Editor’s note: “Matters of faith” is a column that provides local religious leaders a place to write about how their respective faiths provide hope, courage and strength in these modern times.
I recently went to “Saturday’s Voyeur” by the Salt Lake Acting Company. I had been to former shows a number of years ago when my parish was in Salt Lake.
To those of you who don’t know, “Saturday’s Voyeur” is a musical with various skits that are inspired by the idiosyncrasies of our state, particularly our state Legislature. Each year’s production is different. This past year’s version seemed to me to be angry and hostile to the LDS Church and to what the LDS members hold dear. The writers had an ax to grind, that led to skits that went beyond the pale.
We don’t know how to dialogue well with each other about faith. I am not sure what people hope to accomplish when they belittle the beliefs of those of another group of faith. I recall the satirical comic strips in Paris that have captions of the Pope molesting a child, or various captions that were insulting to Muslims because they disrespected their prophet, Muhammad that led to murder of some who worked for the newspaper, Charlie Hebdo.
Additionally, we have Christians who are making public spectacles of themselves by mocking Muslims, whether that is by hosting a contest where people come to draw pictures of the prophet, Muhammad, desecrating their holy book, the Koran, or holding pig races and hosting pork BBQs (in Katy, Texas) near a mosque during the times of Friday prayer.
This is a bad road to go down. Some will jump on their pedestal and profess the beauty of free speech and having a free and open society where people may express their thoughts of hatred for another’s religion. Others might say, I belong to the one true Church and everybody else is going to hell, so others don’t have rights because what they believe is erroneous and may be evil.
There doesn’t seem to be much nobility in dishonoring what a group of people holds dear. Additionally, this form of speech doesn’t encourage dialogue for those who wish to proselytize. It encourages anger and fear. It adds greater division to a “free and open society.” There is more likely to be a fistfight or worse, than an open discussion.
What makes religious beliefs sacred? It is the dignity of the human being that makes religious beliefs sacred. We are fundamentally talking about a person’s relationship with God or the divine. When we insult others for their beliefs, we are not respecting their most sacred relationship with God. In the Catholic Church, we view this relationship as inviolable.
God speaks to the heart of the individual and not even the Pope can stand in the way of this relationship. Thomas Aquinas writes that it is better for one to follow his/her conscious and be excommunicated, than to not follow what one believes to be revealed to them by God.
How can we learn to dialogue respectfully with each other? We are rarely given good examples of true dialogue that builds relationships, fosters trust, and brings peace. What we have are examples of people trying to shout over each other, bully each other, and force their point of view down their opponent’s throat.
Dialogue requires that each person respect the other and actively make the effort to understand the other’s point of view, always giving him/her the benefit of doubt as well as assuming the other is striving after what is good and true. If one cannot inwardly do this, it is better not to engage in dialogue, since nothing positive will get done. The opposing sides will only be more firm in their resistance against the other. The point of the dialogue is not to change the other person’s mind, but to come to a greater understanding of the other person.
To be able to honor what others hold as sacred remains a great problem in our world. It should be especially alarming that people of faith who expect others to honor their values would make a mockery of what other people of faith believe. They seem to forget the golden rule that if we expect others to honor our belief in God, we must honor the beliefs of others.
The next question is how we respond to someone who does not honor our beliefs. Violence is never acceptable for any person of faith. For Christians, we use Jesus as our model. His response to violence was to allow himself to be crucified. The early Church grew by the blood of martyrs, who died for the faith and did not kill for the faith.
The great majority of Muslims in the world also despise violence and do not think that even if someone mocks their prophet that that person should be harmed. Whenever there is an incident where there is a bombing or murder that is done in response to what is perceived as an insult to Islam, Imams and Muslim faith communities denounce these acts of violence. We are either people who work for peace or we keep the fires of intolerance going with our thoughts, words and actions.
If we wish to be decent people and work for peace in the world, we will honor the most sacred beliefs of others. If we do not respect each person’s relationship with God, then we certainly do not love them. We not only disrespect the person, but we ultimately offend God. We contribute to the hatred and factionalism in our world that fuels wars, genocide and great acts of violence.
We are also saddened by those who respond with acts of violence to those who are mocked for their faith. Jesus tells us in the Gospel of Matthew, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.” Jesus doesn’t say, cut off their head, bomb them, or shoot them. The act of violence stops with the person who is persecuted. The true believer prays that God will change the heart of the one who persecutes.
We have to look into our own hearts to see where we need healing. If we have an authentic relationship with God, we will be people of peace and we will honor the relationship that others have with God, as we expect others to honor what we hold to be good and true. If someone harms us, we will learn what Jesus means when he counsels us to turn the other cheek.
Rev. Dinsdale is the priest at St. Marguerite Catholic Church in Tooele.