Religious Extremism in Times of Sorrow

21 January 2010, 3:34 PM
A young girl is holding two posters condemning violence

As a human, an empathy-oriented and rationally-driven being, it is not hard to find myself disgusted with any number of prospects and situations in my life, my city, my country, or my world. When struggling with my own confusion in this quickening life, I turn to the words of J.M. Coetzee, “all creatures come into the world bringing with them the memory of justice.” We are weaned off of youthful idealism by the hard hammerings of a fast-paced and trying society, and decide that true peace is unattainable. We settle for injustice, for complacency, for a status quo of imperfection.

Some events, however, are unacceptable. Some events force us to recognize the darker corners of our aspirations and the chilling core of a less-noble humanity. Some events beg for that memory of justice to be called forth from our consciousnesses once more. Images of the Holocaust or the Rwanda genocide, of despair and injustice, may spring to mind, but such an event, one that begs our reorientation, took place this past week.

The Westboro Baptist Church, a fanatical religious group that claims Christian roots and advances a strong anti-homosexuality agenda, has received nationwide media coverage for their protests at funerals. Often found picketing the funerals of homosexuals and slain soldiers, the group flaunts signs that condemn America and homosexual, and praises God for bombs and murderers.

Westboro, as a group, is highly deplorable by nature, and I would more readily label them a home-grown terrorist organization than a fanatical Christian community. Astoundingly, the actions of this group transcend any amount of disgust I can express or criticism I can put forth in any medium, and for good reason.

Nine-year-old Christina Green was among the six people killed during Saturday’s attempted assassination of Arizona Representative Gabrielle Giffords. Westboro made a public announcement praising the shooter, claiming that God sent the shooter and we should be thankful for God’s righteousness, and advertising plans to protest the little girl’s funeral – that is, until Arizona quickly passed laws and several radio stations offered them airtime in exchange for the cancellation of the protest. Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed emergency legislation on January 11 that bars protests within 300 feet of a funeral and within an hour from its beginning or end.

The very fact that any group, religious zealots or otherwise, would plan to protest the funeral rites of a nine-year-old girl makes me question how deep humanity can truly regress into the dark depths of a savage heritage. Regardless of the strides we make daily in the fields of technology and knowledge, humanity still harbors the shortsightedness and potential for great acts of inconsideration and greed, as seen by great events in history. We have reached a pinnacle of human achievement but a ravine of moral reflection. Such an act as the protested Westboro protests of the child’s funeral is akin to situations argued in ethics and philosophy classes, but is one that is likely to have a resounding answer that steps beyond moral relativism and cultural shortsightedness – such an act of inhumanity and inconsideration is simply deplorable.

I am glad that several measures were taken to counter the plans of Westboro. No mother should have to bury their child to a chorus of screaming radicals and terrorists.

Stepping back from my disgust in the situation, I reflect on the support that has been given to these grieving family members and those who stand in solidarity with the mourners. Out of this tragedy, a community and nation came together in recognition of our common humanity, our common fear of pain and succeptibility to it. We come together to confirm that love and beauty are not only the decorated concepts of an idealist’s fantasy, but valid realities that comfort us in times when our humanity is tested and our strength tried. We must be willing to accept our place in an unknown universe, but also willing to accept the potentiality that can be found in uncertainty.

As easy as it is to purport our human imperfection based on actions like those pursued by Westboro, we must also identify the power of our human potential when we recognize, and consciously acknowledge, our common suffering.

I hope that as we continue on our path of living and learning and growing in life, we learn to pause every so often and reflect on the possibilities of a world governed not by trade and statistics but by compassion and self-reflection, a world in which our moral essence and the moral framework of our society is considered more readily than which shoes or book to buy next. It is a beautiful world, one that vibrates to the rhythm of a justice we have long forgotten.

My condolensces go out to those who died in the shooting and those who are still suffering as a result.

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- Peter Dziedzic

2010 Youth Ambassador Alumnus

President, DePaul Interfaith