Wednesday, January 9, 2013

If God's Light is Extinguished


Linked to God's glory on high is peace on earth among men. Where God is not glorified, where he is forgotten or even denied, there is no peace either. Nowadays, though, widespread currents of thought assert the exact opposite: they say that religions, especially monotheism, are the cause of the violence and the wars in the world. If there is to be peace, humanity must first be liberated from them. Monotheism, belief in one God, is said to be arrogance, a cause of intolerance, because by its nature, with its claim to possess the sole truth, it seeks to impose itself on everyone.

Now it is true that in the course of history, monotheism has served as a pretext for intolerance and violence. It is true that religion can become corrupted and hence opposed to its deepest essence, when people think they have to take God's cause into their own hands, making God into their private property. We must be on the lookout for these distortions of the sacred. While there is no denying a certain misuse of religion in history, yet it is not true that denial of God would lead to peace.

If God's light is extinguished, man's divine dignity is also extinguished. Then the human creature would cease to be God's image, to which we must pay honor in every person, in the weak, in the stranger, in the poor. Then we would no longer all be brothers and sisters, children of the one Father, who belong to one another on account of that one Father. The kind of arrogant violence that then arises, the way man then despises and tramples upon man: we saw this in all its cruelty in the last century.

Only if God's light shines over man and within him, only if every single person is desired, known and loved by God is his dignity inviolable, however wretched his situation may be. On this Holy Night, God himself became man; as Isaiah prophesied, the child born here is "Emmanuel", God with us (Is 7:14). And down the centuries, while there has been misuse of religion, it is also true that forces of reconciliation and goodness have constantly sprung up from faith in the God who became man. Into the darkness of sin and violence, this faith has shone a bright ray of peace and goodness, which continues to shine.

Homily, Midnight Mass 2012

Reflection – Well, this is all so very well put and clear (and longer than usual!) that perhaps my contribution is not so needed today. We do see here a very clear, very straight-forward answer to the commonplace observation that religion causes violence and war.

Namely: so what does the absence of religion cause? And this is not just a tu quoque argument (translation: you guys are just as bad!). Rather, it is a strict logical analysis. People say that monotheistic religion causes violence and hatred. When monotheistic religion is removed from the picture, there should be then reduced violence and hatred. This is simply not the story of the 20th century, certainly not in Europe. Atheistic communism and Nazism killed tens of millions between them.

Human dignity rests on our divine origin and goal, or it does not rest securely at all. And where human community and human decency fail, as happens constantly in this fallen world of ours, divine grace must come to our rescue. And it has, repeatedly and beautifully, in the lives of nations and of individuals.
 
And this is Christmas, in depth and in essence. Not the ‘cute’ story of the baby and the shepherds; not the trimmings and tinsel; not (certainly) the frenzy of buying and consuming. All of that is good and proper, but in depth and in essence it is God coming to be with His people to redeem us from the sword, from hatred, from violence. This is our hope; I argue most sincerely and seriously that it is our only hope. But it is a secure and certain hope, so we can have great joy in this. See you tomorrow.