South Slope. Asheville.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Mosque Controversy

This pastor is actually someone I know.  He pastored a church in Newville, Alabama back in the eighties.  And although this story is a little old, this video was so revealing I had to forward them on to my friends overseas. 

Raised Southern Baptist, and as I understand it today, a fundamentalist Christian, I can see how this "moving in" of a mosque, especially after 9-11, would make people very afraid.  Of course, growing up, I didn't have any knowledge of Islam - or really any other religion - and so my perception was biased, I'd guess you'd say, or at least based on incomplete information.  Ironically, after traveling overseas, and meeting Muslims in Central Asia, I discovered that they are as varied as we are.  There are hardline types, yes.  And there are moderate types.  And then there are those who are traditional or cultural Muslims - almost like I see myself today as a cultural Christian -  yet don't practice in any real way.  In other words, it's just part of their heritage.  And then there are Muslims in big cities who are vastly different from their rural counterparts simply due to getting more education, having a chance to travel, and being exposed to modern ways of thinking.  What I see is that the more rural areas have the vast numbers of religious devotees, and the practice of the religion and the influence of the institution is more pervasive among those living in the rural areas. Presbyterian (PCA) in South Alabama, in these religious aspects, is going to have more in common with a Hindu in Northwest India than with a American living in Los Angeles.  And an white collar office worker in Beijing is going to be more in sync with a New Yorker than the New Yorker likely would be with a conservative Catholic in Northern Louisiana.  Gaining this perspective and understanding has helped process the information, for example, that I get from videos like this.  I actually know a lot of people who would side with this pastor who is against a mosque coming to his town.  And interestingly enough, there's a big part of me, for different reasons, that wouldn't want "more religion" coming to town.  And although this sect in Tennessee appears to be very moderate, I worry a lot about fundamentalist Islam, in general. 

I truly desire a pluralistic society where various religious, cultural and social groups can live together.  Even non-religious!  Especially non-religious!  Some of my best friends are not religious in any traditional way.  And a society that wants to beat that out of them or convert them or not interact with them is unhealthy in my opinion. And yet, likewise, I have to recognize that not welcoming religious folks of a more conservative ilk, whether Christian, Muslim or Jew, by its very nature, is not pluralistic, and not consistent with my overall philosophy. 

It is true, where you see fundamentalism - at least where it's a majority - there's often a lot of fear present. In fact, the religion or belief system (could be nationalism, "We're # 1"), gets "stronger" when there's more fear. And in some religions, this is all amp'd up by an "end of world" theology.  So the very places that need growth and jobs and a lot more "heaven on earth" often are at the bottom of the heap and can't seem to find their way out.  It's like an individual who is depressed, melancholy and stuck in a rut.  They're not ever able to live fully because of their self-doubt, self-hate and fear of others and change. When the total environment has more of this negative energy, it's almost impossible for it to thrive.  I see this in the United States and other places.

How would I answer those in opposition to the mosque in Tennessee?  I might first share something that Billy Graham said in a televised interview with David Frost on May 30, 1997.

David Frost: So is this still a Christian Country?

Billy Graham: No! We're not a Christian Country. We've never been a Christian Country. We're a secular Country, by our constitution. In which Christians live and which many Christians have a voice. But we're not a Christian Country.

And although I disagree with Graham I'm sure on many things, his response here makes a lot of sense.  Our democratic form of government, with a constitution and Bill of Rights that protects individual rights, can work anywhere in the world.  In fact, it does.  India, which has a majority Hindu population, is the largest democracy on earth.  And so, this town in Tennessee having a mosque simply reminds us of what our constitution protects.  And this may be the biggest battle of all:  the struggle between secular systems that foster individual rights and freedoms and religious institutions that desire these same protections.  At the same time, however, where I can see accepting a mosque into my town and rightly justifying it based on our constitutionally-guaranteed rights, I certainly don't mind saying that fundamentalist Islam - and again, I don't see this as that - should make any rational person very wary.

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