Getting beyond mosques and book burning to find some common ground

Each religion sees a face of God, despite the human diversity of rites and practices they each practice

The Rev. Petra Weldes | Special Contributor

LIGHTING THE WAY FOR PEACE | Carla Bolta of New York holds a candle during a peace rally in support of the proposed mosque near Ground Zero on Friday, Sept. 10, in New York. (Jin Lee/Associated Press)There is a deep and essential unity underlying our apparent differences; it is our shared humanity. And underneath the outer human diversity of spiritual rites and practices is the shining reality that each religion sees a face of God, and teaches fundamentally the Oneness of God and a deep love for all of creation.

Consequently, we must learn to respect all paths to God for what they add to the richness of our spiritual understanding and how each faith succors a people for whom that faith is their way to God.

We know that, as Albert Einstein said, we cannot solve a problem with the same consciousness that created it. Fear and hatred will never transform fear and hatred, nor will it create a peaceful world.

As the media frenzy around the controversy over a proposed mosque (actually a community center) within blocks of Ground Zero has continued to grow, and verbal and physical attacks against Islamic people take place, it seems that many Americans have forgotten some basic tenets of, not only the U.S. Constitution, but also of civility and common decency.

While appreciating the raw feelings surrounding the site, which has rightly become sacred ground in the nine years since the fall of the World Trade Center towers, to deny rights to groups who had nothing to do with the tragedy is simply mindless fear and hatred.

Sept. 11 was not an act of Islam. It was an act of terrorists who distort the precepts of that religion. Surely we recognize that all spiritual traditions have their zealots, fanatics, and people who misuse and misinterpret their faith for their own gain.

We must begin to recognize and support the full expression of religious freedom, realizing that all paths to God, when rightly practiced, promote love, peace and respect for others. Consequently, it’s important to honor the dignity of all the world’s sacred literature including the Bible, Torah, Qur’an, Avesta, Pahlavi, Sutras, Vedas and more.

We must begin to see that these texts all contain a portion of humanity’s spiritual truth, and therefore deserve to be treated with the same care with which we would treat our own.

Ernest Holmes, in the New Thought text “The Science of Mind” once said, “Find me one person who is for something and against nothing, who is redeemed enough not to condemn others out of the burden of his soul, and I will find another savior, another Jesus, and an exalted human being.”

In that same spirit, let us stand together for the One Divine Presence that moves through all humanity, and respect the dignity of every person’s right to the full expression of religious freedom, rites, practices and ritual.

Let us support the respect and dignity inherent in the law of the land, the U.S. Constitution, and the law of a Higher Power known by many names. Let us envision a world beyond what we now know; a world free of war, homelessness, hunger, poverty, disenfranchisement and terror — a world of peace, freedom, justice, caring, compassion and unity.

The bigger issue, then, is not the proximity of one piece of sacred ground to another or the comparative sacredness of one text versus another. The issue is finding common ground to create a peaceful, tolerant world that works for everyone.

The Rev. Petra Weldes is senior minister of the Center for Spiritual Living in Dallas, online at CSLDallas.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 17, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

Making hay out of hate

Journalists, politicians generate fear for personal gain over plans for mosque near site of 9/11 attack

I recently saw a video clip that sent chills down my spine of a supposedly “grassroots” rally outside a closed Burlington Coat Factory in New York City where protesters were chanting against building a mosque on the site. They were chanting words this publication wouldn’t print.

The hatred was so great that, at one point, a carpenter working on the new building that will replace the World Trade Center passed through the crowd and was verbally and physically attacked. Apparently the hate-filled crowd thought he was a Muslim. He was simply a black man with a skullcap. The level of vitriol was hard to watch: So much anger — and at what?

The truth is not nearly as sensational as the people at Fox News would have you believe. Cordoba Center, the building that is proposed, is not just an Islamic Cultural Center, it will also contain interfaith spaces for Christian and Jewish worship and meditation. Of course you have not heard that story in the news, because it is easier and more sensational to call it the Ground Zero Mosque and show pictures of scary guys in turbans for ratings.

The fundamentalists and right wing have grabbed onto this issue like a chew toy and are shaking it for all the fear and hatred it is worth.

That is what bothers me the most. Fear and hatred are two tools that have been used to galvanize people against us for centuries, and I suspect we are uniquely attuned to recognize them.

It is easy to see where all this is coming from as well. It is a great deal the fault of the right-wing media, like Fox News with their demagogues Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly. But it also has become a cause célèbre for politicians seeking a little extra boost. It would be easy to look at these videos and events and see a “clash of cultures” building. But that is not the reality of the situation.

What we are seeing is a carefully orchestrated fear mongering narrative guided by some pretty cynical folks. Just think back a few years ago when candidates were using the fear of homosexuals to rile up their base.

Fake research groups like the Family Research Council published papers claiming that “35 percent of pedophiles are homosexuals and a child molester is 17 times more likely to be homosexual than heterosexual.” Both these figures are intentional misinterpretations of the actual studies done by real researchers.

The point is, both these “issues” are really no more than jingoistic talking points that rally people into a frenzy. These kinds of false controversies only feed on the underlying real issues of racism, homophobia and xenophobia and blur the picture.

That leaves the question of why? Why would anyone want to stir up this kind of anger? Again, I look to the cynical folks causing it.

For fundamentalist preachers and organizations it is an “easy sell.” Every tent revivalist knows you can get a much fuller collection basket when the congregation is riled up.

The same holds true for the organizations like American Family Association. Fear fills their coffers. For politicians, the answer is obvious. As Sarah Palin says, “mama grizzlies,” once angered, are hard to stop. A populace who is scared will vote for whoever offered them “security.”

Just look to the previous administration and how they successfully manipulated a manufactured war to win re-election. For the “news” organizations like Fox, fear sells. Why spend money on real reporting when you can create events?

As a sidenote, it is further proof of the cynical nature of right-wing media that Al-Walid bin Talal, a Saudi financier, owns a big chunk of Fox News and is also funding the “Ground Zero Mosque” through his charitable contributions. You’ll never hear in the fear narrative being pushed by Fox.

We LGBT Americans know just how powerful fear and hatred can be. We need to look past the sound bites and bumper stickers and see the real issues behind this whole ruckus. It’s about the right to be different. That is a founding principal of our country: Freedom to build a place of worship, a community center, an AIDS clinic or whatever should not be hindered by baseless fears. If we fall prey to the media spotlight beating the drums to “stop the mosque,” we should not be surprised the next time that spotlight falls on us.

It isn’t easy to see past the glare of this craziness. Like the lyrics to the song from the musical Chicago say, “… how can they see with sequins in their eyes … Razzle dazzle ‘em. And they’ll never catch wise!”

Hardy Haberman is a longtime local LGBT activist and a member of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas. His blog is at dungeondiary.blogspot.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 27, 2010

—  Kevin Thomas