As some of you may have noticed from my Twitter feed, the Degu Witch has become rather involved in opposing religious intolerance recently. The underground online (and frankly rather ineffectual) hate group won't get any free publicity from me so I don't intend to name them here but what I would like to do is to highlight the nature of some of the recent debates so you can see what I mean when I say religious intolerance is a dangerous thing.
The fundamental vitriol of the hate group is directed primarily at the religion of Islam.They refer to this religion as a "cult" and pick out isolated instances of individual behaviour to make generalised and derogatory statements about participants in the faith. They make reference to "articles" which they claim back up their accusations against the religion but these articles invariably turn out to have been published on other hate sites. As yet, despite several challenges from myself and others, the hate group has yet to make reference to any independent legitimate source that backs up any of their claims.
Instead of backing up arguments with either hard fact or reasoned debate, the culture of hatred this group insists on promoting is concerned more with mud slinging and spouting ill thought out unfounded opinions. The best example I can offer is the individual who "doesn't like the taste of Halal meat..." It rather begs the question as to how you can claim to have an opinion when you quite obviously have no idea what you are talking about. But it is precisely
the ignorance that makes this hatred so dangerous. He spouts off and a hundred equally uneducated individuals believe what he says and start believing the same thing. Ignorance, unchecked, can spread faster than the flu...
Now I am obviously not part of the Islamic religion. Nor do I practise Christianity. The path of organised religion does not work for me as an individual. I intend to ask nobody to intercede in my relationship with deity, I go straight to the source. However, despite having no personal belief in either of these religions, I actually know a fair bit about them both. I have bothered to take the time to do the research and to understand what I am talking about. And the primary truth that my research has yielded is that both Islam and Christianity can make an honest and genuine claim to being peaceful religions.
Christianity of course is based on the teachings of Christ which are summarised as "Love God and Love thy Neighbour."
Matthew (26:36-40) Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind." This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself." 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
The holy book of the Islamic faith - the Quran - speaks of not acting against those who have not shown enmity first
(4:90) "So if they remove themselves from you and do not fight you and offer you peace, then Allah has not made for you a cause against them."
and (41:34) The good deed and the evil deed cannot be equal. Repel (the evil) with one which is better, then verily! he, between whom and you there was enmity, (will become) as though he was a close friend.
Vengeance incidentally is documented in both religions with exactly the same moral standpoint of giving back only what has been given. Neither religion advocates starting conflict but both support the idea of justice and self defence.
- Leviticus (24:20) "Fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. The one who has inflicted the injury must suffer the same injury."
Quran (16:126) "And if you punish (your enemy, O you believers in the Oneness of Allah), then punish them with the like of that with which you were afflicted. But if you endure patiently, verily, it is better for As-Sabirin (the patient ones, etc.)
So a pretty similar fundamental basis for both religions and an emphasis on getting along with other people. Of course I have picked parts from both holy books that suit my purpose... Which perhaps tells you why I have chosen a personal faith that does not have a holy book. Words can easily be twisted and manipulated to change their meaning and there are certainly adherents to both religions who have done just this and given the words of their holy scriptures an aggression that I do not believe was intended in either book. So yes, there are both Christians and Muslims who do twist their faiths to suit their own agendas - there is good and bad in fact in both faiths. This only gives more credence to the argument that you cannot use religion to make generalised statements about its adherents. Ultimately people are individuals, not a by product of the culture of mass belief. The extreme end of both religions moves away from the intrinsically peaceful core tenats of each faith.
Incidentally as a side note, I own copies of both the Bible and the Quran and despite neither book being holy to me, I treat them with genuine respect. I do this out of respect for those who do deem these books to be holy. The hate groups who destroy these books in the name of pursuing religious freedom are missing the point. You do not have to become Christian or Muslim to live peacefully alongside people of these faiths. Religious freedom is not denigrating the faiths of others, it is respecting the right of individuals to believe differently to you. I would have thought that any faith - Christian, Muslim or otherwise - who needed to put others down to feel confident in their own hasn't got that great a faith to begin with. If you want tolerance from others, the starting point must be to offer it yourself.
