After every catastrophe — large or small — I pray.
I pray for the souls of the dead that they may be brought to and sheltered by God forevermore. I pray for the wounded that they might recover from their wounds speedily and heal also from the trauma of their wounding. I pray for the families and friends of the victims that they might remain strong and hopeful in the face of death and the threat of death. I pray for America. I pray that we might emerge from the worst trauma since 9/11 the way we emerged from 9/11 — united in hope and determined in resolve to defeat the hatred without succumbing to it.
I am a praying man, but I do not expect prayers alone will change our world or our perilous times. We must find a way to reduce the reasons and the means by which we kill. So before I ever try to speak about catastrophe, I always try to let it just wash over me, and then pray that what has been broken in our world be made whole again. So first, please pray with me.
Next, I have some things to say about perverted religion.
Religion is the most powerful force in the world, and perverted religion is the most evil force in the world. The way I see it, the Orlando massacre was caused by perverted religion.
People are again debating whether or not Islam is really a religion of peace. I say now what I have always said, that this is a question too complex for such a spiritually binary answer of yes or no. The truth is that within every single major world religion there are texts that incline towards hatred and bigotry. Some of these texts are not as bad as they seem, but some are far worse. In these same religions there are also sacred texts that incline towards compassion and love. Some of these texts are only moderately compassionate and others are so loving and luminous that they have the power to transform our lives for the better. This is the truth of all religions and of the sacred scriptures they bring into the world.
Therefore, what matters — all that matters — is not what is in your sacred texts, but rather which texts you decide to quote in your teachings today. Deciding to quote our good texts rather than our bad texts is the test of any religion in any age. In the Crusades and the Inquisition, Christianity quoted the bad texts about Jews and Muslims. Judaism, Hinduism, and Buddhism have all experienced moments in their history when teachers who were bent on revenge instead of love quoted the bad texts. Today many fundamentalist, extremist Islamic teachers are quoting the bad texts, and that quoting somehow seemed to have entered the warped but susceptible brain of the Orlando murderer. The bad texts about homosexuality in sharia law are at odds with the texts that all people are holy and that murder of one innocent person is like murdering the entire world altogether. However, the bad texts can easily turn from bigotry to bullets. Perverted religion is as deadly as real religion is healing.
I am the sworn enemy of all who flippantly judge the great faith of Islam to be a religion of hatred, bigotry and war. I believe true Islam is a religion of peace, but I am not a fool. I know that Islam can be and has been hijacked and perverted by those whose hatred of other faiths and of other Muslims is so deep and vile that it has blinded them to the real meaning of jihad, which is conquering the evil within each of us.
I also know some of the courageous Muslim teachers who are trying against enormous odds to quote the good texts and who deeply oppose the bigoted elements of sharia law. I know what they have risked to defend an Islam that is being drowned in blood lust. I believe that they will win some day and that they will produce a Reformation in Islam that will separate sharia from the state, that will embrace interfaith harmony, and that will understand that every living faith must grow and change over time. They know that ethical judgments made a thousand years ago are not so easily made today. The debate over the spiritual integrity of the LGBT community is not over, and not all people with doubts about its scope are bigots, but that debate is important to God. This I believe.
All that matters is quoting the good texts and letting the bad texts wither on the vine of an old age where the full and just consequences of our equal and inalienable dignity had not yet been seen as God’s will for our world.