We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Monday, July 16, 2012

Monumental Injustice

At some time within the last month a small sect group located in Lowville, NY, took it upon itself to destroy a historical monument located on property about two miles north of town that it purchased some four years ago.  The stone monument was erected at the end of the 19th century by the  First Presbyterian Church, Lowville, in memory of a small Congregational cum Presbyterian church located in Stow Square, a small early 19th century community that has long since vanished.  The monument stood in a privately owned field on Highway 26 where the front steps of the church building had been located.  It was a small monument in the shape of an obelisk and had been respected by a series of owners of the property down through the decades—respected that is, until this small sect group acquired ownership of the property and the monument.  It purchased the land with funds provided by an Ohio-based cult group dedicated to the veneration of an obscure figure from the Second Great Awakening of the earlier 19th century, a certain Daniel Nash, who happened to be pastor of the Presbyterian church at Stow Square, 1816-1822.

The leaders of this sect found the monument offensive because of its obelisk shape, which they associate with pagan cult objects condemned in the Old Testament.  It was to them a sacrilegious object not fitting as a memorial to a man like Nash or to a church.  Thus, they took it upon themselves to destroy the monument beyond repair.

It takes your breath away.  Their action was in every sense legal, according to the letter of the law.  It was also religious.  And it was wrong.  In all honesty, the destruction of a small, unassuming, not well-placed monument to a church and community that have long since disappeared is not important as the world measures important events.  It is, however, important to any number of local people for whom the past is important.  The farm families that have long lived in the vicinity valued the monument because it tied them to their own past.  Members of First Presbyterian Church, Lowville, valued it for a similar reason.  Others in the Lowville community valued it because it reminded them of a part of the county's  history—indeed, was a physical piece of that history.  For these local folks, the destruction of the Stow Square Monument is indeed a monumental injustice.

This act calls to mind the ugly sect group in Kansas, which has picketed the funerals of soldiers as a religious act of judgment on the nation. It calls to mind the Florida group that advocates Koran burning.  It calls to mind the "pro-life" murderer who assassinated Dr. George Tiller, the Kansas physician who performed abortions.  In all of these cases, including the one here in Lewis County, radical religious leaders impose their will on their neighbors for reasons that make no sense to the rest of us.  Thus, to destroy a 19th century monument dedicated to a church and community because it was shaped like ancient Egyptian "pagan" cultic pillar is a senseless act based on an equally senseless, obscure connection between objects separated in time by thousands of years.

We can hear them reply, "Time doesn't matter.  If it was wrong in ancient times, so it is wrong now."  That logic is as senseless and violent as the act of destruction itself.

It takes your breath away.