Not believing in god doesn’t mean one should ignore the wisdom contained in the Bible, Torah, or Qur’an. Sadly the opposite is also true. Too many people who wrap themselves in their faith ignore its most important tenets.
I recently had an exchange with someone who, in trying to rationalize his fear of Muslims by pointing to the tragedy in San Bernardino, opined that denying aid to victims of terrorism because taking them in could also mean allowing deadly impostors through American defenses was not (to paraphrase) a hateful, bigoted, or ill-intended act. I responded that regardless of intent his belief certainly was hateful, bigoted, and could only bring about ill fortune and feelings. He countered with the righteously erroneous notion that, as Muslims, the Syrian refugees were victims of their own misplaced faith more so than of raving lunatics.
I’ll certainly credit this fellow with the dignity and respect to carry on a civilized debate without resorting to conscious hatred and bigotry, but I am left wondering when society is going to learn from centuries of secular warfare, be it in Palestine, Ireland, Rwanda, or elsewhere? Will we ever realize faith and spirituality are personal matters? One’s relationship with their god, even if it is one of denial, should be a blanket to keep one’s heart warm, not a club with which to bludgeon others.
When concerned with who is right in a matter of faith you have already gone wrong. Everyone has the right to believe as they see fit. To judge or trust people based on how their spiritual belief aligns with your own lacks respect and humility.
Whatever you think of holier-than-thou Christians, Jesus was not one to do this. According to the his disciples he often told stories about outsiders, the Good Samaritan for example, to demonstrate differences of faith as well as wealth and status were immaterial, When one begins by judging others one build walls, and when people are shut out the result is rarely peaceful. Guarded walls do not come down without violence. Rather than stressing the differences between oneself and others it might be more productive to discover common ground.
For instance the word infidel means unbeliever. Too many people of faith, be it Muslim, Christian, or Judaic, have misinterpreted the term. The Qur’an teaches that like Muslims, Christians and Jews are “people of the book.” In other words they are all believers. So there is a start.
There are many other religions in the world, however, including atheism, but let’s not wander into another argument on that classification. If you’re a fervent infidel just allow me to wrongly believe that absolute faith there is no god is faith nonetheless just as zero, representing the concept of nonexistence, proves nothing is in fact something.
The relevant point is it’s still possible to find commonality between followers of differing faiths. Buddhists stress compassion, charity, and harmony. Do not Christians believe their bible does the same? The Qur’an certainly does. In my community there is a Muslim group who feed the homeless. They do so without proselytizing, only in the belief, taken from their holy book, it is right to help the unfortunate. Atheists are just as capable of those qualities. Albert Einstein, who thought of himself more as an agnostic, viewed it thus:
“The foundation of morality should not be made dependent on myth nor tied to any authority lest doubt about the myth or about the legitimacy of the authority imperil the foundation of sound judgment and action [are you listening Mike Pence?]…I do not believe that a man should be restrained in his daily actions by being afraid of punishment after death or that he should do things only because in this way he will be rewarded after he dies. This does not make sense…My religiosity consists in a humble admiration of the infinitely superior spirit that reveals itself in the little that we, with our weak and transitory understanding, can comprehend of reality. Morality is of the highest importance—but for us, not for God.”
In other words belonging to a specific sect or nation does not define your morality. To act with compassion and consideration is an individual choice, but to do so anticipating a reward rather than simply out of love is immoral.
Part of my friend’s view was radical Muslims were blaming their lot unjustly on us. According to him, regardless of whether western regimes had propped up oppressive dictators like Assad or, if you want to go further back, the Shah of Iran, there is a long history of Muslims committing similar acts, the Armenian genocide and invading Morocco and Spain for instance. When I pointed out Christianity had committed more than its share of historic atrocities–Spain endured the double whammy of Moorish occupation and the Inquisition, the latter courtesy of the Catholic Church–he was prepared to admit his chosen religion was imperfect but continued to claim it was the only right one, and Islam not just in the wrong, but a danger.
Yet everyone you meet in this world has the capability to betray you, not just the stranger: your mother, father, brother, sister, children, the neighbor seated next to you in the pew, the minister on the pulpit, the politician you vote into office… every one of them. And you can turn on them as well. Their beliefs do not make it right for you to do so any more than yours open you to attack. Which is why Jesus made the point to his followers that should they turn their back on anyone in need they rejected him.
Looking away when convenient is a key evil inherent in terrorism, one which reaches the people who cannot be destroyed with bombs or bullets. Fear opens the door for us to turn our backs on strangers in need because a few may betray us. Indeed one or two may but what of the multitude of others? Is it right to say they are in your prayers then leave them to their fate? When Jesus said “I am the least of these” and “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” he was talking about folk like the Syrian refugees and Governor Mike Pence of Indiana respectively.
Either we confront and defy our fear or allow it to destroy us. In judging others we can only accomplish the latter.