Sunday, December 9, 2007

On the Trinity Institute and The Golden Compass

Last week I received an invitation to participate in this year's Trinity Institute. Each year, Trinity Church (Episcopal), Wall Street, one of the wealthiest churches in the country, holds a teleconference that brings together well-known speakers to discuss issues of the day that are of significance to the Episcopal Church and the larger Anglican Communion. Different churches are selected all around the country to host this teleconference and it was an Episcopal church in the Athens, GA, area that sent me the invitation, encouraging me to attend or send a parishioner.

Lasting three full days in January, the conference is choosing to discuss perhaps one of the most powerful issues facing the Anglican world: The problem of religious violence. I had to laugh when I saw this. Here is a church that is hemorrhaging members, where entire parishes and now entire dioceses are leaving because of the church's apostasy, and they want to talk about violence in the name of religion. What a frivolous waste of time and resources!

And they do not intend to talk about violence in any one religion. Oh, no. It is the contention of the speakers that religiously inspired violence exists among all people of faith. Okay. I'll buy that. After all, don't we all have vivid memories of how those Jews strapped bombs on their bodies and blew up innocent Arabs in that shopping mall? And who can forget those vicious Christians who flew that airliner filled with nuns and orphans into the Eiffel Tower?

All right, maybe I'm being a little sarcastic. But a glance at the speakers gave me pause. One of the speakers is a former Roman Catholic Priest who is a noted peace activist. Another speaker is a reformed Jewish rabbi, also a peace activist. Then there is the ubiquitous Muslim whose purpose at the conference seems to be to decry people who seem to have misconceptions concerning the "religion of peace." Finally, there is a Buddhist or Hindu, I don't remember which. I think his purpose was to show how thousands of people meditating on peaceful images will improve both the shape of ice crystals and Dick Cheney's hunting aim. Finally, as if this cast of characters wasn't enough, the big selling-point in the brochure was the televised Vespers from Trinity Church with, don't hold your breath, a sermon from Mrs. Katherine Jefferts-Schori, the ersatz Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. If that isn't enough to lure you in, then I don't know what is.

Back to the issue of religious violence. Perhaps I would take this conference a little more seriously if they were addressing the issue of how do we interact with a religion that has, in its sacred text, the command that all people must either convert, submit to the religion in a second-class status, or die? How do we talk about religious violence when the mere naming of a teddy bear can cause a non-practitioner of a religion who was without malice in any way to face the possibility of enough lashes to kill a man and, surviving that, imprisonment?

Along these same lines, I read a review on National Review Online of the new movie, The Golden Compass. The movie, which has caused great consternation in Christian circles, was panned by the writer, who described the film and the books that inspired it as an attempt to create, "a checklist to infuriate conservative Christians." What is most interesting to me is the following paragraph comparing and contrasting the Christian reaction to The Golden Compass and the Muslim reaction to perceived insults. Discussing why the writer of The Golden Compass used Christians as a symbol of ruthless authoritarianism rather than a benign country such as Iran, the author writes:

"What is notable is that most of the outraged buzz circulating about the movie did not ask it to be banished from the screen. In fact, the opening line of one of the most widely circulated e-mails mildly states, 'If you decide that you do not want to support something like this, I suggest that you boycott the movie and the books.' A comparison of Christian objectors to rioting Islamists provoked by cartoons and teddy bears would be laughable. And that comparison is precisely what makes it so revealing that the film (and the books) chose not to use radical Islamic republics as its stunt double."

The writer's point also raises the issue of why the Trinity Institute this year is discussing a silly topic: Discussing the issue of religious violence without focusing on the one religion that uses terror as an evangelization tool is absolute madness. Attend the Trinity Institute at your local church if you want. Perhaps it will be good entertainment. However, I'd prefer to see three days devoted to the proclamation of the saving love of Christ to a world lost in sin and darkness. I wonder if we'll ever see that topic discussed at Trinity Church, Wall Street?

Here's the link to the review of The Golden Compass:


Anonymous said...

You must be young, or you don't remember the 80's, when the Christian right was endorsing quite a gallery of mass murderers, from Rios Montt to Jonas Savimbi to (don't know the leader) the Renamo movement. Now that's a pack of killers that would put Osama bin Laden to shame.

Israel is no slouch either, when it comes to dropping bombs on civilians or in producing religious lunatics that treat Arabs like dirt. And rightwing Hindus had a nice little pogrom in India a few years ago, while Sri Lanka has been having a nice little civil war with lots of suicide bombing and not a Muslim in sight.

Muslims are the current leaders in the slaughter sweepstakes, but it must be nice to live in a world where they are the only ones to kill in the name of their religion. Some day you must tell me the name of your planet.

The Rev. Robert T. Jones IV, Psy.D. said...

Actually, I'm 50 and remember the 80s quite well. So let me get this straight: Because SOME members of the Christian Right endorsed some unsavory characters almost 30 years ago, therefore there's a problem with critiquing the one religion on the planet that codifies murder and terror in its sacred books? There's a logic problem in there somewhere that eludes me, although where I studied on the planet Zarthon, we must have missed that little problem.

Anonymous said...

There's no justification for violence in the name of religion in the Bible? Huh. Funny how people as diverse as Calvin, Luther, Thomas More, and the medieval church after around 1000 or so seem to have missed that.

Zarthon--I didn't think you were from around here.

Seriously, I am a Christian myself and don't think Jesus wanted us to be killing people in His name, and I've got no particular desire to romanticize Islam (nor, on the other hand, any particular desire to lump all Muslims into one category of "actual or potential terrorist"). But sarcasm about Islam as a religion of peace sounds a little funny coming from a Christian, given the long history of Christians who thought their religion compelled them to do terrible things.