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God is On the Side of Humanity
An Essay by Hugh Burns

audio Listen to Burns' essay.

Oct. 29, 2001 -- The attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon uncover, once more, the dark side of faith -- what horrific things people will do in the name of God.

We all shudder at Osama bin Laden's call for a holy war against the United States. The letter of one of the hijackers revealed his intense religious devotion and unquestioning fervor. The terrorists' evil is geometrically compounded by their invocation of Allah and their hopes of eternal reward for these deeds of mass murder.

Some of the world's greatest injustices and acts of mayhem have been done in the name of religion. Christians, too, have launched Crusades, inquisitions and witch trials. No wonder there are those who find belief in God both primitive and odious.

"As we reflect on our own religious histories and their darker moments, we would do well to consider the words of the 14th century Muslim poet Kabir. 'When deep inside you there is a loaded gun, how can you have God?'"

Hugh Burns

Religion brings out the best and worst in people. In invites a certain exclusivity and elicits the highest dedication. Believers profess a particular creed because it seems to provide the surest grasp on divinity. There is often the impulse to pronounce all others heterodox, anathema, infidel, unclean or heretical.

My own Catholic church for centuries audaciously declared that, quote, "error has no rights." This neatly exonerated us from all manner of torture, expulsion and repression of free thought. Frankly, I'm sickened by it. So is the pope. He apologized.

All who profess to be religious would do well to recall the Hebrew Scriptures. How often God sternly informs the Jews that being chosen is not a license for gloating and self-importance. It carries the awesome charge to imitate a God who is good, merciful, just and loving.

Religious people generally agree on what is expected of them. Jesus exhorted his followers to love one another as they loved themselves. The rabbis said it before him. Confucius said as much in his Golden Rule.

Our disparate beliefs should help us focus on our common humanity, not limit us to membership in a narrow elite. When I was a boy my grandmother had a brass matchbook cover that her brother had taken from a German soldier in World War I. As a fifth-grader I was proud to be able to translate it, “God is with us.” My 10-year-old mind was also confused. I thought he was on our side.

God is on no one's side. God is on everyone's side. God is on the side of humanity.

As we reflect on our own religious histories and their darker moments, we would do well to consider the words of the 14th century Muslim poet Kabir. “When deep inside you there is a loaded gun, how can you have God?”

Hugh Burns is a Dominican priest who preaches in churches across the country. He lives in Jersey City.