It is the extremists of any major religion that end up giving the whole a bad reputation. Bad news travels more quickly than good news does, and poor behavior is more easily remembered and available to memory than is good behavior. So what typically ends up happening is that the whole organization gets placed under the banner of those who make the most noise, even though they are not necessarily a representative sample of that population. Christians are often perceived as hateful, unforgiving bigots because there are many who are exactly that. Note, however, that I did not say ‘majority’ or ‘most’ because it has been my own experience that, in general, those who call themselves Christian do strive to live up to the compassionate, forgiving ideals of the Bible and of Christ’s teachings. The same goes, as I understand it, for those of the Muslim faith. The vast majority are a peace-loving people, and those who perform heinous acts of murder and bombing are the fringe extremists, just as are those Christians who bomb abortion clinics, twisting the ideals of their religion into a perverted distortion of the actual. In the process they give the entire faith a black eye, and the world sees the whole as being just like the extremists.
So, the question becomes then, what underlies these fringe, extreme groups? What drives them to justify horrible acts and behaviors that are counter to the basic tenets of belief that define the faith they claim to espouse? Ultimately, I can only conclude that they are flawed people, just like the rest of us, who, whether through willful disobedience or through genuine ignorance, misunderstand the teachings of their religious system in such a way as to justify hatred and murder. They are the people who lack the personal discipline to control their emotional impulses, who act on their base desires, rather than striving to live up to a higher ideal of morality. They are the people who pick and choose which parts of their canon to abide by, rather than understanding that the bits they follow are parts of a whole and cannot be separated from it without ending up, by definition, with a completely different set of beliefs. They are the people who were already angry and bitter, who found a system of belief that was attractive to them and fit at least somewhat with their own preconceived notions of how the world should operate. They are the people who then twisted the system of belief to fit their own ideals, rather then reshaping their own ideals to fit the system. In so doing they found justification and an outlet for the violence already in their hearts, and by acting upon that violence, then sullied the name and reputation of the group they claimed to be a part of. Christians who bomb abortion clinics or express hatred, bigotry, and superiority to those not like them are Christian only in name; they are not Christian in actuality because anyone who truly understands the teachings of the Bible would not perform the sorts of behaviors that these extremists tend toward. Similarly, Muslims who fly planes into buildings and strap bombs to themselves and blow up a group of children, and who decapitate innocent victims are Muslim in name only; they do not represent the Muslim faith at large or the teaching of the Qu’ran and do more harm to people of that faith than good. These extremists cannot and should not be called Christian or Muslim, even though they call themselves that. They should be called murderers and hatemongers and should be separated, both in name and in deed, from the whole of the groups that they claim to be part of. Yet, perhaps because it is convenient to do so, they continue to be categorized into the group by the population at large, thereby stereotyping the whole by the deeds of the few. Unfair? You bet. But stereotyping is easy and convenient, even if it is at times unfair and makes it harder for those with the true ideals of their beliefs to communicate them. It is a challenge, no doubt, and that is why unity of the whole is necessary in order to overcome the misdeeds of the few.