A Christian lady standing at a well in Pakistan offered two Muslim men a drink of water. They refused because she had defiled the water by touching the vessel that contained it. She is a Christian, you know. She claimed that she didn’t make the water impure by being a Christian. They claimed that she had. The argument resulted in an accusation of blasphemy against the Prophet, which carries a death sentence in Pakistan. The woman, Aasia Bibi, has been in jail awaiting her execution since 2009. Although no one has ever been executed by the Pakistani government for blasphemy, many accused people have died at the hands of Muslim faithful after being released from jail.
Marine Staff Sgt. Jordan B. Emrick from Holyeton, Illinois died in combat in Afghanistan. He was to be buried in the cemetery of his home town Lutheran church. The Westboro Baptist (unaffiliated) Church announced it would be there to defile his memory with their hate mongering. These folks are the ones who display placards claiming that our young people are dying because America has become too tolerant of homosexuality. One placard says, “God Hates Fags”. Another says, “Thank God for Dead Soldiers”. These placards are sometimes carried by small children.
I went to Hoyleton to support the family and help provide a shield so they didn’t have to see this kind of hate while burying their son. The Westboro folks didn’t show because there was not going to be enough publicity for them. They want national coverage of their unique brand of craziness.
In Israel, an ultra-conservative Rabbi, determined that praying at the Temple wall is no longer allowed on the Sabbath. Because in the strictest interpretation, Jews are not allowed to work (read operate electronic devices) on the Sabbath. It seems that their physical movements initiate a security camera’s operation at the wall. Consequently by being there to pray, they are in effect, causing the operation of an electronic device. This is a serious infraction of the law regardless of the good intentions of the prayers or how it affects those who want to pray.
What do these three stories have in common? First the obvious, religion. Then another, extremism. And another, all three incidents happened in countries that have majority religious demographics; Pakistan is majority Muslim and America is majority Christian. Israel is majority Jewish.
The common attribute that catches my attention most is that in all three incidents interpretations of ancient religious texts are being used as justifications. That is, they are literally applying words written thousands of years ago to modern issues. So what is it about ancient religious texts that allow them to justify such confused behavior? Well for one thing, there are lots of them. For another, there were written in a different time in a different context and during a period of blind ignorance. And finally, they contain many contradictions so it’s anyone’s choice as to which interpretation to use. These facts alone allow them to be perverted to justify any kind of human mischief.
What I’m writing here is that personal interpretations of our various religions can result in some pretty ridiculous and counter-intuitive human behavior. Because in each case mentioned above, the true essence of each religion is lost. And in its place we find the neurotic side of the human character. We find thoughtless commitment to ritualized human beliefs as a replacement for love, peace and compassion.
I pray that humanity can upgrade its image of a small god who worries about religiously defiled water, sexual practices of his own creatures, and the operation of electronic devices on the Sabbath. Unfortunately, I don’t hold much hope.
God, if there is one, must be scratching Its head and asking “where did I go wrong.”