I have recently been listening again to John Lennon’s song ‘Imagine’, and find the lyrics contained in it very disturbing. Its foundational message is that ‘religion is the author of all hate and war and if only we could eradicate it, then the world would be a better, safer place to live in’.
But is it really true? It sounds nice, but is it really true that if there were no religion, there would be no war, no hate and we would live in some form of ‘utopian society’? If all religions were eradicated, and if religion suddenly stopped in the world, do you truly believe that (for example) …
- Josef Stalin wouldn’t have murdered 100 million of his own people?
- The drug cartels in South America would unilaterally stop murdering, killing and selling misery?
- The sweat shops in the developing world would close their doors or suddenly start paying decent wages to their people?
- The serial adulterer will stop cheating on his wife and become faithful and loving?
- The bankers in our financial institutions would become altruistic and give generously out of their vast profits to improve the salaries of their employees?
- The vandal on the street corner would stop spraying graffiti on the bus stop?
- The thief who wants your car because it’s nicer than his will suddenly become satisfied with his lot and stop stealing?
- The paedophile will somehow get a change of heart and curb his urges?
- The wife/child/husband abuser will just stop?
- The man who cannot climb out of the bottom of a bottle or out of a syringe of heroin will just get up and live a free life?
- The hate North Korea (which is a religion-free regime, by the way) has towards South Korea and the USA (in particular) will just stop?
I could go on – but you get the point.
The point is that selfishness and hate and conflict are NOT the sole domain of religions, in fact, it has been reckoned that in the last 100 years, China and Russia have between them murdered more men and women than all the other regimes throughout history added together – these are both non-religious societies committed to the eradication of all religion.
In the UK we live in a society that can stand with those who have been subjected to terrorist atrocities, we are shocked and outraged at horrific murders, yet our leaders will speak out for and defend those who use violence and force against people they deem to have the wrong worldview. Our society will marginalise and sometimes take action at law against people of faith for speaking out publicly about their beliefs about all sorts of things, from climate change, to abortion to sexuality and more besides. They will put pressure (both seen and unseen) on faith schools if they do not ‘promote British values’, many of which are in fact very recent values and not those which underpinned the creation of British society. To openly declare yourself a Christian nowadays is to make yourself open to ridicule and hatred (yes, it IS hatred) from those, like John Lennon, who believe they are better than the Christians who they (quite wrongly) perceive as hateful and intolerant.
The truth, however, is that war and hate are not born in religion, but in selfishness. In one person’s, or one government’s belief that their worldview and ideology is simply more ‘right’ than that of others.
No one is inherently more valuable or deserving than anyone else, whether it be our way of governing society (we have a modern belief that democracy is inherently the best way to govern, and send troops to other countries to promote that), our sexual choices, our race, our gender, our faith (be that in Allah, God or even the faith that God doesn’t exist), or whatever other measure we put on it. This belief that ‘our way is better’ is not rooted in religion, it is the default position of all people, whether they are religious or not.
Stop it with the ‘religion has caused all the wars in history’ claptrap. That belief is simply not true, no matter how beautifully John Lennon sang it.
The Bible is quite clear that all humanity stands before God equally. Even His ‘chosen people’ were chosen to proclaim His love for the whole world. Romans 3:23 quite clearly states that ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. John 3:16 (the most translated bible verse) states clearly that God so loved the WORLD that he gave his son, and Jesus made it clear in what we call ‘The Great Commission’, that there are none who should be excluded from the proclamation of the Gospel. Spend any time at all in Christian churches in other cultures and you will find that far from imposing Western ideology on other nations, indigenous believers are encouraged to express their faith in Christ in a culturally appropriate way. It is not true that pictures of Jesus in other nations portray a white man (at least not in the many churches all over the world that I’ve visited in the last 35 years). Pictures in different countries portray Jesus as being ‘like them’. When I was in Uganda, I didn’t see pictures of a white Jesus, I saw pictures of a black one. The same is true of churches I visited in other non-white nations, where Jesus was portrayed as like THEM, not like me. 21st Century Christians and missionaries are NOT the modern equivalent of the East India Company (which incidentally was not a church, it was a business, and it was preoccupied with opening up new markets to commerce and profit, not proclaiming the love of God!).
The church is one of the most inclusive organisations on this planet.
Don’t be deceived. Some of the most vociferous advocates of freedom and inclusivity are the least tolerant when it comes to how they treat those they don’t agree with.