Is Your Religion My Business?

Hey, can I introduce you to a friend? Meet God.

Sometimes I think of myself as a Marxist, only that I cannot reconcile myself with his view of religion as “the opium of the masses”.

The German philosopher, political economist, historian, sociologist, humanist, political theorist and revolutionary credited as the founder of communism, further described religion as “…the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of the heartless world and the soul of the soulless condition.”

Social scientists, depending on their school(s) of thought, have tabled a number of interesting explanations of the social function of religion.

Sociologist Emile Durkheim advanced the view that religion is “society worshipping itself”. Some contend that Durkheim therein suggests that religion goes beyond idolatry and is in essence a form of narcissism also.

And, if you were an Interactionists sociologist, you might argue from the premise that religion helps us to rationalise or make sense of daily experiences.

At funerals, Christians sing hymns and are given hope for a future reunion where there will be no further partings. Or, depending on one’s faith, death is just a portal to life in another form.

Is religion really some sort of drug then? Does it really serve any useful purpose? Would our world be a much better place if everyone were areligious? Should people share their religious beliefs with others? Should they go further and try to convert others to their faith? How should one deal with those who do not share the same religious beliefs?

Why is it then that in this age of “reason”, with all its scientific and technological advancement and focus on empiricism, that religion continues to be a major influence in people’s lives? How should the State deal with religion?

Religion and science, some say, to a large extent, are like oil and water. Science is based on reason, facts and empiricism, while religion is based on faith and belief. Science reaches certain conclusions based on evidence. Religion (or at least Christianity) tells its followers to believe in faith, often without much tangible, empirical evidence.

To borrow the words of Denis MCQuail, I have “a location, a nationality and a cultural background that shape (my) experience, knowledge and outlook”.

Religiously, I consider myself Christian. And Christianity has had a powerful positive impact on my life.

I didn’t grow up in a religious household, though, like almost everyone else in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, my family professed Christianity. (In many instances there is profession but not practise).

I made a decision, at age 12, to “accept Jesus Christ as my personal saviour”and followed through with baptism et al. (my entire household save my oldest brother and nephew, 13, are now baptised).

In a radio diary that I did for my radio production course in the fall of 2008, I spoke of my experience with my religion in the following terms:

“One of the things that I believe has me where I am today is my belief and faith in God. When I was 11 years old, I can remember one night I was coming home from Church and I said to God, I want you to have Your will in my life. I said, “There are times when I would not understand but You just do what You have to do’.

“I don’t know if I fully understood what I was asking of God. But I think that He understood me and He knew what I wanted because He says in the Bible, ‘tell me the desires of your heart and I will grant it unto you’.

“And when I look at my life, I can see the ways in which God was having His will. There are many times when I wanted to do things and they never worked out for me …. But now that I look back I just thank God that I never got many of these things that I wanted.”

God has been good to me. God has helped me to become a better person. He has given me hope when all other sources of hope had failed. For me, the love of God has been one of two constants, the other being change. He has helped me to make sense of many of the otherwise incomprehensible things around me.

That is not to say that there are not things about Christianity and God that I grapple with. (Where did God come from? Why did he allow sin to enter the world in the first place?) However, I have no qualms with my God. I have placed my life into His hands expecting (and receiving) positive outcomes.

Fundamentally, and in keeping with the tenets of Christianity, I believe that man has two components: a mortal body and a soul. On the demise of the former, the life that the individual lived determines whether the latter will live forever in peace in heaven or be eternally tormented in hell.

I believe that sin has separated man from God and Jesus is the only way back to God. I believe that anyone who does not “accept Jesus Christ as his or her saviour” is eternally doomed to hell.

But should I share these beliefs with others?

To answer this question, please allow me to propose a scenario:

I go to the night market here in Taipei and come across some decent basketball shoes at a price that I consider to be a real bargain. I buy a pair of the shoes and realise that they are in fact a good buy. I have a friend who is in need of basketball shoes also. Should I tell him about the good deal I got at the night market?

