In the wake of September 11th the intersection of religion, politics, and world events is present now more than ever before. Immediately following the 9/11 attacks an aura of anti-Muslim sentiment spread throughout the United States and was (whether intentional or not can be debated) indirectly nurtured by an aggressive response towards the Islamic world by the Bush administration. In a post 9/11 world, our culture made it seem that all Muslims could potentially be terrorists. These terrorists supported an ideology of hate, which had to be stopped because it posed a direct threat to the free world… The terrorists that were involved in the September 11th attacks were a contingent of radical Islamic fundamentalists.
As we have seen so clearly within the confines of our own Church just in these past few weeks, fundamentalists and radicals of any sort can always upset the sway of a held norm with their extreme interpretations of certain matters. In this case, the rigid, backward, ideology of these terrorists is an affront to democracy and the dignity of all human beings. The problem became that as time went on, in order to fuel the impetus among the public for the impending necessity of a “War on Terror”, the distinction between Muslim fundamentalists and the Islamic world as a whole gradually disappeared and all followers of the Koran became enemies of America. It got so bad that during the course of this past year’s presidential campaign the question of whether Barack Obama was a Muslim or not took a paramount position (determining for some voters whether the Senator would receive their vote) and showed the extent of how anti-Muslim large portions of the United States had become. In these recent annals of our country’s history, it almost appears the religion can be used as a tool to breed hate. Is this the case with all religions, and in that case, our own Catholic faith?
The topic at hand has come up several different times during discussions with a close friend of mine, a guy who in many ways is like a big brother to me. As fate would have it he lives in Toronto, Canada and I here in Baltimore so we obviously don’t get to see each other much but we spend time conversing on the phone at least once a week. The tie that binds us together the closest is our sexual orientation. We both happen to be gay and I spend lots of time regaling him with the latest struggles for homosexual equality here in the United States. Consequently, Proposition 8 and other matters relating to gay rights come up in conversation often. Obviously, both of us are afflicted with sadness and regret whenever we talk about this because it’s something that affects us both in a very personal way. Gay marriage is legal in Canada. I tell my friend all the time that the reason it has yet to be legalized here in America is because of the overwhelming influence of the Republican Party which is largely construed of conservative voters whose values and stances are shaped by the ideology of the religious right. I’ve also told him that it fills me with shame to know that the majority of the Roman Catholic hierarchy is homophobic and that the Catholic Church was one of the supporters and contributors to Prop 8. This led my friend to acclaim with heartfelt conviction, “Religion just breeds hate!” I always feel torn whenever I hear this assertion, but at least in the United States, things really do look that way… Presently, and unfortunately I might add, religion is one of the biggest barriers in our own country preventing the legalization of same-sex marriage and the establishment of equal rights for homosexual couples. Christian fundamentalists who interpret specific passages of Scripture literally, which to them prove homosexuality as sinful, insist on imposing their own moral correctness upon the whole of society. Our country’s ties to Christianity are so uniquely pertinent to the makeup of the identity of the United States that religious adherence has even entered the realm of politics and made the blurred separation of Church and State an American phenomenon all its own…
Understandably, it’s easy to see how someone might make the conjecture that religion doesn’t help break down barriers of discrimination and ignorance but only contributes to them. History will show well that religion has indeed many times been used to perpetrate blind sighted and mean-spirited ideologies. The Crusades, the European tumult that followed in the aftermath of Luther’s Reformation between Protestants and Catholics, and even the ethnic wars that engulfed the Balkans during the early nineties had as their origin the tensions that exist between Orthodox and Catholics. So, arguably, religion has been used many times throughout history as a hindrance rather than a contributor to peace between nations and individuals. As a result we see people go to great extremes to assure people that they have no part in these cultic hatemongering organizations, even taking the trouble to elaborate by saying, “I’m spiritual but I’m NOT religious…” Nonbelievers can even be tempted into going down the extremist path. The comedian Bill Maher, to me is one of these kinds, whose most recent documentary “Religious” seems to me to be a vague generalization of religion and an insulting slap in the face to any adherents of communities of faith.
So, as followers of Christ and children of the Roman Catholic Church what can we do to assure mainstream society that Jesus Christ, Buddha, or the prophet Mohammed would have been ashamed beyond no end to see how politicized and corrupted some of their respective faith communities have become? More specifically, what can we as Catholics do to show people that even though the Pope, Cardinals, Bishops and numerous other clerics may seem to preach it, that not all Catholics agree with these hateful proclamations? It is a difficult undertaking, especially when so many discouraging views regarding homosexuality, abortion, and many other controversial social issues are espoused, sometimes radically, by members of the hierarchy.
One of the most important and consistent themes throughout the public ministry of Jesus Christ was His constant rebuke of the Pharisees’ alleged self-righteousness and closeness to God based on their external piety. A passage from the Sunday liturgy of a few weeks ago has remained cemented in my mind. For the Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time the second reading is taken from St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthian Church. In the passage St. Paul states, For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, Who was proclaimed by us, Silvanus and Timothy and me, was not “yes” and “no” but “yes” has been in Him. I’m sure the following will not be how the Church has officially interpreted the meaning of this passage but this just seemed to be what the Holy Spirit was telling me at the time. The Church’s current teaching regarding homosexuality is one of blatant, glaring contradiction. First of all, it is notably more moderate than mainline Protestant interpretations, admitting that individuals don’t choose their sexual orientation. But at the same time it is considered a sin to act on this orientation, which is seen as disordered… So, really, what gays hear from the Church is, “Yes it’s fine to be gay! But NO, you can’t act on your attractions and search for love, that’s a sin…” St. Paul, as an Apostle commissioned by the Lord Himself, seems to blast such hypocrisy, as Jesus Himself would have done. He says Jesus was nothing but the epitome of definitive consent. His whole life was a “yes” to the Father’s plan, from the moment He took on flesh for our salvation till the very end when He suffered and died a horrible death upon the wood of the Cross for our faults. Jesus is not a source of contradiction, but unfortunately, the living image of His Mystical Body has become convoluted and fractured…
These realities and proofs of human frailties are very discouraging. But we must remember that no matter what the circumstance, Jesus promised to remain forever with His Church, as He still does today (despite its flaws). What we can do is prove to the world that, even though our respective religions may seem to preach hate at different times, God’s love which we profess and are empowered by is stronger than this ignorance. When it comes down to it, this is what our Faith is, to tell the world the unsurpassable depths of God’s love for us, and to show just how far He was willing to give of Himself (as He still continues to do). Jesus said that in essence love of God and love of our neighbors was what the most important part of our lives should be. Let’s show the world this love, which combats hatred and ignorance and seeks the real Truth. Even if the leaders of our Church haven’t realized it yet we can’t forget that we are as much emissaries of Christ as they are! Like a song by dc Talk says, let’s visibly be His hands and His feet so that we can show the world that not all followers of organized religion necessarily adhere to hatred, bigotry, and ignorance.
Phillip Clark is a 19-year-old college student in Baltimore, Maryland. His interests include politics, theology (particularly Catholicism), history, current events and world affairs, gay rights, shopping, and writing. He ultimately would love to go to Loyola College here in Maryland because to him its one of the bastions of Catholic free thought offered to us within the Jesuit tradition.