God is not catholic!
God’s name in the Bible.
RACHEL Attention, studios, please don’t me pass any more calls. No more calls, understand?
JESUS What’s the matter, Rachel?
RACHEL There are still problems. Some people were upset about the last interviews, and they’ve petitioned the telecommunications commission to have the license of Emisoras Latinas revoked. But please don’t worry, listening audience. If they cut us off the airwaves, we’ll keep broadcasting on the Internet.
JESUS But what are those people so upset about?
RACHEL Everything. Now it turns out that you didn’t found a church, you didn’t found a religion, and you’re not even the messiah. They don’t understand anything.
JESUS The search for God has been a long one, and it’s not over yet. They’ll understand some day.
RACHEL All we need now is for you to change even the God we’ve believed in, the one we’ve prayed to…
JESUS And what’s the name of that God, Rachel?
RACHEL Well, you know that the Jews call him Yahweh, but for some Christians it’s Jehovah. And in the religion of Islam, the Muslims know God as Allah. What is the true name of God?
JESUS Yahweh, Jehovah, Allah – they’re all beautiful names.
RACHEL And wars have been waged for all of them, some invoking one God, others invoking another… They’ve killed one another in crusades, conquests, religious wars….
JESUS Cain is forever shedding the blood of his brother.
RACHEL And always in the name of God, or in one of his surnames. When we studied history in school we learned about Roman Christians fighting against Orthodox Christians, Romans against Lutherans, Anglicans against Puritans – I can’t even remember them all now.
JESUS They all were taking the name of God in vain. Don’t you think that there can be no worse offense against God than making war in God’s name, killing people in God’s name?
RACHEL Yes, it’s truly scandalous. And there’s no need to read about it in history books. Right now, even as we transmit this interview, the Israelis are insisting that this is the land promised to them by God, and they want to drive all the Palestinians out of it. Meanwhile the Christian west is making war against the Muslims, and the Muslims talk about a “holy war” against the Christian countries. What do you think of all that?
JESUS I think it’s pure arrogance to think that someone has the true God and has the right to impose him on others.
RACHEL Even so, God must support some religion especially, right? Could we say that God is Catholic?
RACHEL Well, at least, Christian?
JESUS God? You are Christian, Rachel, and many of your listeners are, but God….
RACHEL God what?
JESUS God is neither Christian nor Jew nor … nor any religion. God is too great to be encompassed in a religion.
RACHEL So there should be no proselytism, no missionaries to save souls and convert infidels? There should be no preachers?
JESUS It’s those preachers who need to be converted – converted to a humility that recognizes that they know nothing about God. There will never be peace in this world until people understand that there is truth in all religions, but that no religion can contain all the Truth of God or all God’s Beauty or all God’s Love.
RACHEL So in the end, God has no name?
JESUS God has every name. Look, I had several brothers and sisters. My mother gave us each a name. And we each called her by a special name. I always called her Mom, but my older sister preferred to call her Birdie. Simon used to call her by her Aramaic name, Maryam, and the youngest boy called her Mimi all her life. She used to laugh at the different names we gave her, but she responded to all of them. That’s the way God is he’s a mother who hears all the names by which we call on him.
RACHEL That’s a nice story, but I don’t think it will convince the popes, or the Talibans, or the inquisitors, or any of those people who keep killing for their religion. And when they aren’t killing, they’re excommunicating and condemning people in the name of God.
JESUS Well, they’ll have to understand that the God of the Armies is an idol, and that God’s real name is Peace. Or Shalom, as they say in my people’s language, or Salaam, in the language of our Arab brothers and sisters. Peace be with you, Rachel!
RACHEL With this greeting of Peace from Jesus Christ, I mean, from Jesus, without the Christ … and from a secret spot in Galilee, this is Rachel Perez, reporting for Emisoras Latinas.
ANNOUNCER Another God is Possible. Exclusive interviews with Jesus Christ in his second coming to Earth. A production of María and José Ignacio López Vigil, with the support of the Syd Forum and Christian Aid.
*More information about this polemical topic…*
An unpronounceable name
For Judaism, the religion in which Jesus was raised, the name of God is unpronounceable. The name is written with the four letters YHWH (a tetragram). The Jews never say that name, since the four consonants that make it up are considered ineffable. In order to pronounce the name, it would be necessary to insert the vowels, but for the Jews that would mean giving a human being power over divinity and so would limit God. The name of God is not pronounced; it is only contemplated, according to pious Jews. The tetragram also reveals the nature of Jewish culture, which is very devoted to texts, to reading, to the scriptures. The written Hebrew alphabet contains only consonants. The person reading Hebrew must insert the vowels, so that the reading itself become a kind of creation or interpretation.
The monotheistic religions
In the history of world religions the “inventor” of monotheism (belief in one God) was Moses. For centuries, though, the monotheism of the Hebrew followers of Moses did not consist in believing that there were no other gods; rather, it affirmed, and also imposed, the supremacy of their God, Yahweh, the God of Israel, over the gods of the neighboring peoples.
