|The dream of radical Religion/love|
In the United Methodist portal in the US, the commentary by Bishop Pennel poses an important question “Radical Religion or radical love”. In essence, if we were to be radical or extremist, it should be about showing radical love rather than being closed minded and insisting on harmful actions on the basis of it being sanctioned by God.
Bishop Pennel stated that religion matters profoundly and effects social order. He said that it was an instinct to love God that produces Christianity amongst other religions. This is only partially true because in Christianity, it is God who loved us first not that we love God. Jesus, God incarnate came down from heaven to die for us, a poignant fact carefully excluded by the Bishop.
Religion is indeed passing into the secular arena in Europe, although in America, the Christian Right with its block voting is shaping society albeit desperately for the case of Gay marriage. Religion has indeed great power in many countries especially in the Middle East and Africa. Yet the call to love and for conversation between different "non extremist" elements of religious faiths may win some support in more progressive America, but in many places around the world, such majority progressive faith seldom exists.
The danger of a religious Faith or extremism is not a closed mind or attitude. Extremism is when we imposed our faith on others, and in particular making it a state law. For example, in many countries, it is very common for harsh penalties to be imposed for changing one's faith.
The religious laws of the majority are also harsh and merciless trageting the weak and outcasts. Gays for example aren’t allowed to marry and in some cases put to death. The antidote to such state religious extremism is not to emphasis on the “love of God” but to insist of secularism where space is given to all.
Bishop Pennel highlighted a case of religious extremism in Afghanistan where a religious cleric rejoiced at the shooting down of the Seal helicopter claiming it was an act of God. A sweeping conclusion was then made such views were very isolated. However, the support for Taliban which is a religious order is very strong in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In fact, a poll by the Pew Research showed some interesting statistics that:-
- 49% in Nigeria of a particular religious faith supports Al-Qaeda
- 60% in Jordan of a particular religious faith supports Hamas
Hence, the Bishop’s imagination that religion in general is non-extremist hence open to the possibility of joining hands in the common desire to show the love of God is not realistic. Lurking beneath the norms of civil society is the "Lord of the Flies", our innate religious animalistic nature. The core basis of the Bishop's entire argument is that the basis and foundation of all religions are about love. Religion however can have three foundations:-
a. Human Idea and creation.
b. Based on God almighty.
c. Based on other spiritual deities.
The Jews for example, not only worshiped God, but fell into worshipping other gods/deities eg Baal and Ashteroth, the religion of the Cananites, many forms of which later spread into Asia minor and Europe. It was the Lord of Harvest, and a blood thirsty god demanding human sacrifice. It was a spiritual entity where they have anal sex with the priests to join themselves with the demonic spirit.
Therefore, secularism where all religions are private and keep to their own religious mountain is the hope for humanity and peace and not any grand argument based on mutual love and kinship.
Bishop Pennel correctly alluded to instances of Christian extremism with the example of arsons, firebombing etc of abortion clinics. However, such rare isolated cases could not be compared to state based organized militant groups such as Iran who have killed thousands in the name of religious faith or who hanged gays by their thousands just for being gay. Religious extremism is not only an isolated view but have wide support.
It could be argued conversely that progressive Christianity is no better and our support for abortion is also an act of violence. We are all extremist one way or the other even though we may see ourselves as loving.
Bishop Pennel then conclude that the “non extremist” religious people of faith which he implied is the majority should come together to witness to a loving God. It is a fundamental call to love but may not be a very effective call outside of the States.
Such call is rather idealistic and based on a presumptous innate goodness and purity of the religious faith. However, many of the religious dogmas of the major faiths aren’t very loving. Many state based religious laws are cruel and brutal especially against the GLBT community.
The foundation of major religious faith may not be based on instinct to love God as postulated by the United Methodist Bishop. For example, the Mormons came about when its leader claimed to be the Messiah in but in reality to avoid persecution for having too many wives. The Catholic Church history is a rather dubious takeover by Rome of Christendom even to the extent of claiming authenticity by linking the Roman Popes to Peter! The supremacy of Rome meant the supremacy of the church. Their determination to maintain power and control is through a very harsh homophobic and sexist structure where gays are dammed.
A better call would be for religious faith to be a matter of a personal and private observance as it once was rather than insisting on outward adherance by others or by the state. It is a call for a secular state not a godless state by any means but that all religions should be in a closet and maximum space given to practise a private faith.
The State should not favor nor prescribed to any religion, nor should religious faith be given special rights eg tax examptions which has been abused by the Christian Right and their mega churches and TV businesses.
There is no room for example for people to use Christianity (directly or implied) as reasons for banning gay marriage or limiting basic rights for gays. Therefore, the talk of radical love by radical religions can be insulting based on their track record especially in some countries where the large majority of the conservative Christian faith (eg in Uganda) has all but put gays in closets and persecuted just for being gays.
Such valiant calls to put religious faith in closets for the good of the majority may also be ineffective as religion has such a strong and emotive call. For example, the very vast majority of S'porean churches attended the Transformation 2009 conference which at the core of it was part of the Dominion aggenda to go beyond the religious mountain. Based on the narrow definition of Bishop Pennel, we have 99% extremist in Singapore which makes his notion of the majority being progresives rather doubtful and perhaps true only in the US.
The true call for Christian Faith is not only about us loving God or even God's love for us, but to emphasis on God's Grace, and mercy. Without showing grace nor mercy, our love is not of Christ but carnal human love based on the religious law.
The Pharisees were religious and loved God but they ended up killing the Messiah. Their cry, Shema Israel, loving God as ourselves, was never enough. It must be personifed in God's grace and mercy through Jesus Christ.
Our natural instinct is to love God through the religious law, many of them are harmful and self righteous and take away the basic rights of gay people even though they don't harm us.
Instead our attitude should be the appreciation of God's love for us, and the measured in return of how we show grace and mercy to others in our lives. Against such grace, there is no law nor religion.
The measure of how a religious faith shows God's love, mercy and grace is how it treats its gay community. Jesus Christ was never against gays. He said that they were born as such from birth, and He was concerned only on the hypocrisy of the religious, and the rampant sexual adultery of the straight people.
True religion is measured not by our love for God, but by humility that we are sinners needing God's love, grace and mercy, and redemption in Christ Jesus. We should not be interested only in radical love but also in radical grace and mercy where even the worst sinner could be forgiven. This is the message of the Gospel.