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Religious Ignorance, Bigotry and Ill Will: A Lamentation for 9/11
If one is looking for fuel to have
a bonfire, there is no more explosive a mixture than ignorance, bigotry and
We need only think of the slave trade in West
Africa, the Trail of Tears in the United States, and the pogroms in Eastern
Europe, not to mention armed conflicts in all parts of the world, to know
at its worst, such ill will has turned into violence and the killing of
countless people by others whose imaginations have been inflamed by bigotry.
At the heart of many of these situations was
Unfortunately, we cannot forever
consign ignorance, bigotry and ill will to the past.
This coming Saturday, on the 9th anniversary of
September 11, Rev. Terry Jones and his church, the
On all levels, it is easy to
dismiss Rev. Jones’ bigotry and ill will.
But on the theological level, it is not enough
to dismiss his error.
Indeed, we need to understand his error, and to
see where such ignorance may lead, and why.
A mistake often made in comparing
Christianity and Islam is to see Jesus Christ and Mohammed on a par with one
another, and the Bible and the Qur’an as analogous sacred texts.
But the theological reality is different.
In Islam, Mohammed is the prophet through whom
God revealed himself in the Qur’an, and while Mohammed is revered for this
role, it is nonetheless the Qur’an that is believed to be the divine Word of
In Christianity, Jesus himself is believed to be the
Word of God; the Bible is venerated as the written record of the revelation
of his true divine identity.
Thus, as far as religious comparisons go, it is
Christ and the Qur’an, respectively claimed as revelations of God, that
should be considered together.
This clarification helps to explain the
Qur’an’s absolutely privileged and passionately defended place in Muslim
hearts and minds.
Bring us back to this coming
If as he reiterates Rev. Jones follows through
with his plan to burn stacks of the Qur’an, it would be seen by Muslims as
nothing other than an attack on the ultimate divine revelation.
It would not be simply an attack on a book,
albeit a book considered sacred by 1 billion people, but an affront to the
very God that is worshiped by those 1 billion people (not to mention the 2
billion Christians, and Jews, too, that worship the same God).
We can only imagine what kind of
response this action might elicit.
Most frighteningly, in villages across the
Middle East, Asia and elsewhere, countless Christians may yet again suffer
lethal violence at the hands of extremist Muslims for no reason other than
the theological shortcomings of an extremist Christian in the
Let’s be clear: It would be wrong for Muslim extremists to blame all Christians for the violence of a few against what Islam considers the revealed Word of God. But let’s also be clear about what would be motivating this violence: the desecration of, and violence to, what all Muslims hold most sacred. That is a great price to pay for ignorance, Rev. Jones.
Since its founding in 1950, the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA has been the leading force for ecumenical cooperation among Christians in the United States. The NCC's 36 member faith groups -- from a wide spectrum of Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox, Evangelical, historic African American and Living Peace churches -- include 45 million persons in more than 100,000 local congregations in communities across the nation.
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