The patriarchal religions of antiquity were built on two pillars: polytheism (belief in many gods, each of which was in charge of a part of reality: water, earth, intelligence, love, etc.) and anthropomorphism (belief in gods that resembled humans). Moses proclaimed the absolute preeminence of the God Yahweh over all other gods, and he established a strict prohibition against making any images of God. In the face of the prevailing polytheism and anthropomorphism, this turned out to be a very important innovation. Moses also introduced another new dimension to religion, which was a concentration on morality: obedience to the Law, more than performance of cult and ritual, was understood as the best way to please God.
The monotheist religions include Judaism, Islam, and Christianity (despite its confusing formulation of the dogma of the Trinity). Also monotheist is Sikhism, a religion in India founded by the mystical Guru Nanak; it developed in the early 16th century in the context of conflict between Hinduism and Islam. Sikhism is now the fifth largest world religion; it has 23 million adherents, 19 million of whom live in India. Sikhs believe in one God, and like the other three monotheistic religions, they base their faith on a sacred book, the Guru Granth Sahib.
Monotheism and violence
The different monotheistic faiths defend the idea of an absolute truth revealed by God himself through sacred persons and scriptures. The polytheistic religions are not so pretentious: their gods behave like human beings, and like human beings they can be either tolerant or intolerant, inclusivist or exclusivist. This explains why the Greeks and the Romans were willing to include the God of the Jews in their pantheon and why the Jews never accepted in their Temple the “pagan” gods of the “gentiles”.
For that reason the religions which believe themselves to be “unique” or “true” religions bear within themselves the seeds of intolerance and violence. History shows that the outwardly oriented religions are especially violent, that is, the religions that are proselytizing, missionary, and combative. They are continually trying to extend their reach and impose themselves on others; they seek not only to convince others, but also to conquer them. This has been the tradition of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and the Sikhs also have waged wars against Hindus and Muslims.
Judaism has known violence and “holy wars”: Yahweh is a tribal God, a jealous warrior, the “God of Hosts”. There has also been an abundance of cruel violence in Christianity, especially with the Crusades and the conquest of America. For centuries different groups within Christianity have fought against one another: the papacy has waged wars against all kinds of “heretics”, Protestants have waged wars against Catholics, and Catholics have against Protestants; there have been wars of Calvinists against Catholics, of Lutherans against Anabaptists, of Catholics against Huguenots, etc. The wars with Christian “surnames” have been countless.
There has been and still is much violence in Islam, among other reasons because its prophet, Muhammad, known by his followers as the one chosen to receive the divine revelation in the Koran, was also a warrior renowned for his military victories.
After Muhammad’s military conquests, the Muslim faith spread mainly by pacific means, such as commerce and the preaching of missionaries. From the 8th century on, the military conquests of Islam, such as the conquest of the Iberian peninsula, developed into political regimes in which the three monotheisms (Islam, Christianity, and Judaism) lived together peacefully. Nevertheless, Islam is still characterized by conflict.
According to Dominique Urvoy, professor of Islamic studies in the University of Toulous-Le Mirail, France, Islam has been marked by division ever since it first appeared. Urvoy writes: Islam has been built on a threefold opposition: the opposition of the prophet Muhammad to the other prophets contemporary with him; the opposition between those who believe and those who do not; and the opposition between the heirs of the prophet and the “usurpers”, which culminated in the division between the Shiites and the Sunni. This last opposition has caused countless wars among different factions of Islam.
Even today the Koran is cited as a text that exhorts Muslim to undertake “jihad”, a concept that really should not be understood as “holy war”. Rather, its precise meaning is “striving to reach God,” which involves a person’s moral effort to overcome his or her own imperfections in the name of God. For true Muslims, only in the most extreme cases does such striving oblige them to undertake a military struggle against the enemies of the faith.
Until yesterday, until today…
Religiously motivated violence is not something from the past, something in history books. Nor is it something unique to Islam. In recent times there have been massacres and wars between Maronite Christians and Muslims, between Shiite Muslims and Sunni Muslims, and between Syrians, Palestinians, Druze, and Israelis. There have also been conflicts between Iranians and Iraqis, between Indians and Pakistanis, between Hindus and Sikhs, between Singhalese Buddhists and Tamil Hindus. There were violent confrontations between Buddhist monks and the Catholic government of Vietnam and between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland. Although there are always economic and political interests mixed up in all these conflicts, the violence has religious roots; it stems from the logic that one of the groups possesses the true God, from the conviction that if God is “with us”, with our religion, with our nation, then everything is permitted against “the others”.
The Bible does not encourage dialogue among religions
With frankness and humility the Protestant theologian and scripture professor Jorge Pixley wrote: We must make a confession: the Bible does not have a central message that encourages inter-religious dialogue or theology. It is a work dominated by the victory of the “Only Yahweh” party in the reform of Josiah. That reform, even though it could not be imposed in Judea, provided the inspiration for the books that came to make up our Bible. The commandment “You shall not have other gods before me” is interpreted as a rejection of the truth of other religions and the existence of other gods. In the words of Jeremiah 10, those gods are nothingness, vanity (in Hebrew, hevel). The only true God is our own. Nevertheless, there survives in the Bible evidence of a much more tolerant practice that had previously been widespread. Until the time of Josiah the Israelites used to visit the sanctuaries of Yahweh and also those of Baal and other gods. If Yahweh saved them from their enemies, then Baal and/or Asherah would guarantee them fertility.
“Biblical doctrine” is not conscious of important elements that it owes to long dialogues that were carried on with non-Israelite religious traditions of earlier times. Jesus himself appears to have been willing to consider a posture that was more open than that of other Jews of his time. However that may be, in the 21st century, at a time when religions meet up with one another in almost any neighborhood of the world, we must learn to undertake dialogue with religions that are not our own.
A criminal history
The German historian, theologian and philosopher Karlheinz Deschner, considered “the worst critic of of the church in the 20th century”, started publishing in 1970 a nine-volume work called The Criminal History of Christianity. These volumes document his carefully researched studies of how the history of Christian beliefs and dogmas has been marked by violence and abuse of power. He has also written other excellent books on the same subject. According to Deschner, whoever does not write universal history as criminal history becomes an accomplice of the crimes.
Why, oh why?
How has the Church come to dominate both our public and our private life? How could the pacifists of the catacombs become the enthusiastic priests of the battlefields? Why did intolerance become so strong that it went to the extreme of resisting every sign of cultural and scientific progress in the world? How did philosophy succumb to the dictatorship of theology? How did faith become the biggest business of all time? What justification can there be for the countless wars waged by Christian states “in the name of Christ”?
These are some of the questions that German historian Horst Hermann asks and tries to answer in his book, Two Thousand Years of Torture in God’s Name.
“The God Factor”
After the attack on the Twin Towers in New York on September 11th, 2001, the subject of “holy war” and the violence exercised by human beings in the name of God was debated everywhere.
Among the many reflections on this topic, we highlight the text “The God Factor”, written by the Portuguese Nobel Prize winner, José Saramago. We cite some excerpts from what he wrote at that time: It has already been stated that religions, all of them without exception, have never served to bring people together in harmony; to the contrary, they have been and continue to be the cause of unspeakable suffering, of massacres, of monstrous physical and spiritual acts of violence that make up one of the darkest chapters of our miserable human history. …
At least as a sign of respect for life, we should have the courage to proclaim this evident and demonstrable truth in every situation. However, most religious believers not only pretend to ignore the truth, but they rise up in wrath and intolerance against those for whom God is no more than a name, just a name, the name we gave him one day because of our fear of dying, the name which would end up blocking our way to real humanization. Instead, he promised us paradises and threatened us with hells, both of them false and disgraceful insults to the intelligence and common sense that it has cost us so much effort to attain. …
Nietzsche says that everything would be permitted if God did not exist, and I respond that it precisely because of and in the name of God that everything has been permitted and justified, mainly all that is worst, all that is most horrendous and cruel. … Like the Taliban today, the Inquisition for centuries was also a terrorist organization, dedicated to perversely interpreting sacred texts which should have been more respected by those who say they believe in them. It was a monstrous connivance between religion and state against freedom of conscience and against the most human of rights: the right to say no, the right to heresy, the right to chose something else, which is what that the word “heresy” basically means. And in all this, God is innocent …
If there are believing readers (of whatever creed) who have managed to put up with the repugnance these words probably inspire, I do not ask them to convert to the atheism of the one who is writing them. I simply ask them to understand, with feeling if it cannot be with reason, that if God exists, there is only one God, and that in relation to him what matters least is the name they have been taught to assign him.
Religious liberty: a victory for humankind
After so much blood shed in the name of God because of rivalries rooted in the different names of God, the conscience of humankind has become more oriented toward tolerance, respect, and religious liberty, which means freedom of conscience and freedom to practice any religion or no religion at all. This freedom is one of the important conquests of modernity.
Hans Küng, Catholic theologian and student of world religions, recalls that the great Enlightenment work “Nathan the Wise” (1779), written by the German poet Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, showed for the first time that tolerance among the different Christian confessions and among the different religions was an indispensable condition for peace among nations. Nevertheless, around the same time, Pope Pius VI rejected the concepts of freedom of religion, freedom of conscience, freedom of the press, and everything contained in what he called the abominable philosophy of the rights of man.
The Catholic Church was in fact the principal opponent of the principles of liberty, fraternity and equality championed by the French Revolution. According to Küng, during the 19th century, when those ideals became widespread, the Vatican was the most retrograde government in all of Europe. The Pope rejected railroads, gas lights, suspended bridges, etc. The papacy was also opposed to vaccines, which it prohibited in 1815 by citing the words of Pope Leo XII: Whoever has recourse to vaccines ceases to be a child of God. … Disease is a judgment of God, and vaccines are challenges hurled against heaven. With ideas like those, how was the Vatican going to accept religious freedom?
What unites religions is more than what separates them
The World C