RELIGION CAN BE sharper than a two-edged sword both in healing and fuelling conflicts. On the one hand, if religion is used as an instrument to gain political power and emphasise the exclusiveness and primacy of one’s own group at the expense of others, it will be a most destructive contribution. The political idea of “the otherness” fuels conflict, leading to violence with detrimental consequences. On the other hand, by emphasising fundamental ethics and humanity with its dignity, by giving voice to the voiceless, by emphasising the responsibility of individual while focusing on inclusiveness and deeper sense of hope, love and peace, by highlighting the importance of the meeting of cultures in all positive embracing ways, religion will make a much needed and constructive contribution to our societies.

It is a reality which we encounter today that religion in some quarters has acquired a strangely sinister reputation among those who work for the resolution and transformation of conflicts. Public perception considers religion a principal source of division, hatred and international conflicts and violence. However, there is an almost universal propensity to over-simplify the role religion plays in conflict resolution. Religious healing power and strength, therefore, should not be overlooked or underestimated. In its originality religion is meant to establish positive bond between humanity and the transcendent being (God or Allah) who is good, and among human beings themselves. God has created human beings in his own image of goodness (cf. Gen. 1: 26-27) and wills them to live that goodness positively for the common good. This is a vertical and horizontal relationship based on love. Religion, therefore, should focus on the person whose dignity and rights have to be respected and protected on the basis of justice, love and mercy. Its values as such have a tremendous importance in humanising the degraded, oppressed, traumatised, marginalized and dehumanised; hence, they have a holistic healing for both the individual and society at large.

The Latin American Church with its liberation theology from the grassroots has lived this realistic dimension of religion in its totality. Bishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador remains to be an exemplary figure who realised the wholeness of religion in its healing process, a religion beyond the entanglement of the institutionalisation of the Church. Mahatma Gandhi though not a Christian, was much inspired by the Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5:1-12) on non-violence in his struggle against violence.

In Sudan, Evangelicals took conflict resolution and healing into account as they developed a more nuanced and authentic understanding of the conflict. The Jews joined them in bringing public attention to the crisis in Darfur because of the widespread human slaughter viewed as genocide, which provoked memories of the Holocaust. Religious communities such as Pax Christi and the Quakers have directly opposed repression and promoted peace and reconciliation in conflict situations as part of the healing process. Bishop (now Emeritus) Desmond Tutu, Frank Chikane and Beyers Naude of South Africa, out of their religious convictions, worked hard to break the bonds of apartheid and bring healing between and among the opposing parties. A few years ago, Buddhist monks in Burma dramatically demonstrated how religion could motivate the promotion of human rights and peace through civil disobedience. All this confirms that religion has a great role to play in healing, and not fuelling conflict or violence.

                All in all, conflict and violence remain a significant challenge to religion today especially in Nigeria, Mali, Somalia, Sudan, Iraq, Syria and other parts of the world where the Al-Qaida members claim to fight on behalf of their so-called ‘God’. This challenge requires religion to go beyond mere institutions or politicisation. Philosophers and theologians are, therefore, seriously needed for the interpretation, contextualisation and appropriation of God’s word or scriptures in order to help others embrace the positive nature of religion. Otherwise, religion will be out-dated with misinterpretations, conservative norms and doctrines, overshadowing its healing charism, its healing power.

No one and no religion has the authority or right to claim the life of the ‘other’or ‘othering’ the other in God’s name since our God is the God of life and not the ‘God of death’. Religions in their positivity have a vocation to preserve life as co-creators, making sure that positive healing takes place where there is conflict or violence. Instigating violence that excludes others is trying to possess or pocket God who is beyond any religion. God’s focus is the well-being of His creatures. Thus, our God is a Creator and not a destroyer! Today, religion must revamp and recreate its positive original image and its sense and vocation of healing through reconciliation and peace-building especially in our beloved country, Nigeria, and elsewhere where religion roots itself into negativity through violence. Only then will the world become a better and peaceable place to live!


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