I am a practicing Christian. Even as I write that I wonder what it means to others as they read it. Does it imply that I go to service three times a week, read my Bible regularly, pray daily? Does it mean that I give to charity, practice forgiveness? Or, does it mean that I judge others harshly and declare stridently that anyone who believes other than I do is wrong, evil, and damned to an eternity in hell?
I have thought about these issues regularly throughout my life. While I am a practicing Christian, I am also a person who has sought out education. As a student, I majored in Speech and Theatre and took minors in English and History. I'm also a course away from a Psychology minor and a course away from a Sociology minor. As a graduate student, I took a Master's degree in Communication with a History minor. This course of study exposed me to various people groups and various religions and their value/belief systems.
As a professional, I became a teacher of Intercultural Communication which has caused me to become better acquainted with this variety of religious belief systems over time. I was raised in an evangelical Protestant tradition and I also have a rudimentary understanding of a number of the major religions - Catholicism, Islam, Judiasm, Hindu, Buddhism - as well as acquaintances and dear friends who practice those faiths.
I have also thought about these issues consistently in the last several months as the anniversary of September 11 has loomed closer and the conflict in the US has escalated over the proposed Islamic Community Center near Ground Zero in New York. I have struggled with the concepts of war and military conflict having become politically aware during the height of the Vietnam war, while at the same time coming from a family where military service was, and still is, common. I currently have a nephew serving in Afghanistan. I say all this to give a background to my thoughts. I like to believe that my positions are relatively well thought-out and not the result of knee-jerk reactions or unthinking acceptance of a dogma that was instilled in me as a child.
As a teacher in the field of Communication I spend quite a bit of time thinking about and focusing on the effects of language on our understanding of each other and our relationships with each other. This is part of the reason that I am so disturbed by a recent post by a Facebook friend which included this statement in reference to the recent events in Florida - "a stupid-book of pure-evil and satanically hateful arrogance called the qur'an!"
My friend is a conservative evangelical Christian. When I questioned his comment and suggested that his words might be ill-considered and that burning the holy book of any faith was probably not the path Christ would take (the whole sitting down with sinners and turning the other cheek idea) his response to me was, in part "First of all, the qur'an isn't holy. I just want to make that crystal clear. Even if the deceived muslim and radical religious Islamic-jihads believe that it is - it isn't! There's nothing holy about that book and, I could give a rats-rear-end about someone who wants to make a statement by burning such an unholy book!...There's only "ONE" true Holy Book! We call it the Bible. Let's not get this confused, OK?"
OK - Clearly, I am confused. The word "holy" is defined as "dedicated or set apart for religious purposes," "something sanctified or venerated." Is a book not 'holy' because certain people do not deem it so? Many people in the world reject the Bible - does that make the Bible 'not holy'?
From the Qur'an: "All praise is due to Allah, the Originator of the heavens and the earth, the maker of the angels...He increases in creation what He pleases; surely Allah has power over all things. Whatever Allah grants to men of His mercy, there is none to withhold it...He is the Mighty, the Wise."
From the Bible: "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth"..."To God belong wisdom and power, counsel and understanding are his"..."the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness."
From the Baha'i prayers: "All praise be unto God Who was Ever-Existent 'ere created things were called into being, when there was no one else besides Him. He is the One Who hath been Ever-Abiding while no element of His creation did yet exist. Indeed the souls of them that are endued with understanding fail to comprehend the least manifestation of His attributes, and the minds of those who have acknowledged His unity are unable to perceive the most insignificant token of His omnipotence."
The words and their order are somewhat different, but it seems that the sentiments of these three passages deliver the same message. Is one of these passages 'holy' while the others are not? Perhaps my friend is right and I am confused. While I love my friend, I cannot agree with his words or the sentiment behind them.
However, on one issue I am not confused. The God I serve is a God of love and forgiveness. He calls people unto him with love and desire. My holy book, the Bible, abounds with passages which portray God as a shepherd, searching high and low for one lost sheep. Other verses describe God as a Protector - our strong tower, our savior and redeemer, our rock, the bread of life and the light of the world. This God, my God, is not a God of hate. And it grieves me deeply that people who share my 'holy book' read it so differently and use it to support their messages of division and intolerance.
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