image of jerusalem 2013

My Faith or Your Faith? - A Personal Reflection
As highlighted by the US Presidential elections earlier this month, religious revivalism is having a profound impact on the political landscape of the United States of America and other parts of the world...

29 November   |   2004   |   Subject  Middle East & North Africa (MENA)

... Such revivalism in Christian faith-based values is being interpreted in some quarters as a long-overdue counteraction to the ‘permissive’ liberalism of the past few decades. Today, in the American Midwest, for instance, many Christians who abhor drinking, smoking, movies and female adornment also believe strongly in salvation through being ‘born again’ and in sanctification as a second act of grace.

‘Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s’ (Mt 22:21) implies to me that religious beliefs are meant to be anchored in the personal domain. Democracy could aspire to an ontological and rights-based concept that evinces thoughtful allegiance to Scripture, but it is not a universal value that is necessarily chiselled with theocratic tools. However, this view is not always the case today, and the exercise of religion seems to affect willy-nilly one’s outlook on public policy and life. Yet, merging church and state is a high-risk exercise for those who claim absolute moral authority. They should perhaps heed to the teachings of Jesus and the prophets that salvation through grace goes hand-in-hand with the Christian duty to minister to those who are less privileged, less affluent or different. I can think of no healthier example of Christian ministry and witness than The Beatitudes (Mt 5:1-12) in order to underline this crucial dimension of outreach in our faith.

Therefore, it is important to define faith not solely in terms of the law and judgment, but also in terms of love, caring and forgiveness. After all, do both conservative and liberal Christians not agree that human need, poverty, homelessness, alienation and sickness must be addressed by our faith? Liberalism must not be viewed as an anti-faith doctrine; it simply resists the notion that one side can self-righteously claim to possess the “revealed truth” to the exclusion of all others. Did Jesus not respond to the self-righteousness and indignation of the Pharisees and Scribes by challenging those without sin to cast the first stone (Jn 8:7)?

Besides, the Christian right (however we interpret this disparate group) surely does not enjoy a special dispensation on either faith or truth - just as no other confession, denomination or group would hold such a unilateral monopoly either? Christians are not the avenging angels of this world, and any semblance toward a crusader-like approach to our faith would evoke negative stereotypes and provoke reactions from peoples of other faiths let alone from a large number of Christians too. One approach could well be to take a leaf from well-grounded evangelical Christians, the likes of John Stott, who have demonstrated their unshakeable commitment to their Christian beliefs whilst also being sensitive to the realities and viewpoints of others.

Let me take the Left Behind novels as an illustration of this aggressively unflinching stance by some Christians. This best-selling series, co-authored by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, depicts Jesus returning to slay everyone who is not a born-again Christian. Hindus, Muslims, Jews or agnostics, let alone Catholics and other Christians, are heaved into fire. Those who defend such apocalyptic books believe - quite sincerely, might I add - that they are merely applying God’s word by presenting the painful reality of Scripture. Yet, this is one reflection of the bigotry of some of some evangelical circles. Instead of fostering a dialogue about faith in order to move past taboos, they are justifying their literalistic and exclusivist exegeses of the Bible by quoting Jesus’ reply to Nicodemus, ‘I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.’ (Jn 3:3).

The three monotheistic religions that trace their roots to our common forefather Abraham are meant to inculcate in their believers a sense of personal and collective humility. We Christians should not feel arrogant or superior. After all, our veritable faith-based power comes through weakness just as our freedom transits through obedience. Even if faith were to steer politics somehow, should it not also be one of inclusion, compassion, humility, justice and accountability? In the words of the prophet Micah, ‘What doth the Lord require of Thee, but to do justly and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?’ (Mic 6:8)

Such values encapsulate the vehicular essence of Christianity. After all, our post-9/11 global village finds itself at a critical crossroads today, where vociferous radicalism, targeted militancy and violent creeds are methods of compulsion and coercion that are used in the name of many a religion to exercise control over us. Such political applications of Holy Scripture by any faith - outwardly or inwardly, overtly or covertly - have become invasive kits that engender resistance, anger, fear or violence.

A favourite verse of mine comes from St Paul when he confirms that however much sin is increased, grace will always be greater (Rom 5:21). This Pauline statement converges happily with the poem I am a Christian by the African-American poet Maya Angelou. When I say I am a Christian, wrote Dr Angelou, I don’t speak of this with pride, nor am I claiming to be perfect and holier than thou. I’m merely confessing that I stumble, that my flaws are far too visible and that I’m a simple sinner. In fact, I need Christ to be my guide since He believes I am worth it, and I have somehow received His grace.

Do you not think that those inspiring poetic words ought to be a crucible for our faith?

© Dr Harry Hagopian   |   2004   |   29 November


Print or download a copy of this article.


Google: Yahoo: MSN: