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No Single Thing

 
 

I want to reiterate something I have said in worship most recently in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris, and that is there is no single cause.  I think it is a part of our nature to want there to be a single reason, not just in the case of tragedies like terrorism, but in most things.  When we go to the doctor, we want to know the ‘cause’ when the reality is our bodies are complex.  If someone smokes, we can say that is a major factor in someone getting cancer, but it isn’t the only cause; and not everyone who smokes gets cancer.  If we could isolate a single reason for something then we believe we would have more control over it.  But alas, that is impossible and then frustrating.

When students were shot and killed at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, I mentioned three factors that I believe encourages such events:  mental illness, guns and emotional health of boys in America.  Another reason we try to find a single reason is so that we can say what is not involved.  If we say that the cause is mental illness, then we can also say guns are not a part of the increase in violent events.  This is simply a rationalization.  And it would be equally wrong to claim that guns are the sole cause.

Regarding the recent events in Paris, as well as in Beirut and Baghdad, my fear is we will rush to blame religion, and more specifically Islam.  This can lead to generalized prejudice and a disregard of other factors, particularly any that might implicate us.  Serendipitously, I found a new book by Karen Armstrong in the library entitled, Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence.  Armstrong has written many books on religion; she is considered an expert in the field.  The thesis of her book is that religion is not the (sole) cause of the kind of violence we see around us.  As an historian she makes her argument by looking at the past, but the purpose of her claim is to refute people who disparage religion as innately violent.  (Bill Maher please read this book.)  I offer these quotations as examples of what she says:

Many view religion…as a byword for irrationality, to be the ultimate cause (of violence).  One of the most prominent is Richard Dawkins, who has argued that “only religious faith is a strong enough force to motivate such utter madness in otherwise sane and decent people.”  This dangerous oversimplification springs from a misunderstanding of both religion and terrorism.  It is, of course, a familiar enough expression of the secularist bias of modernity, which has cast “religion” as a violent, unreasonable force that must be excluded from the politics of civilized nations.  Somehow if fails to consider that all the world’s great religions traditions share as one of their most essential tenets the imperative of treating others as one would wish to be treated oneself.  This, of course, is not to deny that religion has often been implicated in terrorist atrocities, but it is far to easy to make it a scapegoat rather than trying to see what is really going on thin the world.

As an inspiration for terrorism, however, nationalism has been far more productive than religion.  Terrorism experts agree that the denial of a people’s right to national self-determination and the occupation of its homeland by foreign forces has historically been the most powerful recruiting agent of terrorist organizations. 

It is not as if everyone who is Muslim tends toward being violent.  It is, rather, about people who have been hurt, who’ve watched people they love killed, who are angry about what has happened to their people and they frame their violent rhetoric religiously because that is who they are.  Christians could do the same – and have; secularists are not innately righteous either.

At the recent annual dinner for Faith Action Network an imam from the Tri-cities was given an award for Interreligious relations.  I did not covet him having to speak in the wake of what happened in Paris.  He was clear that in his mind as well ISIS is evil; he said anyone who kills another is not doing so by following God..  I was thankful for his words.  See you in worship.  P.Jim

 

JohnWesleySavannah

 

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