Need I still answer the question about whether I should share my religious beliefs with others?

But what if, after extolling to my friend the benefits of the shoes in question, he decides that he does not want to buy?

Do I put a gun to his head, literally or metaphorically, and command him to buy it?

This is when sharing religion becomes a problem: When an individual begins to feel that a belief system is being imposed on him or her, then the sharer, not withstanding his or her good intentions, has crossed the line.

True, Jesus Christ has commanded Christian to spread the good news of salvation to the entire world in what is commonly referred to as “The Great Commission”.

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20 NIV)

During the last two years of my high school education, I had the pleasure of knowing an American Peace Corp volunteer named Kristin Salisbury.

Kris was not a religious person and this was one of the fundamental differences between us, notwithstanding the fact that she was 10 years my senior.

One of her lessons that will remain with me for the rest of my life is, “You can always choose your actions but not the consequences.”

This is the essence of what Jesus says in the disciple Mark’s account of Jesus giving “The Great Commission”:

“(Jesus) said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.'” (Mark 16:15&16 NIV)

God has given everyone a will, the ability to make informed choices: informed to the extent that He is explicit about the choices and equally categorical about the consequences of each alternative.

Therefore, people should be free to practise their religion — regardless of what that religion might be — or to not practise a religion if they so choose.

Additionally, people should be free to share their religious believes with other, with a view to promoting understanding or conversion if the other party is so disposed.

In fact, if we approach our conversations about religion more with a view to promoting understanding and facilitate exchanges of opinion, there might be a reduction in religion-based conflict and maybe more conversions.

Herein lies my conflict with Marx. My religion is fundamental to my being. Christianity, to a large extent informs who I am.

So, while I can’t agree with Marx that “religion is the impotence of the human mind to deal with occurrences it cannot understand”, I can see his logic in citing religion as a tool use(d) to justify/explain/excuse unnecessary and inhumane socio-economic inequality as the verse of the Victorian hymn “All Things Bright and Beautiful”, he cited suggests: “The rich man in his castle,/The poor man at his gate,/He made them, high or lowly,/And ordered their estate.”

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10 thoughts on “Is Your Religion My Business?

  1. I am happy for you, God is in control of our life. I believe that no matter what man might want to think or experiment with,
    God would always remain the all powerful.

  2. Interesting article. I recommend the book by Ellen G. White “Steps to Christ” for a few chapters on the issues of why sin entered the world etc.

    In addition I want to make a distinction between true and false religion even within Christianity because inspired men of God wrote of this. The verse you quote in the end of your article is indicative of this problem. false Christian religion has tainted the reputation of the tenets of the pure (true) religion of Jesus Christ.

    James identifies pure religion in James 1:27. This same apostle highlights the principles of justice, equality of status and treatment and impartiality as being fundamental to the faith of Jesus christ in chapter 2 of his epistle. Marx’ idea of Christianity as justifying inequalities etc is far from a true reflection of pure bible Christianity/religion. God did not order the estate of poverty or riches for that matter for He is not responsible for sin. These inequalities and the ills that so often come with them result from sin. In His new Jeruslaem there would be no such distinction.

    The scriptures are our only safeguard and with careful, line upon line, precept upon precept and right dividing of the word of truth, it will stand up to every science, philosophy and ideology that there is. After all it is the word of the all wise God himself. His Holy Spirit will guide every sincere heart into its understanding and its defense.

    As an ardent advocate of religious liberty (I’m an Associate Director of the newly formed Thusian Institute For Religious Liberty/T.I.R.L) I share your views on the matter, with one exception. When a person does not want to hear certain truths, they resist and they often charge “forcing/imposing your religion” upon the person who is merely exercising his religious liberty, which involves proselytising. What is it then to really impose one’s religion upon another? Is it to “earnestly defend the faith”, as encouraged by Jude 1:3? Is it to “preach the word, be instant in season out of season..” as young Timothy was admonished by Paul? “Is it to rebuke with all authority and let no man despise thee?

