April 2018: What Weaponizes Beliefs?

What Weaponizes Beliefs?

April 2018 Inter-Belief Conversation Café
Monday, April 16, 2018
7 – 9 p.m.
Interfaith Action of Greater Saint Paul
1671 Summit Avenue, Saint Paul, MN 55105 (View Map)

What makes men fly airplanes into buildings claiming to be inspired by Islam? What made Crusaders leave Europe to conquer Jerusalem? What motivates West Bank settlers to seek to re-establish David’s kingdom from the Nile to the Euphrates? What makes white supremacists protest the removal of Confederate statues? What makes Communist leaders kill millions to bring about a workers’ paradise? What makes scientists and doctors forcibly sterilize the disabled and or study rural blacks with syphilis while only pretending to treat them? What makes libertarians invest in industries that poison poor populations’ air and water? What makes atheists call religion a “disease” or shoot Muslim neighbors? What makes legislators imprison gays and take children from lesbian mothers? What makes police harass and shoot unarmed blacks more than whites? If we believe something, why not just keep it to ourselves? Does anything justify killing or harming others to spread a belief, no matter how exemplary we believe our view is?

What causes weaponization of a worldview? Is it fear of losing a faith, a tradition, an identity? Does a multicultural world have room for ISIS, the KKK, Hindu nationalism, or Communism? Does it have room for secular organizations that expel reIigious humanists? For Progressive Student Unions that shout down College Republicans? Are weaponized worldviews dreams of past glory and power, when faith, country, or ideology were respected and even feared? Are they the euphoria of emerging beliefs or causes impatient of restraint or delay? Do marchers in the street want instant gratification without regard to tradition or political niceties? Do militants see only a duality of right and wrong, oppressive and progressive, godly and infidel, rational and delusional, us and them?

Are militant “true believers” the best representatives of their cause? If Islam proclaims “there shall be no compulsion in religion,” are those who kill unbelievers good Muslims? Did the Jesus who advised turning the other cheek want armed knights to massacre Muslims and Jews after seizing the Holy Land? Can there be a workers’ paradise if all the workers are in the Gulag? Does Buddhists’ “Middle Path” include raping and murdering the Rohingya people? Doesn’t ethnic pride seem better for folk festivals and food fairs, rather than for ethnic cleansing? How can we communicate what is valuable in a belief system without harming those who disagree?

But don’t people have to stand up for “Truth”? Could Islam have spread so rapidly without armies, including those led by Muhammad himself? Didn’t Jesus say that He brought not peace but a sword, and that families might be torn apart by His teachings? To “Make America Great” again, don’t we need an active military? To ensure secular rights across the world, won’t we have to deprogram theist children in school, and outlaw churches? If beliefs are being ridiculed and persecuted today, aren’t believers allowed to fight back? Didn’t even the “non-violence” of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. require inciting violence, by confronting power systems (even when the goal was to transform them)? Is militant peacefulness not also a weapon?

Picketing abortion clinics may seem threatening to some. Black Lives Matter protests may block traffic. Demonstrations in the wake of the Parkland school shootings target the NRA and seek to end its hold on elected representatives. Is “telling truth to power” — bringing discomfort to the comfortable — a form of weaponization? Where does principled action in support of a cause end, and coercing and silencing opponents begin? Does weaponizing belief require a particular type of belief, or only a particular type of person? Is extremism in defense of liberty not a vice, and moderation in pursuit of justice not a virtue? How is the line to be drawn?

On Monday, April 16 from 7-9 PM at Interfaith Action of Greater St. Paul, 1671 Summit Avenue, St. Paul, Inter-belief Conversation Café will discuss what makes belief systems potentially lethal. Our dialogue’s agreements of open-mindedness, acceptance, curiosity, discovery, sincerity, brevity, and confidentiality are designed to keep the peace. No actual weapons please, but do bring your weaponized (or otherwise) beliefs with you! And even if you believe in nothing at all, there will still be treats!