Sunday, January 18, 2015

What’s Done

An online discussion of this week's KAL cartoon eventually degenerated (as such things are wont to do) into a "debate" over whether or not Islam was an inherently violent religion. There were the typical claims that only Moslems kill in the name of religion (these days, anyway) and unsourced insistence that the Qu'ran openly calls for murder. If you've ever been in one of these discussions, I doubt that I have to describe this one to you any further - the script was the same.

But when I was at the grocery store, I saw a car with a bumper sticker that read "Christians aren't perfect - just forgiven." Thinking about that in the context of the online debate, something occurred to me. Another ubiquitous part of the script of debates over the role of religion and violence is the idea that "true Christians" are above using violence in the name of their faith. Which leads to an interesting irony. For many Christians, the vandal, the robber and the murderer are just a few of the billions of fallen human beings that populate this planet. All are proclaimed worthy of love and forgiveness, even from their enemies, and entitled, through returning to the fold, to a chance at grace and everlasting paradise. The world-be crusader, however, faces excommunication and opprobrium. Of course, this is far from universal - Christianity is a large and diverse group - and not all Christians hold to the same views.

What makes this particular form of gatekeeping interesting is it apparent purpose - protecting the idea that Christians are morally and ethically superior to other religions (but Islam in particular) on this one specific axis. As I've noted before, religiously-motivated violence in my own life is something that happens elsewhere. I suspect that I'd be hard pressed to find a violent religious extremist within a hundred miles of me. So, my own life might be more secure if the profession of Christianity rendered someone significantly less likely to be a burglar, mugger or murderer. While the idea that no true Christians will ever show up at my doorstep demanding that either I recant my apostasy or die is moderately comforting, it's also indistinguishable from the status quo.

In the end, the issue is really an attempt by some Christians to avoid being tarred with a broad brush of religious violence. Which is understandable. Religion, like any other human institution, has had its high and low points, and one of the lowest is the amount of blood that has been shed in the name of the divine. But sometimes it seems that the focus on "Out, damned spot! Out, I say!" is overdone. As Lady MacBeth notes, "All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand;" for critics of religion, the smell of blood will always remain. Throwing those it clings to under the bus will not change that.

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