    I have often had to pause to explain this charge. It is often an unfair one and its veracity or lack thereof cannot be left to the feelings of the person to whom one is preaching. The question must be asked “Is this person truly guilty of the charge of imposing his or her religion?”. If I exercice intolerance: physical abuse of the person to deter them from speaking their views or to force them to follow me, if I imprison them because of their dissenting views, if I refuse them free press for example, these can constitute attempts to impose. If I share my views passionately, strongly, frankly, disagreeing adamantly with the person’s disagreement for example…THAT is NOT imposing my religion.

    This is a miseducation and what it does is stifle certain truths that may be very helpful to society from being highlighted, merely because persons are afraid of the charge, due to the ignorance that prevails. As for me, I’m liberated by the understanding that God has given me and I learn daily to be wise as a serpent yet harmless as a dove. Furthermore, Jesus is my perfect example and his ministry was not characterised by force in truth. However, much of what he said would today be considered “imposing” his religion on others, such as the stubborn and hypocritical pharisees and scribes of his day.

    May God bless you!

    • Anesia,

      Thank you for your elaborate comments.

      Another friend of mine offered me at the beginning of this year another piece of Ellen G. White literature: The Great Controversy. I expressed my appreciation of her thoughtfulness and declined the offer. Please allow me to extend similar sentiments to you. I am convinced now, more than ever, that the Bible can stand on its own, without crutches in the form of E.G. White or any other literature.

      As per true and false religion, I believe that truth is contained in the Bible and can be known. I am not convinced, however, that what some people claim to be truth is in fact THE TRUTH. So many religions groups claim to know. I think what is worst however, are those who claim to have a monopoly on the truth.

      I however believe that truth and freedom are inextricably linked:

      “To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31 & 32)

      Later in that same book, Jesus prays to the Father:

      “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.” (John 17:17)

      Marx, as a social scientist, was merely explaining the world as he saw it. The Victorian hymn, quoted at the end of the article was in fact used as an explanation, if not justification, of social inequality. The Bible was used to keep slaves under the whip in the Americas.

      As per your comment on “religious liberty”, who decides what imposition is? Is it the person who is sharing his religion or the person with whom the religion is being shared?

      How do you interpret Jude’s admonition to “earnestly defend the faith”?

      To my mind imposition, which is based on feelings, is very subjective, because feelings are subjective. An individual’s feelings are valid regardless of whether another person thinks the person with the said feelings should feel that way.

      What might be passion for one person is imposition for another.

      Is terrorism imposition? If it is, who decided that it is? Is it the terrorists or the terrorized?

      I wonder if Muslim extremist of the type that committed the terror attack of September 11, 2001 saw their actions as imposition of their religious beliefs on others. What about the Igbo tribe of Nigeria whose experience with British colonizers Chinua Achebe so excellently captured in “Things Fall Apart”?

      Yes, we are to “preach the word, be instant in season out of season…” but we are also to respect the rights of those who might not want to hear it. God has given us a will, he has given us the ability to choose, having fully explained to us the consequences of our choices.

      Allow me to exaggerate, what of a woman who feels that she is being sexually harassed by a man. He feels that he is just having fun, but to her it is not the least bit funny. When does it become sexual harassment? Is it when he rapes her?

      Too many ills have already been done in the name of religion. Now is the time for us all to work to create an environment in which people can practice their religion if they so desire, to share those beliefs if they are so inclined and to reject all religious wooing is they so prefer.

      With kindest regards …

  3. I’m glad to know that you’re a Christian. In response to one of your questions within the article; ‘Why did God allow sin in the first place?’

    The answer is- man brought sin and death on himself. Death was the consequence of sin. It all began in the garden of Eden when Adam & Eve ate that apple. God specifically said, not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

    “Ye shall not eat of it, neither touch it, least ye die.”

