Speech. In his address, Obama criticized religious extremism while also offering his own particular hope for cooperation and peace, sounding like a preacher for much of it. His message was profound and important. While acknowledging I have a soft spot for this kind of language, I was surprised by how moved I was by this speech. The following passage is, for me, especially inspiring:

Most dangerously, we see it in the way that religion is used to justify the murder of innocents by those who have distorted and defiled the great religion of Islam, and who attacked my country from Afghanistan. These extremists are not the first to kill in the name of God; the cruelties of the Crusades are amply recorded. But they remind us that no Holy War can ever be a just war. For if you truly believe that you are carrying out divine will, then there is no need for restraint — no need to spare the pregnant mother, or the medic, or even a person of ones own faith. Such a warped view of religion is not just incompatible with the concept of peace, but the purpose of faith — for the one rule that lies at the heart of every major religion is that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us.

Adhering to this law of love has always been the core struggle of human nature. We are fallible. We make mistakes, and fall victim to the temptations of pride, and power, and sometimes evil. Even those of us with the best intentions will at times fail to right the wrongs before us.

But we do not have to think that human nature is perfect for us to still believe that the human condition can be perfected. We do not have to live in an idealized world to still reach for those ideals that will make it a better place. The nonviolence practiced by men like Gandhi and King may not have been practical or possible in every circumstance, but the love that they preached — their faith in human progress — must always be the North Star that guides us on our journey.

For if we lose that faith — if we dismiss it as silly or naive, if we divorce it from the decisions that we make on issues of war and peace — then we lose what is best about humanity. We lose our sense of possibility. We lose our moral compass.

Like generations have before us, we must reject that future. As Dr. King said at this occasion so many years ago: “I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history. I refuse to accept the idea that the ‘isness’ of mans present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal ‘oughtness’ that forever confronts him.”

So let us reach for the world that ought to be — that spark of the divine that still stirs within each of our souls. Somewhere today, in the here and now, a soldier sees hes outgunned but stands firm to keep the peace. Somewhere today, in this world, a young protestor awaits the brutality of her government, but has the courage to march on. Somewhere today, a mother facing punishing poverty still takes the time to teach her child, who believes that a cruel world still has a place for his dreams.

Let us live by their example. We can acknowledge that oppression will always be with us, and still strive for justice. We can admit the intractability of deprivation, and still strive for dignity. We can understand that there will be war, and still strive for peace. We can do that — for that is the story of human progress; that is the hope of all the world; and at this moment of challenge, that must be our work here on Earth.

Amen, eh?

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