The tragic deaths of Chris Stevens, the Ambassador to Libya and two of his staff and the parallel attack on the American Embassy in Egypt were attributed to radical Islamists who were retaliating against an American filmmaker who made a film seen as insulting to the prophet Mohammed. The familiar trope of outrage over blasphemous expressions is so common these days that it has gained currency as a legitimate motivation.
Whether the Westboro Baptist Church gathers with severe provocations in protest of liberal policies, or some newly minted Islamist offshoot attacks their own people or those of another nation ostensibly in defense of Allah or Mohammed, or right wing Jews destroy Palestinian settlements and bomb the west bank, all are taking the position of “defending” their deity or cherished prophet. All are assuming that said deity or prophet is insulted, angered, humiliated. And, as is common to all religious doctrine, there is no proof, only assertions.
Such retaliatory actions are the most powerful assertions of religious doctrine in terms of their ability to raise anger and get press coverage. And they are representative of the basic practices of these religious organizations. They apply less dramatic and less lethal means on a daily basis to keep their followers in line with a particular interpretation of the scripture associated with the religion.
And I would assert that these actions, regardless of their severity, are representative of what is wrong with religion in our modern world. At their best religions have been social organizers, ambassadors of good will and works. But increasingly we see religions becoming militarized and militant, indistinguishable in practice from imperialistic political organizations which we call countries. Not a good thing at all.
We could become entangled in interpretations or translations of the scriptures which underlie these actions or discuss sociopolitical issues or military issues or any number of such things as are commonly debated in the media. But I would suggest that something can be learned from a much more basic analysis of the individual’s relationship with his/her deity.
All of the above-mentioned religions are acting to “defend” the deity or prophet against humiliation and blasphemy. All violate basic tenets of their faith, ignore admonitions in scripture conveniently when such admonitions prevent them from achieving a given goal whatever that may be. So killing people or stealing are acceptable if it achieves a goal endorsed by the leader of a given group.
Well, first off, I am amazed at how the once all powerful Allah, Yahweh, Jesus, etc. suddenly have the need for protection, suddenly are “humiliated” and are in need of their followers to forget all the kindness and benevolence they have been taught to retaliate. Presumably this makes their deity happy? Or alleviates the deity’s fear?
Really? You folks really believe that your god is so fragile or narcissistic that he/she requires you to intervene on his/her behalf? You really think that offending military families, killing homosexuals, killing Palestinians, killing politicians, filmmakers, cartoonists and writers somehow makes god happy, makes god feel protected, makes you a better person?
Well it also speaks of how unempowered and petty your god is. It speaks of how tenuous your spirituality is. At it’s worst such militant actions are merely the use of religion to achieve political goals like the Crusades for example. But even at best it is evidence that you believe that your god is vulnerable.
I once had an exchange of conversation on facebook in the course of which I made a sarcastic humorous comment about God. The other conversant immediately made a statement to the effect that she didn’t understand why people who did not believe felt a need to make fun. Well I had to reply that it is wrong to assume that my use of humor is indicative of a lack of belief. That in fact, though I have no allegiance to any organized religion, I am a deeply spiritual person who happens to believe that my god and my spirituality have a sense of humor.
I believe that it was Charlie Chaplin who said that a day without humor is a day wasted. And as much as I wish to pursue spiritual connections I would never give up a sense of humor. In fact I believe that it is a gift, that humor can help us understand and better get along with each other.
I don’t believe that my failure to kill or discriminate against those who are seen as defaming a given god will diminish me or result in my being punished by god. I do believe that my failures to act in a kind and loving manner are the things for which I will ultimately be judged.
Firing a gun or a rocket, speaking hate speech, going after religious icons instead of real present day social issues is easy. Loving can be hard especially in the face of such attacks. But it is loving that my god teaches, it is loving that I try to practice and that makes my god stronger than your god.