Understanding Religion

Dear Readers:

Two weeks ago, there was a published letter in response to my article on Pan-Africanism, where the writer used the opportunity to make certain anti-American and anti-Christian statements.

Recently I have observed a trend by some respondents to newspaper articles, where the writers introduce their own premises, falsely attribute them to the author with whose views they disagree, and then proceed to criticise their own premises. It may be that this type of response stems from a resentment of having their own ideas challenged, or a frustration of being unable to dispute the stated facts.

Since the letter writer was merely criticising his own premises, there is nothing for me to respond to. However his anti-Christian statements have revealed a disturbing misconception that needs to be addressed. It is the illogical assertion that if a person calls himself an adherent of Christianity, and behaves contrary to the teachings of Jesus, then Christianity is at fault.

It is often difficult to understand a religion by the behaviour of its adherents, especially those who follow the interpreted traditions of religious leaders rather than the stated precepts of their scriptures. How can one hope to understand Islam by observing the Islamic resistance groups and suicide bombers who claim to be devout Muslims? How can one hope to understand Christianity by observing the Klu Klux Klan who claim to be devout Christians? While these and other groups claim to be religious, their behaviour is clearly contrary to the precepts of their religion.

History is littered with men and women, who have claimed to be religious, but who have committed or sanctioned inhumane atrocities that are inconsistent with their religion’s teachings. Does this mean that there is no value in the teachings of their religion?

Most religions have provisions for justly governing a society, and they have contributed to the social, economic and political development of various nations around the world. Unfortunately some religious leaders are led astray by greed, and tempted with the glory of power. Some who have succumbed have subsequently gravely misrepresented the ideals of their religion, resulting in the development of some irresponsible religious traditions and practices.

Jesus’ harshest words of warning were not for people who were making mistakes as they struggled to do what was right, nor for those who purposely gave into the temptation to do wrong. His harshest words were for religions leaders who took the simplicity and beauty of God’s message of love for all people, and transformed it into a complex, boring, distasteful, burdensome and controlling exercise that was to be practised by people whom they approved. Here is a sample of His words from Matthew Chapter 23.

“For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves will not lift them with one of their fingers. But all their works they do to be seen by men. Woe to you, for you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves nor do you allow those who are entering to go in. You travel land and sea to win one convert, and when he is won, you make him twice a son of hell as yourselves. You also outwardly appear righteous to men but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. How can you escape the condemnation of hell.”

Predictably, the religious leaders plotted to kill Him.

What is God’s message for all of mankind? God wants us to know that He loves all of us, and that He understands our struggle to do the right thing when we are tempted to do wrong. Like any good Father, he longs to forgive us if only we would accept responsibility for our misdeeds and be genuinely sorry. However being a just God, He must punish all misdeeds. Since the punishment is severe, Jesus, like a good big brother, agreed to accept this punishment on behalf of all mankind, regardless of the religious banners that they happen to fall under.

God now invites all people, regardless of their religious beliefs or moral state, to know Him as their Heavenly Father. He also desires that we demonstratively love each other by sharing.

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