October 23rd, 2009 20:25 EST
By M. Ram Krishn
The bombing of a kosher cafÃ©; a protest over reports that the Quran had been desecrated at an American prison camp; a bomb explosion outside a mosque; a tight security cordon to facilitate a Hindu festival: a snapshot of world news today.
What positive difference could any of these acts of violence possibly make to the cause advanced by their respective perpetrators? Some may say that religious extremism has now spread across the world like unchecked cancer. In a supposedly scientific age, churches, temples, mosques and synagogues are all enjoying brisk business.
While the pious make the case that their religious scriptures promote peace, history reveals quite the opposite. Jewish scriptures speak of violence by God, and in the name of God; for centuries, the Christian movement had put forth religious justifications for war, making Christian states responsible for mass atrocities against Jews, Muslims, and indigenous peoples around the world; the Islamic scriptures demand that the faith is defended and speak of fighting in the cause of God against those who fight Muslims - those who readily fight in the cause of Allah will be granted a great reward, in death or in victory; Hindu scriptures speak of defeating evildoers in battle, as a matter of duty.
In an attempt to defuse religious tensions, many nations are striving to promote religious tolerance and political correctness, while the faithful struggle to face up to the contradictions between the many religions. For example, Judaism, Christianity and Islam trace their origin back to the prophet Abraham and worship the same one remote and invisible God, who the Jews call Yahweh and the Muslims call Allah. The Jews believe in the Torah, which they claim was revealed by God to Moses. Christians hold the Bible to be the infallible Word of God and believe that Jesus was the Son of God who was sent to be the atonement of sin. Jews and Muslims do not accept this view of Jesus.
Muslims take the Quran as their source of truth. The Quran teaches that God does not have a son and that Jesus was merely another prophet, equal to and following in the line of Abraham and Moses. They believe that Muhammad was the final messenger of God, the Seal of the Prophets, superior to all previous prophets. Christians and Jews however do not view Muhammad as holy in any way.
These fundamental differences in beliefs lead to the religious frictions that we see in the world today. Judaism does not accept the teachings of Christianity and Islam, Christianity accepts Judaism in parts but does not accept Islam, while Islam accepts Judaism almost in whole and Christianity only in parts. Islam refutes the idea that Jesus was crucified on the cross. Muslims believe that God spared His messenger from such a disgraceful death, but for Christians, the death of Jesus on the cross is the focal point of all that they believe. Without that precious act of sacrifice, Christians remain hopeless and in sin. Muslims simply do not hold to any assurance of salvation, and believe that the Christians had corrupted the New Testament that Jesus received from God, and that the Bible read by Christians today is unreliable.
Even in the face of these contradicting messages presumably revealed by the one and the same God, the religious often fail to appreciate that faith does not make fact, and that people can find spirituality in more ways than one. Amidst universal belief by all faiths that there is a Higher Power, if someday God appeared to reveal Himself, the irony is that God would likely be rejected by the respective religious groups if the message He conveyed did not conform to their expectations and received teachings from the holy books.
Ultimately, their books define their God.
M Ram Krishn is the author of The Book of Walla, a controversial but light-hearted novel where God is sued for giving man religion and the conflicts between the many faiths are brought to trial. The Book of Walla has been banned in Malaysia.
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