Lesson 5: Other World Religions

The youth attending our reading groups seem to find Christians groups mean-spiritedly attacking others the biggest challenge to their faith. Remember they choose the next topics at the end of each meeting. During the past two years time and again they wanted to discuss what they regarded as Christian hate groups. Most often these involved fear of Muslims. Near the end of this year, they wanted to share opinions on whether Congressman King’s hearings on radical Muslim communities was a form of McCarthyism. Because we had previously looked at Islam quite a bit, I decided to make the preparatory paper a look at relating to any different belief system. You can find a summary of their discussion in the first comment.

     HOW DO WE RELATE TO PEOPLE OF DIFFERENT BELIEF SYSTEMS?

Last month we agreed to discuss if some Americans are practicing a form of McCarthyism in the way they treat Muslims. I think we were thinking of the House Committee on Homeland Security’s hearing on “The Extent of Radicalism in the American Muslim Community and the Community’s Response”. The chairman, Peter King of New York, said this was necessary, because there was evidence that US mosques were recruiting for terrorists. Others condemned the hearing as a veiled attack on Islam. They felt it smacked of Joseph McCarthy who in the 1950s justified Senate hearings on Communists in the government by claiming he had all sorts of unsubstantiated data.

Perhaps our discussion could be on how we should treat people of other religions, using McCarthyism as an example of ways we should not.

1. We should not base our discussion on fear. McCarthy used fears about the Cold War and King fears about terrorism and Muslim groups taking power from Christianity. Fear creates more fear, scaring people from speaking up. Christians believe we should deal with the truth in love.

2. We should not use our discussion to scapegoat or witch hunt. Both McCarthy and King used the actions of a few people to indict everyone in the group. A Senate Committee reported violent incidences against Muslims rose to 800 attacks in the 3 weeks following the King hearing, a dramatic increase.

3. We should not associate any religion as American or Un-American. McCarthy, who claimed he was Roman Catholic, accused Protestant clergy as some of the biggest supporters of Communism. King inferred that the Muslim religion was anti-American by claiming two attacks in ten years somehow might represent the position of 2.6 American Muslims. Christianity is as international as Islam.

4. We should avoid lies, half-truths, and exaggerations. McCarthy would do things such as holding up a list he claimed contained the names of 205 Communists working the State Department, but would never disclose who they were. King claimed 80 % of US mosques are under fundamentalist controls, but never revealed support for this claim. Again we are to speak the truth in love.

The First Amendment is “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

Does this mean there are no differences between religions?  Does it mean we can not examine or criticize other religions? Can we believe we are closer to the truth? Can we believe we are right and they are not? Does the First Amendment apply to other religions just like it applies to Christianity? Can our government support all other religions like it supports Christianity? Can our government ever investigate a religion?

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  1. Pastor Fritz Foltz says:

    This was one of those meetings when a young person started the discussion before I had a chance to offer an introductory question. Most, if not all of the group, agreed with his accusation that this was another instance of Christians not showing the compassion Jesus taught and demonstrated. Although I totally agreed, I was a little uneasy that they were more concerned with tolerance than compassion. Eventually I interjected one of my common themes: they, much more than their parents, have to deal with other world religions. When I grew up, we wondered about how we differed from Roman Catholics. We spoke of Pentecostals as “Holy Rollers”, because our only contacts with them were infrequent tent meetings sponsored by outsiders. Now they are confronted with all kinds of different religious beliefs, extending to Buddhists and atheists. Many young adults now are married Muslims and Buddhists. It was evident that the guidelines proved helpful, as a number cited them in the discussion.

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