I was very disappointed that Malala Yousafzai didn’t wind the Nobel Peace Prize. I can’t think of anyone better to symbolize the victory of Peace over Violence in our contemporary world. But last week when I saw Diane Sawyer interviewing a group of Muslim women and heard them say that Malala should “return to Islam” and express their opinions that non-Muslim women like Ms. Sawyer are “oppressed” because they don’t live “under God’s will” but as “beholden to the slavery of their own desires” I saw not only the danger of radical Islam but the danger of radical religion of any stripe.
Several days ago The New York Times carried a story of two Rabbis who—for a hefty fee—would arrange for men to be kidnapped and tortured until they gave their wives a get (a religious bill of divorce, required by Orthodox interpretation of the Mosaic Law for a woman to be released from marriage). And again, like listening to those Muslim women, I cannot but wonder about what religion devolves into among those who consider themselves “orthodox.” Kidnapping and torture are a legitimate means to carry out compliance with the Mosaic Law? And I read a story on the internet a few days ago how Orthodox Jewish settlers had not only stolen the land from Arab families in the West Bank but adding insult to injury, defaced their mosque. And this is done because Jewish extremists make the claim that “God has given this land” to them. The Name of God is blasphemed when it is used to justify such atrocities just as it was blasphemed when Christians used horror stories of child kidnappings and murders to instigate pogroms against the Jews of Europe.
Extremist Hindus murder Muslims and Christians in India in the name of religious teachings that would demand religious conformity to all ethnic Indians. And Buddhists—despite the clear teachings of the Buddha—massacre Muslims in Myanmar. No wonder so many in our modern world just walk away in bewilderment and even disgust from religion all together.
And sadly there is a Catholic Taliban too that would impose on all in our country, of whatever religion or of no religion, the dictates of the Church when it comes to matters of marriage or reproduction. There are those who would bind not only the consciences but the freedom of others to rules of conduct whose only basis for authority are religious teachings.
I am not saying that there are not moral standards and that Christianity’s moral law is in any way arbitrary. I am only saying that any religion that compels adherence of unbelievers to its creeds or to its specific moral precepts is essentially a false way of life. As Christians we have a mission to convert hearts, not to impose laws. Winning hearts is a far more challenging mission than imposing laws, but it is the mission Christ gave to his Church and the only one we do with his blessing.