Re­li­gion and our com­mon hu­man­ity

Sunday Trust - - SERMON - By Cor­nelius Afebu Omonokhua Rev. Fr. Cor­nelius Omonokhua is the Ex­ec­u­tive Sec­re­tary of the Nige­ria In­terReli­gious Coun­cil (NIREC) ([email protected];

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 ( 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. (­swers. 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.

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