America’s obsession with religious intolerance
By Mike Matteo
Last Saturday marked the 9th anniversary of the attacks on 9/11. As many Americans relived events of that terrible day and remembered those who perished at those four locations there was another climate that permeated this solemn day: resentment and rage. I read about one man burning pages of the Koran as others cheered and it made me very sad. How does disrespecting something that a group of people hold with great esteem ease the pain of what transpired on 9/11/2001?
Would this man like it if someone burned his Bible? And if a Muslim were to burn his Bible, can anyone ever argue that two wrongs do make something right? A pastor in Florida (a virtual unknown individual vying for his 15 minutes of fame) created a great media furor by announcing weeks earlier that he would be burning Koran’s on 9/11 but later decided to cancel that plan.
Seeing the national attention the pastor received led other extremist pastors in other states to announce similar plans. Political opportunists have attempted to manipulate the mood of Americans to further polarize them against Muslims in America and attempted to make it appear that all Muslims are terrorists. We all know that creating scapegoats is an effective tool used by dictators throughout history to do unconscionable things to individuals who were innocent of any crimes and guilty only through their association with a particular group.
Human history is filled with events of atrocities, violence and massacres against one group at the hands of another group. Quite frequently these massacres have been centered on religious differences that were turned into political causes by leaders with agendas. How many people were murdered during the Crusades (the holy wars that began in the 11th century and lasted for several hundred years)? Most religions are centered on a divine Creator who wants peace and harmony for people on earth. Whether a person believes in Jesus, Mohammed, Siddhartha or Confucius, isn’t the idea of going to war and murdering other people the antithesis of what these men stood for and the religions that they founded?
I have a finite mind and do not profess to understand infinite wisdom, nor am I a religious scholar. However, I do know what I observe and what I observe is peace cannot exist between people when hatred and anger replace reason and tolerance. People with different beliefs, whether religious, social or political, do not have to feel contempt for others who do not foster the same beliefs. Religion is supposed to give people peace of mind, not create warring camps that lead to fanaticism. It is this fanaticism that led to nineteen hijackers to do what they did nine years ago. It is this fanaticism that caused the Holocaust and countless incidents of genocide throughout history because people were viewed as “the enemy” instead of just people with different beliefs. It is this fanaticism that will lead the country on a path to more pain, destruction and loss of life.
America is at a crossroads on so many issues that threaten to cause the country to implode. I believe the majority of people are good, hard working and respectful people. We all want the basic things in life: the safety of our loved ones, a place to work so we can pay our bills, the right to worship without being chastised for our beliefs and the freedoms guaranteed to us by the Bill of Rights and Constitution.
Do Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Taoists, Buddhists, Wiccans, Atheists etc. have differences? They most definitely do. Should these differences be a source of hatred and intolerance? That’s up to every individual to decide. Personally, as long as someone’s exercise of their religious freedom does not infringe upon me, I believe that they are entitled to their beliefs as much as I am entitled to mine.
I would like to think that we would make a lot more progress by embracing things that we all want and desire instead of focusing on the things that build contempt for others who possess different belief systems. Perhaps a starting point should be the idea that peace is far more conducive to happiness than war. Focusing on the idea that we all want the safety of our families and that education and understanding is the keys to eliminating bigotry and intolerance.
There are too many snake oil salesmen who earn a living by fanning the flames of hatred. It’s time to tune them out and treat people the way we want to be treated. We cannot undo the long history of wrongs committed in the name of religion or politics. However, by starting today with the idea that if we all strive for peace to be our common ground we may be able to avert any more Ground Zeroes and honor the tenets of whatever belief system that we follow.
Mike Matteo is a resident of Tampa, Florida where he was a public and private high school teacher who taught classes in economics, history, psychology and philosophy. Mike has written screenplays, stage plays and works with students to improve their SAT, ACT and FCAT scores. He has also written or co-authored three books, including one on education. E-mail him at: email@example.com.
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