View from the choir

I am a Catholic layperson and Secular Franciscan with a sense of humor. After years in the back pew watching, I have moved into the choir. It's nice to see faces instead of the backs of heads. But I still maintain God has a sense of humor - and that we are created in God's image.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Thoughts on the Mohammad cartoons reactions

I have been watching with sadness the violent reactions in many parts of the world to the Mohammad cartoons.

The reactions are deeply troubling. I condemn them when they result in destruction and death, and help to foster a climate of mistrust and hate.

But some of the reactions to the reactions are also troubling, and perhaps give a clue why many Muslims say they are misunderstood and subject to bigotry.

I’ve heard too many people link the violent responses to the cartoons to all of Islam. They attack the faith. I’ve heard and read mocking comments about the “Religion of Peace” and so on.


And bigotry.

While some of the problems are clearly religiously based, I believe many of them are cultural.

Let me explain by talking about the Charismatic Renewal.

Folks of my generation will likely remember the renewal.

It started in the late 1960s, and flourished in the 1970s. It has been praised by several popes, including John Paul II and Benedict XVI (when he was Cardinal Ratzinger). There remain a number of charismatic prayer groups and services to this day. And it had a marked effect on many people’s spirituality even if they are no longer involved with the renewal.

Basically, the charismatic experience involved an infusion of the power of the Holy Spirit., which often manifested itself in “gifts,” such as speaking in tongues (speaking a foreign language one does not know). The movement also engendered a call for a daily prayer life, and reading the Bible.

When it started, it was controversial. Critics said it was too much like the Pentecostal movement, it was too emotional, too irrational, too much based on what the individual “feels.” (Some parts of the movement did indeed stray.)

It was exotic and strange and personal.

The Irish and German dominated parts of the US Church simply did not like it.

Some even thought it was dangerous.

I was part of the movement. I even spoke in tongues once. (I remembered the words and later found out I’d spoken Aramaic.)

I entered the college seminary in 1975 in part inspired by my experiences.

There were several other charismatics in the seminary. We asked permission of our rector to hold prayer services in the chapel. He (of German descent) and the assistant rector (Irish) both said no. Some fellow seminarians mocked us.

Still wanting to pray, we went across to the main campus and held our meetings on the football field when the weather permitted.

The tensions grew. We felt persecuted, treated as outcasts and oddballs. Finally the rector told us to keep our actions low key and basically told the other seminarians to leave us alone (at least that’s how I remember it now, some 30 years later!).

The prejudice shown us could easily have driven some of us from the church – seminarians no less! I suspect some folks involved in the Charismatic Renewal did indeed find more welcoming homes in other churches. (I also know it helped to draw some people to the Catholic Church)

So I in part understand a little of what Muslims feel when living in societies that view them with fear and distrust.

But there’s another connection.

As I mentioned, part of the misunderstanding about the renewal arose over its emotional, demonstrative nature. The US church in the 1970s was still run by Irish and German Catholics who practiced a dignified, restrained, quiet kind of faith. They left the more colorful expressions of faith to groups like the Italians and the small but growing numbers of Hispanics.

I’m not normally an emotional type (Irish, German and Scottish blood), and I’m by nature an observer who can detach himself from what he is watching (helped me when I was a reporter).

I began to notice something at the large charismatic prayer and healing services when we had guest speakers.

One part of those services generally involved a “laying on of hands” in which the presider/speaker and a few other designated people (usually priests) would pray over people one by one.

One of the frequent results of being prayed over was being “slain in the spirit.” Basically, the person would fall to the ground and be in some sort of an altered state for a short period of time.
This became so common at services that there were designated “catchers” who stood behind the people being prayed over to catch them if they were slain, then to carry them to an area where they could lie with the other slain folks until they came to.

I started playing a little game of guessing who would be slain. I got good at it.

I would study the people as they processed up, and could often tell from the looks on their faces that they were going to be slain long before they were prayed over.

I noticed that a higher percentage of women than men would be slain. I noticed that a higher percentage of Italian and Hispanic women than Anglo women would be slain.

So it became clear to me that these folks had a predisposition toward such reaction.

Part of it was gender, and part of it cultural.

Which gets me back to the reaction to the cartoons.

The folks who are reacting most violently tend to come from cultures where emotional responses are common, even accepted.

