The incident at the Lincoln Memorial on Friday was so full of symbolism and meaning that it is difficult to know when to stop analyzing it. I have already written here about the underlying rage and scapegoating that was going on during the event and in the media storm that took place after the complicated confrontation. If you haven’t read that blog post, please take a moment to do so because it reveals some of the inner dynamic of blame bubbling like a volcano beneath the surface. Go here to read.
Having studied more of the numerous video clips that have now surfaced, one of the most disturbing things about the incident is how religion was turned into a weapon to attack others. First we saw the group of Black Hebrew Israelites combining their far out religious views with the most vile racial and sexual hatred. Why are they not receiving more attention? They harassed and hounded the boys from Covington Catholic using degrading sexual and racial epithets. But they get a pass? Why? If a white, fundamentalist group (like for example the folks from Westboro Baptist) used their religion as a weapon to attack others it would be vilified, named, shamed and condemned– and rightly so, but no one dares to speak out against a group of religious fanatics who were not only loud and aggressive verbally, but also made a pretty intimidating physical presence.
The way they used their religion was as a battering ram–yelling Bible quotes and screaming abuse all in the name of God.
Then the Native Americans waded in and they too were using their religion as a weapon. You realize that their dancing and drumming and chanting was not just a form of political activism? They believed they were doing something religious and therefore righteous, and they were using their religion as a weapon to intimidate others, gain ground and asset themselves in an aggressive way.
“Whoa! Hold on.” You’ll say. “Doesn’t every religion do that?”
Sure. Extremists in every religion do that. Muslim jihadists do that. IRA Catholics in Ireland do that. White fundamentalists do that. Radical Zionist Jews do that, Hindu extremists do that. It should be condemned wherever it occurs because it it not only insulting, it is completely contrary to the religious spirit of humanity–no matter what religion we’re talking about.
“OK” you might reply “On that very day a couple of hundred thousand Christians, mostly Catholics turned up in Washington to do just that–to weaponize their religion–and this is where the example of the boys from Covington Catholic are to be commended because that is exactly what they did NOT do. The March for Life is a peaceful and joyful protest. I have been on the march many times and while passionate views are expressed there is very little weaponizing of religion. We march for life, and we’re proud to be Catholics, but we’re not using our religion to bash other people and force our religion down their throats, and we’re certainly not using it to promote racism, sexual discrimination and violence.
Pro Lifers may be militant, but they should never be militaristic. That is to say, they should not blame others, but should reach out in compassion–never condemning the sin, but also never condoning. Are there some Catholics on the March for Life and the pro life movement who do resort to that kind of negativity? Without a doubt, but in my experience they are few and far between.
All the groups who go are deliberately instructed NOT to engage with counter protesters other than to smile and wish them well. This is what the Covington Catholic boys did. They were doing their school cheers, but this was a response to the repeated and continued harassment from the Black Hebrew Israelites. While it was an attempt to drown them out, it was a cheerful, spirited and positive response rather than a hate filled and violent invective, and when the Native Americans waded in with their own aggression the Covington Catholic boys still did not rise to the bait.
As such, therefore the event raised bigger issues. We saw the Black Hebrew Israelite religion being used as a weapon. We saw the Native American religion being used as a weapon, and if you looked for it you probably would have found some Christians also using their religion as a weapon on that day. In every case, when religion is being weaponized it is invariably being used to blame someone else for the problems. This takes me back to my previous post about scapegoating. The weaponized religion is used to find someone to blame and then to blame them and kill them–if not literally then at least symbolically and socially.
When this happens you are seeing a diabolical twisting of religion. You are seeing the exact reverse of what religion is all about, and when it appears it is one of the most ugly, demonic and nauseating aspects of our sad and fallen race. Religion–which is supposed to be a source of light, love, forgiveness and peace–is used as a rope to lynch the supposed enemy.
It gets worse.
We saw the weaponizing of religion at the Lincoln Memorial on Friday, but when you dig deeper into the darkness we realize it is also happening in much more subtle ways wherever the religious people, like vultures, gather. Religious debate and discussion are fine–even when they get heated, but when that discussion turns into personal attack and irrational defense of one’s position at the expense of others and when others are intentionally targeted and blamed, then once again (no matter how nice and sweet and kind the language seems to be) religion is being weaponized.
How often have you come across religious people who attack their own co religionists because of a liturgical practice, a theological opinion or a preference in prayer? All of us in our weaker moments fall into this temptation from time to time. In my writing and work in the media I’ve stumbled and fallen into using a Bible verse, a quotation from the Fathers or some clever trick to show myself smarter than someone else and therefore win an argument, lose a friend and all to make myself feel good and righteous.
It’s everywhere and I for one am sick of it. I’m sick of it in myself and sick of it wherever it crops up.
And what is the only response to such darkness? To be honest, young Nick Sandmann comes close. He stood straight and tall. He looked the problem in the eye and he smiled and he was silent, and for that he has been targeted. If you want to read his honest statement about what happened go here.
Oh yes, I know we can pick over the event and say “Where were the chaperones?” and “Was it really wise of them to wear MAGA hats?” Hindsight is always twenty twenty vision. They were teenaged boys who were being attacked and insulted by some very aggressive adults. They responded with school cheers not with violence and not with counter attack. Sure, they made some mistakes, emotions were high, but what they did not do is weaponize their religion to attack other racial groups and the fact that they did not do so is, in my opinion, pretty amazing.
While they stood there waiting for their busses, they were the ones who were attacked by two very unpleasant examples of highly toxic weaponized religion.
Having seen it in action we should all be warned.