Will we ever stop using religion like a club?

Since I manage to cause irritation among some with my political views, let’s see how much more I can stir up by bringing up the other topic taboo in polite society: religion.

My own faith journey has led me to several churches and cities, but given that I attended in my younger days two congregations that splintered, it probably isn’t surprising that I don’t have a lot of time for people who use religion like a club, beating others into submission with their own holier-than-thou attitude.

Eventually, I decided that I would read the Bible for myself. Over a couple of years, I tried. I made it all the way through the New Testament. But I kept bogging down in the Old Testament when I reached Kings I and II and Numbers. Too much of it was about listings of generations of leaders. Then I got to Samuel, and read how David mutilated the bodies of those whom he vanquished. (Neither the Methodists nor the Congregationalists ever use those verses for the Scripture of the Day.) I’m still no religious scholar, but I think I have a decent understanding of what the New Testament says, and a more selective knowledge of the Old Testament.

Now, it seems, we are in a slow-motion religious war, although it is fair to say that the pace accelerated recently. At 5 a.m., Saturday, Aug. 5, a bomb exploded at the Dar Al Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington. No one was injured, but it was, as Gov. Mark Dayton termed it, an “act of terrorism.”

Investigators don’t yet know who did it or why, but I’m guessing that the perpetrator was not a faithful Christian. By my understanding of the New Testament, faithful Christians, even if upset by attacks on civilian populations by Islamic extremists, wouldn’t seek revenge on all Muslims. Instead, they would be trying, through kind words and good deeds, to persuade all non-believers in Christianity that theirs is the better religion.

You don’t persuade people by stabbing them with a knife in the mall nor by bombing their house of worship. You do it first by respecting them as individuals, by understanding the personal challenges they face and by trying to help them through those challenges.

Unquestionably, some Muslims would like to establish a global Islamic caliphate under Sharia law. It’s a given that some Muslims have tried to radicalize others to become soldiers in that effort. We saw with the convictions of 10 Somali men in the Twin Cities last summer for attempting to join ISIS that those efforts are taking place right here in Minnesota.

But that in no way justifies bombing a mosque, endangering the lives of people no more guilty of anything than most other Americans. In a way, this is a guerrilla war. Such wars are not won by brute force; victory comes by winning over the hearts and minds of the citizenry.

As I said a few weeks ago, all lives matter, and it takes more than a little prejudice to say only some lives deserve special treatment. We categorize each other by race or religion at the peril of everyone. We need to keep a watchful eye out for extremism in all its forms — and this week especially it’s for people who want to use religion like a club.