(Source: José Maria Castillo, Spanish theologian; translation: Novena)
The news being reported by the media these days about the violence and stupidities that have been committed in Spain in past years forces us to think (once again) about the danger that religion can be. A danger for peace, for politics, for society and for the coexistence of citizens, etc.
What I have just said is nothing new. It is a well-known fact. And I am not referring only to events of the past. We are living it out these days.
The angels and demons of our politicians. Religion directing politics, attacking or defending politicians, for the benefit of some, to the misfortune of others. Are we crazy?
I say that, in Christianity and in our Church, this goes to the very core of our beliefs. And it is also true that many citizens have abandoned religion because of this nonsense. We are facing a very important issue. For better or worse, not only for politics, but also for religion.
In Christianity, we are clear about this. The disgrace is that, too often, the clergy do not teach about this as they should. Because there are clergymen who are have a vested interest in the matter.
And there are many priests who use religion to climb the ranks, to get power, to live comfortably and to be important people. This is intolerable.
How did Jesus approach this issue, so critical and so serious? Jesus displaced religion: he took it out of the temple, he confronted the priests, he never participated in the ceremonies of the “sacred place”.
Jesus prayed a lot. He spent the whole night in prayer. But to pray, he did not go to the temple. He went to isolated places.
The religiosity that the gospel teaches us is not like the religiosity that religion teaches us.
This is precisely why Jesus disengaged from politics. He never spoke against the emperor. Nor against Pontius Pilate. Nor did he confront the Roman legionaries. When Herod beheaded John the Baptist, on a night of revelry, Jesus did not say a word.
And when they told Jesus, before a crowd of people, that Pilate had slaughtered some Samaritans when they were celebrating a religious event, Jesus did not say a word against Pilate. On the contrary, to the people who stood before him, he said: “And you, if you do not convert and change your lives, you will end up like those Samaritans”.
Furthermore, in the story of Christ’s Passion, who was against Jesus? The priests. And who defended Jesus by resisting his condemnation? Pontius Pilate. Moreover, when Jesus agonised and died on the cross, who made the first act of faith, recogniSing Jesus as the “Son of God”? It was not the apostles, who resisted believing.
The first believers in Jesus Christ were “the centurion and the Romans” (Mt 27:54 par), who were accompanied by women (Mt 27:55-56), who are now handicapped by religion from being equal in dignity and rights to men.
All this was happening long before God became present in the world in the person and in the life of that poor Nazarene Jesus. And it continues to happen now: there are politicians who use religion for their own interests. And those who defend religion so much pay no mind to the gospel.
For Jesus, the most important thing was not the ceremonies and rituals. For Jesus, the most important thing was human beings, especially those who suffer most, the sick, the poor, children, sinners, women.
When are we going to stop taking advantage of religion, squeezing money and status out of it as we do no matter how much we try and disguise our self-interest? When will we see Christians, en masse, identifying themselves with the least of the world as much as they possibly can?
And I conclude by asking our bishops, above all, but also all of us, to “follow Jesus”, to live the gospel, to be the presence of Jesus in the world.
The bishops will be teaching the gospel of Jesus when we see them living as Jesus lived. The same must be said of religious and clergy in general. And those of us who say that Christianity has its reason for being must do the same. It is not a question of arguments. It’s what determines whether or not we are believers in Jesus Christ.