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Why do we hear so much from those who would burn the holy books of another religion, but not from those whose faith is undaunted by hatred?

I could sit here and defend the Muslims I know or have known. Describe Aliyah, the Egyptian Muslim who wears hijab and has her master’s degree in public health. Or Khullani, a Somali Muslim who just finished law school. Or Shaheynoor. Or Muna. Or Erko. Or Hyatt.

I could. But why would I? None of the Muslims I know needs defending. All of them are observant. Each of them is rooted in his or her Muslim faith. And none of them was anywhere near New York City on 9/11. In fact, on Sept. 11, 2001, every person I have named was here in Minnesota. Some of them were in grade school. They need no defending.

What I will defend, what I find I must defend, is the Christianity of my upbringing. I am not a Christian; I’ve been an atheist since I was 14. But who I am, the best of me, was crafted in those church pews and in the presence of my religious elders. I was raised and confirmed in the Episcopalian tradition. I spent a good portion of my childhood in a Catholic school. I have listened to sermons and sung songs and raised my hands to God more times than I can count.

It was my church and that Catholic school and my Christian parents that taught me to serve. They taught me that all that I was given, I must give in return. They encouraged me to volunteer, to pursue a career that nurtured my community, to give the best of myself in all that I do. I learned through my church that humans are frail, that we are flawed, and that we can be redeemed. I learned humility — the fundamental belief that I do not know everything, that I cannot control everything, and that I am not the master of those around me or even, sometimes, of myself.

I learned it is not ours to assign sin or blame
My Catholic school taught me that every person is worthy of salvation and every person should be cherished. And in my church I learned that it is not ours to assign sin or blame, redemption and holiness — this is the provenance of God.

What I learned in my Christian upbringing called on the best in me and demanded that I see and call on the best in others. No one promised me a Disney-esque ending. No one told me that change is inherently positive, or that difference is inevitably reconcilable, or that compromise is satisfying. But my church and my parents challenged me to seek that reconciliation, to strive for understanding, and to extend to others, no matter how powerful the slight, no matter how deep the fear, the hands that God has given me.

I may not believe in a god. But I believe in the people who raised me, from my parents to my teachers to my priests. I believe in the good works they perform, in the sacrifices they make, and in the strength of their conviction that in this one life, if you can do only one thing, it should be something that uplifts another, and never something that casts a shadow over the good that exists in the world.

Where are the defenders of this faith? Where are the defenders of that high call to service and self knowledge? Why can I hear from those who would burn the holy books of another religion, but not those whose faith is undaunted by hatred, and whose passion and compassion call on the light in dark times?

Katherine Jumbe is a returned Peace Corps volunteer who works in college admissions and lives in Bloomington.

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Comments (8)

  1. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 08/30/2010 - 06:42 am.

    We all like to hear stories that confirm our beliefs, that’s why people go to church and watch certain TV channels.

    Who cares whether boosters of mutually incompatible fairy tales can find common ground? Why do politicians insist on giving these groups space to find out?

    The real question is whether religion is compatible with the kind of open society necessary for a functioning democracy. Neither fundamentalist Islam nor fundamentalist Christianity shows much sign of it — and the more moderate versions just give them cover.

  2. Submitted by Doug Cole on 08/30/2010 - 07:22 am.

    I think it is time for real Christians to speak up. I’m so tired of hearing from greedy power hungry bigots calling themselves ‘faith based’ that I’m ashamed that they also call themselves Christians. Let’s call them what they are: liars and cheats and pawns in the game of political power.

  3. Submitted by Larry Copes on 08/30/2010 - 08:49 am.

    Very well put, Ms. Jumbe! One doesn’t have to believe in a god to believe that values such as service, social justice, compassion, and self-knowledge–values reportedly taught by Jesus–are a better path for the world than the alternatives of intolerance, greed, militancy, and hatred.

    And one need not kill those with whom one disagrees to impoverish the earth; even labeling positions one disagrees with as “fairy tales” decreases the levels of respect and civility in the world.

  4. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 08/30/2010 - 09:49 am.

    Unfortunately, many people believe that those who do not share their beliefs are less than human, which justifies any action taken against them.

  5. Submitted by Aaron Pearson on 08/30/2010 - 10:57 am.

    You hear about the religious disparagement because it’s more newsworthy. Peace and love are wonderful things but news needs conflict. I believe those positive conversations of faith are happening all around us, even though they’re not on CNN.

  6. Submitted by Alison K on 08/30/2010 - 12:47 pm.

    I’m going to respond to Ms. Jumbe’s question quite literally and reference two sources of faith-based (one Christian, the other interfaith) folks publicly working for social justice.

    The first is Union Theological Seminary in New York City (utsnyc.edu), a theological institution churning out progressive Christian leaders and actively working to create a public face for Christian justice teachings.

    The second (this time local) organization is the Joint Religious Legislative Coalition (www.jrlc.org), based in Minneapolis. Here Christians, Jews and Muslims work together to do social justice focused, legislative advocacy at the state level.

    I encourage readers to check out both these organizations and to tell your friends if you like them. Like Aaron Pearson mentioned: peace and love aren’t all that newsworthy. I hope that won’t always be the case, but until then, we have to share resources with one another.

  7. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 08/30/2010 - 02:42 pm.

    This image is not original with me. I heard it in a sermon by a metro-area Christian pastor.

    But I think it applies nicely to my sense of God’s presence in the world:

    God is like the hub of a wagon wheel with various religious expressions being the spokes of that wheel. There are many individuals (those who farthest away from God) within each religious expression who see nothing in common with the other faiths of the world, but within each faith, those who have grown closest to God are also most able to see and appreciate the God connection that is a part of all the other faiths.

    Within that imagery it is, of course, the fundamentalists of every faith that are the farthest away from God. We can only hope and pray that they find their way closer, even as we work against and seek to prohibit the evil those of our own faith who are furthest from God would seek to do in God’s name.

  8. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 09/05/2010 - 10:28 am.

    Greg K (#7). I would agree with your posting and, I believe, so would Krista Tippett. She wrote in “Speaking of Faith” that she has come to accept an idea first presented to her by the Lutheran theologian, Martin Marty, that there is not one true religion (with all others being “false”), but that each religious tradition has a piece of a truth too large for any one denomination or tradition to hold.

    Thus, we all have much to learn from one another and plenty of reason to respect all others of any belief — or none.

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