Fringe Faith

I resonate with the identity of Religion at the Margins – the fringe, the heretics, the outliers. And I have a penchant to like underdog views, and underdog composers in music. If I was more into sports, I’d support underdog teams.

But when it comes to faith, I wonder whether there isn’t a sense in which all faith and all the faithful are “fringe”. After all, Christianity began as a fringe movement within Judaism (itself a fringe faith of a fringe people on the world scene). And those who have taken their faith completely seriously have always been a small minority.

What about those who have defined the faith, who composed the creeds? They may have been a powerful minority, but they certainly were on the whole better educated, and undeniably more influential in the church, than the vast majority of Christians. And so when it comes to Christian faith, the “official” version has itself always been defined by a fringe group, a minority, albeit a powerful one.

Fundamentalists today, through their dishonest claims to “believe the whole Bible” and “take it all literally,” have cowed many other Christians into silence by making them feel like somehow they aren’t “good Christians.” But in most churches, few attain (and I suspect many do not aspire to) the radical rhetoric of some of their leaders.

I’d like to suggest that all faith is fringe faith. All our experiences and all our convictions and all our points of view are always a small subset of those of human beings in general.

So as we engage various other viewpoints on this website, let’s remember: their viewpoints are on the fringe too. They may think that their (fringe) viewpoint is obviously correct, and ought to be what all people of faith everywhere think. But go easy on them. That’s just a defense mechanism they use, because unlike us, they are living in denial of their fringe existence. . .

One thought on “Fringe Faith

  1. Excellent, excellent post, Dr. McGrath. It rarely gets much better than that. Kudos.

    Journalistically speaking, though, I would suggest never including a photo which has no what newspapers call a “cutline”… the words beneath the photo which explain who’s in it, and/or what they’re doing. A photo credit is also desirable.

    In this case, for the reader’s benefit, Dr. McGrath’s magnificent words, here, are accompanied by a photo containing:

    Terry Jones, on the left, is the conservative, non-denominational Christian minister of the Gainesville, Florida “Dove World Outreach Center” church. Jones is the one, the reader may recall, who stirred-up the hornet’s nest in 2010 by promising to burn the Qur’an (aka, Koran) on the September 11, 2011 9th anniversary of 9/11 in partial response to the planned building of an Islamic center and mosque near (actually, around two blocks away from) the “Ground Zero” site of the terrorist attacks which toppled the World Trade Center in New York on September 11, 2001.

    Jones got his second Warholian 15 minutes of fame when he promoted an anti-Islamic movie in 2012 known as “Innocence of Muslims” or “Muhammad, Prophet of the Muslims.” The incendiary flick by amateur moviemaker and questionable character Sam Bacile depicted Muhammad, Islam’s holiest prophet, as a thuggish womanizer; and Muslims as homosexuals, child molesters and madmen. Readers may recall that the film spawned many riots in Islamic countries; including the protest outside the consulate in Benghazi, Libya where US ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed on September 12, 2012. Said protest, though, was later characterized as a cover for an organized terrorist attack on the consulate.

    Jones has also written and self-published and read-by-almost-no-one book entitled “Islam is of the Devil;” and in 2012 he hanged President Obama in effigy outside his Gainesville church.

    “Fringe,” then, does not even begin to describe Jones; though Dr. McGrath’s words, here, help us to put such as that into proper perspective.

    The man to Jones’s right in the photo, wearing the white Muslim prayer cap (the taqiyah or kufi), is Imam Muhammad Musri of the Islamic Society of Central Florida, in Orlando. Back in 2010, when Jones announced that he was calling-off his planned 9/11/2010 Qur’an burning because he had reached an agreement with New York’s Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf to move the planned Islamic center and mosque away from Ground Zero, Musri stepped forward to be an intermediary between Jones and New York’s Muslim leadership; and also to quickly point out — and this photo of Musri speaking, with Jones behind him, watching, is, I believe, the precise moment when he did it — that no such agreement to move the New York center and mosque had been made. Musri also announced that he would be traveling with Jones to New York for further discussions with Muslim leadership there.

    During Jones’s trip to New York, while interviewed on NBC’s “Today” show, Jones vowed he’d never burn a Qur’an, “not today, not ever,” he said. However, less than six months later in March of 2011 Jones broke that promise the first of two times, this one inside the church during a mock trial of the Qur’an, when an assistant pastor burned one. The incident was streamed on the Internet and reportedly sparked violent protests in Afghanistan in which at least 12 people were killed.

    Then, in April of 2012, Jones, and about 20 others, burned copies of the Qur’an, outside Jones’s church, allegedly protesting the imprisonment of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, a Christian jailed in Iran since 2009 for his religious beliefs. By then, though, not even Muslims cared anymore because even they had finally figured-out, as Americans had been trying to tell them, how insignificant and not indicative of overall American sentiment Jones both was and remains. Jones, et al, were cited by Gainesville Fire Rescue for burning books without authorization; and paid a $271 fine.

    The photo accompanying Dr. McGrath’s words, here, showing Jones on the left, and Musri on the right, was taken on September 10, 2010 during Jones’s press conference on his church’s front lawn.

    Despite Jones’s protests, the temporary 4,000-square-foot “Park 51 Project” Islamic center opened, as planned in late September of 2011, in a renovated Lower Manhattan 1850s building of Italianate style architecture that was being used as a Burlington Coat Factory when it was damaged in the September 11th attacks. Referred to, unofficially by some, as the “Ground Zero Mosque,” it is neither a mosque, nor located at Ground Zero because it’s two blocks away. It’s not even visible, either from the ground, or from the new high-rise building, at Ground Zero.

    The plan to eventually tear down the current 1850s building, and replace it with a beautiful 13-story Islamic community center is ongoing; and Muslim project officials hope it will be completed yet this decade. The new center will, yes, contain a prayer space capable of holding from 1,000 to 2,000 worshipers; however Park 51 Project officials insist it will not be a mosque. The proposed multi-faith aspects of the 13-story building’s design include a 500-seat auditorium, a theater, a performing arts center, a fitness center, a swimming pool, a basketball court, a childcare area, a bookstore, a culinary school, an art studio, a food court, and a memorial to the victims of the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center.

    Hope that helps!

    Gregg L. DesElms
    Napa, California USA
    gregg at greggdeselms dot com

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