The rise of Daesh has resulted in a huge increase in hate crimes against Muslim citizens. This is due to claims by the terrorist organisation that their abhorrent actions are supported by Islamic doctrine, despite being repeatedly and strongly contested by the Muslim community. In a backlash to anti-Islam rhetoric, a steadily louder claim has emerged that all religions are a source of evil. This seems to have upset a large number of Christians who believe that Christianity is fundamentally a force for good.
Raised in the Christian church, I used to agree with this view. The beautiful arches of ancient cathedrals were the embodiment of the sincere belief in an almighty but compassionate entity that forgave all mistakes and carried us when we couldn't walk ourselves. Here was a place of peace, acceptance and where a willingness to fix problems both great and small came above a personal desire for gain.
I still believe this is what the Bible teaches. However, the last years have left me disillusioned with the Christian community. Where I once saw a place of strength, I now see a stone shell of hypocrisy. Is condemning all religions really unfair? One litmus test is to balance the good and bad contributions to the world from Christianity.
There is no doubt that Christianity has its extremist component. Historical events such as the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition and the bloody reign of the Tudor monarchy in England speak of atrocities against those both of other religions and fellow Christians of different denominations. Modern times have seen terrorist groups such as the IRA, the hate preachers of the Westboro Baptist Church and the Ku Klux Klan; the oldest terrorist organisation in history and one which claims an affiliation to the Protestant Church.
These organisations definitely fall into the "negative contribution" from Christianity. But like the vast majority of Muslims, most Christians feel no affinity with these extremist groups. Indeed, the single message of the New Testament is very clear:
Love thy neighbour.
That ends with a period, not an asterix leading to a list of exceptions where violence is justified. Yet if we don't act on this message, it is absolutely worthless.
Over the last year we have been confronted with situations so analogous with Biblical tales that in fiction it would be declared cliché. For anyone not so familiar with the Bible, welcome to the New Testament in 30 seconds:
A Middle Eastern family in desperate need of help is turned away from all places of shelter. After their baby boy was born in squalor, the family are forced to flee a dictator who was murdering innocents based on a set of beliefs.
The boy grew up to heavily criticise those who followed religious traditions but ignored their true meaning in their daily lives. Turns out, sitting on your knees doesn't actually count towards a keycard to Heaven. While spending shockingly little time in Temples, Jesus reached out to groups despised by society, including lepers, prostitutes and tax collectors who were blamed for the world's ills. His parable of the hated Samaritan helping a fallen man who is ignored by others is a concrete example that we should look beyond social barriers. Jesus's cousin padded out the details by explaining that an excess in coats and food were bad and should be given away.
We are currently in the middle of a global crisis. Families run from death in the crumbling cities of Syria and our Muslim communities are blamed for fueling terrorist attacks. This leaves us with Middle Eastern families searching for shelter as they flee murdering dictators, while a minority group is ostracised for crimes they had no part in.
THE ANALOGIES DON'T GET ANY MORE EXACT! And the Bible is DAMN CLEAR about what we have to do.
But instead of acknowledging Christian responsibilities, the news in the USA and UK is rife with hate. In the latter, claims that immigrants are draining our economy (blatantly untrue, by the way), that multi-culturalism dilutes British values (seriously?!) and the Muslim community is synonymous with Daesh have caused hate crimes to soar by 400%.
Since Christians claim to be the majority of individuals in western countries, the value of the Church is deeply questionable. It is true that helping everyone is impossible; restrictions are necessary to protect citizen and those we are offering shelter. But our countries are not at capacity. Yet rather than push for more aid, we've directed hate on a scapegoat in actions disturbingly reminiscent of the beginning of the World War II. Apparently, it is much easier to engage people in horrific acts of violence in the name of religion than risk their cosy lifestyles to help others in need.
I'm also scared. There is a very small but non-zero risk that amongst the refugees are terrorists planted by Daesh. I fear seeing loved ones die and I'm anxious about a decrease in my comfortable lifestyle because resources are under pressure. But I also know that the refugees had lives just like mine before their country was ripped apart. That nobody pays their life savings to put a three year old on a plastic boat in the sea if the land is safer. That if religion is truly worth anything, its time is now.
To go to Church every Sunday but say you don't want refugees in your town or you don't want to see the hijab on your street is the highest form of hypocrisy. This is the reason why religions are being declared uniformly bad. At worst, they provide focal points for genocide. At best, they contribute absolutely nothing.
So when you go to Church this Christmas, smile at the whitewashed Middle Eastern Holy Family and get down on your knees and pray for your problems, concluding with the line "Forgive us our trespasses and we forgive those who trespass against us..."
Good luck with that.