By Kathleen Mulhern.
The year was barely a week old when the first of many tragedies struck. Charlie Hebdo’s offices in Paris were stormed and eleven journalists and magazine employees were slaughtered by Islamic terrorists. Thus began a central and sorrowful theme of 2015: ideologically driven violence. Whether the undergirding ideology was religious fanaticism or racism, 2015 suffered more than its share of painful news events. Patheos writers together mourned, analyzed, and often castigated via their blogs.
Islamic extremism clearly triggered a great deal of reflection. Christian writers grieved the twenty-one Coptic martyrs of February. Atheist writers directed our awareness to the atheist bloggers hacked to death this year in Bangladesh. Everyone wept over the Paris attacks and the San Bernardino shootings. Muslim writers both condemned that violence as essentially unIslamic and pointed out the building Islamophobia that leads to further violence, as seen in the Chapel Hill shootings of three young Muslims. And the ongoing chaos generated by ISIS in the Middle East and by its iterations around the world, like Boko Haram in Nigeria, was the topic of many reflections across the channels: Christian persecution, refugee crises, Western bias.
But religious fanaticism was not the only source of violence this year. Planned Parenthood was both accused of inexcusable brutality and the victim of it. Racism waved its flag again when Charleston worshipers were gunned down during Bible study; subsequent conversations led to the lowering of that flag of shame.
The subject of sex and gender also had a good showing this year. Whether we were reading about the Josh Duggar debacle and the subsequent Ashley Madison hacking or we were wondering at the Caitlyn Jenner revelation and its meaning or we were weighing the victory or defeat in the Obergefell decision, Patheos readers and writers were exploring the shifting commitments and realities of a culture in transition. These changes pushed against the rights and privileges of other long-standing norms, and so we talked about bakers refusing to make wedding cakes and we talked about county clerks refusing to issue marriage licenses and we talked about the Mormon Church refusing rites to children of same-sex couples.
Amidst these larger eddies of culture and crises, undercurrents pulled us in the directions of theology (atonement talk), religious practice and political rhetoric (prayer shaming), the “sameness” of faith traditions, solidarity and the lack thereof, and climate change with the pope’s speech and the Paris talks.
So, if you’re still reading this litany of wrangling and woes, let me close with something different and, I believe, hopeful. Patheos brings together the strangest of companions on this journey, and we are all very much NOT the same. We have nearly 500 writers here from all over the world. We don’t worship the same gods; we don’t believe in the same sacred texts; we don’t practice the same lifestyles; we don’t vote for the same political parties; in fact, we don’t agree about much. What we do agree about, however, is the importance of articulating our deeply held convictions with civil respect (most of the time), a willingness to share “space” with the other, and the persuasion that listening—even to that most outrageous perspective—is a good thing and vital to the world. Amidst the “chances and changes of this life,” of which we are often so very weary, Patheos affords an opportunity to listen and, perchance, even to understand; to work through our common woes and find ways to address them; to develop a respect for one another’s opinions that does not depend on agreeing with them. Here’s to Patheos 2016!