Howard's End: Religion Of The Heart, Not The Knees

Published: Tue 19 Dec 2000 01:51 PM
In a few days the Christian world will celebrate an event and a message that is said to be 2,000 years old. But it's a much older message than that and it really doesn't matter if you're religious because the message remains relevant today. John Howard writes.
For decades, we have suffered from a combined attempt by "enlightened" voices in entertainment, the media, government, our universities and many other privileged interests to reject religion.
There have been desperate measures, in every possible way, to convince us that only the unsophisticated would retain any confidence that religious faith is relevant to human existence.
Indeed, the message seems to be that if there is no God, then humans themselves must be God. But, to the discerning eye, it's clear that a sense of faith still exists among the peoples' of the world - it does not decrease in the breast of human beings.
If evolutionists are right and there is no God then where, in the billions of years of geological record, have been found the half worms and half fish, the half fish and the half animal or the half animal and the half human. And why haven't we ever found alive, a physical being which is at the start, or in the middle, of its evolution?
What could be more humbling to humanity than to acknowledge, even within limits, that there is a God, and it is not us.
Why, even earthly powers would have to acknowledge that they are not a law unto themselves and they would have to control their unbridled desires out of respect for justice and right for all humanity. Unfortunately, our leaders have preached a peace that we have never achieved.
In truth, the idea of a loving universal God of all people arose more than 5,000 years ago. The Egyptian Book of the Dead, manuscripts which were found in the tombs of kings 2,600 BC, contains the passage: " Thou art the one, the God from the very beginnings of time, the heir of immortality, self produced and self born; thou didst create the earth and make man".
Conversely, the Scripture produced in Judah of the Levites asked, "Who is thee, O Lord, among the Gods?" (Exodus)
In his time Jesus was very critical of man's laws which had grown into a huge mass of legislation, stifling and lethal in its immense complexity.
Heaped upon "The Law" were various interpretations, commentaries and rulings that needed huge libraries to themselves and which today, would have needed a committee of international jurists requiring years to sift through the layers.
Jesus, the unschooled youth from Galilee, reached out a finger and thrust aside the entire mass, revealing at once the truth and the heresy. He reduced all the law and the Prophets to just two commandments, Love God with all your heart and your neighbour as yourself.
In a flash, he had reinstated the forgotten, earlier tradition, of neighbourly love irrespective of race or creed; this is clearly what he meant by the words, "I am not come to destroy The Law, but to fulfill".
He made his meaning even plainer when he added, " You have heard it said...hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemy".
This was a direct challenge to The Law as represented to the people by the powerful sects of the time. Jesus carried the challenge even further by deliberately refusing to play the part of the nationalist liberator and conqueror of territory for which the prophecies had cast a coming Messiah.
Everything he said, in such simple words, was a quiet but direct challenge to the most powerful men of his time and place.
What had been established, Jesus confuted in a few words in the Sermon on the Mount. He taught love as opposed to hatred; mercy against vengeance; charity against malice; neighbourliness against segregation; justice against discrimination; affirmation against denial and life against death.
The Sermon on the Mount made no threats, it offered no material rewards. It simply taught that moral behaviour, humility, the effort to do right, mercy, purity, peace, and fortitude would be blessed for their own sake and receive spiritual reward.
The worst that was to befall the sinner was that he was to be "the least in the kingdom of heaven"; and most that the obedient might expect to be "called great in the kingdom of heaven". Jesus never taught subservience, only an inner humility.
He simply revealed a great cleavage of power which had come between the idea of a universal loving God - between a creed of hatred and the teaching of love. The Law, he charged, was not God's law, but "the commandments of men." His challenge was clear and the traps were baited - he was subsequently crucified for nothing more than his faith and his belief.
So, depending on your faith and your belief, along with your interpretation of the calendar, we are entering another Millennium and it will be just as hard for us to predict the problems of the 21st Century as it was for our ancestors to predict the problems of past Millennia.
Those of us who attempted to foresee the problems of the 20th Century didn't do that very well and I wonder if the world will continue to face horrors steeped in violence and chaos.
To be sure, there were magnificent scientific discoveries and advancements in the 20th Century which led to new horizons of economic productivity and creativity.
But the gap remains between the so-called golden billion of Western civilisation and the rest of humanity.
For much of human history disease has been joined to poverty as the dual tyrant of human life. Research now suggests that in the 21st Century we will become masters of much of the makeup of physical beings - even of the human body.
We are opening the door to scientific powers that were unimagined in the past which could create, not only in the world but in ourselves, further monstrosities of human oppression. We are becoming our own God.
I think we should tremble at the prospect of possessing such power to alter our physical being because along with this knowledge there has not been a corresponding increase in wisdom and judgment.
We stand on the threshold of an era when the greatest temptation will be to further release ourselves from the boundaries of ordinary values and morals - between what is right and what is wrong for humanity.
True leadership in the 21st Century will fundamentally consist of guiding humanity towards justice for all. It will not rest in the arrogance and self-interest seen in some leaders of today.
Finally, in wishing all Scoop readers and their loved one's a happy and safe holiday, I remind myself that a loving religion is in our hearts, not in our knees.

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