The tendency to turn human judgments into divine commands makes religion one of the most dangerous forces in the world.
– Georgia Harkness
In religion and politics, people’s beliefs and convictions are in almost every case gotten at second-hand, and without examination.
– Mark Twain
Most men would kill the truth if truth would kill their religion.
– Lemuel K. Washburn
MIDDLE EAST, INDIA, November 22, 2011 ― Even a casual observer of the way religion works in different parts of the world cannot miss how religious leaders and their followers exploit religion to control people, how some individuals have been indoctrinated to believe they can force others to believe as they do, and how a glance at the world map shows the impact of religion where it is used to intimidate rather than give people the freedom to believe as they choose.
Living for over three decades in the Middle East has been a fascinating, learning experience. You have some countries like the UAE and other Gulf states that allow people to practice their faith, even as they seek to preserve their Islamic way of life without forcing it on you.
And you have intolerant countries like Saudi Arabia, where there is no freedom of worship, yet the Saudis aggressively promote Wahhabism wherever they can.
What’s happening in Egypt is symptomatic of any people who believe their freedom can be obtained by installing the right political system without giving any thought to the basic freedoms they deny each other in the most fundamental aspect of human life – the right of all citizens to think and believe in God without any compulsion or intimidation.
Politics is based on the premise that society must be changed in order to change people, but in the Kingdom of God, if one believes in its existence as proclaimed by Jesus, it is people who must change first in order to change society.
People may be outwardly religious, but, it doesn’t take much to figure out that religious beliefs make little difference to how we live.
Perhaps it’s finally beginning to dawn on Egyptians and others that the government is not able to deliver on its promises, but they, like most societies, have fallen prey to what French political writer Jacques Ellul calls The Political Illusion. Ellul’s book, written 25 years ago, is about modern people believing politics can solve all their problems, basically idol worshipping their governments.
Egypt has one of the longest records of trying to modernize in the region. If a new Egypt arises out of the present situation, will its religious minorities feel secure if they don’t belong to the dominant religion of the country? Recent clashes between Muslims and Christians are not reassuring, but the majority of Egyptians seem unconcerned.
The concept of freedom of religious belief in Egypt is not as absolute as in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, according to Yustina Saleh, a PhD in Political Science from Rutgers University. She argues that the Egyptian Constitution, while offering protection of human rights and the right of freedom of belief, retains a significant escape clause - the subordination of Egyptian legislation to the Islamic Shari’a - which can override those rights.
Wherever a majority community or political party, the clergy or a ruler, employs religion to intimidate its own people, that country is basically pursuing an illusion, not real freedom.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s blunt message to Pakistan also applies to Egypt and any other country. “It’s like that old story,” she said in Islamabad, “you can’t keep snakes in your backyard and expect them only to bite your neighbours. Eventually those snakes are going to turn on whoever has them in the backyard.”
It is the serpent of religious pride that motivates Pakistani militants to persist in terrorism against India. Its the same motive elsewhere.
Have the Tahrir Square activists seriously considered that they may be leaping out of the frying pan into religious fire if the Muslim Brotherhood fundamentalists come to power in Egypt? Military rule can be overcome perhaps, but religious control is another matter. Egyptians and other Arab states in ferment would do well to take a hard look at the fate of society and minorities in places like Iran and Pakistan, which are in the grip of fundamentalism, in order to carefully evaluate the consequences for their countries.
I have no doubt about what could happen in India if the fundamentalist Hindutva forces come to power in 2014– India’s minorities will not be safe in the politics of hate they uphold.
One cannot spare the Christian fundamentalists, either. We’ve seen that ugly breed in Lebanon and Ireland. A recent “Got To Dance” show on UK television channel Sky1 featured Razzle Dazzle, a 12 strong dance troupe of children between 7–12 from west and north Belfast who scored first place in the “British Street Dance Championships” and won the “All Ireland” hip-hop competition in October 2010. When these kids were interviewed, they were unanimous that dance was the door they used to get away from the hate that still divides Roman Catholics and Protestants in Ireland.
There’s a lesson here for the Arab Spring – if you want to build a genuine, God fearing, thriving, egalitarian society, find something that takes you away from religious one-upmanship, and don’t look backwards to religion – search for genuine faith for as Mahatma Gandhi pointed out, God has no religion.
Nobody knows who He is for sure, so sharing our faith can only be done in humility, not with religious pride or intimidation.
Can people let go of institutional religion for a simple, authentic faith in God?
It would be presumptuous of me to tell anyone who God is; research and many dissimilar testimonies seem to indicate that such a precious discovery is the supreme epiphany and a gift by revelation.
One of my earliest columns urged readers: “Stop your bus to Rome, Jerusalem, Jeddah or Benares and get off if you are trapped in organized religion! It’s a matter of saying ‘No!’ and a matter of saying ‘Yes!’”
Christian, Hindu, Jew, or Muslim we all have so much to gain and nothing to lose by bolting to personal spiritual freedom.
People gripped by “religionism,” are caught in religious slavery, evident as programmed or affected religious zeal in people inclined to obey specified forms of controlled ritual piety.
Without exception it infects all who blindly follow the dictates of institutionalized belief systems. It is marked by ignorance or pride or aggression unlike the meekness and humility one generally finds in authentic faith.
If Truth is the objective, all roads can lead to the Maker of heaven and earth. Notice how He honors the authentic quest of people of all persuasions, freely raining his grace on them all.
Being a religious slave is boring, direct personal faith in God is a journey of discovery.
Frank Raj is based in India and the Middle East where he has lived for over three decades. He is the founding editor & publisher of ‘The International Indian’ (www.theinternationalindian.com) the oldest magazine of Gulf-Indian society and history since 1992. Frank is co-author of the upcoming publication ‘Universal Book of the Scriptures,’ and author of ‘Desh Aur Diaspora.’ He blogs at www.no2christianity.wordpress.com
Read more of Frank’s work in No 2 Religion, Yes 2 Faith in the Communities at the Washington Times.
Follow @frankraj08 on Twitter
Sign his petition at: www.gopetition.com/petition/44506/signatures.html
This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ WashingtonTimes.com. Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.