Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Good People, Bad People and Religion

The Lina Joy case has resulted in a whole outpouring of opinions, emotions, sentiments, etc. among ordinary Malaysians. Even among Muslims there is a great divide of convictions, as letters like this and this to malaysiakini testify. Farish A. Noor has his say in this article titled "We are not a tribe called Muslims" at his blog. Marina Mahathir has written about Karen Armstrong and her recent talk in K.L. some of the issues that now exist globally that have lead to the so-called clash of civilisations in which Ms. Armstrong says that "Religion is hard to well". Food for thought. Steven Weinburg, 1979 Nobel Peace Prize winner (Physics) as quoted in the NY Times in 1999 is more blunt:

With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.
It's a confusing state of affairs - this Good People, Bad People and Religion. What's more appalling is the fact that the troubles in this context are mostly caused and felt by the so-called "People of the Book" or as the Muslims call it, the "Abrahamic Religions". If we who are Jews, Muslims and Christians truly believe that Abraham is our common ancestor, and this God whom we believe in is the One True God, then we are surely going about realising that in a strange way indeed!

Henri Nouwen in his book "Bread for the Journey" offers hope in seeing beyond our narrow definitions:

"How does the Spirit of God manifest itself through us? Often we think that to witness means to speak up in defense of God. This idea can make us very self-conscious. We wonder where and how we can make God the topic of our conversations, and how to convince our families, friends, neighbours and colleagues of God's presence in their lives. But this explicit missionary endeavour often comes from an insecure heart and therefore easily creates divisions.

The way God's Spirit manifests itself most convincingly is through its fruit: "Love, Joy, Peace, Kindness, Patience, Goodness, Trustfulness, Gentleness and Self Control" (Galatians 5:22). These fruit speak for themselves. It is therefore always better to raise the question "How can I grow in the Spirit?" than the question "How can I make others believe in the Spirit?".

Maybe then, we will have less good people committing bad religion. Maybe.