What a terrible beginning to the New Year. The horrible events in Paris just emphasize how a small minority can cause such harm. They can kill and disrupt a country devoted to the ideal of free speech. Maybe Charlie Hebdo would not be a magazine I would subscribe to, but they have a right to exist. And they have a right to life! Protest of their depictions of religion is fine. Protest is important. Cold-blooded murder is against all religious and civilized norms.
But all evildoers do not wear balaclavas and carry guns. They also can have clean-cut expensive suits and wear smiles. Think of Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum, and Mike Huckabee. As Frank Bruni said two weeks ago in The New York Times, these gentlemen “get a special gleam in their eyes when they’re denigrating gays.” They are politicians on the national stage that spew anti-gay hate speech. I am distressed to learn Mike Huckabee is considering running for the presidency. His anti-gay rhetoric will have a public forum yet again.
I know, I know. He is not killing gay people. Nor are these other politicians. They are not analogous to the jihadists in France who wiped out a whole team of journalists. But hate filled speech empowers those who hate already. It empowers those who will bully, who will tear down those they do not understand. Perhaps if you live in a milieu where you do not have contact with gay persons (or think you do not), it may be easy to demonize. But like the jihadists, hate filled speech on public media forums can give a rationale for hateful actions. For destructive actions.
Even baby faced Jeb Bush has moderated his opposition to marriage equality. But he is quick to say religious objections must be respected. Never mind that never have gay rights activists promulgated marriage in faith institutions. They only promote civil marriage. Yet religion again is used to perpetuate bigotry. And even hatred. Evangelical Christian groups have even promoted prison and death for gay people in some African countries.
It is easy to blame religions for these promoters of hate and even of murder. But as Karen Armstrong shows in her fine book Fields of Blood, throughout history religion has been a part of society. It has been used to justify violence and lust for power because, she says, “violence and coercion . . . lay at the heart of social existence.”
It’s hard to separate Islam from the black hooded killers, but it needs to be done. It’s hard to separate Christianity from the clean-cut boys who populate our national stage, but it also needs to be done. But never should we confuse loyalty to a religion as a reason not to speak against bigotry and hatred, no matter what head covering the spokesmen and women wear. No matter how harmless and charming they may appear.