So soon after the horror that occurred in Aurora, CO we have another tragedy in Oak Creek, WI. This time it occurs as people are gathered not for entertainment but for peaceful worship. It's not that folks in a movie theater somehow deserved to be shot, just that attacking people in a sanctuary of their religion seems even greater a transgression.
It is hypothesized that just like the Sikh man who was murdered at a gas-station in the days after 9/11, these people were once again targeted because they were mistaken as Muslims....not that targeting Muslims is in any way acceptable...just that if this is the case it serves to highlight the ignorant and rage-fueled bigotry motivating violent people.
We all start out ignorant of anything but our own experience. This is the nature of childhood and immaturity. Part of maturity is growing up and learning to see and understand from perspectives other than our own. Clinging to ignorance does not allow us to even consider the value of seeing through the eyes of another.
When I went to college in 1986 I was ignorant. I had grown up in a very insulated community...insulated enough that I was regarded as an exotic since I am half-Greek, insulated enough that being a family headed by a single mother marked us as suspect. When I arrived at college I was exposed to many people from different countries, people with a wide variety of religious beliefs.
Most of the people I socialized with were the international students. I spent so much time with them it was not unusual for me to be mistaken as being an immigrant myself since there weren't a lot of WASP American students spending so much time with them and in central Pennsylvania where I went to college I was regarded as "ethnically ambiguous." During lunch at the cafeteria it was not strange to find me, an evangelical Protestant, at a table with Iranian, Bangladeshi, and Pakistani Muslims (Shi'ites and Sunnis), Indian and Kenyan Hindus, a Sri Lankan Catholic, a Taiwanese Buddhist, and my closest friend among the international students, a Sikh from India.
At some point I had deep philosophical and spiritual conversations with each of these people, sometimes one on one, sometimes all at the table together. On some points we agreed on others we differed quite considerably (occasionally with great passion) and yet we had respect for each other and learned from each other. I had my world view expanded exponentially and was exposed to ideas I never knew existed before. I owe my friends and acquaintances a debt of gratitude for the education they afforded me was so much greater than anything I could have gained from any of the textbooks required by various professors.
I entered that world ignorant. I am sure at times, in my ignorance I caused significant offense as well, and for that I am sorry and appreciate whatever grace my friends afforded me. I possess no great virtue but I wanted to learn when I sat with the world around the table in the cafeteria. I left with far more understanding of people who had very different backgrounds than I did.
From my Sikh friend I learned that Sikhs preach that people of all religions, castes, and creed are considered equal by God and that both men and women are fully equal and either can lead prayers and worship. I learned that each Sikh temple has a free community kitchen where people of any faith are welcomed as an act of humility and service to the greater community. I learned that because my own faith teaches me that perfect love casts out fear...and I believe we should not be afraid to learn. It's an important step to respect, which is essential for peace.