“How do we, as people of faith, reconcile these realities — the profound good, the strength, the tenacity, the compassion and love that can flow from all of our faiths, operating alongside those who seek to hijack religious for their own murderous ends?
“Humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout human history. And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.” (Reported by Greg Sargent, The Plum Line, Washington Post, February 6, 2015)
Of course his political opponents have taken umbrage at his "insulting" Americans of the Christian faith who take comfort from their "selective amnesia" and willful "rose-coloured glasses" in blocking the atrocities committed in the name of Christ from their consciousness.
President Abraham Lincoln also pointed to the same opposing claims on God:
In the case of slavery, it’s right there in Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, in which Lincoln talked about how both sides were invoking religion, and asked how slave-holders could conceivably invoke a “just God” on their side, though he acknowledged uncertainty about God’s designs:
Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes (From the above quoted segment by Greg Sargent)In our own time, a Christian God is claimed by both those attempting to ban abortions and those seeking legislative and legal authority for a woman's right to choose. Only those who do not espouse or express a faith are freed from the history of claiming that God is on their side. They simply do not care or believe in any deity.
Even within the same walls of the same sanctuaries, believers in the Christian faith hold completely contradictory views: e.g. some hold that "retraining" homosexuals to heterosexuality is sanctioned by God, while others hold that loving all members of the LGBT community is an act of Christian agape.
For centuries, women were forbidden to hold clerical office (still are in the Roman Catholic faith) while others pressed for inclusion. Many hearts and minds and even bodies and spirits have been broken on the fires of these conflicts within the church. There was also the conflict over prohibition, with some Christians holding to a "teetotalling view" and others advocating for moderation.
Capital punishment, too, has been debated by Christians and "heathens" who, in the view of some of the their Christian colleagues, support the abolishment of the penalty by the state.
Compassion does, indeed, as Obama reminds us, potentially flow from our adherence to a faith perspective; so, sadly and tragically, does viscious vindictiveness, in the name of the Christ who is purported to be the head of the church, through holy writ.
As Carl Jung reminds us, the central theme in explaining and attempting to understand human life is "paradox"....and we come to accept that view with all of our beings kicking and screaming in protest.
We seek to find rational, tolerable and tolerant explanations that merge our capacity for compassion and love with our capacity for destruction of our own kind. They are, and likely will be for a very long time, not subject to our desire for integration.
Even in the Christian "views" of death, some hold that it is a passing into the afterlife of streets paved with gold where there is no dissention while others hold that, for those who have "sinned" there is purgatory and possibly even Hell.
It says here that to claim to know the will of God, for society, and for individual lives, absolutely, is one of if not the most serious form of playing god that humans can fall into. And yet, for the purposes of church identity, and institutional "integrity" and viability, (read acceptance and commitment from those in power with money to keep the church doors open) each religious institution has adopted what it considers the "orthodox" position of the Christian faith. And there have always been those who, risking their own lives in many cases, and certainly risking their expulsion from the faith community, have proposed views that confront, contradict and even explode those views previously held by the institution.
Banned books, is one example: for centuries Christians were banned from reading books that were considered "suggestive" or "evil" or "sexual" by the church authorities, (in the Roman Catholic faith they are called the leaders called to protect the "Doctrine of the Faith"). The banned book list, however, as with prohibition, only increased sales of those books, given the human penchant and proclivity for seeking the "forbidden".
We are a rebellious species, as well as a neurotic species, and managing our neuroses has too often become the central focus of our lives, both individually and collectively. What we are told by our parents and grandparents has, very often, trapped us into their "conventional" wisdom, even when we knew that our own perceptions differed. Hedonism, is one example, in which the church has found itself moralizing in order to preserve the "moral virginity" of its people, while others repeatedly questioned the value of such "prohibitions".
We are also a species that aspires to reach beyond its rigid and rigidly imposed curtailments. We consistently aspire to the heights of the human imagination, the human intellect and the human capacity to identify with the weakest among us. We are in awe with the solar systems, the beauty of the flowers, the melodies of the symphonies and oratorios, the strivings of all of our peers who conquer the highest peeks in their chosen field. We are, in a word, trying to be "better than our ancestors" and aspiring to reach the heights of what we commonly call "our better angels".
