“... when you think about whatever is true, honourable, pure, pleasing, commendable and worthy of praise .... the God of peace will be with you.”
My heart sinks most times I listen to commercial talk-back radio. I should only do it in Lent – as my daily penance. Three times in the last three weeks, however, I have made myself listen to Allan Jones and Ray Hadley, and have read some parts of the Murdoch press, and as a result I fear for the educational standards of this country. Ignorance, prejudice, fear-mongering and hatred are much in evidence.
When it comes to our Islamic Australian brothers and sisters - for some people - there is nothing commendable, excellent and worthy of praise.
But let’s avoid the herd mentality and be as truthful and honourable as St Paul challenges us to be.
While religion has played a disgraceful role in justifying some wars; in the 1,763 official wars in recorded human history, 68 of them, or less than 4%, have been fought on religious grounds. There should never be one. War is born of greed for land, resources and political power within cultures, tribes, and between nations.
Islamic, Jewish or Christian terrorists all want God on their side, but they don’t believe in the same God we do, and their evil actions are just that: evil – not God.
Indeed a horrible statistic to know is that the atheistic regimes of the Soviet Union, Communist China, the Nazis and Pol Pot accounted for 1.2 billion deaths in the twentieth century. Humanity does not even need God to be murderous.
So, let’s challenge the argument that Islam is a warlike religion, that the Koran calls for violence and condones terrorism as a holy act.
It all depends on how we interpret all our sacred texts. The Old Testament is full of violence, and there are a few violent parts of the New Testament too. But, these days, we do not interpret our own texts literally, and nor do the vast majority of Muslims. There are 1.6 billion of them in the world and almost all of them read the Koran, and live very peacefully with their neighbours. There are fundamentalist people in every human community, who commit evil actions that shame the rest of us. Apart from the despicable beheadings, ISIS and most Islamic fanatics are, in fact, killing their fellow Muslims.
We Australian Catholics should be deeply suspicious of scapegoating any religion. This week I read and heard things about Islam like:
“they breed like rabbits”;
“they live in ghettos”,
“they’re not loyal to Australia”; and
“that lot want to take over this country.”
We have such short memories. All these things were said of Irish Catholics only three generations ago. We assimilated and, in time, our Muslim communities will too.
And can we stop saying that Islam is the fasting growing religion in the nation. It’s not. Hinduism is. Islam accounts for 2.2% or 600,000 of us, so they have along way to go for the much-feared takeover.
Some argue that because Islamic leaders do not put out a disassociating press release every time ISIS commits another evil action, then they support terrorism. I can’t remember the same call being made for the Australian Catholic Bishops and the Moderators of the Uniting Church to condemn every terrorist act of the Catholic IRA or the Protestant Loyalist Military Command. Our inconsistency is breathtaking.
And just when we hoped our educated politicians might help, we now have the Burqa debate. Actually it’s the nick-arb debate, but apparently if it’s foreign we don’t care about inaccuracies.
Let me be clear – at all times public safety is critical. If a nick-arbed woman wants to enter parliament then I assume the scan, the x-ray and being asked to privately remove her veil for photo identification in front of a female officer is sufficient. But the most delicious detail in the present debacle is this: do know where the Speaker and Senate President propose to place these dangerously veiled women? Behind the glass with the school kids! You couldn’t make this stuff up.
The principle of religious freedom behind all this is worth fighting for, especially in regard to legal customs that others may not like or understand. Through our nuns, and our veiled brides, we know a little about the right to wear religious garb in public. Sr Mary St Benedict was a confronting sight to me too. What changed was I got to know her. She was in fact a sweetheart, and maybe that’s the key.
When we take the trouble to get to know each other and become friends, we discover that slogans never capture the rich complexity of God’s family.
Terrorists of every faith and none are evil and have untreated pathologies. Muslims aren't all Is-la-mists, Islamists aren't all jihadists and jihadists aren't all devout.
While, rightly, we must fight evil in our world, protect the innocent, and seek peace, let’s take St Paul at his word and begin by staring down anyone who wants to scapegoat another religious family by refusing to celebrate that, though they’re different to us in belief, manner and customs, the vast majority of our sisters and brothers are honourable, pleasing, commendable and, worthy of praise to our one Father in heaven, and hallowed be his name.