Friday, August 13, 2010

Mosque in Manhattan: Damned if you do and damned if you don't

Building a mosque near Ground Zero. What could be more provocative than that. It reminds me of when I was going to school in Barbados and one of the boys would belligerently stand up in the face of another tough guy and taunt with the phrase, " Hit me if you is a man !"Play tough and hit back and you risk a burst lip or a bloody nose to show for it. Walk away and you risk the ridicule of all and sundry for being a"soft man". It's damned if you do and damned if you don't. That's what confronts the Christians in New York . A tricky situation indeed with much more than a dose of irony running through it. Not surprisingly opinions on this one are split down the middle with a considerable amount of emotions on both sides. Many are saying that its simply too insensitive to honour the religion that was responsible for 911 so close to where the towers once stood. Others look at it as a way to mend wounds and show the gentler side of Islam and provide an opportunity for reaching across the faith divide. After all Muslims died in 911 too. As I write this Barack Obama has come out on the side of the latter, citing the importance of freedom of religion come what may.

It is really so fascinating when you look at it. Often when secularists challenge Christians on the atrocities that have been done throughout history in the name of Jesus you immediately see the tap dancing. Spanish inquisition, Salem witch trials, ritual killings, Oklahoma bombings, homosexual beatings,Virginia Tech shooting, Jim Jones suicide, these are all examples of Christianity misapplied, they say. The individuals and groups involved are not true Christians just a set of evil, maybe mentally unstable people hijacking the religion. Persons involved in these things were Christians in name only. It doesn't matter how much the non religious person shows the passages in the bible that indicate how literal interpretations could lead to these actions being condoned or mandated. The response is that any sensible christian should understand that God didn't mean what he appeared to be saying in those passages. When things get really bad the favourite nullifying phrase is engaged. "That was the Old Testament."

Many of those in the church tell us there is good and bad in everything and Christianity is no different. It is unfair to in any way to compare the nice peaceful corner church that has Church Army ladies with any of these clearly violent and despicable individuals or groups. In fact they often think that the failings of those spin off cults just highlights by contrast the beauty of their own version of the faith. Indeed, I have never heard a denomination in Christianity accept any responsibility for what happens in other branches of the faith. Even within a denomination there is often the tendency to create some distance . When the pedophilia catholic scandal was at the height , many members in other parishes were heard to say, "Not in my church, our church is not like that!" As much as so many in faith have come out against Pat Robertson for his complete lack of sensitivity to the suffering, his show continues to air on a daily basis. Tele evangelists of all stripes continue to plunder; quoting the bible as they go, they speak of manna from heaven, anointings and camels going through eyes of needles. They know that once they speak "from the bible" the flock will take notice and they can rake in donations from the vulnerable of all sections of society with the promises of healings that cannot be delivered , while selling such "essentials" as pray handkerchiefs and miracle oil . Still, we are told, the christian religion cannot be blamed for any of that.

The mosque in New York debate has presented us with a great chance to really strip to the elements of this discussion. Many who lost loved ones in 911 are outraged. They claim to have nothing against the religion of Islam per se. They realise all Muslims are not suicide bombers, but the memories and the scars from that day are still too fresh. It is fine to have a mosque, they say, but not in that place. But why not? Surely those that hijacked the planes, hijacked the religion of Islam as well. The mosque is the symbol of a religion that is present in all corners of the globe. Most of its followers are as peaceful as the ordinary parishioner in the church pew. But the anger in New York shows that as far as many Christians are concerned, Islam is Islam. As one cleric said on a news program. " The hijackers who flew the planes into the buildings on 911, were following exactly what their holy book demanded. Therefore that faith must be held accountable." Wow, I almost fell out of my chair. No talk of misinterpretations, taking things out of context or outdated sections of the holy writings. There it was, you COULD hold a faith responsible if the perpetrators of an evil act were doing exactly as their holy book decreed. Very interesting, very interesting indeed.

I thought about this a bit more. After tragedies like school shootings where Christianity is often connected, the church leaders are the first on the scene to offer comfort. Why don't we consider it insensitive to the victims to bring in the local pastor? Isn't it a slap in the face of the grieving to send a representative of the same religion that did the killing minutes ago to do the counselling? I mean yes, we realise that all Christians are obviously not killers, but might it not be better to bring in a representative from the Baha'is, Jews or Buddhists in order to not add salt to the wound? When it's Christianity, brutality and comfort can coexist. Not when it comes to Islam apparently, even 10 years after the event.

Well, it seems that, this time at least, the Christians in opposition will not be able to scare off the religion that they see like the school bully in the playground. They can't throw a punch without opening themselves to a devastating counter blow to their own rights to worship without restriction. They can walk away muttering angrily under their breaths, but in the end they will be forced to eat non christian humble pie. They will have to live with the point of view they have spent so many years promoting, that you can't paint an entire faith with the same broad brush. Oh, how much these Christians must wish for freedom from religion now.


  1. if OK bombing, Virg Tech etc can all be pinned on Christianity does that mean we can attribute all other crimes to atheists?

  2. I think OK bombing, Virg tech and other criminal acts can be attributed to many different influences. However to the extent any of the perpetrators was motivated by some principal of doctrine found in the Christian holy book ie. bible, I believe it is fair to lay some responsibility on Christianity itself. It's no different to how many people hold islam to some extent responsible for 911 because hijackers used the koran as justification for the attacks.

    Atheism cannot be attributed to crmes in the same way because it has no associated tenets or system of rules to use as motivators. Atheism just means no belief in any gods, nothing more than that. Atrocities commited by atheists if anything would have to be driven by some political or secular ideology which either promotes or requires such actions.