Religion and our common humanity
The word “religion” is derived from the Latin “religare”, meaning, “to tie” or “to bind.” In this sense, religion binds a person to a community, culture, course of action, ideology, etcetera. Religion has been described in different dictionaries as: (1) “A set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe”. (2) “The creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.” (3) “A cultural system of designated behaviors and practices, worldviews, texts, sanctified places, prophecies, ethics, or organizations, that relates humanity to supernatural, transcendental, or spiritual elements.” (4) “Human beings’ relation to that which they regard as holy, sacred, absolute, spiritual, divine, or worthy of especial reverence.” Religion is commonly regarded as consisting of the way people deal with ultimate concerns about their lives and their fate after death (https://www.bing.com/ search?q=what+is+religion).
In our world today, religion has become a sword in the hands of self-centered people who keep making religion a threat to humanity. Many of the killings in our world today are carried out in God’s name by people who are actually fighting for their selfish interest. This egoistic concern has taken the form of intra-religious and inter-religious violence as prophesied by Jesus: “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rise against their parents and have them put to death. You will be hated by everyone on account of my name, but the one who perseveres to the end will be saved (Matthew 10: 21-22). Queen Elizabeth the first of England suspected that her cousin, Mary Queen of Scots might claim the English throne. Elizabeth therefore kept Mary under lock and key for many years, brought up charges against her and authorized her beheading in 1587. (http://www.answers. com/Q/Why_did_Elizabeth_have_to_kill_ Mary_queen_of_Scots). The popular belief is that Queen Elizabeth the first killed her cousin Mary of Scots because she refused to renounce her Catholic faith to profess the faith in the Anglican Church.
Some people and communities fear novelty. This phobia for new ideas coupled with conservatism can make some people declare a brother in the community who has a new message as enemy. Conservative people do not care whether the message is divine or not. Many want to remain in the status quo. The Prophet of Islam pitied his tribe who thought that all that mattered was their pagan religion and commerce. Upon leaving Mecca, Prophet Muhammad (SWA) said, “O Mecca! I know you are the most blessed (khayr) of the land of God. If your people did not force me to leave I would never have left you” (Ibn Kathir). The Quraysh, his own tribe rejected his message and wanted to kill him to protect their pagan religion. Jesus was very conscious of the fact that “no prophet is accepted in his hometown (Luke 4:24). Very often, religious fanaticism blinds some people to the reality of our common humanity.
Imagine how the world would look like without the Messiah. Without the “New Testament”, the stories of war in the “Old Testament” could be used to support violence. Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said to our ancestors, ‘You shall not kill, and anyone who kills will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell (Matthew 5: 21-22). Jesus is the true peace of the world (Ephesians 2:13-18). Jesus is the “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). Before the coming of Christ, a neighbour was only a fellow Jew or a fellow Israelite. Jesus removed this narrow mindedness in relationship to include the whole of humanity. For Jesus whoever is a human being is a neighbour as explained in the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). On the last day, God will judge us by whatever we did to the least of our brother and sister (Matthew 25:40) and not whatever we did to our Christian or Muslim brother and sister.
If God wanted a world with one language, one religion and one culture, it would have been possible for him to do. God loves unity in diversity but humanity is the common factor that qualifies us to be members of God’s kingdom. There are so many religions in the world that relate to the same God in different ways. We could attempt the groupings of religion into Abrahamic, Indian, Iranian, East Asian and Indigenous traditional religions. Among the Abrahamic religions are Bábism, Bahá’í Faith, Christianity, Gnosticism, Islam, Judaism, Mandaeans, Sabians, Samaritanism etc. Among the Indian religions are, Ayyavazhi, Bhakti Movement, Buddhism, Din-i-Ilahi, Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism, etc. Among the Iranian religions are, Manichaeism, Mazdakism, Mithraism, Yazdânism, Zoroastrianism etc. Among the East Asian religions are, Confucianism, Shinto, Taoism, etc. Among the Indigenous traditional religions are, African, American, Eurasian, Oceania/Pacific, etc. Among the Historical polytheism are, Ancient Near Eastern, IndoEuropean, Hellenistic, etc. Among the New age Religions are, Esotericism, Mysticism etc.
Among these religions, what is commonly known as “World’s Major Religions” are Baha’I, Buddhism, Confucianism, Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Shinto, Taoism etc. Imagine what would happen if all these religions are practiced in a particular country with everyone relating only to their fellow adherents and fighting adherents of other religions as infidels? Lack of the awareness of our common humanity has made religious pluralism a serious challenge. For instance, in India there is tension between adherents of Hindu, Buddha, Islam and Christian religions. China and the Middle East have their stories to tell. Europe and America are not even spared as in the case of the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001. In Nigeria, there is intra-religious tension and conflicts. There is tension within Christianity and Islam. If the government feels threatened by the Shiites, you can imagine the fears that exist in the citizens especially in Abuja.
Many people have written about how religion has taken over humanity in Nigeria but Some Muslims and Christians have saved victims of violence in Nigeria, irrespective of their religious affiliation. These are people with human hearts who have value for our common humanity. Pope Benedict XVI appealed passionately at a traditional Christian prayer that: “In the world there is too much violence, too much injustice, and therefore that this situation cannot be overcome except by countering it with more love, with more goodness. This ‘more’ comes from God: it is his mercy which was made flesh in Jesus and which alone can ‘tip the balance’ of the world from evil to good, starting with that small and decisive “world” which is the human heart” (Benedict XVI, Angelus Reflection for Sunday, 18 February 2007. The Nigeria Inter Religious Council (NIREC) came into being after the dawn of democracy in 1999 to serve as a platform for high-level dialogue between the leaders of Christians and Muslims in Nigeria, thereby promoting public good and the humanity that binds us to the Almighty God. Faith in our common humanity is key to becoming a better Christian or Muslim. Otherwise, you will be a bad ambassador of your religion. May our human life on earth give us the grace to be with God our creator at the dusk of our earthly life.