Shootings at Synagogues, bombings in Sri Lanka, retaliatory attacks at Mosques, an election in India that could drive religious persecution, the attack on the Rohinga in Myanmar, and on and on goes the list of recent violence both in the name of religion and against people of a certain religion. Certainly this is alarming. Is it surprising? Not really.
Is religion a bad thing? No. By the broadest definition, everybody has a religion even if they don’t believe God exists in any form. Religion is really our response to our worldview–God or no God. Neither is devotion or passion a bad thing unless it is misdirected. Passion also drives us to enormous acts of love. Christ’s passion for our well-being took Him all the way to the cross.
Our understandings of our ultimate purpose in life, our eternal existence, and the will of God are important things to us. It is normal to be passionate about them. They are a big part of our identity. But before someone acts in violence against another in the name of religion or worldview, we need to consider the following:
Am I being ignorant about my own religion? In the course of history, Christians have acted in violence against people of other religions and even people of other beliefs within Christianity. Using the Bible as the standard, there is absolutely no way to legitimatize such violence. It is always wrong. The same is probably true for other world religions as well.
Am I being deceived for the sake of non-religious purposes? There is also a long history of people selectively twisting certain religious texts to create a rationale for violence that is actually motivated for political or economic reasons. Beware of being somebody’s fool, especially if it is suicidal.
How is a true believer really created or preserved? Anti-conversion laws and anti-blasphemy laws seek to keep a person in the faith that is mainstream in a certain location. Can you really make a person believe with laws or intimidation? Do you not create superficial adherents rather than genuine ones?
I once confronted a Malaysian Muslim professor about anti-blasphemy laws in her country. She told me that Muslims considered departing from Islam to be a great offense to God, that is why it is punished severely. I told her that I didn’t believe the truth needed such a defense. That response literally made her stagger backward, because it is a truth you can’t deny. If people leave the religion of their youth or country because they believe the truth about God lies elsewhere, then that is God’s business alone to judge. We are not necessarily born into the truth. Sometimes a change is necessary, and God has to help us to that realization.
From where does this hatred ultimately come? Humans at our worst are very tribal. We strike out at groups that are different, especially when we feel threatened in some way. Tribalism may be enough to explain hate crimes, but I think there is a deeper more evil cause. I believe Satan is a very real being with considerable influence and an ugly agenda. Satan hates what God loves. God loves people, even people who don’t know Him. Consequently, if Satan can motivate hate, violence and misinformation about God, he succeeds at his agenda.
In this struggle we need to not see ourselves as Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Atheists or whatever. We need to see ourselves as humans struggling to know the truth and willing to help others in love. The Bible says, “Don’t overcome evil with evil, but overcome evil with good.” That seems impossible sometimes, but it is the answer. Ultimately our religion can’t simply be about culture, history, family or political power. It has to be about our relationship to God.