When these aspirations run counter the health, wellbeing and even the lives of others on the planet, who in their own way are also aspiring to their perceptions of a "heaven on earth" that we have the most explosive conflicts.
And when God, whomever and whatever our conceptions of that being are, is injected into "our" personal, and our neighbourhood's and especially our faith communities' traditional perceptions and beliefs of that God, then the fight takes on a whole new kind of pseudo-holiness. We are in those instances, attempting to wrap ourselves and our faith convictions in the flag that we believe flies on the flag pole in heaven. And yet, we have designed the flag, painted the colours on the flag, selected the armies that will defend to the death the sanctity of that flag, in the name of our "DEITY" and tankers full of human blood have been and will continue to be shed in what are falsely framed as "holy wars".....they are not! They are merely neurotic humans seeking power at the expense of those considered "apostates".
And of course, since all political operatives of all political ideologies either have or have rejected some form of a faith belief and practice, the merging of the interests of the "state" and the faith often merge in a conflation that eventually defies parsing. The American pledge to the separation of church and state is merely a rationalization of something that simply cannot be sustained. It may provide some cosmetic guidance in the preservation of direct church policy and polity from flooding into the public arena. However, it will never provide an impenetrable wall between the two "sectors" that have become enmeshed in the body, mind and spirit of each human being in some fashion.
Currently, the government of Great Britain has approved legislation providing for the gestation of a human fetus from the genetic material of three parents. This in a country in which, until only that past year, were women forbidden from becoming bishops in the Church of England. Some "Christians" consider the move to be that of "playing God" with human lives, and thereby abandoning the humility that accompanies a true faith in God. In the United States, the debate rages over capital punishment in the face of a cocktail that leave the subject dangling in pain between life and death before the eyes of his witnesses.
In Islam, if published reports are credible, the state and the faith are one, and that in itself is a concept to which the west is unalterably opposed. If any single religious body were ever to demand complete control of the government and the courts, there would be a revolution, a violent revolution, with "Christians" on both sides of the conflict. Similarly, with the proposition of a government controlled from and by a mosque, or a collective of mosques, much of the western world vomits.
Human nature, by itself, has demonstrated unfailingly and repeatedly its dependence on violence in the pursuit of its goals of prosletyzing. Converts, and the higher the number the better, have always been the life blood of all faith communities, with the single exception of the Jewish community.
the smallest faith community has consistently reserved entrance only to those it permitted entry, through conversion. Of course, original Jewish families, of whatever cultural heritage, were and remain part of the original tribes of Judah. So, another layer of competition, for simple recruits is finding expression in the evangelizing march to human domination from both Christian recruiters and Islamic recruiters of all their many and diverse types, some moderate and others "revolutionary".
Tension, both creative and destructive, is also at the heart of the human capacity for growth, development and enhancement, if deployed creatively, collaboratively and compassionately, regardless of the faith foundations from which it emerges.
So within each of us, on daily basis, even minute by minute, we are engaged in a process of asking questions of the premises on which we are basing our choices, and in turn we discuss these choices with those in our circle, and even select circles of conformity as part of our reinforcement for our perceptions, beliefs and attitudes.
Liberals seek out liberals, and like to believe that we are more caring compassionate and inclusive than those who prefer a more conservative life view, many of whom consider liberals irresponsible and lawless, in the major and minor ways of offending both natural and human law.
In the current environment, even the most conservative Christian seems too liberal for the most radical Muslim, especially in his depiction of the identity and meaning of females. And at the heart of this difference, for the Islamists, has to be a deep and profound psychosis about the willingness and the ability of other men to keep their distance from Muslim women. Distrust, like many of the other faces of fear, is, we have been taught, one of the most insurmountable obstacles to a relationship with any deity and so Christians are unmoved by this "patronizing" and "protective" set of religious and state rules about the lives of women, including their potential for both education and professional employment in research and human intellectual activities.
Is the twenty-first century a war of religious, cultures or a war about feminism and the role and place in society for women?
It is apparently all of those things and more, as we all seek to find our individual and cultural paths to some form of integration and balance between our extreme capacities for compassion and vengeance. And all the Gods that have ever been depicted in human literature, both sacred and secular, are watching!
How many lives are will jointly willing to shed, main and repress to win a "Phyrric" victory, because in the end, all sides will eventually have to learn to listen and talk to their most hated enemy, and all the Gods will be watching and waiting for that conflab.