We can all agree that ISIS has it wrong — the extremist group is responsible for the almost weekly terror attacks across the globe that have killed thousands and forced millions to flee their homes. ISIS is masquerading behind a gross perversion of Islam, using tangential interpretations of scripture to rationalize their “just terror operations.” It’s easy to rally ourselves against the group, dismissing the Islamic faith tradition as a whole and hailing the Christian tradition as civilized, almost paternal in its superiority.
It’s much harder, however, to turn this critical lens on our own faith, to recognize and examine the places that we, as Christians, have failed. We have misinterpreted scriptures and perverted traditions to justify our actions and substantiate our long-held beliefs. It’s hardest to realize that, while we use different tactics, hate is hate, and in using religion as a shield with which to support our prejudices, we are far more similar to ISIS than we may want to believe.
To put it frankly, regardless of the denomination or tradition to which you subscribe, religion shouldn’t be about hate.
The casualties of ISIS’s attacks have never been faceless. We watched through our fingers when videos of beheadings were released and broadcast all over the internet. We’ve cringed at the haunting images of the aftermath of jihadist suicide bombers. We’ve cheered silently for refugees who stepped foot on land and cried for the children who never saw the shoreline.
Simultaneously, we’ve ranted on social media about allowing refugees into our country, our state, our city and endorsed political candidates who have threatened to bar, without question, Muslims from entering the U.S. We ridicule people whose sexual orientations don’t adhere to our scriptures and whose beliefs don’t align exactly with our own. We justify our actions, our words, by claiming that we’re maintaining the sanctity of Christianity, but in doing so, we’ve made religion exclusionary. We’ve begun to define our beliefs by what we hate rather than what we love — by what we disavow than by what we accept. We’ve begun to shape our religion around what we keep out, rather than what we let in — an ideology that teeters precariously close to ISIS’s “all or nothing” manifesto.
As human beings, in the interest of self-preservation, we have a tendency to manipulate situations so that they benefit ourselves. We pick the easiest professors; we take the classes in which we are most likely to succeed. We pick the political candidate whose views most align with our own in hopes that our immediate world will not have to adjust much to accommodate the views of others.
It’s when self-preservation begins to influence our religious ideologies that the situation becomes dangerous: when ISIS militants kill those who don’t conform in the name of their religion, or when Christians use the Bible to ostracize and alienate those who don’t adhere to our traditions. Yes, religion is not finite, not clear cut, and we are each entitled to our own interpretations. Those interpretations should never infringe on the rights of others or make them feel less than human. Regardless of beliefs, religion was never meant to be about hate.
In a poem titled “Home,” Somali poet Warsan Shire wrote the following:
“No one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark.
You only run to the border
when you see the whole city running as well…
You have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land…
The ‘Go home, blacks
sucking our county dry…
they smell strange, savage,
messed up their country
and now they want to mess ours up.’
How do the words
the dirty looks
roll off your backs?
Maybe because the blow is softer
than a limb torn off…
or the insults are easier to swallow
than your child body in pieces.”
ISIS: Religion shouldn’t catalyze the transformation of people into refugees. It isn’t about being the judge and the jury. It isn’t about hate, and it isn’t about terror.
Christians: Religion shouldn’t be about exclusion. It isn’t a lingering question of whether or not an individual is enough: American enough, White enough, straight enough, similar enough. Hate comes in many forms, and we have become adept at under-the-table hatred.
While beliefs and texts vary, the baseline tenants of religion transcend denominational traditions. From Islam to Christianity, religion should be about acceptance and salvation. It should be about creation, not destruction. It should be about hope, about life, not fear. Not isolation. Not death.
You have it wrong, ISIS. We can all agree on that, but maybe you aren’t the only ones. Maybe we Christians have it wrong, too, in a way that is all too similar. It’s up to us to bring religion back to what it was meant to be. Despite what history might have us believe, religion was never meant to be about hate.