Another email rant came my way. Its theme: “I’m tired.” It offered a litany of conservative complaints. Many possess a kernel of truth. That’s what enables the far right to sound believable. But the complaints were basically black and white, no grays.
One really got my attention: “I’m tired of Muslims saying Islam is a religion of peace.” Well, I’m tired of rants like that.
Disclaimer: After 9/11, I immediately grew tired of those saying no Muslim could have planned or implemented that terrible violence because Islam is a religion of peace. It calls to mind the old cop-out, “Do as I say, not as I do.” Jews can be violent. Christians can, too. Why not Muslims? To quote a darling of the right, “You betcha!” Present deeds count more than past words no matter how venerated. Still, I the majority of the world’s Muslims seek to live peacefully. I refuse to tar them all with the same brush.
Now let me ask: Would the email ranter claim that Christianity is a religion of peace? Even Jesus gets a little testy. He overturns the tables of the moneychangers (Matthew 21:12), although travelers to Jerusalem had to purchase animals and birds for offerings at the Temple. More to the point, Christians have slaughtered and enslaved millions in the name of God. Random example: The Thirty Years War (1618-48) in the German states pitted Protestants against Catholics. It may have taken upwards of six million lives. (For citations of deaths in wars, including religious wars, over the last two millennia, go to http://users.erols.com/mwhite28/warstat0.htm – European. The Holocaust speaks for itself.) But the Christians I know would never raise their hands against others.
Closer to home, warfare and destruction abound in the Hebrew Bible. Yet few peoples have been more peaceable than Jews over the last 1,850 years. (Or been more adept at war for the last 60-plus.) As minorities often persecuted in the Christian and Muslim worlds, Jews lacked the power to harm others. Which leads me to conclude that power, not scriptural heritage, ultimately determines whether religious and political groups prefer peace or war at any given time.
Deuteronomy 20:17-18 offers a fascinating example of defining good and bad by actions rather than words. God instructs the Israelites to destroy the peoples of Canaan “lest they lead you into doing all the abhorrent things that they have done for their gods and you stand guilty before the Lord your God.” It’s not what these peoples believe that condemns them—polytheists though they may be—but what they do. Behavior trumps creed.
We’re better off foregoing cherry picking scriptural verses dating back fourteen to over twenty-five centuries when making claims about others’ intentions. Textual and historic perspective must be added. Interpretation of scripture and the actions that result define the true determinant of peaceful intent.
I suggest we follow my favorite new 11th Commandment (of which there are many, including “Never buy retail”): You shall cut each other some slack.