Through her much experience, study and writing about religion and religious ideas and leaders, Karen Armstrong has come to this conclusion:
I discovered that in all three of the religions of Abraham [Judaism, Christianity, Islam], fundamentalist movements distort the tradition they are trying to defend by emphasizing the belligerent elements in their tradition and overlooking the insistent and crucial demand for compassion.
(The Spiral Staircase: My Climb Out of Darkness Knopf, 2004, p295)
It seems to me that “the belligerent elements” often rely a great deal on statements of allegiance to certain ideas or to certain power centers in the religion. Unfortunately, as Jesus very well knew, one can maintain intense loyalty to an idea, or to some powerful religious leaders, without actually getting around to practicing the idea or honoring the religion’s founder. The Jesus we find in the Bible tended to bristle and get very uncomplimentary in the presence of such behavior.
Calling Jesus “Lord” is a very major theological and personal statement – unfortunately it is in many cases the last we hear of Jesus’ personality or teachings being dominant in one’s life.
Honoring – by actually practicing – the moral priorities of Jesus, is a much more significant act. That’s not just me talking, and it’s NOT a way of avoiding the issue. It is precisely the issue. Jesus himself dealt with this problem by asking, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ but do not do what I say?”
People getting belligerent about their Christian faith is often a sign that the faith is not really being practiced. Jesus and the apostles deliberately were not very belligerent people. It’s not possible to be close followers if we are characterized by a spirit of self-righteous hatefulness, a spirit so diametrically opposed to how He lived and taught.
Karen Armstrong wonders:
But did that mean we could think what we liked about God? No. Here again the religious traditions were in unanimous agreement. The one and only test of a valid religious idea, doctrinal statement, spiritual experience, or devotional practice was that it must lead directly to practical compassion ….
But if your notion of God made you unkind, belligerent, cruel, or self-righteous, or if it led you to kill in God’s name, it was bad theology ….
In killing Muslims and Jews in the name of God [for example], the Crusaders had simply projected their own fear and loathing onto a deity which they had created in their own image and likeness, thereby giving this hatred a seal of absolute approval.
It bears repeating. Strong affirmations of loyalty to Jesus or to his teachings ARE NOT the same as trusting him enough to actually begin to live as he lived, and as he clearly and repeatedly asked us to live.
“The second commandment is like unto it; You must love your neighbor as yourself.”