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 Blooming Stars

Freedom and Religion

            Religious freedom was absent in the former Soviet Union. In the past there were countries that had state religion, that did not tolerate other religions, and that taxed other religions. Religious freedom is not there in authoritarian China ruled by the Chinese communist party. In some Islamic countries, rights of other religions to practice their religion are not respected. In Saudi Arabia, for instance, only Sunni Islam restricted to the Salafi or Wahhabi sect is the only officially recognized state religion. Even the Shia Muslim sect is discriminated against. No other religion can worship there even in private. There is absolutely no religious freedom there. Conversion from Islam there can even be punishable by death. It is incredible that such a state of affairs exists in Saudi Arabia in the 21st century, and the Saudi extreme religious apartheid and gross human rights violations are not much written or talked about.

            In this article my focus is not on religious freedom or the lack of it in different parts of the world. While it is important to consider the lack of freedom in all religions that, without any exception, require radical reformation and transformation, my specific focus is going to be on the lack of freedom in Catholicism, the biggest (about 1.35 billion followers), the best organized, and the most powerful denomination in the biggest religion that is Christianity. The influence of the Catholic Church is widespread in every part of the world through its tightly-knit parishes and institutions closely controlled by the hierarchy of priests and bishops. Christ came to preach the Kingdom of God, to free the down-trodden, and model especially truth and freedom, love and compassion among many divine values. And my question in deep anguish is:

            If Christ were to come to the world today, wouldhe recognize the Catholic Church that represents him? What would he think of the arrogance of primacy and infallibility of its head, the unnecessary doctrines and dogmas, the pompous rites and meaningless rituals, the burdensome disciplines and censures, the almost deification of his earthly mother, Mary, the numerous and often empty devotional practices, and mechanical recital of prayers, the extraordinary powers granted to its “official” saints, the feverish activity of beatifying and canonizing saints, the unwarranted consideration of all its members primarily as unworthy sinners, the enormous accretion of encumbering and crippling baggage over centuries? Interestingly, it appears from all accounts that Pope John Paul II had the intention of defining a possible fifth Marian dogma in making Mary, the mother of Jesus, Co-Redemptrix (Co-Redeemer of the world with Christ) and imposing his views on the Catholic Church through a Dogma or doctrinal changes. It is good that finally reason and sound theology prevailed in that he was not allowed to run away with his over-zealous devotion to Mary and his repeated invocations of Mary as Co-Redemptrix. Yet I read recently in a very conservative Catholic magazine in Kerala called Shaalom presenting Mary as Co-Redeemer. I was not surprised in the context of pope John Paul II’s thinking.

            Certainly all Christians like all other human beings, depending on their degree of awareness and surrendering to God’s will and grace, fall down and get up, make mistakes, repent, and learn from them, and relentlessly strive toward perfection. Religions, far removed from their original inspiration and charism, shackle their members to blind loyalty, unexamined beliefs, and practices, robbing them of their God-given freedom. It is an insult to the one God of all that religions self-righteously fight among themselves and glorify themselves for some earthly advantage and posturing. In the final analysis all that matters is that we have been honest and sincere, compassionate and loving, and that we worked for the Kingdom of God to the best of our ability, and that we truly and really took care of all our brothers and sisters in the world.

Next -God and Me

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