“Increase in us true religion.” So we pray in the Collect.
What a need there is for this in the world today! The religious need for a Sikh to avenge the desecration of his sacred temple leads to the sabotage of an Air India airliner, and more than three hundred innocent people’s lives are destroyed. Salman Rushdie mocks the Prophet Mohammed, and is forced to live as a refugee with a price on his head. Muslim suicide bombers, promised Paradise as a reward for their actions, systematically attack all forces of civilization, law and order. Religious Jews claim all of Palestine as having been given them by God, provoking fighting and unrest that have continued in the area for centuries. Jesus himself can claim to be another victim put to death by ‘religion’. Didn’t the Jews in St. John’s gospel say: “We have a law, and by that law he ought to die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.”?
Yet within Christendom, it’s not a whole lot better. Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland still have bitter animosity one to another, until recently punctuated by murder and bombs. Church history is filled with an unholy toll of Inquisitions, burning of witches and heretics, wars of religion, and strife between various factions. The conquest of Mexico and Peru in the New World was carried out in the name of religion. An evangelist of the ‘religious right’ in the United States recently called for the assassination of the President of Venezuela, as being too friendly with foes of his country. Our own Anglican Church of Canada is at long last beginning to realize its own role in the attack on aboriginal culture and spirituality in the system of residential schools. It is easy to agree with the sentiment of the Roman poet Lucretius, reflecting on the killing of his daughter Iphigenia by his father, the Greek king Agamemnon, as a sacrifice to ensure a favourable wind for the invasion of Troy, that “Religion can persuade men to perform an enormous amount of evil.”
At the back of much of this behaviour is a belief in a sacred duty of revenge. God’s name has been blasphemed, his temple desecrated, his holy teachings perverted. Surely, it is our sacred duty to take our swords in hand, punish the Infidel, convert the heathen, recapture the Holy Land, and make the world safe for Democracy. And if gold, oil or new territory and new resources fall into our laps when so doing, so much the better.
No, it is not. “Vengeance is mine, I will repay” says the Lord. Jesus has given very specific instructions as to how we are to deal with our enemies and those who abuse us. It involves turning the other cheek, going the second mile, and praying for those who despitefully use us. We do it because, as sinners who have been forgiven and raised to new life in Christ, and live now in a spirit of love not law. We share the grace of God who has given us forgiveness, with others who “are indebted to us”.
Saint James in his epistle says that: “What God the Father considers to be pure and genuine religion is this: to take care of orphans and widows in their suffering, and to keep oneself from being corrupted by the world.”
The very opposite, it would seem, of the ‘religious’ course of conduct that creates those widows and orphans in the first place!