The Other I

January 20, 2011

Belief and behaviour

Filed under: Catholicism and other questions of religion — theotheri @ 4:40 pm

A leading member of the government who is also a Muslim is giving a talk tonight in which she says that Islamaphobia has passed what she calls the “dinner table test.” She is saying that prejudice against Muslims has become politically acceptable in parts of society whose members would otherwise disavow prejudice against racial or ethnic minorities.  Along with bringing it to the attention of the British, she says she brought up the issue when she met recently with Pope Benedict XVI.

I wonder what the pope actually thinks.  Because Christians can hardly hold our heads up high when it comes to racial, ethnic, or religious prejudice.  Until well into the 20th century, Christian churches in American southern states maintained that separation of Blacks and Whites was perfectly acceptable in the eyes of God.

But I think we must fact the painful reality that the problem is deeper than the legacy of American slavery.

Christianity is a religion that claims to be the one and only true religion founded by God in the person of Jesus and declares that outside the Church there is no salvation.

  • It then seems understandable that believers may think that followers of other religions are inferior or even satanic, and may speak and act accordingly.

Christianity is a religion that teaches that Jesus who was God was rejected by the Jews whose leaders were responsible for his death.

  • It seems understandable then that Christians waged crusades for centuries against unbelievers and apostates, and not only felt no guilt for their murders, rape and pillage on the way, but in some cases were even elevated as saints for such heroic acts.
  • It seems understandable that Christians have not objected to centuries of segregation, enforced poverty, murder and genocide against “unbelieving” Jews.
  • It seems quite understandable why, in all good will and often at personal cost, missionaries have set out to convert the “pagans” and in the process brought disease and destroyed the social structure of the peoples toward whom they felt so lovingly superior.

Do I think all Christians suffer from this arrogant insufferable blindness?

Absolutely not.  I know too many Christians whose selflessness puts me to humbled shame.  There are Christians who are guided solely by the injunction to love.

But there is a relationship between our dogmas and our behavior.  Some beliefs are destructive and self-serving.  They aren’t all Christian dogmas.  Muslims and Hindus, Buddhists and Jainists, polytheists, monotheists, pagans and mystics have all shown themselves capable of producing virulent teachings that lead to the self-justification, even the sanctification, of the most murderous acts.

I personally am not against every set of beliefs categorized as religious.  I am not even against any possible concept which might be described by some as “God” although it is a word that I personally cannot use.

But I do think that religion can be as great a force for the worst in ourselves as it can be a force for what is best in us.  I do think there is an intimate connection between what we believe and what we do.  I know – I know from personal experience – that it is much easier to see the limitations of the religious beliefs of others than of my own.  But I know that Christianity, like other religious beliefs, has been and often still is used to justify and elevate terrible things.

We have to have the courage to admit that we have done some of these things not in spite of our beliefs but because of them.



  1. Somedays I do ask myself “how could anything so good be so bad”.


    Comment by djc1 — January 20, 2011 @ 7:20 pm | Reply

    • Yes. Put that way, I think I would say it’s a question I keep asking too.


      Comment by theotheri — January 20, 2011 @ 8:30 pm | Reply

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