Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Religious Tolerance and the 9/11 Anniversary

In roughly a month from now, we will commemorate the tenth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. It is a date that has been associated in the minds of many with nonexistent weapons of mass destruction and draconian policy decisions. Islamophobia remains a potent force here, but arguably an even stronger one in Western Europe. Both, though no one would admit it, are coupled with a belief in national ethnic purity. To many, Americans look and sound a particular way. This is also believed about Germans or Swiss.

The English Civil War was a time not only of political and military upheaval; it also gave rise to several religious movements that challenged every aspect of the Church of England. What would eventually be known as the Religious Society of Friends developed out of this period of often violent uncertainty. George Fox, the founder of this new faith, found himself elbow to elbow with other competing groups. Each was trying desperately to win converts and legitimacy. Fox took an approach that is objectionable today, but made sense nearly four centuries ago.

Fox went as far as to state that his new brand of Christian Mysticism was the truest, purest form available. All other world religions are in vain, he stated firmly. Liberal Friends like me do not believe in this exclusionary view. Even our theologically conservative fellow Quakers, Evangelical Friends, wouldn’t go quite this far. These days, such beliefs exist only within Fundamentalism, and have caused extreme anger and agitation. When I say I am a Christian, I always have to sharply distinguish that I’m not like those Christians. My faith allows for people to form their own conclusions. No one is force fed dogma or doctrine.

But the matter of Fox’s choice in language does raise an interesting argument. At a time where we are arguably less religious, there are nonetheless any number of religious options available to us. I sometimes hear a person of faith disparage another’s religious group. People I know have criticized Fundamentalist Christianity or Fundamentalist Islam. In so doing, they’ve acted yet again like the founder of Quakerism, who told Muslims that their religion was subordinate to Christianity. Fox said that Muslims had been deceived by their own founder and needed to worship the one true God. And to be fair, there were many in England at the time who believed that Quakers were a heretical subversive sect that was certainly not Christian. As for me personally, I think that those of us who are members of Abrahamic faiths do worship the same God.

Fox has many redeemable characteristics. He went to the trouble to read and document pertinent passages in the Koran to bolster his argument against a Turkish sultan, one who had been persecuting Christians. His larger point was that a true Muslim followed Jesus’ command to love one’s enemies and that this sultan was not being faithful. He was correct. Jesus is an important figure in Islam. Radical Islam then and now disregards the teaching of those it says it follows. Instead of a religion based on peace, some have transformed it into a reductionist faith that preaches violent revenge. We must not forget this in the midst of all the bloviating and hatred. The impact of September 11 is still being felt, though its memory has begun to fade into the background.

Article first published as Religious Tolerance and the 9/11 Anniversary on Blogcritics

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