Monday, August 23, 2010

Some Thoughts on the Ground Zero Mosque

It has been said that the Ground Zero Mosque is both an abomination to the victims of the 9/11 attacks, and, on a much larger scale, to the American nation as a whole. It has been said that this place of worship, placed so closely to what we have come to know as our own sort of 'sacred ground' can not be tolerated if we are to remember and if we are to move on--if we are to be the nation we were set out to be.

But I do not believe this.

Perhaps today, more so than in recent decades, our country stands divided by very stark and very terrible lines of politics. It was recently said in my Shakespeare class that the world's people can probably be divided into one of two groups: Democrats or Republicans. I guess this is true.

I do not know much about politics, and though I respect it--know that it is necessary and good despite its failings and mishaps and pejorative name--I can not sit here as a twenty-one year old student and claim to know that I have all the information I need to form a solid, monolithic argument. I have in my head as much literary knowledge as I do Biblical--and on the sidelines are the components of what I have come to know growing up: the simple, agrarian people from whence I came and everything that I've learned hitherto. So . . . .

What I have come to know--and correct me if I am wrong--is that this country more so than perhaps any other, affords that which could only seem idealistic if were not made basic fact and daily practice. Freedom not just of religion but from it. I believe, in the most basic and rudimentary of arguments, that this is the idea that enables me to sit where I do now and to sit where I do on Sunday morning, not because my religion is instilled in the government as some pillar, but because my religion is too beautiful, too elysian, and ultimately too Good to be placed within the confines of man's political box. And so what we have instead is a mutual respect and the ensuing mutual exclusivity, where God is God and not the white, middle-aged, patriotic American capitalist our society would like Him to be. The wig-wearing Deists who penned our country's philosophy had no interest in this Jesus character--had no interest only if it were the recognition of him as a moral teacher and nothing more, to be placed along all the other myriad moralists who have fallen on the right side of history.

And so I believe this is why Jesus instructed His followers to obey the government and its rulers--not because they are omnipotent or infallibly just, but because if you are to change a person--and therefore change the world itself--you will get nowhere with your guns up and loaded. You must lay aside your weapons and your ego. Lewis notes that you will never speak nakedly if you preface your conversation with, "Let us converse." And so if you are to bring others into your worldview, you must take Paul for his word--know that he really meant what he really said--and associate with the lowly. But you will get nowhere with this browbeating and nonsense about God being the foundation of this country. He never was, never would He want to be, yet I fear that He may be dragged from Heaven and forced to be so. Because we have forgotten who we are, and so we have forgotten what we are.

This is where I think we are with the Ground Zero Mosque argument. Because we are not a nation of Christians, though it should be noted that the majority claim to be so. But claims can only go so far. Perhaps if the selfsame seventy percent of those who oppose the building of this mosque were Christian in the sense that I, myself, have come to know, they would recognize that Islam is just as old--and just as big--as Christianity, that the religion is not one of terror, but one of peace--an idea even the obstinately conservative George W. Bush was more than willing to note in the week following the September 11 attacks.

We are quick (and not very reluctant) to forget a lot of things. We forget that we are a sort of grandiose hodgepodge of ideologies: from Agnostics and Atheists to Buddhists and Zoroastrians. In the middle, of course, we have our Christians and our Satanists, our Hindus and our Jews, and also our Buddhists . . . as well as our Muslims. But for some reason, we have silenced a very common and very basic fear; namely, that the people who attacked us nine years ago were Muslim and not abject terrorists. It is the same fear that the mosque's opponents are not speaking now, are believing but gilding with these silly arguments of patriotism and of probity. So to be American, now, is to be as un-American as one can be: to wrap yourself comfortably and without regret in the basest of fears and in the most sophomore of arguments so as to hush the people toward whom you hold fear and, very probably, a sort of hatred.

I cannot subscribe to the belief of the mosque's opponents any more than I can believe that those who attacked us were truly Muslim. In as much the same way that I believe that Hitler--through his own tyranny and perversion of Scripture--was really Christian, though he justified his acts in the name of Christ. It would be a similar situation with someone prohibiting me from leading a Christian missionary group to Auschwitz. Not because they are justified in their claims, but because they act out of fear, and the inane reality that they will see what they want to see and believe what they want to believe, with or without justifiers.

"But surely, Josh, you felt the same way in the beginning? Felt the same biting and nagging when you heard 'mosque' and 'ground zero' in the same sentence?"

But of course I did. In much the same way I was afraid before I started kindergarden, before I first drove a car, before I got on a plane, and before I started college. But fear has never been a good, whole justification for a belief system. This is why, I think, Proverbs tells us that fear (of the Lord) is the beginning of knowledge--we are never told, however, that it is knowledge. In truth kindergarden was rather fun, driving very enjoyable, the plane ride fascinating, and college all too memorable. For this reason, I know the initial bite is nothing but the most basic of human emotions coming into play: fear, of something I do not fully understand and will not until I make the effort to study it.

President Obama has recently been criticized for his support of the Mosque, as well as for the remarks he made. I, myself, find them rather insightful and eloquent. For he makes the argument the Christians (is that what we should call them?) have forgotten: namely that under law and the protection thereof, Muslims have a right to worship wherever they so please. In another statement, the President remarked that he did not specify anything regarding the 'wisdom' of placing it so near Ground Zero, but that he could not express disapproval over Muslim worship unless he were willing to express disapproval over Christian worship--or Buddhist or Hindu or any other of the myriad religions.

So this is where we are--lamentable and unconscious people. I have said before that it would have been better had I been born a hundred years ago: before "In God We Trust" had to be emblazoned on our currency (do you think I could forget that I trust in God?), before Christianity was a political force to reckoned with, and before God was a politician.

At the end of the day, friends, we forget also that Jesus was a dark-skinned, Middle Eastern, Jewish carpenter whose commands resemble socialism more than they do capitalism. Let us thank God, then, that God is not a lobbyist.

And so that is why I support the Ground Zero Mosque. Not because I adhere to Islamic theology or because I feel that it--like my own religion--is the fullest manifestation of objective reality, but because to prohibit its nascency is to rescind everything that I have come to know and love about this country.

And, friends, I refuse to reason by fear. I am not so childish as to do that.

Also, have we forgotten, too, that the mosque in question is not actually *on* Ground Zero?

Just some thoughts . . .

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