Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Are You Smarter Than an Atheist?

The religious blogosphere is humming today about a survey done by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life that shows that atheists are more religiously literate than many people of faith. White evangelicals scored higher than white mainline protestants and these groups scored higher than minority groups. Also, those of us in the Bible Belt scored lower on questions about religious traditions other than Christianity.

This really does not surprise me. I have experienced many examples of religious ignorance. I was in a young adult Sunday School class when Pope John Paul II died and one lady in the class asked if Catholics worshiped God or the pope. It really stunned me that someone who regularly attended church and Sunday school would not understand a basic premise of the Catholic church. Unfortunately, this is not a unique instance. The survey showed that while 82 percent knew that Mother Teresa was Roman Catholic, 53% of Protestants could not identify Martin Luther as the man who started the Protestant Reformation. It would be comical if it wasn't so sad and dangerous.

This lack of education creates a breeding ground for misinformation which leads to hatred and violence. We see clear examples of this in the recent "mosque" controversies in New York, Murfreesboro, and other places around the country. People claim that Muslims want to bring Sharia Law to the United States and force women to wear burqas and veils. This claim is of course ludicrous, but ignorance of the basic premises of Islam creates the opportunity for this kind of nonsense to flourish. Another example is Congressional Tea Party candidate Renee Ellmers claiming that Muslims are terrorists and want to build a victory mosque at Ground Zero. Watch her get skewered by Anderson Cooper. It is vital for people of faith to understand the basic ideas of other religious traditions, if nothing else to prevent this kind of ignorance and hate from spreading. In addition, learning from other traditions help us to be better Christians.

It would help if we began by knowing more about our own traditions. It is a shame how many United Methodists do not understand basic Wesleyan theological ideas and traditions. Christ calls us to worship God with our minds as well as our spirits. Worshiping God with our minds means to devote ourselves to better understanding our own traditions as well as those of other people. God gave us brains to use not to roll around in our skulls.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

We Will Be Known By Our Response

The latest American/Christian/Islamic controversy is the plans of Florida "pastor" Terry Jones and his "church" Dove Outreach Center to burn copies of the Islamic holy book the Qur'an on September 11. Most people know the details as this story has saturated the news cycle for a few days. The question before us now is how do we as people of faith respond to this proposed action? By the way, these same options are there anytime there are those who promote hate and violence. Here are four options.

Option A) We can continue the tit for tat, eye for an eye cycle. It is easy to hate Terry Jones and it is easy to lash out at him. People have already lashed out in different ways. In fact, he has received death threats and now carries a pistol for defense. His church's mortgage has been called due by the bank and his church's insurance was revoked. I do not know how much of that is a negative response to his plans, but it does seem plausible. I will freely admit this solution feels good. It offers immediate satisfaction. I have heard, usually anonymously, people who want to burn this church down and do bodily harm to the pastor. The problem with this solution is that there is no end, one side retaliates and the other side follow suit. As the quote notably associated with Gandhi goes "An eye for an eye leave the whole world blind." This kind of response only perpetuates the cycle of violence and pain. Most importantly, it is antithetical to the teachings of Christ. Jesus and later Paul teach to love our enemies and even pray for those who do us harm.

Option B) We can use this proposed event to advance our own agenda. Several people are using this event to bolster their opposition to the Park 51 project, popularly yes misguidedly known as the "Ground Zero Mosque." House Republican leader and Tea Party favorite Sarah Palin have stated that while this group has the Constitutional right to burn the Qur'an it is bad taste which is the same argument they use against the Park 51 project. It is both unfair and unrealistic to compare these two events. The Qur'an burning is an act of hatred and ignorance and the Park 51 center will work to fight against that very same hatred and ignorance. Using this despicable act to further a political or financial agenda makes one an accomplice. You would share in the culpability.

Option C) We can use this proposed event to reignite the blame game domestically and internationally. Another set of arguments that I have heard more and once is "Well they burn American flags in Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. So they should deal with it" Another argument that Terry Jones used himself is that "we will burn Qur'ans until they let us build churches in Saudi Arabia." Well the last time I checked this is America and we do things differently. I cannot and will not defend the burning of an American flag except to say that people in this country have the right to burn it. I think it is a deplorable act just like burning Qur'ans. But are we as Christians not called to a higher standard? Do two wrongs make a right? No. Those Muslims who burn American flags are a small percentage of the 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide. We can no more condemn Islam for the acts of their extremists any more than we can condemn Christianity for its extremists like Fred Phelps or Terry Jones.

Option D) We can respond in love. This is the most difficult of the four options because it requires us to respond to something we despise with kindness, gentleness, and love. However, this is the option taught by our Savior. Respond to this hate with love because only love can conquer hate for good. Only love can change the hardened hearts of this group. Only love can show the world who we really are as people of Christ. We need to pray for Terry Jones and his followers. We need to pray that the love and grace of God touches their hearts and heals the hate within them. We also need to turn this negative in to a positive. I propose that we raise $1 for Pakistan flood relief for every Qur'an burned by this group. Not only will this be an act of love to the church, but it will be an act of love to the predominantly Muslim country of Pakistan. They need our help and if we do not help them then the Taliban and Al Qaeda will help them. This is the only option for people of faith. It is the most difficult, but no one said that following Christ was easy.

We will be known by our response. Will we do what feels good or what makes us money? Will we perpetuate the hate in the world or will we conquer it with our love? What will you do?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Hate Sells

Let's pretend I am the pastor of a fundamentalist, non-denominational church in Florida. We average about 50 people each Sunday, which is good, but not good enough. I follow the fundamentalist guidelines of hating gays and lesbians and abortion clinics, but I want to take it to the next level. So, I write a book about how Islam is from the Devil. Now, I know that everyone in my church will buy a copy, it is almost mandatory. But that's only 50 people. I realize that there are other wackos in other places that I need to reach so they can buy my book. I can go on the Internet, but I really need something explosive to really galvanize the wacko, fundamentalist base around the country. I know that another fundamentalist wacko burned some Bibles and Christian books last Halloween so I can't do that. Hmm, since I already hate Muslims I can burn their holy book and on top of that I will do it on 9/11 because that will heighten the tension between Americans and Islam. But I need to publicize this so I will call the local news outlet and tell them what I am planning to so and eventually it will go viral on the Internet.

Success! My wacko views and YouTube videos are a hit. People love to hate me. I am on CNN and Fox News almost every day. I get to spew my fundamentalist hatred on a global scale. Shoot, they are burning me in effigy in Kabul, Afghanistan, wherever that is. I don't care that people might die because of these actions because I am on TV. I am the new Fred Phelps baby! People love to hate me and so I tell my church that we are being persecuted by the world and now they think I am a friggin' prophet. This has work out better than I thought. I've got Anderson Cooper on speed dial. They love me because I give them ratings. I've got invitations from Oprah. My wife loves Oprah even if she is black.

This thing is bigger than I have ever dreamed and it's all because hate sells. Why do you think Fred Phelps is still in business? They get a news crew everywhere they go. So take it from me, if you want to get famous as a fundy pastor don't feed the hungry or clothe the naked that won't get you ratings. You need to hate people and do something outrageous. Then you'll rake in the fame.