    They disobeyed and hence, the reason why the world is as it is today.

    I just thank God that he sent Jesus, to give us a second chance of eternal life.

    • Kirja,

      Your explanation of where sin came from, as is well documented in Genesis, still does not answer the question of why did God allow it to happen. Why did he allow man to commit sin and therein ruin his perfect creation? I imagine this a question for which we will not get and answer on this side of eternity.

  4. Kenton,

    The question of why God allowed “man to commit sin and therefore ruin his perfect creation” is answered through contemplation of God’s nature as is revealed in the Bible.

    He is love and His loving nature does not rule/govern by force. God created man as free moral creatures with freedom of thought, belief, conscience,opinion, choice, expression, speech and movement. Otherwise we would be automatons operating at the behest of our maker. If this situation were to occur then Satan’s argument that man was only worshipping God because he was obliged to (consider what he said about Job), would be true and this would make God a liar.

    God, being as true as He is, would only accept worship and obedience from a willing heart, convinced by the evidence of His loving nature that He truly is God alone and alone ought to be worshipped. God’s continued dealings with mankind throughout the scriptures are proof of this fact/answer. He allowed sin because His nature of love must prove sin to be wrong by exposing its ‘sinfulness’ as is seen in its consequences etc.

    When I invited you to read the book Steps to Christ, I in no way suggested that it was an addition to the scriptures and or that the Bible needs this book to lean on. I only recommended it because I know that the author looks specifically at the question you posed. I can’t say I know you personally, neither can you say that concerning me so its unfortunate that you seemed to have interpreted me the way you did. It is strongly indicative of some preconceived notion, on your part, concerning me and maybe my beliefs. I have read Marx and I have read Ellen White and I will never say that the scriptures need either authors to stand on their own two feet.

    However if someone were to invite me to consider his writing on the question of why God allowed sin I would do so; not because I think he can ever add to the bible (no one can or should according to the bible itself) but merely because as someone who engages in comparative religious studies, I would be interested in holding up his answer to the light of God’s word and assesing its contents accordingly.

  5. As per the issue of True and False religion and Religious Liberty…

    The Bible says there is ‘pure religion’ and ‘vain religion’-see James 1:26, 27.

    Jesus claimed monopoly on the truth and rightfully so. So did his disciples, in His name. There is no ill in Christians preaching exclusive doctrine as it relates to the truth for it is the pure doctrine of Jesus Christ-see John 14:6, Acts 4:12. In fact, of the “other sheep” which were not of his fold at the time, Christ said ‘them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd” John 10:16

    Imposition of religion on another is any of the following:
    Threats, physical abuse (beatings, violence), arrest, imprisonment, persecution of other forms such as depriving of one’s private property, unlawful killing etc.. if or when all done as a result of the person’s religious views and practices. See Acts 4: 1-3, 17, 21. Acts 5:17-18, 33, and 40. Acts 7: 57-60. This is what the apostles suffered at the hands of the priests, captain of the temple and Sadducees for merely exercising their religious liberty. In so doing they clearly preached and did things with which the Priests etc disagreed and in their reaction they used force to try to curtail their speech, expression, movement and all the natural liberties involved in the exercising of one’s right to serve God/religious liberty.

    On the other hand, religious liberty entails:
    Preaching of criticism, rebuke, call to repentance, exclusive claim to the truth, proselytizing, freedom of association/assembly (going to church), freedoms of conscience, belief, thought, expression, speech (in forms above) and movement See Acts 3:12-20 (scathing rebuke and appeal to repentance), Acts 4:7-12, 19-20 (rebuke, exclusive claim about Jesus being the only way to salvation and assertion of freedoms of conscience, belief and speech), Acts 5:19-21, 25, 29-32, 41 (freedom of movement, preaching, assertion of freedom of conscience, rebuke and criticism etc), Acts 7: 51-56 ( a preaching that was heavily critical and rebuked the Jews). The apostles’ exercise of their religious liberty was all lawful-so much that God freed them from prison miraculously to allow them to resume their preaching which would have been highly offensive to the Priests etc. Would you consider the apostles imposing and therefore guilty of some evil by the world’s standards of the word when it comes to religious preaching and proselytizing? God doesn’t!

