|by Tom Bohache|
|Notes from Cambridge, Part 1
My remaining columns for this year are being written from Cambridge, Massachusetts, where I will be studying this semester, exploring the intersection of postcolonialism and queer religious studies. I believe this is especially relevant in our contemporary world, having just commemorated the 4th anniversary of 9/11/01. That day seems to have been a line of demarcation in U. S. history and world relations. Of course, the American Empire has existed for many years; but it is only since 9/11 that most Americans have become aware of how much our country is hated abroad and how militaristic and authoritative the U.S. can be. Black religious philosopher Cornel West of Princeton University reminds us that African Americans have felt like this for 350 years; however, 9/11 broadened the majority's personal awareness of hatred and discrimination. (West has called this the "niggerization" of Americahis words, not mine. Democracy Matters: Winning the Fight Against Imperialism, 2004; pp. 20-21).
But have we really learned from 9/11? I don't think so. Rather than utilizing this horrendous attack to educate and mobilize Americans around global issues, the current administration chose to see it as an opportunity to advance the cause of American Empire and military strength, with the attitudes of "might makes right" and "the one with the most power or the biggest weapons wins." After creating and feeding a culture of fear and disinformation, the Washington cabal surrounding Bush has begun to whittle away at many of the rights that Americans have held dear for over two hundred yearsfreedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of conscience, etc.
"So how does this relate to a column about spirituality?" one might ask. It intersects with spirituality and religion because the political power elite have harnessed the war on terrorism (and truth and free ideas) to religious principles, specifically a narrow form of conservative Christianity.
Bush/Rove/Cheney/Rumsfeld's ideas come from the Bible, particularly the parts of the Hebrew Testament in which the Israelites believe that their conquest of the Promised Land and slaughter of its inhabitants are blessed and even mandated by God ("the Lord of Hosts"). The rhetoric they employed for going to war against Afghanistan and Iraq was not very different from how Osama bin-Laden has justified the 9/11 attacks by quoting the Quran. Cornel West writes: "This Christian fundamentalism is exercising an undue influence over our government policies, both in the Middle East crisis and in the domestic sphere....And perhaps most ironicallyand sadlythis fundamentalism is subverting the most profound, seminal teachings of Christianity, those being that we should live with humility, love our neighbors, and do unto others as we would have them do unto us" (p. 146).
Humility, love, and doing unto others is at the heart of all the great faiths of this world, not just Christianity; these values may be articulated differently by diverse peoples, but at base to be a person of faith is to be a humble, loving person, living in reciprocity with others. I do not believe the American Empire has done so; is it any wonder that Islamic terrorist/ freedom fighters have "done unto" us what they believe has been "done unto" them? Cornel West insists that the answer to all of this is not more religion or more war, but more democracy. He castigates both Republicans and Democrats for eroding democracy in our countrythe former through a turn to neo-conservatism, the latter through apathy and complacency. He calls on people of faith to go back to the peace and justice roots of the civil rights movement that started from the churches and spread to the rest of the nation; for silence about the spiritual is not the alternative to oppressive fundamentalist Christianitybetter spiritual talk and practice is. He notes sadly, "The pervasive sleepwalking in American churches in regard to social justice is frightening" (p. 168).
Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer from the University of St. Thomas suggests that what is needed is a full-scale rejection of the militaristic language that warmongers love to quote from both the Bible and the Quran: "Our unwillingness honestly to confront the violence of God traditions at the heart of our 'sacred' texts puts the world in great peril....The search for alternatives to violence in a wounded world could well be the common bond that brings together Jews, Christians, Muslims, and many other people of diverse faiths to create a world that better reflects the compassion many believers attribute to God" (Is Religion Killing Us? Violence in the Bible and the Quran, 2003; pp. 96 and 108). We cannot access such alternatives unless and until we stop attributing human hatred, violence, and oppression to God's will and using scripture to buttress these claims.
As we look toward a new year, I suggest we go within and do a "fearless and searching moral inventory": How have WE contributed to world dis/ease? How do WE sleepwalk through our pretty beach lives? How can WE build an interfaith coalition to take back American spirituality and retrieve American democracy? It's not too late to learn from 9/11 if we are willing to do some hard thinking and bring forth some tough results.
The Rev. Tom Bohache has pastored the Metropolitan Community Church of Rehoboth for seven years. Currently on a three-month sabbatical, Tom has just begun a doctoral program at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He receives email at email@example.com.
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 15, No. 13 September 16, 2005