ROLE OF HARMONY IN WORLD RELIGIONS

COMMENTARY ARCHIVES, 21 Nov 2009

Charles Mercieca, Ph.D.

Harmony is derived from the Latin harmonia and the Greek harmos meaning “the just adaptation of parts with each other.” It refers to a situation where all elements fit perfectly with each other as to complement each other fully well. This also applies to people when they live together with mutual love and respect in serenity and peace. This element is expected to be the chief characteristic of every religion.

Nature of Religion

If we were to give a rapid glance at all religions, individually and collectively, we would soon discover that every religion may be viewed as one coin with two sides, the divine and the human. As far as the divine aspect of a religion is concerned, there is not much to say, since the divine element is identically the same everywhere. Problems start to develop when we face the human aspect of religion.

Human beings, by their very nature, are imperfect. For them to reach perfection they must really work hard for it. In the process, some may succeed and some may not. This explains why in every religion we find those who are good and beneficial, an asset to humanity. At the same time, we come across those who are evil and detrimental to all people. Those who are good do follow the guidelines that God provided for them in their respective religion.

Such guidelines may be seen in the Ten Commandments that are found in the Bible, which are also found in every single other religion in one way or another. We observe in history that when such guidelines were followed there was harmony, characterized by serenity and peace. On the other hand, when such guidelines were ignored there always tended to be turmoil, animosity, conflicts, struggles and wars.

In this write-up we will explore some of the major religions of the world and see why in the past they experienced conflicts with each other that they ended up waging wars where millions of people were left dead or maimed.

Those that may be held fully responsible and accountable of such needless conflicts, reveal considerable weakness in character and personality. They choose systematically to practice revenge instead of forgiveness, to harbor hatred instead of love for others, to develop greed while suppressing generosity, to embrace pride instead of humility, and the list goes on. Instead of leading a life of virtue many choose to lead a life of vice.

Human versus Divine Aspect

Needless to say, all of these mentioned items reveal the human aspect of religion. However, those who demonstrate love for others, even for those whom they detest, who are ready to forgive instead of playing tit for tat, and who give away generously and never expecting anything in return, all demonstrate the divine aspect of religion at work. A religion’s greatness is revealed by the constructive actions taken regularly by its followers, its proclaimed members.

We are all familiar with the traditional religious saying: “Judge a tree by the fruit it gives.” This means if the tree looks like a lemon tree but produces oranges then we have to call it orange tree. If we were to enlist some of the major religions of the world, we will discover they have had plenty of things in common. With the exception of Buddhism perhaps, every single major religion has, at one time or another, resorted to violence to achieve what it wanted.

Judaism, Christianity and Islam have all practiced violence at one time or another. In a number of instances, they were instigated to promote violence by their very own religious leaders to this very day, either directly or indirectly. Of course, the divine aspect of such religions is good and holy and there is nothing much more to say. But the human aspect of such religions has proven to be a total mess for all practical purposes.

We are not dealing here with a matter of an opinion but with tangible facts. As the traditional saying goes, “Contra factum non valet argumentum – It’s useless to argue against facts.” Just a rapid glance at what happened to the world over the past several decades since World War II ended in 1945 should make everyone convinced. US Christian clergy, for example, support self-proclaimed pro-life politicians who claim to be for the safeguard of the life of the unborn.

Such US clergy on the whole support them strongly even if such politicians were to take away money from the hungry and the poor and put it on the manufacture of weapons and the waging of wars. Such clergy seem to view the destruction of the infrastructure of cities and the killing and maiming of tens of thousands of people as a “necessity” for the survival of the United States!

While the Islamic clergy tends to look at God as a benevolent Father who loves all of His children immensely, such clergy does virtually nothing to stop those Muslims who wage ferocious wars, known as jihads, in the name of God, as they say, to maim and massacre many of God’s very own beloved children. To make things worse, such carnage is viewed as a moral obligation they have to defend “God’s honor!”

