My grandmother Irene had a necklace saying “War is not healthy for children or other living things.” This was her version of Christianity: nonviolence. In recent years, I sat next to a Muslim named John during Interfaith Alliance of Idaho board meetings. He, too, was kind and nonviolent. I felt the same generosity of spirit in him as with my grandmother. I heard the same thoughtful and caring phrases and saw the same genuine smile.
Some people claim John’s religion is evil and by default he was as well. But that’s not accurate, any more than saying water is evil because it can be used to drown someone. That same water can save the life of a person who is gravely dehydrated. It is the use of the water that tells the story.
In the 1960s, some Christians in our country brutalized another country in order to prevent the spread of atheism. All while other Christians in our country made every effort to prevent and then stop the violence.
At another time in our history, some American Christians owned and brutalized black people. Some Christians wore white hoods, carrying crosses in parades and burning crosses at hangings. At that same moment, other Christians endeavored to abolish slavery and racism, boycotting slave-owners’ products and operating the Underground Railroad.
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The Bible contains stories about God instructing people to “utterly destroy” other tribes. Some have justified Native American genocide or other atrocities with such passages. In modern times, some Christian leaders claim God allows death to rain down on our country as punishment.
Do we therefore draw the conclusion that Christianity is evil? Or do we see it is the use of it — such as the Klan intimidating and murdering “the other” — that is the issue?
Do we then focus on its good intentions, and try to embrace the message of loving our neighbors as ourselves?
Perhaps we then realize every religion holds these same ideals. For example, every spiritual path has a version of the Golden Rule. Progressive governments do as well. Humanity keeps leaning toward equality, mutual accountability and understanding, respect, fairness, and compassion. Thankfully, we keep making real progress beyond just voicing those good intentions.
Some of our challenge stems from the immensely polarizing aspects of our culture. We too often tend toward an either/or view of the world, from having just two major parties, to assuming there are only two possible spiritual paths: Christianity and everything else.
May we become more complex in our thinking, paying more attention to facts as well as nuance. May we recognize more fully that we all exist on a variety of spectrums, rather than confined to tidily labeled little boxes. May we do more to address the violent aspects of ourselves.
I imagine Irene and John having fabulous conversations in the hereafter. I believe they are sending us love and light while we continue figuring out how to live together on Earth. Peace, salaam, shalom.
Sharon Matthies has lived in Boise since the 1970s.