The earliest memory of my life is that of my mother taking me to the Methodist Sunday School in Linville, a small village nestled in the foothills of the Blackbutt Ranges of Queensland. For all but a few Sundays, I have been going to Church ever since, and recently I notched up my 53rd year as an Elder, firstly in the Presbyterian Church and then the Uniting Church.
In my earliest years, I was a rigid fundamentalist but, as the years passed, I peacefully and happily translated to becoming a very liberal one, while never ever diminishing the depth of my pilgrimage as a follower of Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified because he broke all the conservative traditions. I now proudly describe myself as a Progressive Christian, hungry to understand more of the mystery of it all.
Right now, I have three main goals in my life as a Christian.
One is to work persistently towards the achievement of a reduction in poverty across the planet, as no person can claim to be a follower of Jesus of Nazareth without doing something meaningful about this blot on humanity.
The second is to live in peace and understanding with those of other faiths. In seeking to participate in the task of bringing this to reality, I am a very active member of the North Brisbane Inter Faith Group, where Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, etc, share meals and dialogue together regularly and strive to find beliefs and ethics we can agree upon.
Number three, which should really be number one, is to foster the hope that religious people everywhere will refrain from declaring that their actions are the Will of God. Since the dawn of time, millions have been killed by those who claimed to have acted in God’s name, but the truth is that every single death has been the unjustifiable action of a violent person passionately and conveniently declaring that they had no option but to carry out a command they had received directly from God himself.
Nothing can be further from the truth. In reality, they were expressing their inbuilt bigotry and lack of intelligence, while bolstering their personal insecurity.
I am a very avid reader of books about religion, and I find that, when you cut away all the heavy theology that smothers any faith, you can get down to the very essence of them all. You discover the irrefutable fact that they are all religions of love and peace and justice.
The horror of violence has been added to doctrines down the centuries by people with tiny minds who had a need to gain or retain power that would sustain their permanent domination of the masses. Too many religious leaders, and political leaders who used religion to gain power, have been, and still are, manipulators and betrayers of the very basics of any faith.
Throughout my life, I have watched awful deeds that were based on the so-called ‘Will of God’. Catholics and Protestants murdering one another in Northern Ireland has been a shameful blot on Christianity. Shiite and Sunni Muslims killing one another in Iraq, Iran and Syria is a travesty that violates the basic tenets of a peaceful Islamic Faith. Buddhists killing Tamils in Sri Lanka has little resemblance to the peace that we have always attributed to Buddhism. Going back a couple of centuries, we find that slavery was carried out by Christians who declared themselves to be a superior race — God’s chosen people — honouring what they declared to be God’s stated intention that inferior people were destined to be servants. As a footnote, we can record that they made a lot of money carrying out “God’s will”.
Without trying to preach a sermon, can I make some personal observations that could contribute to a sensible discussion on the role of religion in life.
Much of the bloodshed has had its foundation in the belief that religion is based on personal salvation and a promise of life after death, but the reality is that these are thoughts that are capable of fostering selfishness and a distortion of spiritual power.
I hold the view that religions are predominantly about a love that unites humanity and seek to share the resources of the world equitably. Thus, I believe in a God who does not punish non-believers.
It has been a long time since I have believed that God decides who lives or dies. He (or she) gives us the spiritual power to handle whatever life throws at us, and this will always be composed of both good and bad. That power enables us to go to our death with a complete faith and with no expectation of reward.
In blunt words, happiness and prosperity can exist only in a world of peace, whereas religion today is the most common cause of oppression, whether it be physical or economic or social, and this is very sad.
It also spreads appalling inequality in the treatment of women, which is just as bad in Rome as it is in Mecca. It is not only unjust. It makes little sense as it means that half the economic and social power of the world is under-utilised. This is just plain dumb, as well as being manifestly unfair.
Where does this lead you and me?
We will move towards a better world if more and more of us can acknowledge that we are incomplete people who will enjoy life more if we harness a spiritual power beyond ourselves and then determine which religion relates best to our image of life, while respecting those who choose to walk another pathway to God.
Too many choose a God called Money, and they are really fragile people who cause more havoc for humanity that the most bigoted of religious killers. While I have a healthy respect of a good bank balance, it benefits me only if it is my servant, not the reverse.
There is a potentially beautiful and peaceful world out there. Too many bigots, who worship greed and a selfish brand of religion, stand in the way of it being enjoyed by most of humanity.
A step forward for all of us in creating peace and prosperity in a just society is to divest ourselves of every vestige of bigotry we carry around, as it is excess baggage that is a very heavy burden.
I am working personally and regularly on the divesting, but writing this article reminds me that I have a long way to go.
Implementing some changes of attitude during the goodwill of the Christmas season is a great idea, so long as we remember that only a minority of the world’s population will be celebrating it.
For the majority, their religious festivals happen at another date in the calendar — a reminder to us all that diversity is an interesting and important element of life.