"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love cannot do that." -- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
I want to start this post with a caveat. When I began the Lion's Teeth Blog, I was focused on dedicating each post to the team, the club, the fans, or the tailgating. I did not want to focus on politics within (or outside of) the sport or the governing body of FIFA, nor did I have any intention of bringing religion into the blog. But sometimes reality rears its ugly head and intrudes in a way that can't be ignored, and your plan has to change.
So I hope regular readers will forgive this departure from covering sports to commentary on the tragic, horrifying, and reprehensible acts of violence in the city of Paris last night...
When Politics Pretends to be Religion
Today I feel like one of the Psalmists. I'm really angry about what happened last night in Paris. There is no legitimate religious tradition and no valid spiritual belief system that preaches violence against people who disagree with your view of the cosmos.
Those who practice violence and claim it in the name of religion are political actors, not religious ones. Their motives are manipulation, lust for political and economic power, greed, and a desire to exert control over others. Whether it is an 11th-century Papal edict calling on impoverished medieval European farmers to flood the Holy Land and "save it for Christendom," whether it is a 20th-century madman dictator blaming the economic problems of his country on Semitic peoples, or whether it is a bunch of 21st-century power-hungry manipulative snake-oil salesmen convincing poor Islamic youth that they can earn a trip to Paradise by killing enough of the Infidel, it's all the same kind of twisted political manipulation cloaked in the name of religion, just carried out on different scales.
If you are a person of true faith--one who actually reads the holy texts and scriptures of any legitimate religion for yourself, then you know that you are called to give food and water to the hungry, welcome the stranger, care for the sick, visit the imprisoned, and comfort the afflicted. Unfortunately, we (and I confess guilt of this myself) too often read our scriptures in silence and we don't grab world headlines by being kind to people who share a different religious tradition from us (or no tradition at all).
If you are someone who is agnostic, then with every headline about "religion" being something like the bullshit last night in Paris, then it's hard for me to blame you for being a skeptic.
Personally, I think any God capable of creating a universe as vast and impressive as the one where we live can probably deal with people who have a different way of life from me. Go back and read the story about the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11) and if you claim to believe other than me, then I think you'd better question whether you are confusing political beliefs with religious ones. I would submit that any alternate interpretation is politically motivated and is simply about controlling what other people do, not about accepting them as you find them and for whom they are. Jesus doesn't force the woman to change her ways. He simply loves her as she is and then leaves it for her to choose her response to him. That's the lesson we need to learn about dealing with people whose views differ from ours.
Which brings me back to my point about these bloodthirsty terrorists. The message of figures like the Buddha, like Abraham, like Mohammed, like Jesus has not endured for millennia because those people went around threatening everyone they met and screaming like lunatics or acting like tyrants. These individuals were so impressive in their personal bearing, so faithful to the calling on their lives, and so dedicated to following God that the people around them couldn't help wanting to follow them. So if you want to impress the world as someone who is a true believer, then remember the woman caught in adultery. Remember how Jesus treated her. And for Jesus you can substitute the head of your particular religious tradition and for the woman you can substitute anyone that does something your precious Scriptures say they shouldn't do--like eating certain foods or enjoying certain art or believing that people of any gender and any ethnic background should have the same protected human rights, for Pete's sake.
You're not going to convince anyone or impress anybody with threats, with violence, with hate speech, or with prohibitions against caring about other people in a way that disagrees with your delicate sensibilities. All you're going to do is prove Abraham Lincoln right when he said, "Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt."
Like I said, I feel like one of the Psalmists crying out in the midst of a terrible injustice unfolding in the world. Problem is, left to my own devices my reaction would make me no better than the terrorists--it would probably, in fact, make me worse. Instead, drawing on my faith, what I want to do in response to these acts is to encourage a movement and take part in a groundswell of love by all believers and skeptics alike that simply smothers hatred and violence until it is utterly and completely snuffed out of the world.
I don't just call on members of the three monotheistic Western faiths to join with me, but on the Hindus and the Sikhs, the Buddhists and the Shinto, the Taoists, the druids, the wiccans, the unitarians, and all the other religious traditions I've never heard of, as well as all the skeptics, agnostics, and atheists to simply do intentional acts of tangible good toward others. Visit someone who's sick. Give food to someone who's hungry. Walk beside someone who is in grief. Listen to someone who feels hopeless.
In his Meditations, the Stoic philosopher and Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus wrote that anyone who does violence does more injury to himself than he does to his victim. In fact, since death is a natural outcome of life, he argues that those who kill do not do any injury to their victim but only harm themselves. That may be asking for a bit too much logic from the overly emotional and intellectually stunted types, and they may explode their brains before they can wrap their head around it. But if you think about it long enough you will realize it's a true and valid observation.
So for the sake of avoiding causing injury to ourselves, let's all just join together and agree that we're not just going to speak out against violence, but we're going to do something positive for others without expecting anything in return. Don't tell someone you care; show it by doing something for them.
My prayers and my deepest sympathies are with those in Paris who lost loved ones last night. And my hope is that each person who lost a friend, family member, or loved one will honor that person's memory with an act of kindness toward others each new day they continue to draw breath and life. If you can't believe in anything else let that be your religion, and I think that will be enough.