Religious fanatics are running amok, committing the most terrible acts imaginable in the name of God.
Nine years ago, on September 11, 2001, while screaming the name of Allah, religious fanatics flew planes into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania, murdering thousands of innocent people, triggering a radical change in the American character that is only now emerging in its most virulent form.
A people once largely devoted to peace and prosperity, hope and freedom have become a people of war and recession, anger and repression. With the bitter toxic dust still settling from that long-ago horrific September morning, the thirst for vengeance has spawned a new breed of home-grown religious fanatics, using the name of God as their rallying cry, stirring violent passions as if a battle between competing fanatic factions might save this fractured planet from its increasingly deep moral confusion.
Religious fanaticism is a powerful secular political weapon exploited by those who use extremists to create the conditions that can propel changes in power. Exploiting people’s faith to gain power must be one of those sins for which the third circle of hell was created — the first circle being reserved for those who abuse children, and the second for those who destroy life and hope.
The looming long years of religious warfare are not really about Christians versus Muslims; they are about fanatics and their godfathers versus people of genuine faith. The struggle pits narcissistic egomaniacs using God as a clever guise against the most fundamental principle of the modern free society: that peace and justice are possible to achieve even among people of vastly different beliefs and practices and experiences and characteristics.
People raised as true Christians must recognize this principle as central to our faith. Old Testament prophets prayed to “smite mine enemies” and otherwise get an eye for an eye. But the New Testament Prophet — the Christ in “Christian” — came preaching a new Gospel: turn the other cheek and love one another.
No true Christian can possibly advocate violence against people of other faiths without completely betraying the foundation of Christianity in the New Testament. Anti-Muslim rants have become the new anti-Semitism in 21st Century America, premised on the misguided belief that the September 11 attacks, because they were carried out by radical Islamists, justify expressions of hatred and radical discrimination against all Muslims. True Christians must speak out against this latest wave of intolerance, as virulent as the Know-Nothing movement of the 19th Century against Catholics.
Catholics, in particular, need to remember their own history before joining in the virulent opposition to people of other faiths. Throughout history, Catholics have suffered egregious persecution at the hands of those who spread lies about the papacy and the meaning of our religious symbols. The historian Arthur Schlesinger is frequently cited as calling Anti-Catholicism “the deepest-held bias in the history of the American people.”
Today, it’s not hard to find scores of websites devoted to demonizing the pope and the Catholic faith, continuing to spread the centuries-old canards that the Pope is the Anti-Christ, the “Whore of Babylon”, or that the Vatican is a violent conspiracy out to take over the world. Essays mocking the Eucharist, Mary and other sacraments, saints and traditions abound.
Catholics might say this is all preposterous!
Indeed, but no more preposterous than saying that all of Islam is a violent conspiracy to take over the world.
People of other faiths have also suffered grave discrimination, perhaps none so infamous and horrible as the Holocaust, the still-unfathomable extermination of Jews carried out by people who largely considered themselves Christians. But, of course, they were not.
History is littered with the bodies of people murdered, maimed, imprisoned and oppressed by other people acting in the name of God. But they are not acting as people of true faith.
What hath God wrought? People of faith need to stand up and speak the truth. In this historic moment, silence become complicity with the evil of hatred and bigotry. We need religious leaders of this moment to call congregations to acts of real faith, new hope, and most of all, sustainable charity. We need authentic leaders, not media hounds whose real purpose is self-aggrandizement and personal enrichment.
Religion counts. It’s time for religious leaders to take faith back from the fanatics.