Think of images of funerals in those regions of the world. When was the last time you saw a widow or mother in Butte Montana wail and shriek and throw herself on the coffin? Or weddings. I’ve never been to a wedding in Central New York in which people fire guns into the air, sometimes accidentally killing people in the upper stories of nearby buildings.

So I suspect some of the reactions are far more culturally based than religiously based.

We need to look at that, rather than criticizing an entire religion.

And we need to keep in mind that while there are tens of thousands of Muslims behaving violently, there are more than 1.5 billion of them reacting non-violently, or not at all to the cartoons.

After all, we have Catholics in the Philippines who allow themselves to be nailed to crosses – literally – at Easter time.

And until recently, we had Irish Catholics killing Protestants.

And we have some Catholics outside abortion clinics bellowing with bull horns.

Imagine if the rest of the world judged all Catholics by these folks.

(Okay, some people do judge Catholics by these folks!)

This reflection won’t stop the violent reactions to the cartoons.

But maybe if we paid more attention to the effects of our words, actions, fears and prejudices, we might avoid future problems.

Maybe we need to focus instead on making our own faith more welcoming to its own members, and something Muslims would like to convert to.


Anonymous BloodyPapist said...

Good stuff, but I think it is a bit overly charitable to rid Islam of blame entirely. Unlike Christianity, this is a warrior's religion at its core, in its foundation. What it teaches has specific consequences, one of them being the consecration of violent action and reaction in matters of faith. To be completely honest, our considerations need to keep that in mind as well.

2:33 AM  
Blogger Lee Strong said...

I noted that some of the problems are "clearly rreligiously based," but perhaps not strongly enough.

I agree, Islam is a "warrior's religion" - but I still think that is tempered by culture. I've known a number of American Muslims, and none of them act like their brothers overseas (and are even embarrassed by some of what they see).

At the same time, I wish more Catholics had their fervor about their faith.

By the way, as a Christian, I don't mind being accused of being overly charitable!

5:31 AM  
Blogger Paul, just this guy, you know? said...

Lee, do I mistake, or do you compare an abortion protester, demonstrating in opposition to the killing of innocents using a bullhorn to Muslims carrying signs that call for beheadings, torching cars and buildings, and committing mob violence?

And if the ratio of "sane" Muslims to crazy ones is 1.5 billion to a few tens of thousands, why do not the voices of the billion drown out those of the violent ones? Where are all these allegedly peaceful Muslims whose religion, on your report, is being hijacked? How can I tell that they don't quitely approve of what's happening?

12:25 PM  
Blogger Lee Strong said...

Paul - first, keep in mind that I have taken part in abortion protests, and met my wife while she was committing civil disobedience at a clinic.

I consider the woman with the bull horn violent.

As violent as what is going on in the clinic? No, on one level.

But by her actions, and the angry, violent things she is spewing, she is hurting the cause, and turning off the people we are trying to reach. It hardens the hearts of the killers in the clinic, it closes the ears of the women heading to the clinic, it turns off the public whose support we need to change the abortion mentality in this country.

They are less likely to listen, to hear what pro-lifers have to say.

So in the long run, I think the violent clinic protesters - including those with bull horns - are guilty of helping to cause more deaths.

As for the sane Muslims - some do try to speak out. Most don't - to their shame.

But why did millions of sane Catholics in Ireland (and the US) not tell the Catholics of N. Ireland to stop killng people?

In Germany, many Catholics spoke out agaisnt the slaughter of the Jews, but most were silent. Why did they not speak out? Fear? A natural reluctance to speak? Their own hatred of the Jews - and so acceptance of what the NAZIs were doing?

We are all guilty of silence.

4:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

" It hardens the hearts of the killers in the clinic"

This kind of rhetoric also shuts down all possibility of constructive, loving dialog. Words can also be quite violent. Remember, they don't believe that they are killing, so when you label them "murderer", why should they listen?

"So in the long run, I think the violent clinic protesters - including those with bull horns - are guilty of helping to cause more deaths."

I soooo agree with you!!!!

8:19 PM  
Blogger Lee Strong said...

anonymous - whether or not they recognize it, they are killers (I did not call them murderers).

I used the term here becuase I wanted to make it clear to Paul how I regard them. I would not use the term in a more public way, especially in a situation in which I would close a door to reform for clinic workers.

But your point is well taken. Even as I citicize the bull horn lady, I was doing some of the same sort of name calling.

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