Tuesday, September 6, 2011

What nationality would Jesus dump on?

   It's a dirty shame that the Pew Research Center, in seeking a head count of extremism among Muslims in the United States, didn't seek the same of extreme Christians.

   You might have noticed the story — the polling organization, at 10 years post-9/11, getting a sense of what American Muslims are thinking.

    In what ought to be news to no one, Pew found that the vast majority of Muslims reject extremism — with as many as 96 percent saying they see support for it waning among their kind.

     Yet in a sign of a disconnect with that reality, Pew found that 40 percent of the general U.S. public perceives "a fair amount" or "a great deal of" support for extremism among American Muslims.

     What I'd like to know is how many of those 40 percent are Christian. Pew didn't ask. That's a pity.

     Now, it's possible that the predispositions of the atheists, agnostics, Buddhists, Taoists and Wiccans among would skew such a tally of misunderstanding to myth-understanding. Doubtful.

    A better indication of the "core constituency" for said myth comes in what passes for some of the lawmaking being driven by the passions of conservative — extreme? — Christians.

    Consider what happened in Tennessee, where the General Assembly passed a bill equating Shariah law with promoting "the destruction of the national existence of the United States." Tennessee is one of several states considering laws to ban official recognition of Shariah, thereby decreeing an official stigma toward many Muslim Americans.

    This being a nation where religion is of one's own choosing, and where what one thinks is not government's business, laws like this couldn't be more un-American. But they are good politics when appealing to a certain core constituency.

     Since 9/11, that core has sought to construct and salute a "them vs. us" template, with Muslims in general as "them." How many times over the last 10 years have we heard people, generally conservative Christians, preach that the essence of the Muslim faith is a command to kill infidels?

     If that's the case, the vast majority of peaceful Muslims aren't — Muslims, that is.

    Ah, reality be damned. Hysteria is much better at packing the pews.

    This same dynamic is at play in ways that viciously marginalize another segment of our society. Consider the bill pushed by Republicans to repeal the language assistance provision of the Voting Rights Act — which requires ballots in foreign languages when "a substantial" number of voters in a precinct need them.

    Proponents assert that this awards sloth and anti-Americanism. After all, new American citizens must learn English.

    Two key points are ignored in this spiel.

    First, according to the 2000 census, three quarters of those who need this kind of assistance are native-born. They aren't newcomers at all. Do they speak English? Yes, but: As pertains to many bilingual Americans, there's a big difference between the "proficiency" for the language required in citizenship classes — or shopping for groceries, or comporting one's self in an English-speaking culture — and the fluency needed to read and understand a ballot.

     Literacy tests were among the most abominable and oppressive features of Jim Crow. This proposal is a means to the same evil end.

     So, what is it about a core Christian constituency that would be so quick to choose these routes to oppress fellow Americans?

     What do you imagine Jesus's response would have been about an Islamic community center being built within blocks of Ground Zero? I don't think most of those who so readily invoke his name really want to know.

    What would Jesus be saying and doing about the undocumented shadow population in America that effectively washes the white man's feet — or, more literally, buses his tables and changes his bed sheets? 

     His message would be about love and understanding, not about finding ways to disenfranchise and marginalize one another.

     "You profess to believe that 'of one blood God made all nations of men to dwell on the earth.' . . . yet you notoriously hate (and glory in your hatred!) all men whose skins are not colored like your own."

     That was Frederick Douglass, a slave once, wondering aloud about a propensity among Christians to be less than Christ-like.

     Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

No comments: