Friday, 16 July 2010

Searching for Peace

Charles Kimball, author of 'When Religion Becomes Evil', identifies five warning signs of corruption in religion.

  1. Absolute Truth Claims
  2. Blind Obedience
  3. Establishing the "Ideal" Time
  4. The End Justifies Any Means
  5. Declaring Holy War

According to professor Kimball, "one or more of these five signs always precedes any instance of religiously sanctioned evil. Knowledge of such corruption is invaluable in today's world, yet it is not sufficient in itself. Whether one is a true believer or a die-hard secularist, it remains necessary to take the next step from the knowledge of these factors that predict when religion becomes evil to a clear understanding of how religion can remain true to its authentic sources and force for positive change."

Absolute Truth Claims

The Roman Catholic Church, for example, continues to make absolute truth claims particularly under recent documents such as 'Dominus Jesus' (2000) issued by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger which declares the Roman Catholic Church to be the only "instrument for the salvation of all humanity." While the Catechism of the Catholic Church (#847) still makes the exclusive claim that "Outside the Church there is no salvation". Most significantly the Catholic Catechism holds that Jesus not only founded the Church but appointed bishops as successors of the apostles. Based on Jesus' Jewish background there are few theologians today that are prepared to agree with this unnecessary power seeking claim.

Absolute truth claims in the context moral absolutism is the ethical view that certain actions are absolutely right or wrong, regardless of other contexts such as their consequences or the intentions behind them. Thus lying, for instance, might be considered to be always immoral, even if done to promote some other good (e.g., saving a life), and even if it does in the end promote such a good. Readers can judge for themselves the consequences of maintaining an attitude of moral absolutism. Surely a morality founded on faith, hope and love is preferred over any form of control.

There are few issues today that evoke greater controversy within the Catholic Church and other religious communities then matters dealing with abortion, gays, same-sex marriage, birth control or sexual abuse. The fact that all of the aforementioned topics involve some aspect of human sexuality should cause us to question why? The Bible and Jesus actually has very little to say about sexual norms. Nature and science may yet provide us with the best answer. Those opposed to any discussion on these matters are usually individuals who are prepared to stake absolute truth claims on behalf of their religious communities. In recent months several high ranking members of the Catholic clergy have stated that abortion, for example, must not be allowed under any circumstances. However, there are fortunately others like Professor Daniel McGuire, who will quickly point to several conditions under which abortion may be considered (see my previous blog 'Sex and the Church').

Blind Obedience

The Roman Catholic Church today comes down pretty heavily on those that do not follow its teachings. However, they can be quite selective when it suits them. Its teaching office known as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith until 1965 was still known as the Roman Congregation of the Inquisition. The prefect, or head, of that congregation was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (1981-2002). He was the putative author of Canon 1436.1 of the Code of Canon Law, which states, "One who denies a truth which must be believed with divine and Catholic faith, or who calls it into doubt, or who totally repudiates the Christian faith, and does not retract it after having been warned, is to be punished as a heretic or an apostate with major excommunication." Under these terms opposition and any further discussion was often quickly squelched.

Some teachings have however managed to circumvent certain church rulings. Statistics have shown that 80% of Catholic women have in one time of their lives practiced birth control. These facts have gone almost unnoticed, yet today we hear again and again demands by some bishops that politicians who do not follow church teachings should be denied communion. Again Charles Kimball warns his readers that blind obedience within any religious movement that seeks to limit intellectual freedom and individual integrity of its adherents is showing a sure sign of corrupt religion. Dr. Kimball an ordained Baptist minister who received his Th. D. From Harvard University, explains that other forms of 'blind obedience' are also found among Religious Sects and Cults, Charismatic Authority Figures, Enslavement to Doctrines and Withdrawal from Society.

Blind obedience, to paraphrase noted theologian Hans Kung, is the great stumbling block that prevents world peace because we have been, so far, been unable to promote unity or peace among the world's religions. "Working together for the common good must become a major focus of interfaith dialogue in the years ahead" concludes Dr. Kimball. Unity, not conformity can only be found through a appreciation of diversity. Today we still find many people who seem to prefer a rigid believe system at the expense of world peace or at the least understanding among the various Christian faiths.

Establishing the "Ideal" Time

For centuries, there have been well-meaning students of Bible prophesy that have sought to see signs from current events that indicate we are near the second coming of Christ - despite warnings from Jesus to the contrary. Regardless and according to some popular media preachers we are living in a time when turbulent global events – wars, natural disasters, and famine – help fuel the notion that the world is fast approaching a seven year period of great tribulation during which Satan's forces will rule under the leadership of the Antichrist. Please refer to my blog' dated June 1, 2010 under the title 'End Times and Armageddon' for your complete doomsday scenario.

The End Justifies Any Means

Many notable authors of religious history have detailed the amazing speed at which the early persecuted church became the persecutor. Church history is full of famous heretics who, if not anathematized, were summarily dispatched to the next world. (see also my blog on 'Heaven and Hell', February 19, 2009). There is little more to be said about the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, or the famous witch hunts beginning in the sixteenth century. Opposition to Church teachings were often dealt with in harsh and inhuman ways. Today, the Vatican prefers silencing and excommunicating those who fall out of favour or dare to question official church teachings. Thus we have learned that in these cases the end appears to justify any means.

Declaring Holy War

When speaking of a declaration of a Holy War most of us will think about the current conflict in the Middle East and the religious Jihad promoted by Muslim extremist. But how is this declaration different from the Crusades endorsed by Pope Urban II launched against Jews and Muslims? Baptist minister Charles Kimball reminds us that "overwhelming evidence suggests that the followers of Jesus were pacifist for the first three centuries. However, with the rise of power of Constantine in the fourth century religion became linked with state power and the tables were turned." Augustine (354-430) with the help of a monk named Gratian developed the theory of a' just war'. Christendom supported by the theology of a Just War now became a powerful weapon to be used against any group perceived as evil. The criteria for a Just War can still be found in the Roman Catholic Catechism, paragraph 2309. Finally, is it perhaps time that Christians, as well as all other faiths, return to their God given role (remember your divine indwelling?) as peacemakers?

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