Religion and Rhetoric Pt. 1

On Friday December 4, 2015, Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University, stood up during the school’s convocation and spoke in front of his beloved students.  He expressed the sadness that he felt when he heard about the mass shooting that occurred in San Bernardino, CA on December 2, 2015.  He urged his students who are over 21 to obtain a weapon’s permit and to take the free gun training course that is offered at Liberty.  He encouraged them to do this because he said that they needed to be able to defend themselves from those who sought to attack them.  He then specified that some of those attackers that they would have to defend against are Muslims.  What Falwell was encouraging his students to do is to use violence to deal with those who he perceives to be a threat, whom he would identified to be Muslim people.  Many students, in response, laughed at Falwell’s joke (which was that he was carrying a gun with him on stage) and stood up and cheered for the seemingly sensible and riveting speech that he had just delivered.

In Northern Ireland, from 1963-1969, the Prime Minister in office was a man by the name of Terrance O’Neill.  O’Neill was a member of one of the British Loyalist parties.  He was a virtuous man who sought to implement policies that would heal sectarian divisions among Irish Nationalists and British Loyalists.  As he was working towards this reconciliation work, a preacher and politician by the name of Ian Paisley began to rise in power and prestige in the public eye of the Northern Irish citizens.  Paisley was also a British Unionist supporter, but was much more zealous in his sectarian biases.  Paisley disliked the work that O’Neill was doing and as a result, he used the pulpit to speak poorly about O’Neill.  Eventually, Paisley gained plenty of support of himself and enough support against O’Neill. O’Neill, understanding the bad reputation that was stapled to his image, called for a surprise early election.  This election forced O’Neill out of office, which limited the scope of his power to enact reconciling policies.

Something about these stories doesn’t make sense.  God desires some people to be “othered” and for violence to be committed against them? God wants to undermine a political system that was seeking to create peace?  I thought that God was a healer, a restorer, a redeemer, a savior, a liberator, and a loving being?  Yet, these men are claiming that God calls for fear, hate and violence.

If we can allow our minds to venture past the obscuring veil that we call rhetoric, we would be able to see that what these men are preaching about on stage is not actually what God desires for the world.  If there is a God, that God is one that oversees this whole universe and cares for every living being that has ever existed.  That God wants individuals to be the fullest human that they are capable of being.  That God is a being that desires for people to feel respected by others around them.  That God loves everybody and loves their different skin colors, sexual orientation, gender identity and religious identities.  These concepts should be easy to grasp.  They should be no-brainers.  Nonetheless, Jerry Falwell Jr. or Ian Paisley ascents to the pulpit and says something very different, while also claiming the name of the same God that many others understand to be a lover and not a hater.

There is a simple explanation to why these men do what they do.  In one of my previous sociology classes, we have discussed the concept of heterophobia.  Heterophobia is simply, fear of the other.  We fear other individuals because they look, think, act, speak, eat and worship different.  The difference that we identify in others is many times, not a common site in our day-to-day environment.  Other times, that difference is not comfortable for us to interact with.  Heterophobia is something that we all exercise.  Heterophobia becomes more complex when that fear that individual’s possess of the other drives them to act in hate, conflict, prejudice and violence against that individual(s).  People are scared that the “other” is going to threaten their safety and thus, they take action to defend themselves.  Going back and looking at Jerry Falwell Jr., it can be said that he has a legitimate fear of Muslims.  He has a fear of radical Islam.  He also has a fear of the difference found between the worship styles of Christianity and the worship styles of Islam.  Ian Paisley was also exercising heterophobia because he had a fear that Terrance O’Neil’s political philosophies would bring together his people and other people who he had always rejected.

As we continue to analyze this situation, we need to not just think about heterophobia, but we also must look at the desire for power.  Many individuals have a desire to hold authority and to possess prestige.  People want to be powerful because they are afraid of death.  They are afraid of social death, physical death and psychological death.  One of the best ways to avoid this death is to put oneself in a position of importance, where a larger audience will make that individual feel valued.  Positions of power have the ability to provide us access to social acceptance and material wealth (which includes physical health).  A lot of people share the desire to be provided with these provisions.  Just as Falwell Jr. and Paisley fear the other, they also fear death.  They want life and they want success.  Furthermore, power enables individuals to eradicate those that they perceive to be a threat.  In addition, from an early age, these men were taught that religion can provide them with those things.

Considering heterophobia and people’s hunger for power, it is easy to understand the rationale of Falwell Jr. and Paisley.  These men have heterophobia against another group of people.  They then chase after power with the hope that they can use their influence to exercise their heterophobia.  Their power hunger and heterophobia isn’t necessarily intentional and many times, can be driven by subconscious paradigms.  In their race for power, these men use religion as a means to heighten their power, while it also gives them a platform to exercise heterophobia.

To read Pt. 2: R & R Pt.2: Round of Applause


2 thoughts on “Religion and Rhetoric Pt. 1

  1. Jack Gilbert says:

    Liam, this is a well writen article and I appreciate your thoughts. One question that came into my mind as I was reading is, “do you think people (including yourself) practice heterophobia against God?” I would love to hear your response.
    Peace and Love,


    1. Pennyworth says:

      Hey Jack!!! Thank you so much for reading and for responding. I can’t tell you how great that is when people respond to my writing. Because it means that they have read it and are engaged. I really appreciate it my friend. What exactly do you mean by exercising heterophobia against God? Like do you have an example? I do think that we can. I think that we can exercise heterophobia against gods of other religions too. But as for the Christian God, I think that do fear this God to be different and act differently because we are afraid of who that God actually is. What do you think? I would love to sit down and think some of these thoughts out loud.


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