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2001 - October

October, 2001

Terrorist (ter’or ist), n.  1.  One who seeks to use terror as a weapon.  2.  One whose intent is to dominate, coerce or destroy through tactics of intimidation and/or violence.


Tolerance (tol’er ens), n.  1. a fair and objective attitude toward those whose opinions,  practices, race, religion, nationality, etc. differ from one’s own; freedom from bigotry.  2.  a fair and objective attitude toward opinions and practices that differ from one’s own.  3.  interest in and concern for ideas, opinions , practices, etc. foreign to one’s own; a liberal undogmatic viewpoint. 


Dear Friends,

For the last five weeks, this country has been forced to face the unthinkable: that we are the targets of terrorism.  We have experienced acts intended to destroy or intimidate us into submission.  In the process we are treated as obstacles, objects standing in the way of someone else’s narrow agenda.  One of the most disheartening realizations about this has been that this is not coming from a single narrow minded individual, but from numerous individuals – too many to count.  And if we believe in the news reports, this penchant to follow an unquestionable agenda at any cost is becoming contagious.  Many more individuals are being enlisted into the ranks of those who hate indiscriminately.  And some of those enlisted apparently have no qualms about acting out that hate.

Leaders of this fanatical movement have called for a world wide jihad – a word taken from Muslim tradition meaning ‘a holy war’ -  a war against those who do not follow the strictest code of fundamentalist Muslim practice and thinking.  In the simplest terms it comes down to a battle of ‘them against us.’  No discussion, no reasoning, no willingness to explore another’s point of view or the complexity of the situation.  No need for understanding.  No negotiations.  ‘You’re either with us or against us.’ 

Like a lot of people, I have grave worries about the implications of this jihad.  But I confess, I have comparable worries regarding our response.  I am convinced that hate begets hate and the issuing of unquestionable agendas can be contagious.  There are many around us who respond by employing the same ‘no negotiation – no prisoners’ rhetoric and ‘love it or leave it,’ kind of ideology. 

It is also interesting to remember that the term, ‘fundamentalist’ originated not in response to the Muslim movement, but with regard to the Christian movement in this country.  Fundamentalism always emerges as an attempt to offset unchecked progress in modern culture – to ground it in the authority of ancient truths.  It is predictable that fundamentalism would be aimed strongest at the United States, since we are the epitome of modern culture. 

But at the heart of fundamentalism is something important: a desire to remain grounded in truth.  Fundamentalism means to ‘get to the root of.’  Interestingly that is exactly the definition of liberalism.  Liberalism promotes a sense of freedom to change and be different.  Fundamentalism promotes a sense of holding fast to tradition and remaining the same.  Each are valid and each have a different way of seeking the truth. 

The truth is that both are necessary for healthy development.  We would obviously not be a healthy society if freedom went unchecked by any grounding to tradition or truth.  Nor would we be if we never knew the freedom to change at all.  The truth is we need both perspectives and we need them in dialogue. 

Tolerance is “an interest in and concern for ideas, opinions , practices foreign to one’s own.  It is a non-dogmatic viewpoint.”  It is not too hard to see that many of us so called ‘liberals’ can give many fundamentalists a run for their money by holding rigidly to our own points of view.  No room for dialogue.  No negotiations.  And by extension, no tolerance.

Granted, there are important limits that need be applied to tolerance.  We cannot abide by violence, coercion or intimidation.  We cannot allow freedoms to be trampled.  We have to be judicious about deciding what is tolerance and what is complacent thinking.  Tolerance does not mean ‘anything goes.’

Last week, while taking ‘an interest in and concern for ideas, opinions and practices foreign to [me]’ I had the chance to visit the Islamic Center of North Fulton for Friday afternoon prayers.  I found out then that the meaning of ‘jihad’ does not refer to a ‘holy war.’  It refers to the personal internal struggle within each individual deciding whether to hold rigidly to their own way or to listen for a better way – a communal way, a holy way. 

We are, indeed, called to a jihad – a struggle to find a more holy way.  It describes our willingness to struggle with the truth of what is and the truth of what might be.  It is the struggle that comes with listening, understanding and being open minded. 

We can do this in our own community.  Indeed, if we Unitarian Universalists expect the rest of the world to come to its senses, we owe it to them to find that ‘more holy way’ ourselves.  It begins with being open to others, taking time to listen, being willing to understand a different perspective.

On Sunday, November 11th, 5:00 p.m. at Roswell Square, UUMAN will join together with 10 other congregations to help organize and present a Prayer Gathering for Tolerance, Unity and Diversity.  Being asked to participate in this is a great opportunity, not only for what we have to offer, but what we have to learn about what others offer.  I want everyone to be there and consider bringing your friends.   It is our chance to dialogue, listen, understand and help forge a more holy way.

To the Glory of Life.