While reading the Trib on 8/11 I noticed an interesting and unintended juxtaposition of stories. The first concerned the depraved legal story that is Warren Jeffs’, the so-called leader of the Fundamentalist Church of the Latter Day Saints (FLDS). The second was Kathleen Parker’s column, which included a brief reflection on Mitt Romney’s life as a member of the Church of the Latter Day Saints.
The only connection between the two articles was the subjects’ relationship to the Mormon church, with Jeffs clinging to a distortion of its past and Romney exemplifying its present. But what struck me was the fundamental tag attached to Jeffs’ cultish version. Religious fundamentalists, a term now synonymous with extremists, can be found in virtually every religion incuding Mormonism. These extremists have formed many splinter groups, many of whom have taken their message abroad through violence.
But in this post 9/11 world we are all well aware of that fact. However, in our chase for the boogeyman, a male subject of dark complexion, Arabic origin and Islamic persuasion, we often overlook violent examples whose appearance is strikingly similar to the one staring back from the average American mirror.
Christians have their fundamentalists, which include Koran-burning Floridians, funeral-crashing gay bashers and a homicidal wacko from Oslo who justifies his homicidal rampage with Christian rhetoric. Jewish fundamentalists, who also have a penchant for violent extremism, seem intent on keeping the Middle East powder keg lit by an ongoing effort to build homesteads on contested land. Not to be left out, there are the ubiquitous Islamic fundamentalists who spew anti-Semitic (and anti-American) hate from mosques and political podiums, while inciting their youth to acts of suicidal atrocities.
After reading and digesting the two stories above, and painfully applying them on a larger framework, one thing becomes apparent: Each religious house has some cleaning to do. Realistically, that does not seem likely. Instead, as human nature daily makes plain, our go-to game plan is to raise the status of our particular brand by trashing the competition.
During last century’s wars the public found it much easier to fight an evil caricature of the Japanese or Germans, and today as moviegoers we find it much more palatable to cheer when the hero destroys a cyborg or a giant bug than a 6 foot tall white male. As we dehumanize our enemies we refuse to consider their true nature, just as we turn a blind eye to the absolute losers in our own camp.
Why bother denouncing so-called Christian bombers who blow up abortion clinics when it’s so much more satisfying to scream about the “Mosque at Ground Zero?”
Why bother denouncing the self-destructive tendencies of misguided jihadists when news stations scramble everytime a leader claims the holocaust never occurred?
Why bother denouncing your own peoples’ efforts to circumvent the peace process when it’s easier to bulldoze the homes of impoverished Palestinians?
Or, and this is for Warren Jeffs’, why bother denouncing your crimes as a pedophile when it’s much easier to invent a religion that worships your right to molest young girls?
Rather than entertain such pointless questions, nations that base their society upon these religions–nations like Israel, Iran and the United States–should instead seek out the commonalities in their holiest of books, the Torah, the Koran and the Bible.
By acknowledging what we share in common we might more easily recognize the true face of another religion as separate from the distortion that violent fundamentalists have created.