Saturday, April 12, 2014

Coda: Sacred and Profane: Religious freedom and the Waco Disaster

Reflections on reading James Tabor's  and Eugene Gallagher's Why Waco? Cults and the Battle for Religious Freedom in America asks the question why Waco became demonized as a later version of Jonestown when the authors present evidence, including testimony of surviving and former members, that suggests there was no overt "brainwashing" or coercion. The authors further discuss the demonization and intolerance in American society and media toward non-traditional religious groups, pointing out that America itself was colonized by many off shoot-groups seeking religious freedom.

However the authors striving for its own objective and evidentiary review takes its own profound leap of faith when they observe that the focus on the group's possession of an extensive firearms cache is inextricably -- and unfairly to the authors- linked to its unorthodox beliefs. While suspicion of illegal activities may say something about the perpetrators, they write, it should not cast an unfavorable light on the entire group or their beliefs. Controversy surrounds whether some of the weapons held were illegally altered. The cult label also is held to scrutiny as an unfair characterization. 

There are many, many religious groups that function outside of the mainstream. In NYC alone small churches quasi-or un-affiliated abound. There are many Orthodox Jewish groups that exist completely separate from - yet interact with - their surrounding community. I think the isolation of American millennial groups, and their rejection of established laws and societal values, will continue to exist. However I think it will always remain the possession of weapons which bring the groups into direct conflict - from the view point of a power relationship -- with the Secular authorities and will be the key factor and challenge that leads government forces to neutralize and eliminate what is viewed as an armed threat to its authority. 

Nevertheless as Malcolm Gladwell observed in his recent New Yorker essay, and as James Tabor showed as he attempted to work with the Davidian Group and the federal authorities in resolving  the standoff at the time, it is essential for the government to have a more comprehensive and objective view and understanding of the religious and even anti-government groups before acting. Clearly as we see in the current issue over grazing rights in Nevada cults are not always limited to religion and must be understood in their extremism or unorthodoxy before blood - especially that of innocents - is shed.

--Anthony Napoli
Deep in the Heart of Brooklyn

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Current Reading

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Current Listening

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