A scourge that was found in playgrounds everywhere, children feared catching it. Most likely, you or someone you knew in your youth had it at one point or another during your childhood. Highly contagious and communicable by mere touch or even being associated with someone who had it, one had to take extra precautions to avoid the affliction. One could either stay in isolation or be vaccinated to prevent contacting it. Thankfully the shots were cheap and easily obtainable. One merely had to cross their fingers and chant "circle, circle, dot, dot, now I've got my cootie shots!" More feared than the flu or tonsillitis, catching cooties was THE most dread childhood disease (at least from the perspective of an elementary schooler).
Adults are more wise, though. We understand that people don't get "cooties" by association. Right?
You would think that we've matured past preteen beliefs, but I'm amazed at the number of adults who avoid even the mere mention of things that they perceive to have become "contaminated" by those they dislike. For instance, despite having been taught for decades at the seminary, "Spiritual Formation" apparently became anathema because other people who aren't Adventist used the term too. Despite having the same content, the course title had become so "cootie riddled" that it had to be renamed. And regardless of the fact that meditation is mentioned several times in the Old Testament, so called Eastern religions have totally ruined the practice for Christianity (shhh--don't pay attention to the fact that Jerusalem is IN the Middle East…). And forget about the discipline of contemplative prayer-- cooties! Yes; any time those with whom we doctrinally differ make use of something, we must distance ourselves at all costs to avoid their religious cooties. Not even God is immune!
Sure God may be Omnipotent, but omnipotence is nothing against religious cooties. Other people that don't believe as we believe say that they also worship God. Of course, we can't discard God altogether so we make it a point to say that they don't worship the same God we do. Besides a shared religious ancestor and numerous common beliefs, we are adamant that Muslims and Christians cannot possibly worship the same God. Some people hang their hat on the fact that Muslims do not accept Jesus as Divine. Therefore, if they don't accept the Jesus as God Incarnate, there's no way they could believe in the same God at all. But the wrinkle in that argument is that the Jews don't believe in Jesus as God either, and there's no doubt that Christians and Jews have the same God. Some will contest that pre-Jesus, Jews looked forward to the Messiah, so they had faith in Jesus prior to His first Advent. But where does that leave modern Jews? Are we seriously saying that they suddenly started worshiping a different Divine Being?
Some will take a different tack. They point to Muslim extremists and their beliefs and actions to demonstrate that their God is different. After all, how could they claim to live by God's Word, and do such heinous things? Well, people claim a lot things. History is littered with stories of despicable actions done in the name of Christianity (chattel slavery, the establishment and perpetuation of the KKK, the Crusades…) but that only points to the skewed beliefs of those individuals. That doesn't say anything about God. Nowhere in Scripture is God's goodness predicated on the goodness of God's people. If anything, the Word shows the exact opposite: God is good regardless and in spite of the wickedness of the people of God. In fact "goodness" itself is an attribute of God alone (Romans 3:10-12,Psalm 14:1-3,Psalm 53:1-3).
I don't mean to chill legitimate theological inquiry. However, the greatest amount of discourse regarding this subject revolves around not wanting to share anything with others who don't believe as we do. We dislike what some Muslims have done globally. So, we take great pains to distance ourselves from them so as not to become tainted by association. Sharing the same God became an issue in the 21st century because of terrorism. Christians pushed Muslims away because we didn't want to be seen as related in any way. But we can't continue to run away every time we have something in common with people who have other perspectives--or even dangerous ones. The truth is that we will continue to see that we use and share many things with other religions. Islamophobia is immature. And to that I say, "Grow up". You won't catch cooties. I double-triple promise.
Courtney Ray is a native New Yorker who ministers in the Greater Los Angeles Region. She is an ordained pastor serving in Southern California Conference.
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