Religion is the Cause of all the Trouble in the World
On my way to the ATM machine at my Chase Bank in Corte Madera I walked by a biker who loudly and angrily yelled into his cell phone, “Religion is the cause of all the trouble in the world!”
Punching in my PIN number I listened to more of the one-sided conversation: “Religion has got to go! The zealots are standing in the way of controlling climate change.”
What did the guy sitting astride his Harley mean by religion? Christianity—likely. Hinduism—likely. Buddhism—maybe. Islam—very likely.
In a way I agreed with him. Religion has, does, and always will produce conflict among peoples, nations, and tribes, but that is far from the whole story.
I thought about other “isms”. Atheism is an ism. Materialism, capitalism, socialism, communism, fascism—these are also isms. What about democraticism or republicanism? Are these isms?
Communism has known a few rather infamous adherents. Think of Lenin and Stalin, and the latter a mass murderer if ever there was one. Pol Pot of the killing fields fame, a communist. Mao is also in the communism fold, and how many millions did he put away?
Fascism—Hitler and his cronies are about as religious as one could get—about his own brand. Don’t imagine that Hitler was an actual Christian; no, he hated the Christian Church, and its destruction was on his list right after the Jewish people.
Shintoism and Buddhism had Japanese zealots in that era, and their atrocities against the Chinese and Koreans—egregious.
I could go on, digging deeper into history, but I hope to have made my point.
We are all religious. No one is without an ism, including those who embrace Darwinism. We are born to believe in something, and we do, and there is usually a group already organized who has the ism all laid out in neat slogans, platitudes, and doctrines.
Mel Gibson’s film, Apocalyto, described the Aztec takeover of the Mayan culture in the sixteenth century. That primitive and native religion, which is essentially shamanism, may be one of the world’s largest religions, however unorganized the practitioners are. The Aztecs and their religion make the Islamic State beheaders look like beginners.
I have an ism, you have an ism. If that biker at the bank expressed his own ism to its logical extreme, would he advocate worldwide suicide so the animal and plant kingdom could survive? Pollution and global warming—maybe the humans ought to be phased out and allow other life forms to dominate. Some call this “ultimate environmentalism”.
Fundamentalism—it’s idealists are found among all the other isms. They are the ones who want to go back to the basics and nothing but the basics. The Salafis in the Islamic far right want to live like Muhammad and the first few generations who followed. (Al-Baghdadi, the 8th Caliph and head of the Islamic State is a Salafi.) Seventh century customs and practices—their ideal way to go, but maybe not with the camels and sandals.
Toxic and Cultic
Most ordinary religious people simply carry on and desire to live out their lives in peace. Yet, Hindus, Buddhists, and Christians all have their fundamentalists, and we read about them in the papers from time to time. It is among the idealists, the fundamentalists, where things can go wrong. They take matters into their own hands and crush the infidels if necessary. Their way or the highway, since their doctrines are pure and righteous, without which all is lost.
We are all vulnerable to being cultic and dangerously toxic; this is especially so for those who think they are immune. Yes, there is a certain comfort and security in thinking you have it all down, with all questions answered and nothing to get confused about. This is the zone of the cultic mentality, where anyone out of step must be set straight, even dealt with severely. When the cult has political dominance, this process can become exponentially horrific. Imagine life in an Islamic State, if their power was absolute and Sharia Law was practiced across the board. Scary indeed.
Is my ism better than your ism? It may well be, but then what? For me, I believe Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father except through Him. I know that some will follow Jesus, others will not. If fact, I know that there will only be a few who follow Jesus at any given time. In Matthew 6:13-14 we find Jesus saying:
Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.
This does not mean that I will harbor ill will towards those who do not see that Jesus is the Savior as I do. I may make reasonable efforts to be a witness for Christ to those who do not know Him, and this is my way of being loving. However, the person who rejects Jesus does not become my enemy but is instead someone to pray for and continue to love and witness to.
The anti-religious biker
Even that biker is religious; he simply has a different religion, something he holds as the most important thing, even if it is a negative. He just doesn’t realize his “something” is a religion. What you follow as the ultimate truth is your religion. I am a follower of Jesus; this is my religion and my spiritual path. For those who assume that serious spirituality can be without religious practice, such spirituality is a hobby only. Saying, “I am spiritual but not religious,” is an empty claim.
The biker is entitled to his ism. So are you. So am I. So is the Muslim, the Hindu, the Buddhist, the communist, and so on. The problem is the extremist, the fundamentalist, and the self-righteous, who is convinced everyone else must believe as he does. Or else!
Religion is the cause of all the trouble in the world.
We might as well accept this as fact.
To put it another way: Show me a troublemaker who has no religion, no set of values or ideas about what is real and ultimately significant. Go ahead, do it, and I will be satisfied. I am confident that neither you nor anyone else can. Strong convictions that lead to strong action comes from religion.
The real trouble
Isms are one thing; the people who embrace them are another. The real trouble is the people, that is, us. And I mean all of us.
The “weeping” prophet Jeremiah stated it clearly: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”
This means all hearts, yours and mine. Here is what Jesus said about it: “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone” (Matthew 15:19-20a).
Jesus was arguing with the religious authorities of Judaism. There were many rules about almost everything, and in this passage the question had to do with eating food with unwashed hands. It was a religious rather than a hygienic issue. Jesus took the opportunity to point out that the best of religious observance did not go to the heart of the matter. In this case, they had disconnected the spiritual basis from the religious practice, leaving the practice empty.
Ideas are powerful; they may motivate, inspire, or take you over to the point you become a slave to the idea. The idea slaves are then sanctioned to protect, promote, and defend the group against outsiders and unbelievers. This goes for dictators of any stripe, plus Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and Christians. Remember, we all are vulnerable.
Indeed “It is me, it is me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer.”