    If imposing is left to the feelings of persons it would be very destructive, as what it is merely within a person’s rights and freedoms to do or say would be accused of some evil. Besides, as you rightfully admitted, feelings/emotions are subjective. I would add that they are also fickle. Therefore person A may consider ‘imposing one’s religion’ may not be what person B may consider that way, even though you preach the same thing to them both. Is the morality or lack thereof of the preacher’s position to be judged by the unstable emotions of often insincere, hardhearted men? The scriptural discourse above featuring the experiences of the Apostles and the Jews of those days shows the truth on the matter. I do not have to be concerned with the feelings of men above my duty to speak the truth to them (we all have truth claims-my right to it is protected as well as others’). A person’s feelings at any given point in time are valid to them most of all. I do not and cannot value the offended feelings of a sodomite (homosexual/lesbian) to whom I have just shown how abominable God considers his/her act and why he/she needs to repent.

    Imposition is essentially force and it amounts to infringement of the person’s rights and freedoms. If I express an idea..strongly even, that does not constitute me forcing it on the person. They still have their freedom of choice to listen, walk away, ‘suck their teeth’, answer me back, ‘cork their ears’ etc and those are all legal reactions. If to those reactions I (God forbid) box them in the face or arrest them for their disagreement, for example, that is force. If I insist on going on their private property (their yard) to advance my doctrine even after they refuse my advances, that is imposition.

    To earnestly contend for the faith” is not to do violence in its defense. It is merely to defend it in discourse and uphold its truthfulness against any errors for example (acts 15:2 tells us of no small ‘dissension’/argument and debate among the apostles-read the entire chapter).

    Terrorists’ actions of unlawful killing and applications of force to coerce persons into acceptance of their religious views, for example, is an extreme comparison to what I advanced. For I was not advancing infringement on a person’s rights and freedoms. True Religious liberty would not commit violence in promoting itself. (Any religion needing violence to help it is no true religion at all). Sexual Harassment defined by law takes in unwelcomed advances even before rape. It involves, to an extent, infringement of private property in the form of private space etc (calling a person’s phone and hanging up, calling and remaining silent, stalking etc).

    Preaching in a person’s hearing (using public property and space), what they do not want to hear is far from any comparison of sexual harassment. It is not disrespect of rights because the person still has their right and freedoms to make a decision that will take them outside of the sphere of hearing or listening to you if they so desire. They also have their right in their own home, not to hear you. In the public, all have their rights, the disinterested hearer as well as the preacher.

    What is needed is true tolerance- not the false idea that to be tolerant is to agree with or accept the person’s position but to disagree if you must but bear them. This one will do because one understands that the individual has their right and freedom to hold the opinion they hold and express it accordingly. As French philosopher Voltaire said “I may disagree with what you say but I will fight to the death for your right to say it”

    In light of this, religious liberty exists when there is:
    -The political and social environment and opportunities to exercise free choice for God
    -Freedom from threat, censorship, the loss of private property and fear of pain and death in religious matters.

    Note: Reflections on your article gave me my last topic for a radio program I host called “The Rights of the People”. My subject was “Another Look at Your Religious Liberty; What does it mean to impose/force your religion on another person?” The biblical discourse above was used in the presentation.

    With Christian Regards
    Anesia

  6. God gives us freedom of choice, but He shows us the consequences of whatever we chose: it’s eternal life or fire. We are in no way forced to make any choice. It’s left to us to understand God’s plans for us – to read and search the scriptures diligently.

  7. Pingback: Some thoughts on constitutional reform in St. Vincent «

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