Article appeared Friday, January 20th, 2012 in The News Today, Bangladesh

The Revelation (212)

yousuf mahbubul Islam, PhD

Can religion be man-made? If men designed religion to suit their own prejudices, whims and greed, how many religions would there be in the world? If we agree that there is only one Creator, where have so many different world religions come from? To help point out man’s tendency to create religions to suit his lusts, many famous people, famous writers and thinkers have left behind food for thought. Let us analyze the truth behind some of these sayings. The novelist and non-fiction writer, Anne Lamott (b. 1954) is known to have said: “You can safely assume that you've created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.” {1} Do such people believe that they are accountable to the Creator? Or do they raise themselves to the level of God and give judgment on God’s behalf? Man-made religion, in the hands of such people is dangerous as Christian theologian Georgia Harkness (1891 – 1974) pointed out. “The tendency to turn human judgments into divine commands makes religion one of the most dangerous forces in the world.” {1} How have politicians in history and across the world today justified their actions? For example, among the famous sayings of Hitler as he was launching his doctrine of preventive war against all of Europe, “I would like to thank Providence and the Almighty for choosing me of all people to be allowed to wage this battle for Germany.” {2} {1} Would one be mistaken to find a similarity between this and what former president Bush said after his invasion of Iraq, “God told me to strike at al Qaeda and I struck them, and then he instructed me to strike at Saddam, which I did . . . .” {3} This is not to point fingers at any particular person who uses religion to further his personal agenda – rather the question is who do such people worship? Did the British geographer and explorer, Sir Richard Francis Burton (1821 – 1890), point us in the right direction when he said, “The more I study religions the more I am convinced that man never worshiped anything but himself.” {1} Regardless of who they worship, how do such people use religion? Are religion and God something to be used, rather than for the purpose of establishing belief? How prevalent is such an attitude across the world today? So much so that the outspoken Bible Scholar Martin Zender points out: “People in religions are too busy doing their thing to even notice that God is doing His” {1} The use of religion as a means to an end has become so prevalent that the Irish writer and poet Oscar Wilde (1854 – 1900) concluded: “Religion is the fashionable substitute for belief.” {1} Once at the end of a sermon, addressed to Muslims gathered on the occasion of a death anniversary, I asked for a scripture reference to what was just delivered. Unable to give one, the cleric defended himself saying, “People do not like to hear the truth – I tell them things they like to hear!” In other words, the intention behind the sermon was to gain popularity rather than preach the Word of the Creator! For those who claim belief or want to be religious, the GermanAmerican theologian Paul Tillich (1886 – 1965) suggested the first step,

“Being religious, means, asking passionately the question of the meaning of our existence and being willing to receive answers, even if the answers hurt!” {1} Turning to scriptures, how does our Creator look upon hypocrisy and doing evil under the disguise of “religion”? In the most recent Revelation, the Qur’an we find,

4.142 “The Hypocrites they think they are over-reaching Allah but He will overreach them: when they stand up to prayer they stand without earnestness to be seen of men but little do they hold Allah in remembrance.”
So belief is not established by simply standing up in prayer or just by going to a Masjid! Who do we go to the Masjid for? For ourselves or for demonstrating piety and gratefulness to our Creator? In parallel, as aptly pointed out by the American radio personality and author Garrison Keillor (b. 1942), “Going to church no more makes you a Christian than sleeping in your garage makes you a car.” {1} During prayers, one should stand in awe of the Creator, the reverence or feeling of respect being much more than when standing before a king or a dignitary. However, Allah informs us that hypocrites lack sincerity in whatever they are thinking, whether in prayer or in daily life:

4.143 “(They are) distracted in mind even in the midst of it, being (sincerely) for neither one group nor for another. Whom Allah leaves to stray, never will you find for him the way.”
As the company we keep helps establish identity, Allah instructs those who claim to be believers,

4.144 “O you who believe! Take not for friends unbelievers rather than believers: do you wish to offer Allah an open proof against yourselves?”
What will happen to those who have proven themselves to be hypocrites? Allah informs,

4.145 “The hypocrites will be in the lowest depths of the fire: no helper will you find for them.” 4.146 “Except for those who repent, mend (their life), hold fast to Allah and purify their religion as in Allah's sight: if so they will be (numbered) with the believers. And soon will Allah grant to the believers a reward of immense value.”
There are many of us who make a show of being religious. The Scottish author and poet George MacDonald (1824 – 1905) points out the duality in the nature of such people, “I am perplexed at the stupidity of the ordinary religious being. In the most practical of all matters he will talk and speculate and try to feel, but he will not set himself to do.” {1} To hold fast to the Creator, one must go to the depths of their own scripture to discover the reality of belief from the Creator’s viewpoint. If one sincerely seeks the Creator and sincerely does things to please Him, Allah asks,

4.147 “What can Allah gain by your punishment if you are grateful and you believe? Nay, it is Allah that recognizes (all good) and knows all things.”
----{Notes}: {1} {2} {3}

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