Religions of war, God of peace
WEEKS ago, I arrived early for a meeting in Quezon City so I decided to kill time at a nearby antiques shop. While browsing, I noticed a bunch of large prints illustrating scenes from literary classics like “Don Quijote Dela Mancha,” “Divine Comedy,” and “History of the Crusades.” The illustrations turned out to be original antique prints from the years 1883 to 1887, which were published in Spain as part of the magazine “Obras Ilustradas.” This was probably the comics of the Spanish era.
The shop owner told me that the magazines originally belonged to the descendants of a Spanish-era doctor who was a friend of the national hero Jose Rizal, and who lived near the Welcome rotunda in Manila. I had no way of verifying if the attribution of storied ownership was a mere sales pitch, but there is no doubt that the magazines are original prints of the 1880s. Only an ilustrado could have afforded owning them during the Spanish period.
The most eye-catching selection of the prints are the artistic illustrations of the Christian crusades because they depict legions of soldiers in their medieval armament and military regalia, and bearing the emblem of the cross, while engaged in the different stages of battle campaigns.
The crusaders depicted in the antique prints visually reminded me that Christianity was primarily spread all over the world as an instrument of conquest. Christianity reached the distant shores of the Americas and Asia—the Philippines included—by riding on the back of invading colonial forces bent on subjugating and occupying foreign lands.
Historically, the Christian crusades were military campaigns organized by Catholic popes and were aimed at recovering territories conquered by Islamic kingdoms in Europe and the Middle East. The crusades started in the year 1095 and peaked in 1291. Sporadic crusades continued until 1487 but thereafter fizzled out with the advent of the Protestant reformation and the Age of Enlightenment.
When the European colonial powers embarked on their territorial explorations and conquests beyond Europe beginning in 1492, they brought with them a Christian religion imbued with the militaristic traditions of the crusades which evolved for 400 years. They brought with them a Christian religion that was used both as an instrument and reason for military conquests.
Christianity was an instrument of conquest because the emblem of the cross and the manmade images of Christ and other Christian icons were utilized as rallying symbols to fire up the passion of colonial military forces. Christianity was also a reason for military conquests because, while the main objective was to occupy and exploit foreign kingdoms, a component objective was to convert nonbelievers to the Christian faith. It may also be true that the religious campaigns were employed to help achieve colonial conquest.
Under this militaristic tradition of Christianity, faith in Christianity largely emphasized the worship of religious images and icons, as well as observance of its rituals and ceremonies. It primarily involved a faith practice centered on the customs and traditions surrounding the Christian religion.
To secure a place in heaven, it is not enough that a person lives his or her life as a propagator of love and peace. It is additionally indispensable that one must believe in the persona of Jesus Christ, and this belief must be manifested by practicing the traditions built around the Christian religion.
This faith practice that is centered on the customs and traditions of Christianity is obviously different from the faith practice of Islamic states that is also centered on their own unique traditions as Muslims.
Many Christians and Muslims magnify their differences on what are actually mere ways and means to express adoration for the same God. It is this overblown focus on differences in traditions that still foments rivalry and competition in this present day and age, long after the crusades. It is this misguided focus on visual and ritual differences that fertilizes the minds of extremist elements of both religions to entertain illusions that they have sole monopoly of salvation in heaven to the exclusion of the followers of the other religion.
This is lamentable because underneath the surface differences in images and rituals, both Christianity and Islam subscribe to the same fundamental teachings of helping the needy, forgiving one’s enemies, worshipping one God, among many other teachings that aim to propagate love and peace.
The magnified emphasis on the differences in traditions sadly make Christians and Muslims forget that they share a common ancestry in the prophet Abraham. Muslims are descendants of Ismael, while Christians are descendants of Isaac, both sons of Abraham.
In its official doctrine, the Roman Catholic Church itself has this to say regarding Muslims: “The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind’s judge on the last day.” (Second Vatican Council, 1964)
If we Christians and Muslims continue to dwell on our differences in the ways and means that we worship the same God, we will continue to practice antiquated religions of war while worshipping the same God of peace.
In this season of Christmas, may we all be reminded that notwithstanding the different symbols and rituals that we use as means of worship, we all bow down to the same God of love and peace. We are all creations of the same God.
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