Religion & Beliefs

Murders in the Cathedral

The Holocaust Museum murder and the murder of Dr. George Tiller at his church in Wichita share several characteristics: Both men who have been accused of the murders have long histories of involvement with ultra-right-wing political-religious groups like the Christian … Read More

By / June 11, 2009

The Holocaust Museum murder and the murder of Dr. George Tiller at his church in Wichita share several characteristics: Both men who have been accused of the murders have long histories of involvement with ultra-right-wing political-religious groups like the Christian Identity movement. Both might, therefore, have been labeled "Christian terrorists" by the media as various other murderers have been labeled "Muslim terrorists  or "jihadis." So far as I know, this has not happened. I would add, "Thank God" for this restraint, if I thought the media would abandon that kind of labeling for every such incident. I must admit, however reluctantly, that the media won’t abandon religious labels because there is a seed of truth in them. Something about the mysterium tremendum that is at the heart of religious experience is somehow engaged in murders like these. Not only did the alleged perpetrators base some claim to legitimacy in their religious beliefs, but both attacks were aimed at sacred places: the Lutheran church in Wichita, one formally designated "sacred" by our customs; the other, the Holocaust Museum, treated essentially as a place of pilgrimage and awe even more than as a place of education. The fact is that all our religious traditions (even Buddhism: see under "Sri Lanka") have streaks and strands of blood woven in their fabrics. Even though most of us experience a special twinge of horror when religion is invoked as the justification for murder and when a "sacred" place is the scene for murder, every tradition has been guilty of "playing God," taking the name of God in vain in order to commit acts of violence. How can both these impulses – the impulse to celebrate our own "god" through murder and our impulse to be horrified by violence in God’s Name or in God’s Place — co-exist within us? It is because each tradition passionately teaches community in celebration of the One. Then proponents of each tradition meet other folks who claim also to be honoring The One but have a totally different set of words, symbols, metaphors, practices. THEY must not only be wrong about their connection with the One; they must be lying about it. Demonic falsehood! It is clear that we need to strengthen that twinge of horror at "religious" violence" into a torrent. Every one of our traditions needs first to unpeel the truth of its own bloody streaks, — in bloody texts and bloody actions — and do penance for them. We must not only apologize, but publicly mourn the deaths that have been committed in our name, as well as the deaths we have suffered. Lutherans horrified by the murder of a Lutheran in a church on Pentecost Sunday need to grieve the deaths of Jews who were demonized by Luther and murdered by Lutherans. Jews outraged by a murderous attack on the Holocaust Museum and by murderous attacks on civilians in Sderot need to mourn the deaths of hundreds of Palestinian civilians killed by Jewish bombs. After looking our selves in the mirror, each of our traditions, our communities, needs to make much clearer its prohibition on violence, not only within the circle of its family but toward us all, each other. No more chaplains should be hired by the military-instead, but independent clergy should instead challenge each soldier to stop killing. Congregations that observe Memorial Days and Armistice Days should mourn not only the dead but the system that killed them. May the One Who makes harmony in the ultimate reaches of the universe teach us to make some harmony within ourselves, among ourselves, for our own tribe and for all the unique and glorious tribes that You have shaped upon our planet. Rabbi Arthur Waskow is director, The Shalom Center http://www.shalomctr.org; co-author, The Tent of Abraham; author  of  Godwrestling – Round 2, Down-to-Earth Judaism,  and a dozen other books on Jewish thought and practice, as well as books on US public policy.  The Shalom Center  voices a new prophetic agenda in Jewish, multireligious, and American life. To receive the weekly on-line Shalom Report, click on  http://www.shalomctr.org/subscribe

 

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