Monday, February 28, 2011

Religion, Violence and War

  Over the past few weeks I have been in several conversations that have pointed out that all too often the cause for was is religion.  Some who did this were hostile, seeing it as a reason not to believe, others were pensive and reflective, lamenting this and wondering why, so I thought I would make an attempt on this blog to address the issue. 
   Let me begin by saying that I am not attempting to solve that problem.  That is beyond me. If per chance I succeed at that  please do nominate me for a Nobel Prize.
   Those of us who are believers and especially who are clergy in any religion should be humbled by this fact. It is interesting that just about every religion advocates non-violence, peace, forgiveness.  Nonetheless we have to admit that there is a great deal of passion regarding religion. Passion, when disconnected from the foundational spiritual experience on which religions are founded can lead to hatred and violence.  As Catholics, before we get too self-righteous about what a handful of Muslims have done recently,  need only to look to the Crusades, the Inquisition and the fights between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland. And while I don't think that the Christian Churches of Germany were directly responsible for the Holocaust I do think that centuries of anti-Semitism in Europe, fostered often by Church leaders, contributed to that horror.
  So what are we to do?  Are we to be less passionate about our beliefs?  Certainly not. I am passionate about my Catholic faith.  I believe deeply in Jesus Christ and His presence in the Eucharist. I believe that His life and ministry continues in the Catholic Church and I know that I would not feel at home as a Baptist, or within many other Protestant denominations, although though I have many friends who belong to those Churches and I know that we share a common faith in Jesus Christ. I cherish the Jewish roots of Christianity and have been enriched by conversations with Bhuddists, Hindus and Muslims, as well as by reading some of their Sacred Texts. Yet I do not for a minute think of killing someone because their beliefs differ from mine. 
I am not unique in that.  It is hardly a boast.  Why?  Because I think that most believers deep down know that all people who genuinely seek God, truth, good are heading in the same direction.  Also as a Christian I know that Jesus, a Jew, dealt with Romans, Canaanites and others and saw the good in them.
  A final point I would make is that this history of violence between religions, as alarming as it is and as important as it is that we strive to end it, is a lame excuse for not believing or for not belonging to a Church of some sort.  There are many good reasons not to belong, but that is not one of them because it fails to look at the fact that the same religions that produced violence have also produced countless holy people (what we Catholics call saints) and have inspired countless projects to feed the hungry and take care of the sick and homeless.  This applies not only to the famous leaders and spiritual movements, but especially to the many great saints that I meet in every parish that I visit to preach.  I'm sure that this is so in countless churches, synagogues, mosques, Buddhist and Hindu shrines and places of worship as well.  This is the real fruit of religion and it should inspire us to continually dialogue so that the love of God that stands behind every religion does not go off course and lead to war.

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