Monday, November 9, 2009

Does Believing in God Make You Violent?

The shooting in Fort Hood has produced more discussion about religion in general in recent days. Bloggers I have read have used violence in religion's name as a reason to dismiss belief in God as something that could be a part of their lives. As a Christian, I feel that they are missing out. Life with God as a part of it is a richer life, and really, a more peaceful life as it is a life oriented around learning about and practicing the love of Jesus Christ in and on the world around you.

The thing is that Christianity properly done is hard. It's not hard in the sense of making you work, it's hard in the sense of its opposite nature from a human's sinful fallen nature. Let me try that again. Christianity, properly practiced, does not come naturally to sinful man. We want power and position. Christianity asks that we rejoice in our weakness. We want to be in control. Christianity asks that we take our hands off and let God do the saving, the sanctifying, the guiding. We want to love whomever we want to love. Christianity asks that we love everybody.

I think that any religious practice that puts salvation completely in the human's hands is mistaken. We cannot save ourselves no how. I was reading a discussion of the issue of predestination, a theological question that has been debated by Christians since the time of Christ. Here's one picture the author used to help the discussion: God is always reaching his hand down to us to save us. (The debate comes in at the point of whether or not we can/do reach a hand up towards God's reaching hand, or does God pluck us into salvation whether or not we reach back to him. That is some deep theological talk and not the topic here!) The thing is we do not rescue ourselves. If that hand from God does not initiate that reaching for our sorry sin-soaked drowning souls, we are indeed going to drown. And that bugs humanity no end. We can't save ourselves--we can't fill the God shaped hole through our own efforts--how dare He. We have our pride, and we want our control.

So we set up systems--sometimes full blown religious systems, like Islam and Mormonism--that demand that we follow this or that set of rules and things to do in order to achieve salvation. We want control! I'll control myself, do this list, and God-as-I-understand-him will love me and save me. It can be less god centered--if I am a good person, do good, act good...then I am good and I'm in. Oh, and you can make Christianity a salvation by works religion too. It's not biblical but it's been done--oh several times over the past 2000 years. Works religion in the Christian context is called Legalism.

Trouble comes when someone else has a list of things to do and it's not the same as your list. Perhaps their god goes by a different name. There are different rules. You don't follow those rules, therefore you are an infidel. Taken to an extreme, you must convert and follow their rules, or you must be killed. I'm right, you're wrong, period. I think that religious systems that preach salvation by works, by doing things, are much more vulnerable to this distortion than proper salvation-by-grace Christianity. And that includes legalistic Christianity.

Christians should never resort to force to create repentance and faith. For one, there is no need. God is perfectly capable of convicting and convincing on His own through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Secondly, it is God's love that is the mark of true Christianity, that love that Christ showed us on the Cross, and an angry vindictive approach is not a way to show God's love to others. Christians are called to be witnesses to God's faithfulness, showing and telling about His love (more showing, less telling is best), and showing the reason for the hope that lies within them. In addition, God loves and values each person. So should Christian believers. Threatening and physically harming people to "make them believe" is against God and His love for humanity and His respect for human dignity. Making war against non-Christians because they do not believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior is not Christian. It does not reflect the love of God towards man, that God expressed when He sent His Son to earth to first, live among us, and second, to die for our sins. It more likely reflects, as the Crusades did, a lust to conquer, a lust to acquire and a lust for power. In other words, sin. And it is wrong whenever you see it, in whatever "god's" name it is done in. When you confront people committing violence in the name of "god", you are looking at evil. It is wrong, and not God's will.

And, oh, by the by, it will not get you 72 virgins.

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