Our Love/Hate Relationship with Religion

Observations from Mary E. Latela on: The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness (Newly Expanded Paperback Edition) Paperback – April 7, 1998 by Simon Wiesenthal.

Skimming a long list on a Twitter search of Religion AND Hatred, I was amazed at: 1. The level of animosity toward religion, one’s own style or that of others; 2. On the lack of information about what particular religions claim/teach, and assumptions that derive from misinformation, and 3. The widespread linking religions to hateful, violent, destructive choices and events.

A person is free to engage in religions or not. What is difficult to fathom is the level of venom tossed into virtual space, based – it appears – on an individual’s own suffering or unhappiness which he/she blames on religion. In other words, it is a subjective view.

Simon Wiesenthal (1908–2005) was a survivor of the Holocaust who worked as an author and Nazi hunter, wishing to ensure that what befell his community would be remembered. I thought about Simon Wiesenthal’s book Sunflower, first published in around 1970, then re-issued after a major rewrite in 1997. The body of the story – which is appalling and dramatic – is the account of Wiesenthal’s own experience as a captured youth, forced to do what the Nazi commanders required. As a teenager, he is told that he must go to the hospital room of a man who wants absolution for his horrible treatment of Jews – not from a Catholic priest or Christian Minister – but from a Jew (“any Jew”).

Wiesenthal sits in the hospital room with the patient, who is so heavily bandaged that one cannot distinguish his features. The patient slowly recounts his sins against Jews, and sensing that death is near, want to be “pardoned” of his sins.

In the original version, Wiesenthal, who sent copies of the short story to more than two dozen well-known men of faith and asked for their reactions.  Stunning in their comments, these people quickly made judgments about a situation with which most could definitely not identify.

Twenty-five years later, a new edition, including the same story of the Wiesenthal as a boy called on to be Confessor to a dying patient. The list to people to whom he sent the manuscript is quite different, including Christians, Jews, Buddhists, international leaders.  The reader, once again, is asked, What would you do? What would you say?

If you really want to engage in meaningful discussion on religion-or-not: think first; do research; listen; speak carefully. Do not expect simple answers.

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