Saturday, June 15, 2013

Fear and Hate: Why Do We Think These Are Family Values?

We just got back from a 12-day trip to Ireland. What a wonderful country with such a difficult past history. The Irish refer to the recent past (1960s-1980s) as “the troubles.” Most of us remember portions of that as well. The bombings. The police/Army battles with crowds. The Irish Republican Army (IRA) and the Ulster Defense League (UDF) fighting each other and fighting London. It was a confusing bloody time.
This got me thinking on the flight back home about the significant difference between religion’s focus on exclusivity and spirituality’s focus on inclusivity. I know with my head that this is an oversimplification, but I experienced this viscerally while touring Northern Ireland last week.
Ireland’s 32 counties today are split between the Republic of Ireland (the southern 26, and mostly Catholic counties) and Northern Ireland (the northeastern 6 counties, mostly Protestant, and a part of the United Kingdom, which includes England and Scotland. This split was begun following the civil war (1916-1922) when Ireland was granted partial independence from Britain and was known as the Irish Free State.  Ireland remained a dominion of the British Commonwealth. In 1948 the Irish Free State formally left the British Commonwealth and adopted their official name of The Republic of Ireland. The country’s constitution, however, included a claim on Northern Ireland’s six counties as a part of its national territory. In 1998, as part of the Good Friday Agreement, brokered in part by President Clinton, the Irish constitution was altered by referendum to remove the territorial claim to Northern Ireland and instead extend the right of Irish citizenship to all the people of the island should they wish to have it.
As we toured the 26 counties of the Republic of Ireland, I got a recognizable sense of inclusivity. We saw town after town where it was pointed out to us that there was a Church of Ireland (Catholic) built there recently – the first since the mid-1600s when Oliver Cromwell destroyed all things Catholic – with joint contributions from both the Catholic and Protestant communities. Police stations were small and indiscriminate. Individual police personnel were unarmed. Police cars were brightly colored – quite cute, actually.
After 8 days of touring we entered Northern Ireland in the Province of Ulster and dominated by the city of Belfast. As we drove in the area, especially Belfast, the police cars were modified Range Rovers that looked like small armored tanks. Police stations were surrounded by 10-12 foot high stone/brick fences topped with broken glass and razor wire. Police personnel were heavily armed – mace, tear gas, and hand weapons.
Within Belfast, itself, there is still one portion of Belfast where Catholics and Protestants live in very close proximity. These Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods are separated by a menacing fence – brick and stone with razor wire – from 12-20 feet high. Streets between the neighborhoods are installed with gates that are closed and locked at night and opened in the morning. The whole area is collectively known by the extensive, and mostly political, murals that adorn buildings and walls there. In fact, it has become a tourist attraction of sorts. However, I found the differences between the Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods quite distinct and significant.
The Catholic neighborhood is rather non-descript neighborhood. It is clearly a lower/lower middle class area. The murals, although political, express the past in a historic kind of way. Murals were painted of the critical leaders of the early 1900s civil war. They also depict significant leaders that came during the “troubles” to help solve the tensions – Nelson Mandela, Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, for example. The headquarters of Sinn Fein, the party of the IRA, is still there, but it is now a political organization electing people to the British Parliament.
The Protestant neighborhood was quite different. Also a lower class area, many of the houses had their own private fences around their property. Bars were on windows. The murals there were much more pointed, threatening and violent. They extolled only the leaders of the UDF during the 1960s – 1980s. It was simply a chilling feeling.
I asked our Belfast tour guide what was causing this difference between these Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods. Her answer was that the Protestant neighborhood was much more fearful. The churches and political rallies consist of much more fear mongering.
Efforts by the City of Belfast to educate and encourage families to train their children that all religions need to be respected are taken seriously in the Catholic but rebuffed in the Protestant neighborhood.
Fear. Hate. Enmity. Why do we still consider these to be “family values?”
In my book, How the Bible became the Bible, ISBN 978-0-7414-2993-3 pages 213-14, I discuss The End of Days and refer to instances when fear and anxiety are high. When this is the case, Christian churches quite often begin spending more time preaching and quoting from the Old Testament or the Book of Revelation. The focus, of course, is on obeying the Law in order to gain God’s favor and admittance to Heaven. The alternative is eternal anguish. This is dogma, and where dogma is predominant, so will be fear and exclusivity because belief in the dogma is what will “save” you. Of course, if you don't believe the dogma, you are wrong, evil and threatening. Spirituality focuses on the universal experiences of openness, acceptance, peace and joy. It’s a perception that focuses on “I think my way. You think yours. As long as you respect me, that’s all right.”
The reality of the difference between exclusivity and inclusivity was palpable as we travelled Ireland. Sadly, it reminded me of the hateful rhetoric here in the States.
Although these messages are mostly for me, thanks for listening. As always – feel free to forward this message to your friends, family, and those accompanying you on your spiritual journey.
#1 June, 2013
Copyright, 2013

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