God, who is an unlimited and unbounded being, is present and alive in every sphere of human activities and bubbles of the cosmos, still He unveils Himself in humanity. Of essential note, a discourse on God is basically possible as analogy because of the difference of His infinite otherness. Man’s similarity to God (cf. Gen 1: 26 – 27) funds his relationship with Him while our dissimilarity with Him, which is of infinite proportions safeguards God’s transcendence (cf. Isaiah 55:8 – 9, Isaiah 40:28, Psalm 147:5, Psalm 8: 3 – 4). God-talk runs on analogy informed by apophasis. The possibility of analogy is predicated on God’s initial katalogy. Hence, religion is, therefore, linked to man’s response-ability.
Religion is about relationship. It is a relationship between man and the Supreme Deity that gives meaning, direction and finality to life. It is a relationship with God, the Alpha of our lives and Omega of our existence that collapses distance and effects communion. Certainly, relationship functions in reciprocal categories and admits of elements of mutuality. In Christian religion, one lives the faith through grace by the Spirit, adhering to standards, precepts as understood and interpreted by the trustees of the faith. So, for proper appreciation of its message, every religious text needs hermeneutics, which fundamentally begins with faith. The reason is not far-fetched: this is, precisely, because every reading involves an intricate network of connections and complexities that inform interpretation, often involving alternations. Every reading is a misreading, says Phyllis Rose, or better put, every reading is an interpretation.
Readings are naturally interpretative, because texts involve con-texts, in order to obviate proof-texting. Context accentuates the true meaning of a text such that contextlessness is meaninglessness. As such, every reading of the Bible is an interpretation and the Bible is replete with evidence – there are Old Testament interpretations and reinterpretations of the Old Testament, the New Testament interpretations of the Old Testament, the New Testament interpretations of the New Testament (consider Saint Paul’s teachings), and the early Church interpretations of the New Testament referred to as dogmas. Theology is Church’s continual interpretation of the Scriptures.
Letters alone historically archeologise the Word and render it sterile and stale lacking in depth and possibility, as well as render deficit its transformative actualities. The Sacred Books risk running on deficit with the letter alone. Letter kills (cf. 2 Cor. 3:6). Literalism could be a boon or a bane depending on the content and context. Hence, the Scripture has to be read within the faith community/the body of Christ because it is first addressed to the people of God, and by being the Word addressed to the community of believers, it becomes simultaneously the Word addressed to the individual. In other words, praying for an understanding of the Scriptures will help Muslims and Christians to appreciate the true meaning of the passages that apparently counsel violence in the Qur’ān or Bible. Islam is a religion of the book; Christianity is a religion of the Word – both Christianity and Islam need to understand the Scripture in order to avert the projection of unhealed and wounded human desires to God.
God, who is all holy, does not promote violence. He accepts even the worst sinner on account of His goodness and bids the sinner to repentance in order to savour His goodness. He does not need to demonstrate His power against a people, or a nation because He is not in competition with any person. He is not at war with the devil for such would be an infradig. God, who is above all and the ground of all being, does not take pleasure in deaths, so, how can He command a people to be killed? Never!
Pagan deities require blood for appeasement and humans require scapegoats. Not God! The system of scapegoatism originates from man’s imperfect understanding of God’s ways (cf. Jn 1:17). God has really no business with spilling of blood and does not command it (cf. Ez. 18:23, 32, Ez. 33: 11; Isaiah 1:11; 1 Sam 15:22; Psalm 51:16 – 17; Proverb 21:3; Mark 12:33; Matthew 9:13; Matthew 12:7). Human sacrifices dishonour and profane His name (cf. Deut 12:31, Lev. 18:21). Christians and Muslims should put on their rational faculty.
Religion is not an eclipse of reason. Faith and reason are two wings with which a soul flies to God. If reason is of no avail relative to faith, one wonders why God created us rational. Reason is not what we have but what we are. Therefore, we worship God with the totality of ourselves: head, heart and hand corresponding with the intellective, the affective and the psychomotor aspects of us (cf. Deut 6:5 – 7; Matthew 22: 37 – 40; Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27).
Hence, the Bible is better understood as a unit. Proof-texting leaves the Scriptures susceptible to manipulation or distortion. The Word veiled in the Old Testament and unveiled in the New Testament, the Incarnate Christ is the hermeneutic, the fulfilment and the definitive revelation of God. So, the New Testament is the key to understanding the Old Testament. Similarly, reading the whole message of the Qur’ān will help Muslims transcend a distorted reading of the book of their religion. The truth is that, no true worship of God has space for violence. Fundamentalist reading of the Scriptures funds the manifestation of the unresolved complexes couched in a cloak of religion and projects them as message from God. He who lives by the Word lives by the Spirit and manifests the fruits of the Spirit, which renders one a real person of God.
In fact, true religion heals the worst and the basest in us and lifts us to self-transcendence that helps one understands the mystery of God. Religion, therefore, should be an instrument of divine filiation and human fraternity. In this category, there is no room for wars, violence or domination. Surely, domination is the extrapolation of unresolved complexes and selfish desires sometimes atrociously attributed to God’s command.
Certainly, interest rules the world. Often personal interest masks as benign altruistic disposition, and wears the toga of common good, but actually it is a cult of self-worship fuelled by greed. This interest becomes pejorative when it meets religion. The fear of losing the interest funds internal disquiet and disequilibrium and external strife. Obviously, most often, at the root of violence, is fear; fear is at the foundation of violence. Envy and anger fund this fear. When this fear gets intense and passionate, it begets hate and thus leads to eclipse of reason. As matter of course, reason is the first causality. In consequence, the eclipse creates a vacuum for an irrational fear to turn into violence. Incidentally, if the best are aloof and the base burn with inextinguishable rage, you can surmise the rest. Absolutely, violence becomes the norm.
On account of the ugly acts of some religionists, some brand religion irrational and opium. The existential facts tend to suggest that religion obstructs human flourish and thrives in eliding the use of reason. Some academics accuse religion of promoting divisions, superstitions and flight from responsibility. However, one wonders whether religion or actually the culture of religion is the problem. Even though a true religion is a story of enchantment of a rapt embrace of the divine, yet it stirs a profound and searching scrutiny in a sincere adherent.
It takes a simple parsing to know that it is abominable to hate in the name of God of love, to promote divisions in the name of God that is plural yet perfectly united in One, to kill in the name of God of life, to quarrel and fight in the name of God of peace, to lazy away in the name of God of work, to destroy in the name of God of creation. Isn’t it self-evident and contradictory to the being of God that He will be the sole reason that things antithetical to him are being perpetrated? Particularly, cruelty is antithetical to God of compassion, as killing defames the name of God of life. It is fundamentally inconsistent and irreconcilable to sustain war and conflict in the name of God, the author of peace. We cannot permit, promote and sustain evil in the name of God.
The truth should be categorical that an oracle of God is not God. Religion which is a gift to humanity is not equal to God but rather constitutes a path and pedagogy to Him. Since it is offered to man, it is not impossible for man to manifest evident imperfection in its use. Religion can be a great force for good and has truly been, notwithstanding its abuses across climes and times. It is the time to allow religion to act as corrective of the base and stubborn in us. It is the time to adhere to the religion that is consistent with God expressed in virtues of love, life, mercy, forgiveness, kindness, hard-work and industry, meekness, humility, justice and truth and say no to all forms of abuse of religion be it in promotion of sectarianism, violence and division, forceful conversions, fundamentalism, and together we can reclaim religion and reject evil with a chorus Not in God’s Name shall violence and evil endure again.
Fr George ADIMIKE