It is hard to keep track of the many current crises, both domestic and international. You can’t tell the combatants without a scorecard. But it is clear that quite a number of them are rooted in the hatreds cherished by one religious group against another. Yes, I know it is possible that these sectarian tags are merely masks for other issues, but generally I think that explanation is an error made by secular-minded analysts who just cannot imagine that religion could mean enough to religious believers that they would actually shed blood over it. But they would, and they do.
The Sunni Jihadists hate Christians and Jews, but not as much as they despise Shi’ites, who are fellow Muslims. Among the Sunnis, the Wahabi faction (whose name inexplicably adorns the pseudo-Islamic crest of the ridiculous Shriners) deems all non-Wahabis as non-human! Needless to say Shi’ite are pretty ornery, too. And there are other religious wars, notoriously between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland and even Buddhists versus Hindus in Sri Lanka. Muslims attack Hindus, too. And the too-tender sensibilities of Hindus in India and Muslims all over the globe are successfully censoring public discourse.
I could go on about this for several pages. It is nearly enough to make me accept the argument of Sam Harris (who is certainly right about the dangers of Islam) that all religion is dangerous and should end. He says that the legions of moderate religious believers serve as a kind of human shield preventing us from leveling the blame where it belongs. But I know of too many positive religious believers whose faith is what impels them to selfless good on behalf of others. I do take his sweeping generalization seriously in the case of Islam, where it is more clear to me that even the much-invoked “moderate” Muslims are part of the problem, not the solution, insofar as they stand by silently.
But I raise the spectre of religious hatred and its disruptive ramifications in order to place a recent and ongoing American controversy in what I perceive to be its proper context. I have in mind the proposed Arizona law (vetoed but about to be repeated in several other states) that, as a safeguard to religious freedom, allows fundamentalists to refuse to serve homosexuals in restaurants and other businesses. “This train don’t carry no sinners.”
There are other reasons this law is ill-conceived and ludicrous. For one, does the pious opponent of homosexuality give a litmus test to, require a no-homosexuality pledge of, all potential customers at the door? And why stop there? Why not turn away suspected adulterers? Dishonest businessmen? Liars? The door is opened to the colonial-era absurdity whereby congregations would allow to receive Holy Communion only those whose spiritual worthiness they could be sure of. Eventually Roger Williams, founder of the Baptist movement in America, realized the foolishness of this procedure when he had decided he could be sure of only his wife’s spiritual worthiness and refused to share the communion table with anyone else. It was a self-imposed reductio ad absurdum, and he snapped out of it, instituting open communion to any and all comers. That’s basically what Christians need to do in their restaurants. If they don’t, they might as well go the whole way and post signs reading NO UNSAVED ALLOWED.
Second, have these restaurateurs, bakers, wedding photographers, etc., forgotten who started their religion? Historical Jesus versus Christ Myth debate aside, what sort of character is depicted in the gospels? He, uh, dined with tax-collectors and sinners, right? He preached against sin but embraced sinners. Please tell me how so-called Christians can decide, as a matter of policy, for Pete’s sake, to tell homosexuals to get lost and take their offending penises with them! Blessed are the peacemakers.
But here’s my biggest gripe. For a religious group to claim the right and the freedom to exclude outsiders because of ethical and religious differences of opinion is to start down the path to a religion-versus-religion no man’s land. No violence to speak of yet, but the poisonous seed has nonetheless been planted. We already have plenty of cause to bemoan the “identity politics” slicing and dicing of America into competing pressure groups. Don’t make it worse! In fact, who has noticed that the proposed Christian shunning of Gays is exactly parallel to the recent liberal call to boycott Chick-Fil-A because the owner of the chain said he disapproved of same-sex marriage? I opposed that boycott every bit as much as I supported same-sex marriage. Similarly, I oppose abortion, but I decry the assassination of abortion doctors. We have to have a civil society. “Let’s hang on to what we’ve got. Don’t let go, girl; we got a lot.”
So says Zarathustra