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August 5, 2006

'Keeping God Hostage'

Topics: Faith
An original article appealing for reason and peace, by Rev. Canon Patrick P. Augustine - Rector, Christ Episcopal Church, La Crosse, Wisconsin. With the world embroiled in the beginings of a world war, Father Augustine, who grew up in Pakistan, is reminding all of us, Jews Christians, and Muslims, that we are all people of the same God, and that we should all let God be God and not be kept hostage by zealotry and hatred.
Is religion like a loaded gun in today's Middle East? Are we in the middle of a "War of Religions," as the attack on the headquarters of Hizab Allah [Hezbollah] in Southern Lebanon has been called? Even though Christians, Muslims, and Jews are first cousins, tied to each other through Abraham, we continue to commit atrocities against each other. We act as a dysfunctional family. In fact, interactions among Abraham's fractious offspring create many of the most dangerous flashpoints on the planet, and each faction justifies deplorable actions against its brothers as a service to God, by whatever name we worship Him.

The essential problem is that belief in one vision of God to the exclusion of all others is used to justify violence against those we ought to embrace in love. In Islam when a child is born, the Imam recites Shahadah (witness) in his/her ear: "God is greater. I testify that there is no other god than God. I testify that Muhammad is God's messenger." In the Jewish faith, children have been taught the Ten Commandments since Moses' time. "I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the bondage. You shall have no other gods but me." A Christian child is also nurtured with Jesus' teaching: "The Lord our God is the only Lord." All three religions reveal that we should adore and worship God as omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent, but why is this so often done without respect and love for our neighbors?

While I was growing up in Pakistan, I often heard the Imam, during the Friday prayers, calling on the Islamic Ummah for the destruction of the state of Israel. I also saw walls covered with graffiti such as "Death to Jews"; and, then and now, Muslim militants continue to kill themselves and Jewish innocents of all ages with suicide bombs. As a persecuted people, the Jews themselves are not without sin. I have personally witnessed the sufferings of Palestinians caused by Jewish settlers in the Occupied Territories. Christian history, too, is marred by violence and uncharitable acts towards Muslims and Jews. In the1990s, Serbian Christians stood trial for atrocities against Bosnian Muslims. Many others have gone unpunished over the centuries. As a believer in God, I am ashamed of such crimes committed against humanity in the name of Jesus Christ and our Heavenly Father.

Whatever religious people may say about their love of God or the mandates of their religion, when their behavior toward others is violent and destructive, when it causes suffering among their neighbors, one can be sure the religion has been corrupted and reform is desperately needed. When religion becomes evil, even God is held hostage. We must not forget that Christ said, "Love your neighbor as yourself," that God told Micah "to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God" (Micah 6:8), and that the God of the Qur'an is a God of the universes (note the plural). Geographically, there is neither East nor West for Him (Surah 2: Verse 115). God is everywhere and belongs to everyone. He made people into different tribes and nations speaking different languages and living in different cultures. All these are signs of God's universal compassion and we must learn to appreciate each other (Surah 5: verse 48, Surah 30: verse 22, and Surah 49: verse 13).

The question the world needs to pose before the dysfunctional family of
Abraham is: "What do we mean when we say God?" Do not Elohim, Allah or God (whom we know and experience through the Torah, the Bible and the Qur'an,) share the same attributes? Isn't each seen as All Powerful, All Merciful, All Seeing, The Most Exalted, The Holy, The Just, The Guardian of Peace, The Resurrector, The Light, The Truth and The Way? In the Exodus event in the Bible, God reveals Himself by acting on behalf of a weak, defenseless people. This is the God of Power and of Strength, able to destroy the enslaving power of the mighty Pharaoh. But we must not forget that after Yahweh liberated the people of Israel and brought them to the Promised Land, He gave them the commandment:

You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him;

For you were strangers in the land of Egypt.

You shall not ill-treat any widow or fatherless child. If you

Do, be sure that I will listen if they appeal to me; my anger

Will be roused and I will kill you with the sword. (Exodus 22:21-24)

Jews, Christians and Muslims are all guilty of not loving each other. The three of us often question, "Am I my brother's keeper?" How would the world look if we could recognize that we are brothers and sisters of three faith communities? What would such a consensus in conscience bring about? Would we still spend billions of dollars every year to build ingenious instruments of death to destroy God's children and pollute the environment while thousands of poor people suffer in Gaza and Southern Lebanon?

Looking at the war-torn situation in the Middle East, Sudan, Afghanistan, Kashmir, Pakistan and India, one might easily throw in the towel in despair. Nevertheless, I was reminded last Sunday in the words of the Episcopalian baptismal service, that, as a Christian, I am called to strive for justice and peace among all people and to respect the dignity of every human being. The lack of respect for the dignity of every individual has deeply wounded humanity, and, as a result, God's children wander around in a desperate search for peace and love.

Peacemaking is the work of love, and "in love there can be no fear, but fear is driven out by perfect love" (1 Jn. 4:18). As a follower of Jesus Christ, peacemaking is my obligation. It requires total dedication to work as an instrument for peace. Where there is hatred, I must sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union. Can I do it alone? No. As they say, no man is an island. We need each other. Jews, Christians and Muslims as children of Abraham need to come together.

World powers have not played a constructive part in solving the problems of the children of Abraham. Why cannot we as people of God come together and take care of it ourselves? I call on Jews and Muslims to join me to work for peace. The challenge today is to seek a unity that celebrates and respects diversity. We must marshal positive energy as religious people with faith in our God of peace and mercy, not in a god of war. The dysfunctional family of Abraham needs to be reconciled and healed. When we surrender our wills under the will of God, there can be many options for those who take seriously the call to be peacemakers. Let God be God and not be kept hostage by zealotry and hatred. May His blessings-- not missiles-- rain upon all God's children.

Posted by Richard at August 5, 2006 9:19 AM

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