On Behalf of a Higher Power

Growing up Catholic, I was raised to believe in the forgiveness of our sins. For me, God was portrayed as a kind being, one that, sometime in the future, would open up those pearly gates for me and let my soul enter heaven. I’ve sat in a confessional booth with a priest numerous times, telling him of all my dirty deeds – not really, but I did go each and every time with a feeling of genuine regret followed by an overwhelming sense of relief after I was absolved of my sins. Yet never in my life have I called upon God to justify what I was doing – especially if I knew what I was doing was plain wrong.

And maybe because yesterday was the twelfth anniversary of 9/11 or maybe because of the atrocities occurring in Syria or maybe because I’ve seen too much hate and evil in humanity itself, but either way, we cannot use God or Allah or any higher power to conclude that these actions are in any way righteous. Right now, a civil war is waging in Syria, involving not only President Bashar al-Assad and his government, but also the Free Syrian Army and some Islamic extremist groups. While both the Free Syrian Army and these extremist groups want to oust al-Assad, they completely differ in terms of what they would do once their leader was ousted. NBC recently interviewed a young man in his twenties named Abu Abdul Rahman that dropped out of college to join al-Qaeda and the fight in Syria who claims that it was a dream for him, “to wage jihad for Allah’s sake.” This always strikes a nerve with me – hearing people claim that they are doing things in the name of God (or Allah, in this case). Especially when God is used to justify war and violence. I mean, rarely do I ever hear, “I’m donating thousands of dollars to charity in the name of God.” I wish that happened more often, but even in cases like that, I truly believe we are the keeper of our actions. What we do is on us – we are not puppets of God. Most of us aren’t even prophets of God. And hey, there’s the timely classic that some of us forget – God gave us free will. Mind blown, I know.

Back in 2005, the BBC reported that at-the-time President George W. Bush was claiming that God had spoken to him and told him to set boots in the Middle East. Really, Mr. President? God spoke to you. First of all, I highly doubt that. And secondly, if He somehow did, I (again) highly doubt He told you to start two catastrophic wars. Last I checked, the book of Matthew (Matthew 5:8 – 9 to be exact) states, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” But you do your thing, George.

I can’t even begin to count the times where we as humans think it is acceptable to justify violence in the name of a higher power. Let’s see, we have the Muslim conquests that started in the 7th century, the infamous Crusades, the Ottoman wars, the Spanish Reconquista, and more recently, events such as the Lebanese Civil War, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Yugoslav Wars, and the list goes on and on. That’s just way too many holy wars to count.

From where I stand, it seems that religion and the gods of said religions should be focused on faith. And ironically enough, many religions, from Buddhism to Hinduism to Christianity are very similar in that at the heart of these faith traditions is one value: peace. Can’t we as Catholics get back to that whole loving thy neighbor vibe? Unlike President George W., I have not had the privilege of having the Lord speak to me, but I find it nearly impossible to believe that the God I believe in – and any higher power, for that matter – would look upon us and praise us for violence, for murder, for the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of human lives (many of whom end up being innocents). Everything I’ve been taught and the countless things that I’ve read show that no matter our differences, Jews, Muslims, and Christians alike tend to believe in a compassionate God. So where do people get off claiming that they can kill for God’s sake? No, you cannot. You do not have that right, that power – nothing even close to that. Just an FYI, the book of Exodus – one of the first books in the Bible – prohibits murder. So rather than claim it’s their duty to be a part of a war (much like Rahman did), perhaps it’s our duty to God to not kill. In fact, the Qur’an states that the only way that Islam should be promoted is through “wisdom and beautiful preaching” (The Noble Quran, 16:125). If violence or murder or wars are committed, mankind takes the credit – God is probably just up there shaking his (or her – you never know!) head and thinking, “I made each and every one of you – in my eyes, you are perfect? Why must you destroy each other?”

And one of the saddest things is that the wars I’ve mentioned all tend to be because of religious “differences”, but like I also said before, at the core, many of these religions are the same damn thing. Religion should not be a catalyst of war, especially when the scriptures and the foundations of religion are grounded in a kind of stillness that knows no sounds of gunfire or screams of fear.

Yet I realize that a majority of the religious world does not function with the belief that we can wage war on behalf of God of because God told us to – and thank God for that. The few that do hold this thinking near and dear to their (fairly cold and inhumane) hearts though, are the ones that tend to have the biggest impact, simply because they end up taking away the lives of many. The advocates of these holy wars have no sound claim that this is in any way, shape, or form a proper expression of their faith.

Whatever religious faith we believe in, we should simply believe in it for our own sake. There is no need to impose our beliefs on others, especially when the imposition means warfare. My faith is mine – and mine alone. I know what I believe in, and I know that no weapon would ever make anyone genuinely convert to another faith. We as humans make a choice to be evil or to be kind. We make the decision on where to draw the line between what’s merciful and what’s just. And because the higher powers of every religion are painted as compassionate, shouldn’t we, too, temper the evil, calm the rage, and choose peace?

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