Responsibilities in Perspective

In the Middle East, for example, the Jewish clergy, as a whole, seem quite hesitant in condemning their government for devastating the infrastructure of nearby cities along with the massacre of tens of thousands of innocent people. We need to keep in mind here the traditional saying, silence brings consent. In spite of the fact that the Jewish religion is very good and holy when it comes to its divine aspect, it is totally something else when it comes to its human aspect.

Religions were not meant to be political in their orientation, neither directly nor indirectly. They were meant to provide guidelines so that all people would be given the opportunity to lead a good life characterized by such virtues as love, humility, prudence, justice, generosity, concern and responsibility for others, as well as patience and perseverance. The practice of such virtues will eventually lead to harmony among all people.

Every major religion in the world has as its responsibility and obligation to do anything conceivable to bring about serenity and peace in every community within the same country and with other countries as well. This is what harmony is all about. To this end, we need to find ways to enable people to fit into each other in respect to their vital needs in life. After all, the only sensible life in this world is one of inter-dependence.

Again, this is not a matter of an opinion. If people living on one side of the ocean constantly pollute their water, sooner or later the water on the other side of the same ocean will become polluted too and the people there will have to suffer the consequences by all means. Similarly, if people of one country pollute their air, the air of the nearby countries would soon become polluted as well. This means in whatever we do we should keep in mind how this would affect others.

If what we are about to do will affect others positively and constructively, then we should proceed with our plans. Yet, if what we are about to do will affect others, in some way negatively and destructively, then we should avoid doing it by all means. This way, we will surely become instruments of harmony by developing the habit to show a genuine sense of responsibility in our actions.

In our earthy community, we do have four major categories of laws which are hierarchical in nature. They are enlisted as (a) the Divine Positive Law, (b) the Natural Law, (c) the Ecclesiastical Law, and (d) the Civic Law. They are hierarchical in nature because if they happen to clash, then the one that is higher should be observed while the one that is lower should be discarded. This is a sacrosanct moral duty that all conscientiously good people have. Each time this was followed we always experienced serenity and peace expressed in harmony.

Four Hierarchical Laws

(a) The Divine Positive Law – This is viewed as the highest in the four hierarchical laws because it was made directly by God Himself from the very first beginning of human existence. It is commonly known as the Ten Commandments where we find, for example, such laws as you should not kill; you should not lie; you should respect your parents; you should put God above anything else; you should not destroy the property of others; you should not steal, in addition to others. Any law that goes directly against such laws, whether it is ecclesiastical or civic, should be discarded. In other words, human beings are not empowered to defy God’s commandments. The observance of such laws does reveal the positive and constructive aspect of the divinity in a particular religion.

(b) The Natural Law – This is also God’s law which He implanted in the universe at the moment of creation. The observance of the Natural Law is not an option but an obligation that all of us have to uphold and respect. We may illustrate this by a few examples. (i) the law of gravity, where everything heavier than air goes down, (ii) the law of plantation, where the roots of the trees go down while the tree itself grows up above the ground, (iii) the law of  birth, which results from the physical unity of a male and a female. Hence, marriage by its very nature comes from the Natural Law, which involves the union of a male and a female. Defiance of the Natural Law always leads to confusion sooner or later. Such laws enable us to retain the aspect of the divinity in a religion.

(c) The Ecclesiastical Law – This consists of a law enacted by the religious leaders of a religion so that the adherents of that particular religion would be able to follow a similar pattern in their worship and open practice of their faith. It is like creating a spiritual uniform for the followers to dress as to look the same and to recognize each other fast and smooth when they come across each other. The religious authorities of any religion are free to enact any laws they deem appropriate to enhance unity between their members and to bring them closer together as to live a better and more harmonious life. However, in doing so, such religious authorities cannot enact laws that may go against the two higher laws, namely, the divine positive law and the natural law.

