While recovering from my recent bout with Covid, I spent hours in bed or lying on the couch. In hopes of avoiding all the bad punditry about the election, I watched more sports television than is normal or healthy. There I came up against the sad saga of Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving tweeting support for an antisemitic movie and the resulting fallout.*
Antisemitism is on the rise in America and around the world, as it often is during periods of disruption and hardship. Too many times this hatred comes from people who claim to be religious. It is part of the work to find a scapegoat for the devastation that results when we forget our inherent oneness. Too much of what is deemed religious in today’s world disregards our relationships and our responsibilities for caring for others. In response to recent actions by political figures who claim to be good Catholics, evangelical leader Jim Wallis has written that “there is nothing faithful, and certainly nothing Catholic, about using people as political props.”
This is why a recent meditation from Richard Rohr’s Center for Action and Contemplation struck a nerve. The post was written almost twenty years ago by Jesuit peace activist Father John Dear on the nonviolent impact that interfaith cooperation can make. In noting that at the heart of each major religion is a “vision of peace, the ideal of a reconciled humanity, the way of compassion and love and justice, the fundamental truth of nonviolence,” Dear spoke to the groundbreaking work of Mahatma Gandhi.
When he moved to India, and saw again the deep hostility between Hindus and Muslims, he made interfaith nonviolence the core of his daily worship. Each day when his community gathered for prayer, they read excerpts from the Hindu and Muslim scriptures, from the Sermon on the Mount and the Hebrew Bible. Then, they sat in silence for forty-five minutes. They concluded usually with a hymn about the all-inclusive love that reconciles everyone, the love even for one’s enemies. Forty years of interfaith, contemplative prayer transformed him into a universal spirit, as all the major religious scriptures hope for all of us. . . .
Father Dear wrote that as we learn from each other’s religion, we will discover, as Gandhi did, how we can help each other deepen in the faith of our own personal tradition. Gandhi’s critique of organized Christianity — that it rejected the nonviolence of Jesus and has become an imperial religion based on the Roman empire — has helped innumerable Christians return to the core teachings of Jesus, beginning with the Sermon on the Mount. The American Civil Rights leader The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a Baptist who testified that the Hindu Gandhi helped him more than anyone else to follow Christ.
This past election showed a strong rejection of the imperial religion of the Christian right that wants to impose its beliefs on the rest of the country. People of many faiths and people of no faith came together to say that a minority should not be allowed, in a democratic society, to impose its will and beliefs on the country as a whole. Our founders were very wise in this regard, and we forget their admonitions at our peril.
Any serious consideration of life in America realizes how quickly the persecuted become the persecutors in this country. Puritans, who fled religious harassment in Europe, quickly moved to hang Quakers. Evangelical Christians who led the way for religious freedom early in our history have seen many of their leaders turn against it in our own time. Conservative Catholics, long vilified in America, are now working through the courts to place their religious views on a majority who disagree with their theology.
The powerful effort to demonize, marginalize, and persecute others who are not Christians “represents a disintegration of the basic compact that sustains religious freedom for everyone,” religious scholar Steven Waldman maintains. The lines of attack today against Muslims and Jews are strikingly similar to those used in the past against Baptists, Mormons, Catholics, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Native Americans.
Father Dear end his meditation with the following:
This interfaith peacemaking sprang from the Civil Rights Movement, when Dr. King called religious leaders to march with him to Selma. The friendship modeled between Dr. King, Rabbi Abraham Heschel and Thich Nhat Hanh still bears good fruit in our world and exemplifies the journey we must all make.
As the world hangs on the brink of nuclear and environmental destruction, as we wage war in the name of religion, we need to explore the religious roots of nonviolence, just as Gandhi did. Perhaps then, we will hear the call to disarm, to embrace one another as sisters and brothers, and welcome the gift of peace that has been already given.
I keep returning to another meditation from Richard Rohr. “What could happen,” he asks, “if we embraced the idea of God as relationship — with ourselves, each other, and the world? Is salvation simply the willingness to remain in loving relationship with all creation?”
It is a compelling thought in a world struggling to come to grips with our oneness.
More to come…
For further reading on More to Come, check out:
- Let’s take a road trip to help understand the history behind religious liberty
- Tolerance, awareness and religious freedom
- Religious freedom and the American experiment
- The Chosen One
*For those who have better things to do with their lives than follow the “free thinking” commentary of a multi-millionaire basketball player, click on the New York Times story for the details and read Kevin Blackistone‘s thoughtful column in the Washington Post on appropriate responses.
Image of the grave of Mahatma Gandhi in Delhi by DJB.