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Religious Tolerance and the 9/11 Anniversary

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Roughly a month from now we will commemorate the tenth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.  It is a date that has been associated in the minds of many with nonexistent weapons of mass destruction and draconian policy decisions.   Islamophobia remains a potent force here, but arguably an even stronger one in Western Europe.  Both, though no one would admit it, are coupled with a belief in national ethnic purity.  To many, Americans look and sound a particular way.  This is also believed about Germans or Swiss.

The English Civil War was a time not only of political and military upheaval, it also gave rise to several religious movements that challenged every aspect of the Church of England.  What would eventually be known as the Religious Society of Friends developed out of this period of often violent uncertainty.  George Fox, the founder of this new faith, found himself elbow-to-elbow with other competing groups.  Each was trying desperately to win converts and legitimacy.  Fox took an approach that is objectionable today, but made sense nearly four centuries ago.

Fox went so far as to state that his new brand of Christian mysticism was the truest, purest form available.  All other world religions are in vain, he stated firmly.  Liberal Friends like me do not believe in this exclusionary view.  Even our theologically conservative fellow Quakers, Evangelical Friends, wouldn’t go quite this far.  These days, such beliefs exist only within fundamentalism, and have caused extreme anger and agitation.  When I say I am a Christian, I always have to sharply distinguish that I’m not like those Christians. My faith allows for people to form their own conclusions.  No one is force-fed dogma or doctrine. 

But the matter of Fox’s choice in language does raise an interesting argument.  At a time when we are arguably less religious, there are nonetheless any number of religious options available to us.  I sometimes hear a person of faith disparage another’s religious group.  People I know have criticized fundamentalist Christianity or fundamentalist Islam.  In so doing, they’ve acted yet again like the founder of Quakerism, who told Muslims that their religion was subordinate to Christianity.  Fox said that Muslims had been deceived by their own founder and needed to worship the one true God.  And to be fair, there were many in England at the time who believed that Quakers were a heretical subversive sect that was certainly not Christian.  As for me personally, I think that those of us who are members of Abrahamic faiths do worship the same God. 

Fox has many redeemable characteristics.  He went to the trouble to read and document pertinent passages in the Koran to bolster his argument against a Turkish sultan, one who had been persecuting Christians.  His larger point was that a true Muslim followed Jesus’ command to love one’s enemies and that this sultan was not being faithful.  He was correct.  Jesus is an important figure in Islam.  Radical Islam then and now disregards the teaching of those it says it follows.  Instead of a religion based on peace, some have transformed it into a reductionist faith that preaches violent revenge.  We must not forget this in the midst of all the bloviating and hatred.  The impact of September 11 is still being felt, though its memory has begun to fade into the background.   

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About cabaretic

  • jamminsue

    Cabaretic, thank you for this commentary. But, maybe you did not say that extremist Christian sects are just as distorted from the original as Islamic extremists. Today, most people do not demonize Christianity for extreme Christian sects, so why demonize Islam for their extremists?

  • That was what I was hoping to imply. There was a time, however, when people did demonize extreme Christian sects. And people still do, though not as vociferously as they do the Muslim ones.

  • John Lake

    Religion will bring about our downfall. A belief in that for which there is no evidence is antithetic to any firm philosophy. Order is fundamental, and religion quakes for departure from order. our greatest thinkers warn us to avoid belief in things we cannot know. They have their reasons.
    Many religions start out good, beautiful, and well intended. Over generations they devolve into antisocial and destructive forces dedicated to punishment and elimination of those who don’t choose to agree.

  • Cannonshop

    Religion is, by and large, fundamentally about FAITH.

    Faith is defined most commonly as “belief without, or in the face of, Evidence.”

    it is fundamentally irrational, often contradictory, and in organized forms potentially one of the most destructive elements of society. ANY society.

    (and any faith. Those whom replace an invisible, untouchable, intangible god with an all-pervasive State are engaging in the same sort of thinking, only without moral limitations of any sort whatsoever.)

  • Baronius

    John –

    “Religion will bring about our downfall.” That statement is unsupported. One might even call such an unsupported statement about the future an “act of faith”.

    “A belief in that for which there is no evidence is antithetic to any firm philosophy.” Depends on which philosophy you’re talking about. Plenty of medieval philosophers would disagree with you. Depending on what you mean by “firm”, one could argue that medieval philosophy was more firmly grounded than many of the post-Enlightenment period.

    “Order is fundamental, and religion quakes for departure from order.” If anything, religion tends to err in the opposite direction, providing explanation for things that don’t have any order. But at a minimum, your statement is contrary to the development of ordered thinking in the West.

    “our greatest thinkers warn us to avoid belief in things we cannot know. They have their reasons.” Some great thinkers do; others don’t. Again, this generalization ignores the body of Western thought.

    “Many religions start out good, beautiful, and well intended. Over generations they devolve into antisocial and destructive forces dedicated to punishment and elimination of those who don’t choose to agree.” Another false generalization, this one a false chronology. Religions may start out peaceful, or violent. They may become more peaceful, or more violent. They may lapse into periods of peace, or periods of violence.

  • Defects in the religion of Statism have brought down the Roman and Soviet empires, to name but two, and they might bring down ours, too, because yes, the United States IS an Empire. The US occupies Iraq (even after the war there is “over”) so the Iraqi nationals won’t regain control of the oil fields from US oil companies (and British Petroleum.) In Afghanistan and Libya, the US is either fighting Islamic radicals or supporting them, depending on which approach is more conducive to the US ultimately getting control of the region. The spectacularly unsuccessful War on Drugs amounts to little more than an excuse for the US to occupy Mexico.

    All those wars are expensive, and when the ability to keep up with the cash flow problem by printing more money finally failed, the Statists sought to raise taxes, NOT by being honest about the insatiable appetite of the War-Making Machine, but by telling people that they needed the money to…uh…be able to write widows’ social security checks and stuff.

    Faith in God will be our downfall? To the extent that the State is able to recruit tender hearted liberal faithful (“raise taxes!”) and by-the-book conservative faithful (“let’s let the REAL religion of peace take over the world”) religious faith may abet our downfall, but it won’t be the direct cause of it.

    If there’s a Phoenix that will arise out of the ashes, though, it’s going to be a humble, self-sacrificing people who, according to Christ’s command, 1)love others as they love themselves, and 2) are harmless as doves, and shrewd as serpents.

  • Anarcissie

    Human beings cannot know very much, so it is necessary for them to make assumptions and take up beliefs for which there is little or no evidence just to get through life. That being the case, I can’t see any philosophical justification for disparaging anyone’s religion, or lack of it.

  • I disagree, Anarcissie, we humans know a lot and are learning more all the time.

    In fact, well over 90% of all our knowledge has been uncovered in just the last 100 years.

    I don’t see any basis or justification for making assumptions or taking up implausible beliefs, so there is every justification – although as in most things philosophy has no bearing here – for disparaging religions, both for the lack of a factual basis to underpin any particular creed and in particular when the adherents of any of them seek to foist those views on others.

    On the other hand, people are of course free to believe anything they want to.

  • Chris, I don’t think “philosophical justification” is being used here in the loaded sense you take it to be. I read it simply as “rationale.”

  • Maybe so, Roger, but Anarcissie is fairly articulate so why use those words if they meant something else? Especially as rationale is far shorter!

  • Point taken.