(d) The Civic Law: – This is man-made law which changes from time to time. Its purpose is to keep order in the nation. No government of any kind may enact laws that go against the Divine Positive Law, the Natural Law and even against the Ecclesiastical Law unless it violets the two higher laws. People should defy any civic law that goes against higher laws. For example, the Divine Positive Law says: You should not kill. Hence, the Civic Law should be defied when it allows abortion or when it directs its young people to destroy other nations and kill tens of thousands of innocent people. The Natural Law says that marriage is between male and female. Any Civic Law that allows same-sex marriages should be viewed as unlawful, immoral and invalid.

Harmony at Work

In view of what has been stated, we may understand why all the world religions have a vital role in the promotion of harmony everywhere, an element that is so vital and indispensable to permanent peace. Both the leaders of such religions and the followers must keep in mind that the practice of virtue is very important to keep such religions holy. Perhaps we may learn plenty of lessons from Buddhism, which has been in operation now for some 2,500 years.

During the decades of the eighties, the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared to six little children in Medjugorje, a small mountain village in the south of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Among other things she told them: “I am the mother of all people, of those who know me and of those who do not know me, of those who accept me and of those who reject me and I love them all very dearly.” She also revealed to them God’s infinitive love for every single human being without exception.

She later added saying: “I wish my Christian children will learn from my Buddhist children the detachment from the material things of this world.” We learned from such communications that we live in God’s religion when we elevate our mind to him in prayer and meditation, when we love and respect each other as He loves us and respects us, and when we follow His Holy Will through the observation of the Commandments He gave Moses a few thousands of years ago.

So for God the name of the religion we claim to belong to is irrelevant for all practical purposes. What counts lies in the actions we perform on a daily basis. If they are good, if they respect the dictates of the Divine Positive Law and the Natural Law as well as the Ecclesiastical Law when it is in line with the two laws just mentioned, then we may pride ourselves of the specific religion we claim to be affiliated with. World religions should be viewed as a means of transport that is bound to take us to heaven.

Let us assume we are a group, say, of 50 friends who live scattered in Europe. We all agree that we should visit the ruins of ancient Rome and a definite date is set up. It is not important for such 50 scattered friends to decide upon one means of transportation that all should chose to be in time in Rome on the stated date. Some may chose to take an airplane, others may prefer to take a train, others may rather travel by bus, and others may choose to drive their own car, while others may find it more interesting to reach to Rome by motor-cycle.

Various Spiritual Means

Quite surprisingly, on their way to Rome some may decide to change their means of transportation like, for example, to continue the rest of the journey by train instead of by bus. The focus should be only on arriving in Rome on the specified date, nothing more and nothing less. Some world religion may look down on its followers when they decide to continue on their journey to heaven by joining another religion. Even worse, some world religion may even try to punish those that dare to make such a change.

Regardless of their defects in the human sphere, world religions are equipped with the capability to bring harmony among all people across every continent. Although theoretically, that is, in the spiritual they are technically all on the same level, in practice, that is, on the human level they have tremendous differences. In fact, we may conclude by saying that the more focus is made on spirituality through the practice of virtues, the more beneficial such a world religion may prove to be to the entire world.

The more focus is made on  the material things of this life that may be revealed through the practice of vices as they stem from disregard especially to both the Divine Positive Law and the Natural Law, the more detrimental such a world religion may prove to be to our earthly society. The three major religions mentioned in the early part of this presentation – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – have a recorded history of violence, of disregard of the Divine Positive Law and the Natural Law, even though many of their religious leaders advocated very often respect for such God-made laws.

Let us move forward with enthusiasm and optimism and not look background regretting that we cannot turn back the clock of history. Regardless of what we might have done, the same God of love and mercy of all the world religions is still there waiting for us ready to embrace us at any moment. The job of such world religions still remains the same, namely, to serve as instruments in the hands of God to bring harmony among all people across every continent. The leaders of world religions need only to do their best and God will do the rest.

_____________________

Charles Mercieca, Ph.D.
-President, International Association of Educators for World Peace, Dedicated to United Nations Goals of Peace Education, Environmental Protection, Human Rights & Disarmament
-Professor Emeritus, Alabama A&M University

 

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 21 Nov 2009.

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