Put simply, religion is the belief by man in the existence of a supreme being responsible for his existence, directing his spiritual and material affairs.
Man, therefore, holds such a supreme being in great awe and reverence strictly complying with its ordinances and laws as, in man’s belief, non-compliance could invoke the supreme being’s wrath which could be fiery.
Such punishment could be spontaneous or delayed or both, hence the belief in paradise and hell as well as re-incarnation after death in virtually all the religions.
A comparative analysis of different religions shows that the ordinances and laws of the supreme being are intended to make man perfect, virtuous, honest and peace-loving for which he would be bountifully rewarded after death.
However, over the centuries, the role of religion appears to have been rather dysfunctional to the extent that some have concluded that the disadvantages of religion have by far outweighed the advantages.
Carl Marx, the father of socialism, captured this in his famous assertion that “religion is the opium of the people”. He must have arrived at the conclusion after studying the religious conflicts that have afflicted the world right from the “crusades” of the middle ages to the bloody inter and intra-faith wars of modern times.
For the purpose of this piece we shall confine ourselves to the main religions of the world today, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and perhaps, the traditional religion which Christians and Muslims despise as fetish or heathenic.
Judaism is said to have been in existence over 10,000 years before Christ and originated in Palestine as the religion of the Jews. The Old Testament of the Bible is essentially the history of Judaism. Another religion of almost the same age is Hinduism dating back to over 7000 years before Christ originating from India. Indeed, a Hindu monument destroyed by Islamic extremists last year in Afghanistan was 5000 years old.
Of comparatively recent ages are Christianity and Islam, about 2000 years and 1,400 years old respectively. Interestingly, both are off-shoots of Judaism although Christianity originated from Palestine and Islam from Arabia.
Christianity and Islam each has over one billion adherents with wider spread across the globe than other religions.
Though Hinduism has more following than either religion but they are thickly concentrated in India and other neighouring countries in Southeast Asia.
These are not the only similarities between Christianity and Islam. Both religions have the same concept of the supreme being as all-knowing, all-powerful and ever-present deserving of undiluted reverence. Both believe in reward after death according to each man’s good deeds while on earth. While Christianity identifies the supreme being as God, the Almighty, Islam identifies the supreme being with the Arabian word, Allah.
Again, both religions acknowledge the prophets as the messengers through whom God delivers His ordinances to mankind. To Christians, Christ is not only a prophet but the son of God and the redeemer of mankind although Islam recognizes Him as one of the great prophets as it believes that the founder of the Islamic faith, Mohammed, is the last prophet.
Despite these striking similarities between Christianity and Islam, avoidable but bloody conflicts have become the order of the day in recent times. Over 80% of inter-faith disagreements in today’s world are between Christians and Muslims though there have been bitter wars between the majority Hindus and minority Muslims in the Indian sub-continent.
Infact, before India’s independence from Great Britain in 1947, the country comprised today’s India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The split came about over religious differences as Muslim-dominated Pakistan and Bangladesh could not live in peace with the more populous Hindus of India. And the intractable war in Kashmir between India and Pakistan is predicated on the desire of Muslim Kashmir to be free from Hindu India’s domination.
In effect, it has become difficult these days to draw the line between political and religious differences among people and nations.
Deeply worried by the astounding level of evil committed in the world these days in the name of religion an analyst recently vouched that were Christ and Mohammed to be around, they would heavily rebuke, denounce and sanction their adherents for deliberately misinterpreting their teachings to serve their selfish ends.
Discussing the turmoil over the American film said to have disparaged Mohammed, the analyst described the frenzied reaction by Muslims all over the world as an overkill to an irresponsible prank by worthless miscreants. The world-wide, violent protest by Muslims has given an underserved publicity and dignity to an otherwise trivial issue that should have been treated with ignominy.
In the process, over-zealous Muslim extremists with definitely suspicious and extraneous agenda killed the United States Ambassador to Libya, a man reputed to have played a committed role in the liberation of Libya from the four-decade strangle-hold on the tiny country by late Gadaffi.
It is obvious that no matter how many times and how violent these frequent protests by Muslims over such issues are, the last anti-Mohammed or anti-Islam remarks in the western media, would not be the last. That has become the way of the increasingly atheistic western societies of today with their abused claims of freedom of speech.
Muslims must imbibe the tolerance of Christians who would not have raised even a voice against any one or any group who disparaged Jesus Christ but would have left vengeance to God.
It has been argued that the Nigerian nation would have been in flame today had Christians been the first to unleash the unprovoked attacks on Islamic institutions like the Islamic sect, boko haram, has been doing against Nigerian Christians and their Churches. Surely, Nigerian Muslims, not only boko haram anarchists, would have retaliated several folds with even assistance from “our Muslim brothers” all over the world.
Yet Christians have equally over-shot their bounds in the name of religion with the phantom miracles, healings and liberations by false men of God. Motivated by outrageous desire for material gains, they capitalize on the material and spiritual afflictions of their clients, mostly the poor and uninformed, to fleece them through the so-called “seed-sowing’.
These are just a few examples of the abuse and misuse of religion that have distorted its noble intentions to create a perfect, peaceful world inhabited by the righteous man.