Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Falsification of Religion

The Holy Father’s  visit to Lebanon Sep 14-16 was an extraordinary moment in the current crisis in the Middle East, one almost entirely ignored by the secular media. At great risk to his own personal safety, the Pope went to the Middle East and spoke a word there of peace, reconciliation, and the dignity of the human person. For the next while on the blog, I will be excerpting and commenting on his various talks there, so as to provide a much needed deeper perspective on this most anguished issue of our day.

Fundamentalism is always a falsification of religion. It goes against the essence of religion, which seeks to reconcile and to create God’s peace throughout the world. Therefore the task of the Church and of religions is to undertake a purification – a lofty purification of religion from such temptations is always necessary. It is our task to illumine and purify consciences and to make it clear that every person is an image of God. We must respect in the other not only his otherness, but also, within that otherness, the essence we truly have in common as the image of God, and we must treat the other as an image of God. So the essential message of religion must be against violence – which is a falsification of it, like fundamentalism – and it must be the education, illumination and purification of consciences so as to make them capable of dialogue, reconciliation and peace.

Interview with reporters on flight to Lebanon, Sept 14, 2012

Reflection – ‘Religion causes violence. Religion causes wars.’ This is the standard answer given for rejecting religion in our day. Aside from its dubious historical basis (yes, some violence and some war has been done in the name of religion… but plenty of violence and war have been done for money, too, and I don’t see too many people renouncing that!), this claim is ably addressed here by Pope Benedict.

He grants its proper legitimacy—violence and hatred can emerge from religion, as they can emerge from anything we care deeply about—but are alien to its essence. They falsify religion, and always and everywhere are to be purged from authentic religious sentiment.

Secular people get nervous about religion and its absolutism. God has an absolute claim on our lives, our wills, our whole being. No human authority is higher than the authority of God. Before I am a Canadian or a Lemieux or any other human affiliation, I am a Roman Catholic Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ, and this lays a claim on me that supersedes every other claim. All of this I firmly believe.

To the secular person, this is a recipe for fanaticism and sets the stage for all sorts of pathological behaviours: violence, hatred, murder even. But here’s the crucial point: the God to whom I owe absolute allegiance and unhesitating obedience is a loving Father. He loves every creature he has made and bids me, commands me, to love them as well.

This God who has an absolute right to demand everything of me, my very life if He so desires it, tells me in his Word that every human being is made in His image and likeness. Every human being is a precious gift, a work of art, a walking revelation of this same God.

The question is not whether or not we can have too much religion, as if faith and spirituality are good things as long as they are kept in balance with other good things. Rather, the question is, do we have enough religion, and does the religion we have go deep enough, ascend high enough, extend broadly enough, penetrate every atom of creation enough.

When religion does not expand to its fullest realization, it tends towards fundamentalism, which is to say, religion reduced to an ideology, to a program, to some kind of extension of my being, my security, my place in the world. And of course a religion that is an ideology quickly devolves into violence, war, killing—the whole sad history of bad religion in the world.
In the days ahead, Pope Benedict on this blog will lay out over and over his vision of humanity and God and the path to peace and reconciliation in the world. I hope you will all join me and him as we walk this path over the next week or so.

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