(Posted December 8, 2015)
In the original Star Wars film, the Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi painfully announced the destruction of Alderaan: “I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror….”
The Force was understood as an energy field created by all living things, that surrounds and penetrates living beings and binds them together. Were Obi-Wan with us today, and not just a fictional character, I suspect he would proclaim, with sad seriousness, that we are experiencing indeed “a great disturbance in the Force.”
That great disturbance is marked by increasingly high levels of terrorist violence, gross aberrations and distortions of religious belief, and political polarization that seems to thrive on ignorance, deception, xenophobia, and falsehood-packaged-as-truth.
The what of contemporary terrorism is rather easy to define. Electronic and print media are filled with terrorist images and terrorists each day: Paris, Beirut, Colorado Springs, San Bernardino, London, and many, many other places and countries. The why of terrorism is much more complex and takes us into the world of socio-cultural change, economic disparity in our world, and aberrational religion.
My focus today is on distorted religion and what Christians can do about it.
Aberrational religious people (often called fundamentalists) have a kind of narrow tunnel vision. They take one element of reality and proclaim it as the total view of reality. In their distorted perspective, they are convinced they alone have the truth. In their worldview facts are only facts when they fit and reinforce their worldview. They pick and choose scriptural citations, often taken out of context, to reinforce their prejudices. In reality they produce the “thugs and killers” about whom President Obama spoke on Sunday night, December 6.
Anyone who disagrees with this distorted religious worldview is an “enemy” of God. In praise of Allah, Muslim fundamentalists terrorize and murder in places around the world, while Christian fundamentalists terrorize and murder in the name of Christ.
Jerry Falwell, Jr., the president of Lynchburg Virginia’s Liberty University, put his own aberrational religion on display, on Friday night, December 4. He urged Liberty students during the school’s convocation to get their permits to carry concealed weapons on campus following Wednesday’s mass shooting in San Bernardino, California. “If more good people had concealed carry permits,” he said, “then we could end those Muslims before they walked in.” The message is clear: we are the good guys and Muslims are the bad guys.
The New York Times reports that yesterday Donald Trump called for the United States to bar all Muslims from entering the country until the nation’s leaders can “figure out what is going on,” an extraordinary escalation of his harsh rhetoric aimed at members of the Islamic faith.
A few days ago, Representative Alan Harper, who represents Tuscaloosa and Pickens counties in the Alabama House, said in a Facebook post that travelers should try to “shop and purchase gas and other items at American owned stores.” “The C stores/tobacco outlets, etc. with the lights around the windows and doors,” he said “are not owned by God fearing Christians.”
Other fundamentalist Christians in America take extreme social action against LGBT people and same-sex marriage, advocating that LGBT people wear distinctive clothing, be registered, or be confined to prison. Some American Christian extremists want them executed. Other aberrational Christians in their distorted “right to life” morality, argue that physical assaults on doctors and personnel at Planned Parenthood offices and abortion clinics are justified, even when resulting in murder.
Sexism is a form of fundamentalist aberration as well. Cutting and pasting from the New Testament, the senior senior pastor of the Ridgeway Baptist Church in Memphis, told his congregation on Sunday that women need to submit to their husbands in all things, and that the “feminist rebellion” was responsible for many of the problems the country was facing. Cutting from Timothy, he reminded his congregation that “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence.”
These kinds of aberrational religious fundamentalism excuse people from honest self-examination and reinforce their ignorance and anti-intellectualism, and support their prejudices, zealotry, intolerance, and hatefulness.
Yes there is a great disturbance in the force……
Our challenge is to confront ignorance and ignorant beliefs:
(1) Muslim terrorists are anchored in a distorted understanding of Islam. They need education. Christians need education about Islam.
(2) Christian terrorists are anchored in a distorted understanding of Christianity. They need education about their own tradition.
(3) No religion has all the truth. We are all on a journey toward the truth. We need to listen to and learn from each other. God is much greater than any one religious tradition.
(4) People in every religious tradition need help to understand that all scriptural literature and all statements of religious doctrine should be understood in an historical critical perspective. Historical situations change; and truth is expressed in a variety of languages, cultural understandings, and literary forms.
(5) We all need ongoing education to grow in our own understanding of our religious tradition and the religious traditions of others. Ongoing learning is part of ongoing life. Why not offer classes in Christianity as well as Islam in our parochial schools and parishes? Why not offer them as part of “social studies” in our public schools? As evening adult classes at our community colleges?
(6) Why not set up centers for the study of Islam and Muslim history and culture in our universities? Centers for inter-religious dialogue….
(7) In all of our educational endeavors, we need to stress the importance of conveying accurate information. There is a tremendous amount of just plain ignorance out there in our world. Education, of course, is more than passing on information. We need to educate people – again at all levels – in the skills and importance of critical thinking. Asking questions is a healthy way to think and live.
There is a great disturbance in the Force and it is moving toward a critical mass. We have no Obi-Wan. We are our only hope.