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Who Is It Still OK to Hate?


by Jon Cleland Host

Already now in January of 2012, at least two incidents of religious disagreement have brought our focus away from the long term trends we looked at in our review of 2011.  

Just last week, the months long effort by Jessica Ahlquist to have a religiously exclusive prayer banner removed from her public high school culminated in a judge ordering the banner’s removal.  

As news of the legal decision came out, she was reminded that atheists/non-believers are still one of the most discriminated-against groups in America: local Christians flooded the facebook and twitter accounts of this 16 year old girl with threats of rape, torture and murder. (See: “Religious Banner Opponent Jessica Ahlquist Stands Tall Despite Threats)

Even her state representative joined in, calling her an “evil little thing”.

This kind of human ugliness is disgusting to watch, but at least no actual violence has erupted yet.

In a similar vein, across the pond in Great Britain, 17 year old Rhys Morgan posted a relatively benign image of Jesus and Mohammad to support freedom of speech. The response was immediate and similar, with threats of violence from both Christians and Muslims. Unlike Jessica Ahlquist, this time the religious bullies won, with Rhys removing the image after his school threatened Rhys with expulsion.   

We are only a few weeks into 2012, and we already have seen these incidents.  Being an election year with a likely Mormon candidate, and a whole world moving forward with greater communication, more are likely on the way.  

Seen close up, with baby steps forward like the banner removal, or others being steps backwards (as in Great Britain), it is easy to be discouraged.  However, a wider view of their place in the overall trends of our world gives more hope.  

From the dawn of human consciousness (indeed, from before that!), we’ve seen ever widening circles of care and concern. Consider: Long ago, all of our ancestors (anywhere in the world) were first concerned only with their kin and local band, then with the larger tribe, then with those who espoused their same religious identity, and outward from there. 

People today fall on that spectrum too, but overall, the trend toward wider circles of care has been inexorable. (Just compare today with 1950, or 1900, or 1095, or earlier.)  It is our great privilege to be participants in this form of social and moral progress – to be able to contribute to this growing love by remembering that all people are brothers and sisters, and acting accordingly.  

In addition to the testimony of our daily actions in how we treat others, we sometimes have the opportunity to directly be involved in this history in the making.  For instance, we can directly thank Jessica for her bravery, and help show her that there are many people in the world who stand with her on the side of inclusion. How? By contributing to a college scholarship fund that has been established for her, here.

As 2012 unfolds, may we each begin to see opportunities for playing even a small part in the ongoing realization that all of us are an important part of the body of life on Earth, and that we are all on the same team, forging together a just, peaceful and sustainable world of the future for everyone.  Together, we are making progress — as a wider view shows. (See Steven Pinker's fabulous new book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, if you need to be convinced on this point.)

By Jon Cleland Host, posted on January 27, 2012, by . . .
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