On Easter Sunday this year, Muslim suicide bombers murdered hundreds of Sri Lankans, most of them Christians. I am a Christian from Sri Lanka. My people lost lives and limbs and family members.
I do not blame all Muslims. My best friend at school in Sri Lanka was a Muslim. I was really surprised to learn the bombings had been perpetrated by Jihadis. Sri Lankan Muslims have lived peacefully in the country for centuries.
But I understand what motivated these Jihadistic Muslims. Their targeting of both churches and luxury hotels indicates, I think, that they take both to represent ‘Western’ decadence. They see themselves as God’s warriors, enacting divine judgment upon degenerate sinners who deserve to die.
We need to reckon with the reality of religion today. Imaginary gods cannot motivate anyone to do anything good or evil. Only a real God can do that.
Claire Harvey has written in the Daily Telegraph about the Jesus she imagines. She admits that her Jesus is a figment of her imagination – a subjective Jesus of her own understanding, whose actual existence is irrelevant.
But an imaginary Jesus can’t change anything. Only a real Jesus can do that.
Religion – not just Christianity, religion in general – is about reality. Different religions have different concepts about the reality of everything – God, humanity, and the world. These convictions about reality motivate the best and worst of religious activities.
Christians created hospitals to care for those who are physically sick, because we believe Jesus really is God become human. And really did miracles to heal the sick and demon-possessed. And really rose, in a real, physical body. Christian love for those who are sick and weak does not stem from fantasy. It expresses our love for the real Jesus.
Israel Folau wasn’t inciting violence against anyone. He was expressing his convictions about the reality of divine judgment, and how to escape it. He doesn’t want anyone to die, in this world or the next. He wants everyone to live.
I agree with Izzy about the reality of divine eternal judgment. And that motivates me to seek religious freedom – including the freedom of not believing. People are ultimately responsible, not to me, nor to the Christian Church, but to God.
But that’s also where I think Izzy could have communicated better. In his Instagram post, hell was in bigger font than Jesus. It should be the other way around. Jesus always needs to be loudest and most central.
This is also why religious freedom is really important. The current Australian (and American and British) concept of religious freedom says that religious disputes are best resolved not through violence, or state coercion, nor economic penalties, but through free public debate.
So far, this kind of freedom still exists in Australia. Sports commentator Darren Kane and marriage equality activist Dawn Grace-Cohen both vigorously disagreed with Folau’s statement, but stood by his right to say it. If he is to be censured, it should be through public disagreement, not the economic sanction of being fired from his job.
Don’t let the safety of today’s Australia fool you into complacency. This kind of freedom is increasingly rare. China is clamping down on religion, and the re-election of Narendra Modi as Prime Minister of India has fuelled fears of rising Hindu nationalism. At least one editorial has called religious freedom the defining human rights issue of our time.
We conservative Christians value that kind of freedom because we, and our views on sex and marriage, are now in the minority, and are not reflected in Australian law. The same-sex marriage plebiscite and consequent legislative changes demonstrated that reality.
Claire Harvey represents the classic Western, developed-world misunderstanding of religion which simultaneously amuses and annoys majority-world migrants like me.
It amuses me because they proclaim the imaginary nature of their religion, and wonder why attendance at their churches is in free-fall. Meanwhile, conservative churches like the Presbyterians are promoting migrants like me to positions of leadership, and Sydney Anglicans are seeking continued reconciliation with indigenous Australians.
It annoys me because she uses her imaginary Jesus to judge Izzy, and conservative Christians like him and me.
Immigrants tend to be real about their religion. Ms Harvey sounds like she wants to de-convert us out of traditional Christianity – the Christianity we learned from Western missionaries – missionaries who told us Jesus really loves not just ‘white’ ‘Westerners’, but people from every nation. It sounds like she wants to replace that real Jesus with her imaginary Jesus which panders to everyone’s fantasies.
Reality trumps fantasy. Religion is about reality. That’s why it motivates people to really change the world. Religion is a powerful force for good when motivated by love. Jesus gave His life to prove it! That’s why religious freedom is really important. We need to take Jesus really seriously.