A Gentle God

I was in my late teens when I first read Henry Barbusse's Under Fire, a novel set in the first world war trenches. It led me to consider the question: who does God listen to when He is bombarded with the prayers of different nations and religions, all equally convinced that He is on their side?

As I grew up, the questions became more problematic: what kind of god are we talking about? Who would want to follow a supposedly supreme being whose followers regularly take up arms in his name?

While Muslim leaders are urging their followers to look honestly at the health of their faith, Christian bishops are silent. There is almost a total lack of prophetic critique of the west's way of waging war on terrorism and no cries for the Israeli government to end its oppression of the Palestinian people. The Judaeo-Christian religion has evidently nothing to repent. God is on our side. Victory is assured. Or, in the words of President Bush: "We will not falter and we will not fail." The western coalition consists of secular states, and yet we are suddenly hearing a great deal about God from some of our politicians.

American currency bears the words "in God we trust". God Bless America is almost a second anthem. Early on in the recent conflict in Iraq, the press was allowed to photograph US pilots praying together before taking off on a mission. But who are they praying to? Bush even summed up his speech to the US congress on September 20 2001 with the prayer: "In all that lies before us, may God grant us wisdom." What is this wisdom that he invokes?

Bush is still a president with a mission in his second term. The leader of the world's only superpower has a divine vocation to "defend freedom". Prior to his speech to Congress, Bush was blessed by another president, this time of the Southern Baptist convention, with the words: "I believe you are God's man for this war. God's hand is on you." Bush is no Christian fundamentalist. His religion appears to be a primitive kind of theism, popular among many in mainstream American religion. Bush's agenda, sanctioned by his God, is to root out the evil one(s), with salvation in the guise of America close at hand. He declared in a TV interview, soon after the September 11 attack, that "America is the greatest source of good in the whole of human history". But it is humility that helps to build bridges in times of crisis, not self-righteousness.

Human sacrifice, once an integral part of religious expression, gradually gave way to animal sacrifice as a means of placating or pleasing an angry god. We like to think that we in the enlightened west have long since left such practices behind. But we have not. Perverse ideologies spawned by the Judaeo-Christian heritage still accept as inevitable the sacrifice of innocent people for the common good.

Allied soldiers, who have after all been trained to kill, are in "civilised warfare" and protected at all costs, while civilians (and proxy soldiers) are not granted such luxury. God, forever waiting in the wings, has an insatiable appetite for human blood, and he is not fussy what race, creed or ideology supplies it.

Texts celebrating the cruel demands and exploits of this god abound in Jewish, Christian and Muslim holy books. It is incumbent on their teachers to look again at how to deal with scripture that preaches intolerance, violence and oppression. We have seen how divisive religions can be. The challenge is to to discover that which unites religious people, and to act upon it.

We need to rediscover the alternatives to the myth of redemptive violence - the belief that violence saves, war brings peace, might is right. According to the Christian scriptures the crucified Jew challenges us to "love our enemies" (Matthew 5). The Jewish teacher, Paul, in his letter to the Romans, declares: "Do not overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (12). This kind of love makes "the other", be they friend or foe, a brother or sister.

Such practice is subversive, because in doing away with an "us-them" mentality, my shelter becomes my enemies' shelter, my food a shared meal with another who could be a criminal or a terrorist. A love that is unconditional is exactly what it says. It is that love that builds a firm foundation for peace with justice, a peace that is the dynamic of operation infinite forgiveness. Herein lies the essence of the life and teaching of the Crucified Jew.

President Bush challenged the world with the words, "are you for us or for our enemies?" Words that were in fact first uttered by Joshua, in the Jewish scriptures (Joshua 5) when confronted by a divine messenger holding a sword. The latter replied: "Neither." On hearing this unexpected reply, Joshua knelt in humility. My hope is that all of us, along with President Bush and his supporters, are doing the same as 2005 continues to unfold.

