There is hardly a day that goes by in which we are unaffected by the confluence of church and state somewhere in the world. I covered one aspect of this confluence in this earlier post, but, since every religion tends to lay claim to the Divine, it is the subject that just keeps on giving. Wild and bloody wars have been fought throughout history by those who use God as their front “man.” Yet no one can legitimately claim the exclusive right to speak for God.
These beliefs in Divine exclusivity don't have to be a permanent condition, and there is a lot that you can do to rectify the situation. You might begin by taking note of the stands that your own religion or spiritual practice takes on social issues. How much does that religion or practice claim that political or social issues are in God’s domain? And does their/your God actually sanction or encourage war and murder in “his” name?
I’m talking about both the sacred and the profane, things holy, matters of war, and the notion that both individuals and nations can get away with murder if it’s done under the banners of holiness. At their core, each of the world’s great religions holds the profound spiritual principles of love, kindness, compassion and honesty. The basics are pretty simple: have reverence for and faith in some form of divine energy greater than yourself, don't hurt anybody including yourself, don’t mess with other people's stuff, and treat the earth and all of its creatures with deep respect. Everything else, including most scripture, is pretty much a matter of style, man-made laws and politics. In many cases, these sacred principles were dressed up in fancy dogma, and the essential message and purpose were lost. God was thus created in man’s image. This God is basically judgmental, loving those who follow “his” rules and punishing those who do not.
When dogma replaces spirituality, the worship of God can become righteous, divisive, warlike or repressive. The Crusades and colonialism often used coercion and bloodshed to spread Christianity, invoking God to justify conquering and converting indigenous peoples throughout the world, and usurping their land to ostensibly “save” their souls. Sound like a scam? The conversion to Islam, like Christianity, was violent, fraught with men on horseback wielding swords that forced their belief on their vanquished “infidel” enemy. In the Middle East, Yahweh and Allah remain faced off in a fight for land and principle. In Egypt, Coptic Christians have faced extinction. In Kashmir and Bangladesh, Hindus and Muslims are pitted against each other. In India atrocities were visited on Muslims in Gujarat as villages were burned and villagers were hacked and raped. Eastern Europe, Africa, Asia, and the US are not exempt. The Jews prayed as the Nazis swept them into concentration camps. In Northern Ireland a clash of Christianities has caused suffering, terror and death. Al Qaeda called the attack on the US a holy war, and George W. Bush in return invoked God to justify laying waste to those he claimed to be the evildoers. Thus has God been weaponized by mankind. That doesn't mean that we should all become non-believers, but it does mean that, if need be, we can help to transform the vessel of our faith into a more active and activist force for peace.
A Few Simple Actions:
- If your place of worship isn't already enrolled in becoming an active force for peace, make that happen.
- Encourage members of your congregation to become peace activists
- Learn about the religions operating in the places where conflict is occurring