Monday, March 25, 2013

[oppositional religious identity]

It's been said that religion is the cause of all violence. However, in his recent book, Brian McLaren gives a more nuanced perspective on this:
The tensions between our conflicted religions arise not from our differences, but from one thing we all hold in common: an oppositional religious identity that derives strength from hostility.
He then goes on to discuss how when a social group (think church or a group of Christians) feels threatened, they suspend the normal rules and daily activities, diverting "attention and energy to hostility" and then focusing that hostility "on a target,—real or imagined, legitimate or manufactured, among them (as a classic enemy) or among us (as an internal scapegoat)."

What he later adds to this, is that this is often done not out of hatred or antagonism but rather, from a "loving defensiveness". In other words, people feel that the values and beliefs they hold and cherish are under attack, and they act to defend these values. This can ironically happen in ways that result in behaviour which normally would be considered antithetical to the person or group's beliefs, but considered necessary for their protection.

In a recent situation, someone was speaking against same-sex marriage and I could feel the hatred in his words and expression. When considering this from the perspective I gained from McLaren's book, I realized that there could be something else at work here: here is someone who grew up in the day when Christians were the majority, when the overt values of our society were more in line with traditional Christian values, when people did not speak of the things "the wicked do in darkness". Those were the days when modernism reigned, with the related idea that there is truth / TRUTH out there and we know it from the Bible. And he would have experienced far more privilege as a white Christian male than is the case today. Etc. He now finds himself in the year 2013, and I suspect it feels to him that his foundation is slipping out from under him. Christians are not the majority. They are no longer the dominant voice and, in fact, there is open hostility toward them at times. Other people who used to be marginalized and ignored are now demanding a voice and making their voices known whether he likes it or not. Etc. And in the midst of this, the denomination of the church which he has attended for years is now going to bless same-sex marriages!

While I do not share his views, I can see how this would be scary for him, and understand why he would want to defend what he loves.That doesn't excuse the harm which results from how he defends what he loves, but offers an alternative to thinking that he is being intentionally hateful.

Recently, two young women, both members of the Phelps family, left Westboro Baptist Church, a church known for hating gay people, picketing funerals of people who died from AIDS, soldiers and others, and generally being the kind of place that oozes hatred. In a subsequent interview, one of them said: “I definitely regret hurting people,” she says. “That was never our intention. We thought we were doing good. We thought it was the only way to do good. And that’s what I've always wanted.”

Perhaps this is one of the reasons we are told not to judge others -- because their motivations and feelings might be quite different from the outward words and actions.

Interview with Megan Phelps-Roper

Jeff Chu interviewing Megan Phelps-Roper at 2014 Level Ground Film Festival

Quotes from Brian D. McLaren, pp. 57, 61, in Why did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World

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