Faith Works 9-15-12
People who are not quite invisible
So many topics I meant to write about this week. Ah, well.
Events along the southern coast of the Mediterranean continue to erupt, and tragedies burst into flames here and there in the debris of dictatorships' end and the ad hoc workshops of nascent democracy.
From a faith perspective broadly understood, which is what this space is intended to address (the pastor's column is for particular perspectives, but "Faith Works" is meant by the editorial staff to speak to a much broader, non-sectarian audience), there are hints of what goes on in the Middle East as being rooted in religion. As in "see what these crazy people are doing in the name of religion!"
I would dispute that.
Not that some of the behavior isn't deranged, as killing and death always is, but whether they're really doing it "in the name of religion."
Perhaps I do them an injustice, but most of these terroristic acts by so-called sectarian groups are aimed at keeping control of state power in the hands of a specific ethnic group, or just keeping power for an in-group, however defined. Yes, religion gets used, but religion per se seems to rarely have thing one to do with what they're fighting about.
My own travels are sadly limited. But between where I have gone, and my opportunities to talk to those who have been in strange, hot, dusty places, I've developed a general hypothesis.
The average citizens of most countries are decent, hard-working people who bear no ill will for those from overseas who visit or work to develop their land. But their stability is also their weakness, in that they can't resist roving, rootless, often faceless armed thugs who hide behind them and threaten retaliation to those who would report or unmask them, because they have to stay put to maintain their way of life, while terror is always on the move. ALWAYS remember that, whether Russia or Libya or Egypt or Iran.
Or the United States.
In Libya, shortly after the brutal acts that culminated in the death of the US ambassador and three of his staff, a public rally was bravely held, with signs honoring Chris Stevens all handmade and small but all the more sincere. That gathering got relatively little general media play, and occupied almost no space in the overall debate about "what's wrong over there?"
Which is the real Libya?
Well, that's like watching some footage of the idiot preacher with sideburns in Florida and the vile preacher from Kansas, then seeing an equal length of footage from two other randomly chosen mainstream churches in Poughkeepsie, NY & Harrisburg, PA, then asking "what's the real American religion?"
In most of the world, I am quite certain, though lacking objective data, that people in general believe that they are created by Someone greater than they can comprehend, and have a purpose in this world that ties them to the next. As a Christian, I believe I know a way to understand that general belief with some very particular applications, but not in a way that leads me or anyone I know or worship with to draw a weapon to enforce; as an American, I think my personal faith has public implications, but not in a way that bars me from making common cause with other faiths which share my public positions.
Americans rarely have to worry about mobile militants who kill to enforce a worldview. Oklahoma City would remind us that's not "never," but rarely is still true. One of Christianity's core remembrances is a willingness to die rather than renounce our faith, but the fact is we barely have to think about that prospect, let alone face it. But it only takes one Toyota micro-pickup full of Kalashnikov wielding teenage boys to force the question. In some parts of the world, those careening caravans are a sporadic part of the landscape. They can even insist that your own teenage son join them.
Let's be very, very careful about judging whole peoples, whole religions, based on the murderous influence of a few. And it only takes a few.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in central Ohio; he's not had to explain his theology in the face of anything worse than a raised eyebrow. Tell him about your non-negotiables at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.