Sunday, August 26, 2007

Sunday Column

The fifth in a series of columns I've been invited to do for our local Sunday paper appeared yesterday. I wrote on why many Americans have grown suspicious of their Muslim neighbors and what Muslims might do to allay those suspicions. Here's the column:

Muslims are understandably annoyed and offended that since 9/11 they've been subjected to suspicion and scrutiny in airports and elsewhere, a treatment they perceive as unjust.

It goes without saying that in a nation founded on toleration of religious difference we must not impute to all members of Islam the guilt of a minority, even if it's a large minority, who commit acts of terrorism. No doubt there are in the United States and Europe many Muslims who feel their religion is compatible with the principles of freedom and equality upon which Western nations have been built and to which much of their success is owed. No doubt there are many Muslims who wish for nothing more than to live in peace with their non-Muslim neighbors.

That having been said, there are a lot of non-Muslims, people of good will, who would dearly love to hear more young Muslims unequivocally affirm those principles and distance themselves from those who wish to supplant them, by whatever means necessary, with Islamic law.

Mark Steyn, in his book America Alone, observes that it's only a relative few Muslims who blow up trains and airplanes but that guilt extends far beyond the relatively small circle of killers.

Around the murderers, he writes, are others who form a series of concentric rings:

"...the terrorist bent on devastation and destruction prowls the streets, while around him are a significant number of people urging him on, and around them is a larger group of young male co-religionists gleefully celebrating mass murder, and around them a much larger group of "moderates" who stand silent at the acts committed in their name, and around them a mesh of religious and community leaders openly inciting treason against the state, and around them another mesh of religious and community leaders who serve as apologists for the inciters, and around them a network of professional identity-group grievance-mongers adamant that they're the real victims, and around them a vast mass of elite opinion in the media ... too squeamish about ethno-cultural matters to confront reality, and around them a political establishment desperate to pretend this is just a managerial problem that can be finessed away with a few new laws and a bit of community outreach. It's these insulating circles ... that bulk up the loser death-cult and make it a potent force."

Beyond these circles, one hopes, there is another ring of Muslims who deplore the practice of killing apostates, beating women, executing homosexuals, calling Jews pigs and monkeys, and resorting to violence to spread Islam. But how large is that circle and who's in it?

Some months prior to 9/11 I attended a talk given by an imam in a neighboring county. He was an affable and impressive fellow, and I was taken with his enthusiasm for the work of his mosque. During the Q&A I asked him this: If it ever came to pass that Muslims were in the political majority in this country would our Constitution and Bill of Rights be in jeopardy? The eloquence he had displayed throughout his lecture suddenly fled him, and he seemed at a loss for a reply. Most of the members of my group got the distinct impression that with all his hemming, hawing, qualifications and obfuscations he was trying to find a way to say "no" without lying.

Theocracy, state control of both religion and the press, inequality based on religion and gender, cruel punishments, extreme intolerance, hatred of non-Muslims, religious war and so on, are all enjoined by the Koran, many of its devotees tell us, but they're all proscribed by the laws and values which have evolved in this nation since the 17th century.

It's because so many of us who would like to live harmoniously with Muslims in our communities are afraid that what those Muslims themselves want is to be altogether rid of us and our way of life that we can't help feel uneasy in their presence. It's because we wonder what went through their minds when they saw the World Trade Towers fall that we sometimes experience a twinge of concern about their democratic bona fides.

So, here's a question many Americans wish to ask of our Muslim neighbors: "Do you sympathize with efforts, whether peaceful or otherwise, to abrogate the Bill of Rights and establish in their stead Koranic law?"

To the extent American Muslims are silent or ambiguous on this question, they'll continue to attract the suspicions of other Americans.

No doubt many Muslims will think this unfair, and perhaps it is, but they shouldn't blame us. They should blame instead their co-religionists who claim to speak on behalf of the True Faith and who desire to see every infidel, and his children, dead.

That, too, is a little unfair.


Mother Teresa's Crisis of Faith

When I started reading David Van Biema's essay in Time on Mother Teresa titled "Crisis of Faith" I confess I expected the worst. Here, I feared, was a hit piece that would expose the sainted Teresa as a spiritual fraud and hypocrite. I was happy to discover about half way into it that it was really no such thing. It was, on the contrary, a portrait of a deeply committed, but deeply anguished, human being.

Here's a summary: Letters have come to light that Teresa wrote to spiritual mentors and confessors throughout her life which reveal that beginning shortly after she initiated her ministry to the poor in India she was beset by a sense of the absence of God. She longed to feel God's presence in her life and work, but almost never did. Instead she experienced for almost her entire adult life a persistent spiritual dryness, emptiness, and doubt.

Nevertheless, she persevered for over fifty years right to her death. She resolved to live her life for God whether she felt His presence or not. She learned from her experience and from her correspondents that faith isn't a feeling. It's not a matter of living moment by moment with God's presence manifest in our hearts. It's living with, and for, God regardless of how, or what, we feel. Faith is a commitment, it's not a feeling.

For Teresa that meant a lifetime of anguish and perplexity as she puzzled over why God seemed so remote and inaccessible. Like Christ on the cross she felt that God had forsaken her, yet she refused to let her feelings rule her will. She lived for Christ and hoped and trusted that all would someday become clear.

Every believer experiences what she experienced although perhaps not so acutely or for so long. It was, perhaps, her particular cross. That's part of what made her such a remarkable woman and what made her faith such a marvelous example for the rest of us. Faith based on a constant feeling of God's presence is not faith at all. It's not trust at all. It's a kind of infatuation. The true "knights of faith," as Kierkegaard called them, are people who live as God wants them to live regardless of how they feel.

Everyone who aspires to understand the idea of "faith" should read Van Biema's article to the end. It's worth the time.