Religion is nothing but the various aspects of the relationship between man and God. But one thing stands clear: in this relationship, God is always the initiator. God is the creator of man, with whom only he enters into a special conscious relationship called religion. It is God who calls man to this kind of relationship. It is the dynamics of God’s call and man’s response that establishes religion. It is not man that seeks for God, or initiates the search for God. That is to say that God is the founder of religion. This article considers the genuineness of many claims of men in religious matters today and establishes the fact that has lost the zeal for true religion.
It is very easy today and also dangerous for ordinary and mortal man to start religion, as well as it is contradictory also to think of religion as beginning from man’s nature and tending towards God. Such religion cannot surpass human limitations of mortality and profanity (John 3:6). It stands to be intrinsically insufficient and wanting because man cannot save himself. In his divine wisdom, God saw it necessary that His Son, who is God, should come and wash away man’s sins with His blood when man was helpless. A religion that originates from man – that is a man-to-God relationship – can neither change man nor save him. If man knew what would be done in order to save himself, he shouldn’t have called on God. Such man-to-God relationship is like one of those human inventions which like all human kingdoms and powers are doomed to failure in the course of time.
Religion is an area God has kept for himself. Let us consider the relationship between God and the Israelites; the Jewish religion that was a preparatory to the Christian religion. In contradistinction to the worship of the numerous gods of the time, God intervened with the call of Abram (Gen. 12:1-3).
Before creation, biblical literature indicated that the earth was a “formless void” (Gen. 1:2). It is true that God gave the earth a form at creation, yet we can rightly say that it is with the beginnings of religion that is, with the call of Abraham through whom all nations will be called to a relationship with God that the earth recognized its vision and direction. From then, through Abraham to Isaac, to Jacob to Moses and the Israelites, God dictated the details of this new relationship. God both initiated and spelt out the order and details of this relationship with the Old Testament people. At the fullness of time, God sent His Son to establish the new Covenant which the old Covenant merely looked toward to.
In various ways, Christ also continued this old relationship but in a new way. He summarized the ten old laws into one – that of Love. He expatiated the details of this New Law in the beatitudes (Mt. 5:3-11), lived it out by His passion and death on the cross, and vindicated His claims by His resurrection. You still see that God is the initiator and regulator of religion. That is why in matters of religion, i.e. God-to-man-relationship, anarchy has no place. But what do we see today? There are as too many founders of religious groups and ‘Churches’ as there are diversifications of human interest. There is neither order nor system. Each person is his own religious entity, with his own mode of worship, theology and doctrine.
Religion, employed as God intended it, is the best thing that has happened to the world and the best gift God gave to man. This is because religion itself is life: the life of God in man. Think of the social, spiritual and psychological effects of religion. Without religion, man would be wolf to man. The world is a battle ground for the survival of the fittest, an arena for mutual clashes even with all the inhibitions and call to peace by religion. How would it have been without it; that is why some thinkers said that even if there were no God, it is necessary to invent the idea of Him. At moments of depression and hopelessness, it is only one’s religious convictions that can help make life worth living. It is only religion that explains why many people have not committed suicide when life tastes sour. The obvious relevance of religion is truly enumerable.
Religion though, is one of the best things that have happened to the human race, yet when mishandled, can be the best tool for many negative achievements especially that of exploitation. Of the various senses exploitation can be used, the sense adopted here is the act of using another person to achieve one’s own selfish needs without considering the effect on the others. There are various forms of exploitation – economic, political etc. There is also religious exploitation. This may sound surprising, and even contradictory. But it is nonetheless true. Religious exploitation is, going under the banner of religion, and/or cashing on people’s religious background or sentiments, and making people mere means to one’s hidden selfish ends. Religious exploitation is subtle and more dangerous because it operates under the guise of the holy.
The exploiter is as dangerous as the “angel one does not know”. Veiled under religious innocence, the exploiter devastates the exploited or victim who remains unsuspecting and unresistant even when there are clear indices of exploitation. The force of religious exploitation can be better understood when one considers the many religious crusades, campaigns and even wars in history.
Religion deals with the spirit which is the seat of conviction. Ideas rule the world, and rule persons too. Religious sentiments are stronger than philosophical or ideological convictions. The former, always appealing to the unseen, the fundamental depth of the human person and the goal of the human person, carries with it a ferocious and impervious rock of conviction that can withstand all efforts to subdue it. Also, always going under a divine banner, mandate and mission, it can perfectly veil whatever else it carries as interest.
Religion goes with experience that is deep-seated and not merely physical. One can thus understand the readiness of the early Christians and the apostles to die rather than disobey God. The strength and conviction of the martyrs are traceable to religious sentiments as well as the force of Jihad can also be.
In considering the many shades of exploitation veiled under religion, I want to state here first that inhumanity to man can be found everywhere and can be practised anywhere also. There are thousand and one ways people have been and are being exploited today in the name of religion. We are aware of the subtle and tricky machinations with which some ancient traditional pagan society used to settle quarrels in the name of consulting an oracle. The oracle, believed to be the highest court of appeal, believed also to be impartial, fair and just was however used by the powers that be to impose guilt and punishment like ostracization on those they planned to deal with. The oracle thus became a principle/symbol of oppression while apparently retaining its image as the voice of God.
In another way, brainwashing and hypnotism play a strong role in religious exploitation. It was Karl Marx who looked at religion and concluded wrongly that it is the “opium of the masses”; a device or dose given to the hopeless and helpless, promising them a bright future, and thereby making them succumb to the suffering and pains of today. Religion, in Marx’s understanding, promises people a “sugar candy mountain” using the phrase of George O’well in his classical satirical novel “The Animal Farm”. Karl Marx was wrong by underrating the whole edifice of religion; and even by criticizing the hope which religion offers in this world that is a valley of tears. But today, various religious bodies are making Marx appear believable; by offering religion as opiums in the sense Marx used it. What is the effect when people are brainwashed with doctrines, and teachings that are socially counterproductive forced down the throats of adherents?
In many cases, for instance, people have been taught to disregard medicine totally and just to have ‘faith’ in God; disengage from every social organizations and groupings, and even work. People have been taught the irrelevance of engaging in any serious academic pursuit or tedious learning of a trade because it will not lead one to salvation. Some have been brainwashed to see their religious leader/minister as super-human. Hypnosis is employed incessantly, either directly or indirectly, and people are now manipulated like machines as with a remote control.
People are exploited religiously also when religion, instead of being a source of solace and relief is employed to promote fear, insecurity and alienation. Today the gospel of doom and satan is trying to overshadow the gospel of love, mercy and salvation, as visions and prophecies that instill fear and submissiveness in people are constantly hammered upon. These systems of doctrines are forms of religious exploitation when you consider their natural and social implications, especially on people already tortured by many problems ranging from political instability, tribal and ethnic conflicts and civil wars, mounting economic insecurity, joblessness, poverty, lack of social amenities, etc. Since the end in sight, as they are meant to believe, these already oppressed people fold their hands in fateful resignation and look forward to the day of salvation, in most cases, risk their lives in the name of fighting for their gods. Since for them, God ordains these disasters inevitably, it engenders into them passivity and abandonment.
God is not the author of confusion. We must try our best to always follow the truth and do what is right. Let us be quick to know when we are being exploited in the name of religion. It will save us a lot of pains!