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Charlotte Amalie
Sunday, June 23, 2024
HomeNewsArchivesAll Generalizations are Wrong -- Especially Religious Generalizations

All Generalizations are Wrong — Especially Religious Generalizations

My family and friends all know my extremely low tolerance for cyberspace garbage. I am not on any of their automatic “forward” lists. When I got one from No. 3 daughter last week asking “Can a Good Muslim be a Good American?” I looked for the explanatory note, and there was one.
“Daddy, I received this e-mail today and thought you might find a column in here somewhere. (Otherwise I would never send it to you.) See what you think.”
She was correct about there being a column in it — a column I have wanted to write for a long time.
The item was a typical piece of quasi-religious B.S. (stands for baloney sandwich), a crude piece of hate-Muslims drivel designed to fan the flames of prejudice, ignorance and fear licking at the edge of our currently hyper-touchy American psyche.
It begins with an implicit accusation: “… why do Muslims hate America?”
Well, they don’t.
To put the question fairly would require the author to be more explicit about who “they” and “us” are. Being explicit is a form of fairness not held in high regard by those who employ sweeping generalizations to make their point. When a polemic includes phrases like “everybody” or “they all,” a caution light should go on in your brain; you are probably reading something written by someone with minimal concern for accuracy, or even truth.
The question also reveals a disabling ignorance, or a deliberate distortion, of what “Muslim” means. It is a religious word, the generic name of a worldwide religious system, the linguistic equivalent of “Christian” or “Jew” or “Buddhist." To say “all Muslims are …” or “all Muslims anything …” is as foolish as saying “all Christians are …” or “all blondes are ….”
To say a person is a Muslim or a Christian merely identifies that person; it doesn’t define or describe them.
To use a religious word as synonymous with a geo-political-cultural entity seriously obfuscates the issue, like the Polish diplomat who told me he became an atheist because his country had been “invaded and subjugated by Christians from the West.” Nazi Germany Christian? C’mon.
Casting the current world conflict as a clash of theological ideology, a religious war, misses the point and clouds the issues. Many Muslims do not hate America, and many Christians indigenous to the Middle East do.
A devout Christian Palestinian shopkeeper on Israel’s West Bank told me eloquently and passionately how much he hates the U.S. government because of its political support of Israel. That same week a devout Muslim shopkeeper in Amman, Jordan, told me he hopes his country and ours will always be friends. Both men were speaking without any reference to their religious affiliation, an objectivity exceedingly rare in that part of the world.
After preaching in a “liberal” church one Sunday, I was told by one in the congregation, “I can’t believe you were a Baptist." I told her I had said nothing that morning that I could/would not have said from any Baptist pulpit I have been in. She said “I don’t know any Baptists like that," and my rejoinder was, “Exactly! You really should get out more."
When Nancy Pelosi or John Boehner begin a House of Representatives speech with “the Republicans are” or “the Democrats try” I know to expect a burst of generalized partisan blame-casting rather than an example of focused statesmanlike deliberation.
Regrettably, the quality of discourse commonly found within our general population is often very low and sinking, while the frequency with which emotional, sub-rational jargon is substituted for serious argument or clarifying explanation increases.
This is supposed to be a “religion” column. Isn’t there something religious about clear thinking and honest, straightforward discussion? Not everybody thinks there is, but I have already said I am suspicious of statements that begin with “everybody.”
Editor’s note: W. Jackson “Jack” Wilson is a psychologist, an Episcopal priest, a sometime academic and a writer living in Colorado. He writes with humor, whimsy, passion and penetrating insight into the human condition. And in Pushkin, Russia, a toilet is named in his honor.

Editor's note: We welcome and encourage readers to keep the dialogue going by responding to Source commentary. Letters should be e-mailed with name and place of residence to source@viaccess.net.

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