Billions of people believe in some sort of religion, with Christianity and Islam together being the faiths of 53% of the world’s population. Further statistics show that only 2.35% of people on the earth are atheists, meaning they do not believe in God at all. In other words, around 97.65% of the people in this world believe in a religion. Thus, religion still plays an important role in people’s lives, both in the personal / private spheres of life as well as in the public sphere, affecting politics, the economy, human rights, etc.
Studying all the religions, I believe that somewhere and somehow everyone wants a better world, a better society, a better humanity. However, even though this desire is admirable, the opposite is prominent on the pages of human history and even today! Wars, killings, murders, genocide, violence against women, hatred against the “others” and “otherness”, executions of scientists, lynching and hanging of those who are differently oriented sexually, colonialism, the slave trade, crimes against humanity in Syria and Sarajevo, genocide of the Rohingya people in Myanmar, and I can go on and on naming them--- all of these are religiously inspired and directed by fools who believe they are doing the will of God or gods.
It seems religions do not have a pretty history!
Unfortunately, most religious people are not educated, or well versed in the religions they follow. They depend on what they hear from their leaders and preachers, teaching from their pulpits in the churches, mosques, or temples. If the leaders are open-minded people with a holistic approach to religion, then their people might follow them. Even though they may not understand their leaders fully, at least they become more peaceful. In contrary to the former, there are also leaders (and unfortunately there are many) who teach hate, lack of tolerance and anger. They preach as if God needs their defense and the honor of their religion depends on them. At times such ideas grow so deep that they are willing to kill and murder others who believe differently.
As a university lecturer and a pastor for 25 years, I have always asked myself these questions: “Is God a Christian?” or “Did Jesus come to establish a new religion?” I ask these questions explicitly about Christianity, because I am a Christian leader and I ask these questions within my own mandate. Those from other religions may ask similar questions about their religion. Is God a Christian? Did Jesus come to establish a new religion that he called Christianity? I think neither of these two questions can be answered with “Yes”. It was not God’s intention to make a new religion, nor was God a Christian. Then what is God’s intended religion for mankind? In our biblical narratives, we believe God made human beings! Of course, the creation of man is according to our narratives, but there are millions of people who don't care about our creation narrative. What religion did God give to the humans in the garden of Eden and even right after that Fall?
Did He give them Christianity, Islam, or Judaism? Or did He perhaps give them Hinduism or Buddhism? What religion did God give man when He created them? I believe the true religion God gave to man was “humanity” itself. All religions are manmade, but humanity is God-made. Just think about it, before being a Christian, you are a human being. Humanity comes first. We are all human beings who want to be happy, so we search for love. We give love, and we receive love. We want others to treat us with respect, and we treat others with respect. We cry when we are sad, and we grieve when we have pain or when we go through illness and sickness.
The challenge I have in my “religion” is that many of us preach that Jesus loves people, and God is love. Yet the way we treat others who are different than us is totally contrary to the love we preach. We fanatically defend the lives of unborn children, and yet we hate those who are already born! We support battles and encourage wars so that our so-called interpretations of the end time will come true—even if by force.
Where is our humanity? Where is the true God who made religion? From dust we came and to dust we return. Naked we came and so naked we go. When we depart this world, the only thing that remains from us is not the religions we followed or the churches we belonged to. Rather what remains of us are the deeds we conducted, the legacy we left behind. Our legacy is not about how we preached the gospel, but how we lived out the gospel. As Saint Francis once said: “Preach the gospel. If necessary, use words!”
Humanity brings us all together, whether you are Christians, Muslims, Jews, or even Atheists. We have to live together here on this earth. We share the same air, the same sun and the same rain. We may not agree with each other about who God is, whose religion is the truth, or whose interpretation is correct—and believe me, we will never agree about these things. However, there is one thing we can all agree on and that is our humanity.
In Latin there is a saying: “Gloria Dei Homo Vivens”, or “the Glory of God is humanity fully alive!” Any religious person who has no compassion for others who are different or turns its back on the sufferings of others, then his/her religiosity is useless. For example, the story of human pain and suffering is so universal that it is not bound to culture, color of skin, religion or a geographical setting. Therefore, one suffering cannot be placed above another suffering because of its cultural, geographical or religious settings. Whether Hiroshima or Seoul, whether Jerusalem or Bethlehem, whether a Muslim mother who lost her child because of cancer or an atheist who lost his brother in a bomb attack in Paris, or a Syrian refugee with a full baggage of sorrow and trauma landed on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, whether a Baha’i who is being systematically discriminated against or an LGBT who is being hated by religious fundamentalists—yes, I can go on and on. No suffering should be placed above another suffering. Human pain and suffering is truly universal, and thus it demands a universal, transcultural, trans-religious unconditional love to grasp, feel, touch. and eventually heal its wounds.
It is great to be Christian. It is wonderful to be part of a church or even to be a pastor, as I am one! But above all be a human being. There is nothing wrong with that.