September 24, 2012

Are You a Religious Extremist? ~ Laurence Overmire

Be a voice for peace. Be a voice for kindness, for tolerance, for reason, for justice.

The tumultuous events of last week emphasize how dangerous our world has become because of religious extremism. The details of the story are still somewhat murky, but it seems clear that an insulting, anti-Islamic film on YouTube incited riots, which led to the killing of four Americans at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

Innocent people, good people, have been killed. Senselessly. Needlessly. For what?

This is madness.

But let’s look a little deeper into what’s really going on here.

Isn’t this one more symptom of the politics of hate and division that have become so prevalent in our world in recent years?

Who is to blame?

Let’s be honest. Every day in our media, in our politics, in our social networks, we hear the self-righteous voices of intolerance, the bullying voices of oppression, the cruel voices of indifference, and the ignorant voices of hate.

To me, life is a precious gift. I don’t want to waste my too-short time with hate, when love is so much more fulfilling and satisfying. But that’s just me.

Photo: Sara Lovelace

How about you? Where is your place in this cosmic dance? Are you one of the haters or one of the lovers? One of the extremists determined to inflict your own pain and suffering on others, or one of those who is working to make this world a better place?

Here’s what we need to counteract all the negativity we are experiencing: those of us who believe in peace and love, who believe in getting along with our neighbors all over the world, need to step up, advocate for sanity, and denounce hateful, violent, criminal behavior whenever it appears.

We need to send a message that violent religious extremism is unacceptable, and in so doing, we will set an example for our children that hatred has no place in a civilized world.

Nothing less than the health and well-being of the entire planet is at stake, folks.

We are only at the beginning of what will be dramatic and, perhaps, traumatic world changes in times to come. Whether we cope with these changes in a healthy way or in a disastrous way is up to each of us. All of us have an important role to play. We all contribute to the collective consciousness of the planet.

Be a voice for peace. Be a voice for kindness, for tolerance, for reason, for justice.

Every day extremists in all areas of society are wreaking havoc and sowing the seeds of hatred all over the world. They are dragging us all down into a hell of our own collective making.

The path we are on right now is the path of self-destruction. We can change that path if we so choose.

We can choose to live with an open mind and an open heart. We can choose kindness over cruelty, love over hate, and courage over fear. This is the path to health and sanity. This is the path to a hopeful and promising future, no matter how severe the challenges that await us.

To be an extremist is to live with a closed mind and a closed heart—unwilling to listen, unwilling to reason, unwilling to compromise, unwilling to forgive, and in the end, unwilling to learn and unwilling to grow.

We all know that religious extremists have been responsible for a lot of pain and suffering in the world. Any church or religious group that preaches hatred of other people, no matter who they are and advocates violence against certain groups of people, for whatever reason, is profoundly spiritually ill itself.

However, we should not condemn entire religions for the egregious behaviors of a few. Too many people are doing just that. That’s just not fair. The vast majority of religious people are decent, honorable, and respectable citizens. They are our friends, our neighbors, our colleagues.

Moreover, billions of people all over the world have benefited from their experiences with religious organizations. Let’s give credit where credit is due.

Instead of fearing one another, let’s get to know one another. Let’s celebrate our diversity. We are all different. We have different cultures, languages and beliefs. That’s a good thing. What a dull, insufferable world this would be if we were all the same!

The truth is that every religion, and every way of life, has much to teach us about ourselves and others if we are open to the experience.

Almost all religions advocate some version of The Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. That’s pretty good advice. Wouldn’t our world be vastly different if we took it to heart?

We are now living in an era when, as a global community, we must strongly encourage all organized religions to be what they are intended to be: forces for good, for kindness, for love and compassion. Religions should be working every day to bring us together, not tear us apart.

Religious leaders have an extremely important role to play in this regard. They have a moral obligation, now more than ever before, to promote love, peace and understanding in this troubled world of ours.

A peaceful world will never be realized unless each of us gets active and involved in the peace process. Every day we all make choices. Do we choose the positive or the negative?

If we choose kindness, love and understanding in our daily dealings with our fellow human beings, we’ll be okay. If we choose hatred, incivility and violence, there will be many more Libyas and far, far worse.

Don’t kid yourself. It’s not someone else’s problem. It’s up to us. Each of us. Every day.


Laurence Overmire is the author of the recently released The One Idea That Saves The World: A Call to Conscience and A Call to Action. He has had a multi-faceted career as poet, author, actor, director, educator, and genealogist. His award-winning poetry has been widely published in hundreds of journals, magazines and anthologies worldwide. Overmire is an advocate for peace, justice, human and animal rights, and the environment.


Editor: Sarah Winner

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