Years from now, someone might say to me, “Hey, you studied abroad, what would you say is the most important thing to do during that time?” And I will laugh, rub my belly, and smile knowingly at them, “Oh, my stars,” I’ll say, “the key to all if it is quite simple. When you enter your last two weeks in the country, when you’re closing up and winding down and stressing out about the move back home, make sure you take that time…to go traveling for a week to another country. It’ll make all the difference.”
I’m in Croatia right now. Friends from the seminary got together at some point this year and said, “Wir sollen nach Kroatian gehen diese sommer!” And someone else said, “Ja, das clingt so gut! Das ist so toll!” I figured it was like anything drunken groups of people say, “Sure, we’ll go to Croatia and chill at the beach for a week! Awesome, huh?” And no one ever mentions it again. Not in Germany. These folks have what I like to call “follow through.” So…like it or not, I’m spending this week on a beach in Croatia. Then next week back to Germany, then six days later I’m back in America. I’m breathing heavily just thinking about it.
One of the most interesting things about this last trip: It has indirectly been the spark of 2 separate conversations I’ve had in the last week about religion. The first conversation was extremely indirect, but my friend and I got into a conversation about what a diverse religious region that is, and my friend came down pretty harshly against the Muslim faith, saying that the evidence speaks for itself and Islam is a patriarchal, no-good-very-bad-day, backwards stone age faith that keeps its people trapped in oppression and poverty. Like I said, harsh.
Then, almost the same day I think, I had a conversation with another friend about almost the same thing, except she came down against Christianity. She said she couldn’t stand the hypocrisy of Christians, to always point out the worst parts about other religions while ignoring the countless human rights violations that have been done in the name of Jesus Christ. She said it made her negative about the whole Christian project, that Christianity was a religion that made room for its members to sin with one hand and pray forgiveness with the other.
These were great conversations, and I wish they had both gone on longer because there was so much there I wanted to sift through. What I couldn’t quite get around to before we ended was: Why do we think a particular “religion” is to blame for these problems, rather than putting the blame on the groups of individuals who choose to do these things in the name of their religion? I hear this from people all the time, that certain religions are better/worse, or all religions are invalid/arcane because the religions themselves somehow force people into doing horrible things.
I understand the distaste for hypocracy, and I am in total agreement that violence and oppression have no business being on the agenda of any person of faith…but I don’t blame “religion’ for these problems. That seems absurd to me.
That’s like blaming science for racism. It’s true that white supremacy as it exists in our world was derived from early observational “sciences” that were seeking to define and categorize all of existence (see Cornel West’s essays regarding the development of white supremacy in The Cornel West Reader for a more in depth analysis). But does that really mean that “science” is to blame for racism? Of course not. Also, scientific discoveries and methods would come back into the discussion a few hundred years later to demystify the very problem it created. Thanks to modern genetics, we now know “race” to be a fictitious, systematic social construct that is not actually rooted in any real scientific foundation. But make no mistake about it, our concept of “race” was derived from the same fields of study that would eventually give us the table of the elements and astrophysics; all of them derived from the process of hypothesizing, observing, testing, and “proving.” And those who are committed to this process are able to bring it in to critique the work of those who have come before, paving the way for a more true and just future.
And that’s exactly what we need to do as people of faith. Critique our brothers and sisters, and not allow neigh-sayers to stereotype and dismiss entire traditions because a bunch of crazy people have tried to use said traditions to legitimize their violent schemes. We need to separate one faith from another, recognize the distance and the tension between faithful traditions and their extremist off-shoots. Science isn’t racist, but it birthed racist frameworks. Religion isn’t violent and stupid, and we shouldn’t let people treat it as if it were from within or without.
I mean really, it’s like saying, “Oh, comic book movies are so stupid and don’t make any sense.”
“No, Green Lantern didn’t make any sense, but don’t put that on ALL comic book movies.”
Grow up you guys.