Last Sunday as my congregation at Highlands Presbyterian was talking about religious tolerance, an American was killing people in a Sikh Temple in Wisconsin. Like a growing number of Americans, the shooter was long on hate but regrettably short on education.
We discussed how the world’s great religions probably share 80% of our beliefs. The point was made using a Beliefnet.org survey asking 25 questions about our deepest beliefs on God, salvation, scripture, the afterlife, etc. and offering a summary of how your beliefs align with other religions.
Interestingly, a slightly higher percentage of my beliefs were Sikh than mainline Christian. Scores aligned me with a dozen other religions ahead of mainline Christianity. Readers might find the same true about themselves. We can label others, and ourselves but we have a harder time labeling our deepest beliefs.
I learned more about the religions with which my beliefs overlapped. Sikhism quickly became most relevant. Sikhs are the 5th largest religious group in the world. Eighty percent of their 30 million members live in India. A million or more live in North America. Look at their core beliefs. You might also find yourself part-Sikh.
As do Christians, Jews and Muslims, Sikhs believe there is only one God. They believe this God is the same for all religions. People of different races, religions, or sex are all equal in the eyes of God. Sikhs teach the full equality of men and women.
Like most of us, they try to practice a virtuous and truthful life while maintaining a balance between spiritual and temporal obligations. Sikh males grow thick beards and wear turbans, all of which apparently causes ignorant, intolerant American radicals to confuse them with others they hate. Since 9/11 Sikhs are often mistaken for Muslims. A 2011 Congressional report said that "half to over three-quarters of Sikh students" are targeted for bullying, harassment, or violence.
What fuels that dangerous level of ignorance? Demagoguery. Sarah Palin tweeted her followers a picture of a sign at a New York church which read: “The blood of Jesus against Obama History made 4 Nov 2008 a Taliban Muslim illegally elected President USA: Hussein.” In 2001, the son of the evangelist Billy Graham described Islam as evil and said last year that he found it to be “a very violent religion.”
People like Rush Limbaugh and the radio stations that give him airtime are also a part of the problem. Limbaugh traffic’s hate like the cartels traffic drugs and with much the same result. Rush complained recently about accommodations made by airlines for Muslim travelers. “Meaning,” he said, “they can't turn their back or face Mecca when they use the bathroom. What do they do on an airplane? Go to the cockpit and say, "I got some box cutters, and if you don't turn this airplane 45 degrees for the next two minutes I'm going to hijack you"?
The hate messages also come from local rightwing entertainers like those on KGAB. These are quotes from their website, just the surface of how much misinformation they spew. “Not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims.”
“Religions like Islam and Christianity stand SO far apart; they might as well be as far apart as Earth to Pluto. One offered violence and the other offered salvation and peace.” *** “Both remain as compatible as a cat and a dog, as a razor blade and a jugular vein, as a pedophile and a kindergartener.”
Education and tolerance start at home. The irresponsible behavior of those who own KGAB is made possible by our community.
When I was completing seminary, I appeared before the Christian Church committee on the ministry before being ordained, explaining I had no problem with Islam or Judaism and believe we are all one. A frowning committee member asked, “Is there nothing you can’t tolerate?” I said, “Yes…intolerance.”
Change begins at home. If we tolerate the hate here, we cannot feign surprise when someone, somewhere actually takes it to the level of mass murder.