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On Faith: It's time to speak out against religious bigotry

August 17, 2012|By Benjamin J. Hubbard

On Aug. 4, the nation rejoiced at news that engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory had landed Curiosity, its scientific vehicle, on Mars.

But we awoke the next morning to learn that a racist bigot had murdered six Sikh worshippers within their own sanctuary, or gurdwara, in Oak Creek, Wis.

Then on Aug. 6, a mosque in Joplin, Mo., burned to the ground, probably at the hands of an arsonist. We, as a species, are capable of great scientific and humanistic achievements — and immense evil.

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How do we resist evil and bend the arc of the moral universe, in Martin Luther King Jr.'s words, toward goodness? It's not easy, as history makes clear.

Prejudice, for example, is like a virus to which all human beings are susceptible. I have had bigoted thoughts about racial or religious groups that seemingly came out of nowhere. And I suspect this is true of most of us.

The only way to fight back against these snap judgments is to stop them mentally in their tracks: "No, that's not accurate"; or "That's a huge generalization"; or "You know that's not how you would actually speak to the religious or racial 'other.'"

But prejudice and hate feed on the fear that another ethnic or religious group will threaten my security or way of life in some way. White supremacist groups, the kind that the shooter at the gurdwara belonged to, cultivate fear. They use the Internet and neo-Nazi music to infect the minds of mostly young, white males on hundreds of hate-filled websites, and at underground hate music concerts right here in Orange County.

Knowledge and education are indispensable to attacking hate. The media must do a better job of informing the public about the many beautiful religious traditions in our midst where people worship peacefully and assist needy members of their own communities and outsiders.

Mona Shadia's ongoing series in the Daily Pilot, "Unveiled: A Muslim Girl in O.C.," is precisely the kind of tonic to prejudice of which we need more.

We need similar series about Sikhs, Jains, Hindus, Buddhists and Zoroastrians, each of which has religious centers in Orange County.

Want to know more about these faiths? The Internet (Google, Wikipedia, etc.) can supply basic information in minutes, as can books such as Stephen Prothero's "Religious Literacy."

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