Religious Opposition to Violence

Today we find the first letter to the editor of the year about religion, after a flurry of letters about freethought. This letter by John Gallo, was published today under the heading, “Religion: Oppose violence in any form.”

I get quite amused when I read about the struggle some Episcopal leaders are having in allowing their homosexual brothers and sisters full participation in the church.

Most American believers aren't really concerned about boys kissing boys. They worry much more about existential matters of faith. Examples are the immoral invasion and occupation of Iraq, the failure of our health care system, the absurd Medicare drug plan, the genocide of young black males, the oppression of the poor, and the total corruption of our political system by money and corporations.

Somehow these Anglican defenders of the faith suffer from amnesia in failing to remember Jesus' inclusive ministry to the excluded and marginalized, and his harsh condemnation of the religious and social structures that perpetuated injustice and violence against individuals and groups. Frankly, the biblical writers had no scientific concept of human sexuality and all its complexity. What Scripture does condemn is the misuse and abuse of all of God's good gifts.

All of us should heed the pope's words that urged religious leaders to oppose violence in any form. Whether it be the persecution of people because of their God-given sexual orientation or the slaughter of the innocents in Iraq, our calling is to be the peacemakers and agents of God's reconciling love.

Although Gallo's signature indicated that he is a pastor, it didn't indicate of which church. An online search returned several relevant pages, but I couldn't find his association listed anywhere, even in a newspaper article explicitly about him and another local pastor! It's not really important to the above discussion, but I wanted to provide my readers with as much information as possible before I begin my critique.

As a condemnation of violence, hatred and moral apathy, I agree with the major sentiments of this message and I am glad to see it published. There are a number of points, however, with which I disagree or upon which I would otherwise like comment.

First, although the issues listed as examples in the second paragraph are very important, none of them are matters of faith and none are existential. Perhaps the author meant to say that they should be of concern to people of faith, but they have nothing to do with religion itself and nothing to do with the philosophy of existentialism, so he should be more careful with his words.

Second, I object to some of the labels used to describe the issues. Violence among young black men is certainly a major problem in the United States, but characterizing it as a genocide is simply an abuse of the word. I wouldn't label it genocide because it's not large-scale, it's not organized, it's mostly perpetrated by members of the community itself, and it's mostly committed on an individual basis rather than according to the victim's race. It doesn't resemble a true genocide like the Rwandan genocide in which almost one million victims died in about three months during a well-organized extermination by militias of one ethnic group by another. I also object to the use of oppression of the poor because it sounds like an active conspiracy rather than culpable neglect and total corruption because corruption in the United States is actually rather low compared to most of the rest of the world.

Third, characterizing Jesus' ministry, as portrayed in the Gospels, as “inclusive” is at the best incomplete and at the worst inaccurate. Jesus repeatedly condemned to the eternal fires of hell everyone who failed to believe in him and his message. This could not be less tolerant and compassionate. And while Jesus reached out to everyone within Jewish society, he also repeatedly stated that he came to save only the children of Israel, not the Gentiles. This is hardly any more inclusive. It was only after his death, and thus after his own ministry had ended, that his message was adapted and brought to the rest of the world.

Fourth, Jesus did repeatedly condemn the religious leaders of his time, but he failed even to address two major unjust institutions of his time: slavery and the subjugation of women. In fact, by approving of the entire Old Testament and by failing to select any women as apostles, Jesus gave tacit approval to both of these social systems. A human revolutionary could be forgiven for moral shortsightedness, but a supposedly divine revolutionary has no excuse.

Fifth, I wholeheartedly agree that the authors of the Bible had no scientific concept of human sexuality and all its complexities, but their ignorance is more extensive than is suggested by this humble comment. They also had no scientific understanding about the origins of the universe, the origins of mankind, the connection between body and mind, the inefficacy of prayer, the impossibility of miracles and the very definition of God himself. One can't ignore the parts of scripture which one doesn't like on the grounds that they're unscientific unless one is willing to apply this principle consistently and examine the Bible thoroughly until all we have is a collection of occasionally interesting stories.

It's good to see someone in favor of social justice but disappointing to see them clinging to ancient superstitions as primary justification for purely human compassion.


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