In search of a gentle God -Geraint ap Iorwerth

In The News:

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Organized religion is losing its followers  The Washington PostCNN reports, “For the first time 'No Religion' has topped a survey of Americans' religious identity, according to a new analysis by a political scientist.
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Backlash follows proposed Quebec ban on kippot, religious clothing  Israel HayomA proposal introduced in Quebec last month to ban kippot and other religious clothing has come under fire with one Jewish mayor of a town in the Canadian ...
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Our Easter Isn’t About Religion — It’s About Family And Living Plastic-Free  CBC.caThe good news is, there are lots of great ways to celebrate holidays while avoiding plastic entirely. Here's how we're doing Easter this year.
Why Brunei's New Religious Hardening Matters  The DiplomatThe new Islamic laws are only the latest symptom of broader issues in the tiny, oil-rich sultanate.
Pete Buttigieg on faith, his marriage and Mike Pence  CNNIn a Q&A with Father Edward Beck, the South Bend, Indiana, mayor discusses his views on the morality of military *service*, abortion, love, marriage and being ...
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Montreal teachers vow to ignore 'stupid, wrongheaded' religious symbols ban  The GuardianQuebec premier says proposed law is necessary to separate church and state but educators say they won't be cowed.
The new religion: why trying to be perfect is doomed to fail  The GuardianDeep down, we're using work, politics, family and romance to achieve our own salvation. But the truth is we're flawed.
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Berkshire's fastest growing religion revealed  Get ReadingThere have been substantial changes since figures were last published in 2011.
Quebec to ban public employees from wearing religious symbols  The GuardianThe Canadian province of Quebec will ban public sector employees from wearing religious symbols during work hours, in legislation introduced on Thursday, ...
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May the renewed religious left avoid the religious right's mistakes  National Catholic ReporterUpon reading article after article about the increasing secularization of society, the rise of the "nones," and how they are gravitating towards the Democratic Party ...
Openly Gay, Openly Christian Buttigieg Challenges the Religious Right  New York MagazineSouth Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg is openly gay and openly Christian, and in addition to his other qualities, presents a challenge to Trump and his religious right ...
Religion may no longer be a reason children avoid vaccines if this law changes  NJ.comWith 13 reported measles cases in the state and a massive outbreak in New York, two New Jersey state senators say they support eliminating the loophole that ...
Texas Republicans’ Push for a Religious ‘License to Discriminate’ is Depressingly Familiar  The Texas ObserverToday's targets of religious discrimination are members of the LGBTQ community. Not long ago they were African Americans and women.
Which countries have the 10 largest Christian and Muslim populations?  Pew Research Center“Top 10” lists can often be helpful in displaying and illuminating data. For example, the two tables of countries with the largest Christian and Muslim populations ...
Pope in Morocco: Protect 'multi-religious' Jerusalem  Al Jazeera EnglishJoint statement with Moroccan king comes after US President Trump recognised Jerusalem as capital of Israel last year.
Survey: Most Americans continue to oppose religious service refusals to LGBT people  Religion News Service(RNS) — A new survey finds that Americans continue to oppose the idea that small-business owners should be able to refuse products or services to gay or ...
Kerala pressing religious, not developmental issues  Khaleej TimesDevelopmental issues are taking a back seat in the election campaign this time.
Quebec wants to ban public servants from wearing religious clothing  The EconomistA LARGE CRUCIFIX has long hung above the speaker's chair in Quebec's legislature. The first one was installed in 1936 to acknowledge the bond between the ...
Open Sanctuary, a church church for all religions  ABC NewsIn a tiny Anglican church, people from wildly diverse faith traditions - from practising and lapsed church members to Buddhists and atheists - come together for a ...
Evangelicals issue principles on benefits, challenges of artificial intelligence  Religion News ServiceWASHINGTON (RNS) — Artificial intelligence may allow technology to help people make wise decisions and work more efficiently. But it is not morally neutral, ...
So Yale Law School endorses anti-religious bigotry now?  USA TODAYWhat starts in the ivory tower of academia — including blatant discrimination against religious groups and students — won't stay there for long.
Correction: Canada-Religious Symbols story  The Associated PressMONTREAL (AP) — In a story April 13 about Quebec's religious symbols ban, The Associated Press reported erroneously that the ban on religious symbols ...
Call to vote along religious lines not sensible  Deccan HeraldWhen you think about a first time voter, what image comes to your mind? A late teen, probably enjoying the last stages of life where one is actually devoid of any ...

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