by Tim O'Donnell | September 7th, 2010
Anyone who knows me or has read any of my posts, here or elsewhere, knows that I’m not an atheist. In fact, this is how I presently like to identify myself when asked about my religious affiliation – “not an atheist”. Pithy methinks and to the point. It tells the inquisitor I believe in something akin to what we have been trained to call God, but lends an air of mystery about my attachment to anything organized.
Kind of sophisticated and worldly, no?
Just me being a smartass you say? That’s fine too because that’s probably the next thing I’d say in describing myself if pressed to go further.
But back to the affiliation thing… Check out the cool ninety-second video; it shows the origin and development of five of the main religions that dominate the world today, when they began and how they spread throughout history.
Why does religion spread in the way you just saw? Is it a natural function of an idea whose time has come? Does “Absolute Truth” propel these systems of belief? Do they spread by the unseen power of God himself? Does the religious ideals with the most “truth” grow the fastest and the farthest?
Or – Does the one that grows the fastest have the best evangelists, the fastest ponies, the biggest megaphones or the smartest leaders?
Some spread regionally via the human grapevine, from one clan to the next and seem to have been contained by natural geographic borders like Hinduism or Buddhism. The two largest, Christianity and Islam surpassed the natural containers of their origin and expanded much more prolifically because as part of their respective doctrines there is a call for the faithful to convert the rest of the world to their way of believing. Muslims and Christians have clashed throughout history at various outposts throughout the world in their separate attempts to convert native populations.
When religious ideas claim God as their source, those ideas take a posture of absolute truth. Christian and Muslim conservatives use the word “inerrant” when describing the contents of their holy texts.
In•er•rant: adjective. Incapable of being wrong.
“Inerrancy” as a theological concept is a tad dogmatic or inflexible wouldn’t you agree? Incapable of being wrong? Jeez!
Today, we are on the precipice of another potentially major flare up between the two super powers of the theological realm. The differences have always had to do with what is held as truth contained in the sacred texts that Christians and Muslims hold so dear and this newest potential confrontation is focused exactly on those written words.
A small town Christian fundamentalist pastor named Terry Jones from a tiny and (heretofore) obscure congregation called Dove World Outreach Center is the man holding the torch that could ignite the flames. His matchstick might simply set a small bonfire in a backwoods town, but his hatred of Islam displayed by burning a pile of Islamic holy books called the Qur’an might ignite a conflagration that will burn a worldwide swathe of destruction.
A look at the website if DWOC in Gainesville, Florida reveals the extreme end of the Christian spectrum that their beliefs contain. http://www.doveworld.org/
They are an apocalyptic group that believes we are nearing the “end times” and some of their rhetoric suggests they might enjoy taking the initiative in bringing about the holy doomsday events. They call for their followers to “stand up”, offer ten reason to burn a “Koran”, explain why Islam is of the devil, claim God hates lukewarm churches and so on and so forth – blah, blah blah.
These so-called Christians are extremists. And most in the civilized world understand the problems in the world today are pretty much lying at the doorstep of such fundamentalist extremism. Extremists of any religious group that claims to possess the “absolute truth” are dangerous to the world because, to their way of thinking, they operate with the authority and permission of God. It’s one thing to presume your belief system is singular “truth” and it’s OK to practice in ways of your own choosing, but when a fringe group takes their practice of religion to the level of vilifying, hating and attacking those of a different belief system – well, that’s how atrocities like 9/11 happen in the first place.
The criminal terrorist zealots gave Islam a bad name that it’s still trying to recover from. This nut job in Gainesville is about to do the same for Christianity. The rest of the world might not distinguish American Christianity from the ignorance and intolerance such behavior would portray.
If Jones follows through on such a provocative action, we Americans will find ourselves in the ironic position of asking the world to see our Judeo-Christian country by the majority of its citizens and not just a radical fringe group spewing hate and kindling violence.
Burning the Qur’an certainly doesn’t rise to the level of violence and viciousness of the attack on 9/11 but it matches it in stupidity.