In the past week, followers of Jesus observed Maundy Thursday and Good Friday rituals followed by Easter Sunday. The same week, adherents of Judaism were preparing for Passover. Meanwhile, followers of Islam were observing daily fasts during the month of Ramadan.
The intersection of these three religious holy weeks is unusual yet instructive.
These monotheistic religious movements have been dominant across Europe, much of Asia, and the Western Hemisphere for thousands of years. Across that long span of time, countless people have found meaning for their lives and been inspired, encouraged and challenged by these religions to live with compassion, justice, peace and valor.
However, that is not the whole history. Sadly, many wars have been waged by societies where these religious systems are practiced. Crusades, pogroms, inquisitions and genocidal wars against so-called “infidels” in the name of one religion or another account for much of the misery people and the creation have suffered across the world.
In the name of one religion or another, indigenous societies have been invaded and colonized. People have been tortured, murdered, enslaved, displaced from their homelands and subjected to countless other injustices. In every era, Judaism, Christianity and Islam have been misused, coopted and otherwise perverted to serve political, commercial and other ambitions through what I term “toxic religion.”
“In every era, Judaism, Christianity and Islam have been misused, coopted and otherwise perverted to serve political, commercial and other ambitions.”
Hence, I contend, as a public theologian in the religion of Jesus and an observer of public policy, that much of what is wrong in the world has been caused and spread — like a virus — by toxic religion practiced by people I term the Hateful Faithful.
Hateful Faithful people who self-identify as evangelical Christian conservatives are the crucial constituency group for many right-wing politicians in the United States, including Arkansas (where I was born, reared and now live). That group is made up, primarily, of white people. However, it also includes a small number of Blacks and Latinos.
The politics of Franklin Graham (a white preacher) do not differ much from the politics of Tony Evans (a Black preacher). In Arkansas and elsewhere, the politics practiced and preached by Al Mohler of the Southern Baptist Convention does not differ much from the politics practiced and preached by Jerry Young of the National Baptist Convention.
When it comes to the right of women to exercise control over their own bodies; the right of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex and other queer persons to live without discrimination in employment, housing, education and otherwise; the right of workers to organize and collectively bargain for living wages and decent working conditions; and the right to be free from state-sanctioned terrorism and homicide by “law enforcement officers,” people who call themselves evangelical Christian conservatives practice toxic religion across racial, ethnic, gender and class lines.
Former NFL coach Tony Dungy and NBA Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal are examples who readily come to mind. Sadly, many people worship celebrities so much they do not think about the toxic religion practiced by some of them.
Toxic religion turns a blind eye to political and racial gerrymandering in Arkansas and elsewhere in the United States. Toxic religion turns a blind eye to environmental racism and industrialized poisoning of the soil, water and air that supports life for all creatures on planet earth. Toxic religion pays no attention to the wealth, health, housing and education disparities between the affluent and their impoverished, debt-saddled, over-worked and underpaid neighbors.
Instead, toxic religion takes its cues about how to produce a good society from Adam Smith and other capitalists, not from the life and teachings of Jesus and other prophets who denounced greed and condemned economic oppression as wicked.
For generations, the toxic religion that condoned European colonial and imperial adventures and oppression of indigenous societies in Africa, Asia, the Americas and in the Pacific Islands has condoned colonial and imperial conduct against the indigenous people of Palestine. During this holy season, people who claim to follow the religions of Jesus and Moses refuse to admit that what the Israeli regime is doing in East Jerusalem and across Palestine (also termed “the West Bank”) violates the moral imperatives of love and justice. They brazenly disregard that U.S. President Jimmy Carter labored to negotiate a peace between Israeli and Palestinian leaders and that Carter denounced Israeli policies and practices toward Palestine and Palestinians as the politics of apartheid, not democracy, in his 2006 book titled Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.
“These religions have been misused as instruments to transmit hate virus to people who are eager to be faithful.”
Toxic religion not only perverts Judaism and Christianity. The politics of Narendra Modi (a Hindu) in India and the politics of Mohammed bin Salman (a Muslim) in Saudi Arabia show toxic religion is a global threat to love and justice. Islam, Hinduism, Judaism and Christianity are not hateful in themselves. Instead, these religions have been misused as instruments to transmit hate virus to people who are eager to be faithful.
But there is nothing loving or just about stealing land from other people. There is nothing righteous about claiming a divine right to steal, murder, massacre and discriminate against other people. There is nothing loving, just or democratic about imperialism, colonialism, manifest destiny and apartheid, whether the politics associated with those ideologies is practiced by Israel, the United States, Britain, India, Brazil, Australia, France, Germany, Saudi Arabia, China or other nations.
The politics of Donald Trump in the United States, Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel, Mohammed bin Salman in Saudi Arabia and Narendra Modi in India produce harm to those societies and throughout the world because toxic religion enables and sacralizes cruelty, greed, violence and disenfranchisement. Toxic religion enables and sacralizes fascism, white supremacy, patriarchy, capitalism, militarism, race, sex and gender-based bigotry, discrimination and terrorism.
Toxic religion not only makes hatefulness politically acceptable to the Hateful Faithful. Toxic religion makes the Hateful Faithful believe hatefulness is politically, socially and commercially necessary. That makes toxic religion wicked no matter what religious system is associated with it. In whatever form it takes and wherever it is practiced, toxic religion is an existential threat to everyone and everything in the world.
We should ponder this as followers of the religions of Jesus, Moses and Mohammed practice their faith during this holy season. Woe to the world if we will not do so.
Wendell Griffen is a retired circuit court judge in Little Rock, Ark., where he serves as pastor of New Millennium Baptist Church.
‘Hateful faithful’ model paves the way for a fascist society | Opinion by Wendell Griffen
A brief history of the Hateful Faithful threat to democracy through the Supreme Court | Opinion by Wendell Griffen
Hypocrisy | Opinion by Mark Wingfield