I'm always confused as to why these two faiths in particular always seem to be at such odds with each other. Islam is the only faith except Christianity to acknowledge Jesus Christ (Muslims do not view Jesus as the son of God but as a prophet of the faith). As two of the three Abrahamic religions Islam and Christianity have a good deal more in common than say
Christianity and Hinduism or Islam and Buddhism. Both religions were founded in the Middle East, both are monotheistic, both believe sections of their holy books to be the direct word of God and both (as I have shown above) have similar views on morality. In my daily interactions with members of both faiths I have observed Christians and Muslims working together in friendly harmony with faith posing a problem to neither side. Evidence perhaps that the animosity is borne not so much from those genuinely practising their faith but the "militant - extreme" minority of both faiths who prefer to stir up trouble than to practise in peace.
My point of course being that this minority is exactly that - a minority - a tiny infinitesimal percentage of the largest and second largest religions in the world. Sadly it is these individuals who make the headlines. I can't help speculating that the world would be a better place with headlines such as "The 1.6 million Muslims in the Uk had a peaceful day today."
Or "The 51 million Christians in the UK didn't feel the urge to start a civil war today." These headlines represent the truth far more effectively but I doubt they'd sell newspapers...
Religion is often the cause of heated debate - and I'm casting a wider net than just Christianity and Islam here. I've seen it in Paganism too - the different paths fighting over who has ownership of the closest path to the truth. Even athiests are jumping onto their soap boxes to prove "the absence of God" (Though they're onto a losing battle trying to prove the absence of anything... You are a pratt sometimes Dawkins...) But the arguments are unnecessary. All religion is and ever can be is a shorthand interpretation of the eternal truths that are simply beyond human understanding. No religion - and I include my own in this - can make the claim in truth that they have it right. The simple fact is that we just don't know, we are not meant to know and we probably wouldn't understand the eternal truths even if we did know. We fumble our journeys on the paths defined by our different cultures toward an end we can never reach. This is the futility of religion. The fact that we start that journey in the first place? - That is the hope and the meaning behind religion.
I've been asked why, as a witch, I care so much about the hatred toward faiths I have no personal involvement with. The reason is that as a citizen of Great Britain (Great in my opinion for its melting pot culture and tolerance toward other nationalities and faiths) I feel it important to speak out against the growing counter culture of bigotry wherever I find it. The country isn't on the brink of revolution - the English Defence League couldn't organise the proverbial in a public house - but racial, religious and cultural tensions are a concern and in my opinion it is the duty of every individual unwilling to house hatred in their hearts to stand up and defy this counter culture before Multiculturalism does give way to Nationalism and we end up in a situation not dissimilar to Nazi Germany. It is possible you think I am scaremongering but when I see the mindless hatred spewed with such venom by the far right idiots and comments relating to "infestation" "rodents" and the imaginative but despicable phrase "Maggots of hell" I see the similarities with Hitler's intended dehumanisation of the Jews and I am reminded of the phrase "In order for evil to flourish, all that is required is for good men to do nothing." Regardless of my own personal faith I never intend anybody to ever say of me that I was that good man who did nothing.
There's a postscript to this blog. After writing this but before publishing it, I was asked by my sister if I would attend the baptism of her children into the Catholic faith. Infant baptism goes entirely against my beliefs and my instinct was to fight her right to do this. But I chose not to, I declined with grace and wished her and her family well in what they want to do. In order to win the battle of hearts and minds against the intolerance in our society we have to embrace those principles for ourselves. In light of everything I have said above I'd have been nothing but a hypocrite to oppose her right to follow her own faith, no matter how much I happen to disagree with it.
In the end it isn't enough to be able to talk about tolerance, you have to live it.
Image http://www.freeimages.com/photo/1103018 (cobrasoft)
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