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Preaching Hatred
By Kathy Hare

          Barack Obama recently bowed to political pressure and left the congregation where he worshiped for over 20 years because of comments made by his pastor Reverend Jeremiah Wright. Sound bites from the sermon Wright gave the Sunday after the attacks on The World Trade Center are readily available on You Tube. I listened to the inflammatory words and felt the same anger millions of other Americans did. Then I watched the majority of Wright's sermon presented on Bill Moyers' Journal. When Wright screamed "Not God bless America, but God damn America," he was speaking about injustices committed by the American government, such as slavery and the annihilation of the majority of American Indians.

          While I still find some of Reverend Wright's statements offensive, I believe many of his comments make more sense than Jerry Falwell's tirade after 9-11. Reverend Falwell said, "I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way - all of them who have tried to secularize America - I point the finger in their face and say you helped this happen."

          Playing the blame game was big after September 11, but the facts are clear. The Twin Towers fell because of the actions carried out by a small group of radical Islamic terrorists led by Osama Bin Laden.

          However, the Wright controversy made me wonder how many Americans sit in church on Sunday and listen to someone who preaches hatred or intolerance. Many preachers actually use the Bible as a defense for their hateful sermons. So I got out the Bible and discovered the Good Book justifies slavery, says homosexuality is evil, and refers to menstruating women as "unclean." Passages also describe the killing of whole villages in the name of God. And, as Reverend Wright pointed out in the unabridged version of his sermon, it even justifies having a concubine and cutting her up in hundreds of pieces when she displeases her man. In fact, hatred towards women appears to be codified in the Bible.

          At the same time, the Bible also provides many wonderful passages which tell us how to live a decent moral life. Those are the ones I think religious leaders should be preaching each Sunday.

          I first encountered hatred directly related to religion as a 7 year old. The memory of Sister Alexis making me stand in front of the class as she informed my classmates that my Protestant grandparents were "Going to burn in hell," is very vivid. When I related the incident to Protestant relatives, they informed me their religion taught that Catholics were going to hell. Consequently, I became acutely aware of the "us against them" mentality connected to religious beliefs.

          When I reached fifth grade, we began studying World History. I was excited about the subject because I had already devoured many history books I found in my grandparent's library. Of course we learned about Queen Isabella's generosity towards Columbus, but something was missing. Raising my hand, I asked, "Sister, when are we going to learn about the Spanish Inquisition?" Under the authority of Pope Sixtus IV, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella chose to unite Spain under one religion, which resulted in the expulsion or execution of thousands of Jews, Muslims, and other non-believers.  Sister Annunciata quickly booted me out of class, sending me to talk to the parish priest. He called my parents and gave them dire warnings about my soul's trajectory; and believe me; he didn't think it was upwardly mobile.

          By the time I reached high school, I began questioning the oppression of women in the Catholic Church. Synonyms for oppression are: cruelty, tyranny, domination and subjugation, which sound the same as hatred to me.

          So I asked my religion teachers, "Why can't women become priests?" Their first answer was that Christ chose male apostles; therefore, only men can be priests. I pointed out that Mary gave birth to Christ before he picked any apostles. And if a woman could give birth to Christ, our savior, then women should be worthy enough to say Mass.

          But the priests used Eve as a scapegoat to counteract my argument, and also quoted Paul the Apostle. In Ephesians 5:22-24, Paul writes "Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything."

          If ever there was a more misogynistic biblical quote, I've missed it! For centuries, society looked the other way as wives were abused by their husbands. Governments imposed laws to limit women's power and status, and it was all sanctioned via Paul's words. In fact, many religious leaders argued against the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920, because giving women the right to vote would mean they no longer had to "submit to their husbands in everything."

          Over time, views in the Catholic Church changed. The church no longer teaches that all non-Catholics are condemned to hell, or that Jews are responsible for the crucifixion of Christ. But women are still suspiciously unworthy. That's true in many other religions too. The Latter Day Saints do not allow women to be priests either. Jehovah's Witnesses elders belong to a male-only club, and some Islamic sects treat women as less than human. And I've heard both male and female Christians refer to Paul's quote as the reason why women should not aspire to being anything more than wives.

          Jewish men once said this prayer: "Blessed art Thou, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has not made me a woman." Doesn't it make you wonder how the Supreme Being could have gotten things so wrong when he created women? Now to me, Paul's quote seems vaguely familiar to one by Aristotle, "The male is by nature fitter to command than the female." But then Aristotle was one of those pagans Falwell railed about.

          Before I'm killed by a religious zealot, I'll remind you of another quote from the Bible. "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her." John 8:7

          Now that you have put the stone down, please remember religion should never be used as an excuse to hate.

First published in The New Falcon Herald
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