Sunday, 1 August 1999

The Good, the Bad and the Religious!

For some time now I’ve been a supporter of a charity called Survival.  It works for the rights of tribal people throughout the world.  To put it rather simply, these peoples had been living quite happily for thousands of years, following the traditional patterns of life passed down from one generation to another, on the land that they knew and loved and depended on.  Then the Europeans came along, thinking they were brave adventurers discovering new countries.  They saw the tribal people as ignorant savages who needed either to be “civilised” or simply got rid of, and they saw the lands as treasure houses to be raped and plundered of their rich natural resources.  Who knows how much of our affluent modern society is built on this and similar injustice and oppression?  It’s a tragic story, it still goes on today, and whenever I’m reminded of it I feel almost ashamed of being a white European.
The Church hasn’t been free from guilt in the story either.  Sometimes the missionary advance of the Church has been intertwined with the advance of the secular powers, the tactics used have often been heavy-handed and have, at times, shown little respect for the peoples and what was already good in the lives and the religions that they lived.
Perhaps I’m playing into the hands of those who say that religion is the root of all evil, or that we can’t take the Christian religion seriously since it has abused its position of power and trust and carried out so much wickedness in the past.  We have to face up to the powerful reasons for these accusations, but I, for one, don’t go along with the conclusions.
To put it simply: some football supporters are hooligans; but that does not make it wrong to support football.  Even if there had been a time when most supporters were hooligans this would still hold true.
Trying to go deeper: Religion is about what is deepest in life.  The problem of evil is something that has deep roots in humanity.  I don’t find it so surprising that they sometimes get mixed up together.  Wherever there is evil, true religion will be there, trying to bring people back to God and goodness.  But, true religion means people, and, sad as it is, wherever there are people evil always has a chance to take root.
But, more simply again: throwing out the baby with the bath water is a terrible thing to do.  We should instead learn from the past and play our part in putting things right where we can.  Let’s build on what is good, and finally, let’s not be ashamed of what we are.