“Who does greater wrong than the one who fabricates a lie against God? Such people shall be brought before their Lord […] Surely God’s rejection is merited by such wrongdoers.”
(The Quran 11:18)
“The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.
An evil soul producing holy witness
Is like a villain with a smiling cheek,
A goodly apple rotten at the heart.
O, what a goodly outside falsehood hath!”
(William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice)
The brutal massacre of almost 150 little schoolchildren in the Pakistani city of Peshawar recently by self-styled ‘lovers of Islam’ has sent shock waves reverberating throughout the world. Besides others, vast numbers of Muslims themselves were stunned at this latest barbarity of self-styled jihadists and denounced the killings as a crime against God, Islam and humanity.
This bone-chilling mass murder is no isolated aberration, though, we need to remind ourselves. It just the latest incident in a long series of horrors that human beings have sought to bless down the centuries by falsely claiming divine sanction for them.
“Who is more unjust than the man who invents a falsehood about God or denies His signs?” the Quran (10:17) says. The history of the human race, almost ever since it arrived on earth, is littered with all sorts of falsehood that evil-minded men have invented about God and His will, falsehoods that seek to provide supposed divine legitimacy for heinous crimes, including wars of aggression, genocide, racial discrimination, slavery, caste oppression, dictatorship, enforced poverty, misogyny, patriarchy, terrorism, domestic violence, and the de-humanization of people by robbing them of love, compassion, joy and good cheer by projecting God as a humourless and brutal monster. All these and more some people have sought to bless, by trying to pass them off as supposedly commanded by God. And it isn’t that self-professed adherents of just one religion or only a few religions have been guilty of at least some of such awful crimes. Evil seeking sanction by appeals to God or religion has been a very widespread phenomenon. Almost no major religious community has been an exception in this regard.
In the face of the horrors that self-styled religionists continue to commit in God’s name—which seem to be becoming only more heinous and widespread in some parts of the world than perhaps ever before—why, I’ve sometimes desperately wanted to know, does God permit such evil to flourish in His name, especially since He is all-good and all-powerful? Surely He could prevent such evil and falsehood if He chose to? Why does He permit murderous monsters to parade as His chosen ones, to spread murder and hate and terror in His name, if He wants goodness to prevail and evil to be vanquished?
I’ve tried to think of possible answers to these baffling questions, but lately I’ve begun to feel that this might be a totally futile exercise. I’ve had to finally admit that I may never be sure that the answers I might come up with are indeed correct and are not simply my own conjectures. Since we mortals can never fully know the mind of God, it may be that we can never get to fully understand why God permits evil—and so much of it—to abound, including in His name. We can, if we like, go on debating this point endlessly—as theologians and rival sets of religionists have indeed done throughout history—but we must know that we may never be able to arrive at any fully conclusive and final answers that can truly satisfy all of us.
Karl Marx famously remarked (and these words are also inscribed on his grave), “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.” This brilliant bit of wisdom from the world’s most famous atheist echoes something that I’ve been telling myself of late: that I must stop philosophizing about why God (who, unlike Marx, I acknowledge and believe in) continues to permit evil in His name, and, instead, should get down to doing something practical for global peace and harmony and for overcoming evil with goodness. We cannot fully fathom why God permits evil and falsehood in His name to flourish, but we can certainly do something to lessen it.
“But the problem of terror and bigotry and narrow-mindedness in God’s name is so immense,” you may say. “Surely we as individuals can’t do much!” “The merchants of hate and terror seem so strong and powerful,” you may interject. “What on earth can we do to counter them?”
You aren’t entirely wrong there, but you aren’t entirely right either. It is true that we might not be able, or even willing, to rush to the rescue of people being kidnapped, raped, maimed, massacred and brutalized in the name of religion. But, still, there are plenty of practical things we—each one of us—can do to make for a more happy, joyful, compassionate and peaceful world, and in this way also do our little but meaningful and precious bit to end hate and murder in God’s name. If the sufferings and deaths of millions of victims of theologically-inspired terror throughout history are not to go in vain, we could decide, if we wanted to, not to remain silent spectators any longer.
If we as individuals can’t bring about peace and harmony at the global level, so what? Every drop, they say, counts. Great things often have little beginnings. A little acorn can grow into a mighty oak. If we truly wish the world to be transformed into a happier, more peaceful place, we need to start with working on the only people we can really change: ourselves. “Be the change that you wish to see in the world,” Gandhi famously advised.
Our contribution to global goodness and to countering pseudo-religious terrorism could, at least to begin with, take the form of consciously working for promoting love, peace, compassion, and harmony in our own personal lives—by becoming more loving, peaceful, compassionate and harmonious people ourselves. Then, we can gradually move on to working to promote love, peace, compassion and harmony in our homes and workplaces and then in our relationships with others, including people of different faiths and ideological persuasions. “Hatred does not cease by hatred, but only by love; this is the eternal rule,” the Buddha is reported to have said. Multiplying love, peace, compassion and harmony can be our way of countering the evil of terror and hate that threatens to overwhelm large parts of the world today.
We could supplement these efforts with frequent prayers for all the many victims of terror and hate, including in the name of God. We could beseech God to give succour, solace and strength to the friends and families of the bereaved. In our prayers, we could also request God inspire the survivors of victims of pseudo-religious hate to work to promote love and goodness in our deeply-fractured world. Being personally affected by the havoc unleashed by terror in the name of God, they may be much more passionate about working to end this scourge than most of us, much more willing to make efforts and sacrifices.
We could also re-read our scriptures, search for the message of love, peace and compassion that all of them contain (notwithstanding the insistence of the merchants of theological terror to the contrary), and communicate these understandings of our faiths to others. In this way, we can help counter the vicious hate-driven misinterpretations of our faiths and inspire our coreligionists to understand our faiths in a more authentic, meaningful, loving and compassionate way.
These are some simple, practical things that all of us can try to do if we really want to stamp out the evil that parades in the name of God and not just complain about it. If all of us did just this much to bring love and compassion in our own lives, in our homes, in our relationships, in our surroundings and in our understandings of God and our faiths, terrorists in the disguise of ‘soldiers of God’ wouldn’t have much chance of survival—certainly not in the midst of so much goodness.
Goodness is greatly infectious—perhaps more so than evil. As we begin to radiate goodness, we will find it rapidly spreading all around us, reaching out to and embracing ever increasing numbers of people. And then, who knows, the little efforts that we start off with may all go on to converge and coalesce into a mighty global movement that might one day embrace the whole world!
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