What exactly does religion have to do with bombing and killing? The answer? Nothing.

What does skin color have to do with terrorism? Again, nothing.

Unfortunately, however, in our sad, frightened world, the people who profess to be leaders use religion and skin color to divide us and feed our fears. I, for one, am sick of it.

In the last two weeks, we’ve been treated to just how far some of these so-called leaders have taken us down a dangerous road.

While we were all appalled at the attack and killings at a health clinic in Colorado Springs, I didn’t hear much mention of it being a terrorist act. Let’s see, though. Five police officers and four civilians wounded, one police officer and two women killed by someone who was shouting about saving babies. Hmm, what religion has been associated with harassment and terrorizing women and doctors for the past 40 years? Oh, right. Christianity. And, the skin color of those terrorists? White.

Fast forward a week. Even before there was any confirmation about why two people who, from their appearance, clearly weren’t Christian, were shooting and killing people in a social service agency, the airwaves were full of the speculation that terrorism had found its way to the States. Now that it’s been confirmed that the pair were Muslim, all we seem to hear about is the importance of keeping all people who look like them out of the country.

What about rounding up all the people who look like Robert Dear, the suspect in the Colorado Springs case; Scott Roeder, who murdered abortion doctor George Tiller; Eric Rudolph, who bombed an abortion clinic in Atlanta, or the hundreds white male clinic arsonists and physician murderers? Plenty of us have been protesting against those people and their terrorist ways for 40 years. Why do white men get a pass and men with darker skin get targeted? Fear and ignorance, plain and simple.

I grew up in a Presbyterian household. I learned that Jesus spoke truth to power, but he didn’t advocate violence and killing to get his message across. I learned that he wished people might act differently, make better decisions and not sin, but he wasn’t about to condemn them or suggest they should be killed by his followers. My understanding was transgressions were dealt with through a legal system, and again when you met your maker.

Now, I don’t have much experience with what it’s like growing up in a Muslim household, but I do have Muslim friends, and I am pretty sure they grew up with a similar philosophy. In fact, many of the prophets of the Jews and Christians, are also prophets of Muslims — Noah, Abraham, Moses, Elijah, and, interestingly, Jesus.

One of the reasons I no longer consider myself Christian is the increasing intolerance I began to feel as I started experiencing the world. My church was supportive of civil rights for people of color in the 1960s, but by the ’70s and ’80s, those civil rights of which they were supportive didn’t include the civil rights of my friends who were gay and lesbian.

That was when I really began to understand the tenets of religion are based on the teachings of the prophets as interpreted by men hundreds of years later who were writing the texts. Thousands of years later, our political leaders continue to exploit religious teachings for their own ends and religious voices against them are barely raised.

In the late ’70s, the Christian right was created from the backlash over desegregation when the IRS tried to revoke tax exemptions for Christian all-white schools formed as an alternative to integrated public schools. The backlash and subsequent congressional hearings changed the issue from one of desegregation to meddlesome bureaucrats trying to intrude on religious freedom. The connection between the party and the right was solidified with the election of Ronald Reagan, who endorsed their concerns.

Today we have a Republican Party whose primary candidates are so focused on exploiting fear of others that the national dialogue has nothing to do about the real problems facing this country — our increasing rates of poverty, lack of good-paying jobs that provide benefits, schools that are adequately funded to help students meet the challenges of living and working in the 21st century, climate change that is wreaking havoc with our weather, crops and availability of potable water, to name just a few.

People often say to me, “I like your columns. You say what I want to say.” I appreciate that, but it’s not enough. If you are appalled at the rhetoric coming from too many prominent voices, I would encourage you to start speaking up publicly, too, before there’s no one left to speak up for any of us.

Karen Heck is a longtime resident and former mayor of Waterville.

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